The Best Camera Drone: Syma X5C
There aren’t a lot of drones that have cameras andpropeller guards, but this is the one to get right now. It’s a $60 DJI Phantom ripoff with cheap materials and a crappy camera, but nothing else comes close for the price Syma is asking. It’s one of the most stable cheap quadcopters I tried, stable enough to fly around my tiny townhouse indoors, and stable enough to fly in a mild breeze—though you’ll get some very shaky footage. You can start capturing video just by holding down a button on the remote control. The video quality is absolutely terrible, worse than any cameraphone you’ve used in the past decade, but even disgustingly bad footage from high in the sky has charm!
The Best Overall: DBPower Hawkeye I Quadcopter
Setting this drone up was fiddly, and I didn’t think I was going to like it out-of-the box at all. Once I got it up into the air, though, this was my clear favorite. In the air, it was speedy and quiet. It also had far and away the most thoughtful design of the drones I tried, with plenty of clever details like a plug-in rechargeable battery replacing the on-off switch. Navigation was easy—although when I did crash it (FOR SCIENCE), it quickly showed itself to be durable as well.
The Best Drone Desk Toy: The Cheerson CX10 Mini Quadcopter
The CX10 looks and feels a little like it came out of cereal box, in an alternate universe where cereal boxes have really great toys. It’s cheap, adorably tiny, requires no out-of-the box assembly, and is a fun, casual way to introduce yourself to the world of drone piloting.
The Best Drone for Advanced Beginners: Syma X5SW
The X5SW was, by far, the most powerful of the drones that I tried. In fact, full disclosure, it was a little more powerful than I anticipated and on my first flight I promptly crashed it into a tree and had to hop a fence to retrieve it. Going by the crunch I heard on impact, I’d expected to have at least lost a propeller or two. But when I eventually found it, it was in perfect condition despite having crashed not just into a tree but also having crashed hard on the driveway.
The Quietest Drone: Syma X4
You’re not going to find a quadcopter that doesn’t sound like four propellers straining to keep themselves in the air, but the $35 Syma X4 more closely resembles a miniature blender than a dying vacuum cleaner. What’s more, it’s sleek, well-built, and wonderfully stable for indoor flights — easier to fly than any of the miniature drones I tried. Gamers (like me!) will find themselves right at home with its Xbox-style controller. Just make sure you check that all the buttons on the controller are working correctly: one of the important trim buttons on my controller was misaligned and extremely hard to press.