Five toy drones for beginners

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Many of us drool over powerful high-flying camera drones or superfast racing quads, but for adults or kids just starting out, a far cheaper toy drone is far more practical.

Made to zip around your living room or backyard for a few minutes at a time, toy drones are a good way to practice your piloting skills without worrying about watching something $500 or much, much more hit the ground or disappear into the trees. They’re also a lot of fun to fly — whether or not you’re into RC toys. And, because the tech inside is getting smaller and cheaper, you can find them with more advanced features like GPS for safer, easier piloting and cameras for first-person-view flying (FPV).  

There are plenty to choose from, which is great, but it can also be a bit overwhelming if you’ve never shopped for a drone before. You can start with our drone buying guide if you’re not quite sure what you’re looking for or familiarize yourself with some common terminology. Or, if you’re just after some quick toy drone suggestions, just read on. 


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Keep in mind when you’re shopping that flight times on toy drones are typically around 5 to 8 minutes, so if you want to keep flying without charging first, go with a model that uses removable rechargeable batteries. Also, if this is your first toy drone, we recommend going with one that has replacement parts readily available.

Aura Drone with Glove Controller

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Josh Goldman/CNET

Absolutely perfect for any age or skill level, the Aura uses hand gestures to control it. Strap the “controller” onto your hand and you tilt your hand up and down to fly it away from you and back again. Tilt to the left to go left and to the right to go right. Press and hold a button under your thumb and the same movements let you raise and lower it or flip it left and right. Level out your hand and it will hover in place. Also, with the props are completely protected, so it just bounces off walls or whatever if you drift off course. 

Currently available for $80 (AU$200 or £100), flying the Aura is a bit like playing with a flying yo-yo. It’s so easy to learn, too, that I had my 6-year-old flying it on his own in less than a minute. Which is good because the battery only lasts about 5 minutes, though it is removable and extras are inexpensive.

Recommended for: If you want to fly a drone but get anxious at the thought of the sticks and buttons on a typical remote control. 

Parrot Mambo FPV

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Josh Goldman/CNET

Parrot’s Mambo quadcopter has a set of pins on top that allow for attachments that include a small cannon, a grabber claw and now a 720p HD camera. The camera can record to a microSD card, but more importantly it lets you pilot by FPV or first-person view by streaming to your phone. 

Parrot’s minidrones are designed to make flight easy, especially when flying indoors. However, its autopilot technologies are not something you really want when racing. To that end, Parrot lets you change to a Drift mode that disables the drone’s horizontal stabilization and a Racing mode that completely disconnects the autopilot for full manual flight. Plus, diving into the settings lets you adjust all of its directional speeds, so you can learn to FPV race at your own pace. 

The $150 bundle (AU$230 or £125) includes the quad and attachable camera, Parrot’s Flypad controller and Cockpitglasses 2 headset for use with a phone running the FreeFlight Mini app. Bonus: The minidrone supports Tynker and Swift Playgrounds coding platforms designed to teach STEM skills to kids.

Recommended for: Taking the sting (and expense) out of learning to fly a racing drone.

PowerUp FPV Paper Airplane

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PowerUp

PowerUp has made several app-controlled paper airplane systems like its newest, the Dart, a powered paper airplane that does flips and rolls. The PowerUp FPV is its first to add a camera for live-streaming video to your phone, which you can place in a VR headset like Google Cardboard. Not only to you get a pilot’s view from the plane, but you can control it just by tilting your head. 

Because it’s a plane, it can turn on a dime or start flying sideways like a quadcopter, so you’re going to want a lot of space to fly this. But if you’ve here’s your chance. It’s $140 for the kit (AU$170 or £100) which includes everything you need except a phone, but right now you can get it for $100.

Recommended for: Anyone who ever dreamed of actually flying on a paper airplane or just wants something different that’ll let you prove people wrong when they say, “There’s no way that thing’ll stay in the air.”

Syma X5C

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Sarah Tew/CNET

At around $40 (AU$50 or £35) the 5XC is one of the least expensive toy drones with a 720p camera. This thing feels pretty cheap and the camera is basically toy-quality, as you might expect for the price, but it flies surprisingly well and can take quite a lot of crashing. It won’t hold its altitude on its own, but that makes it great for learning how to actually control the drone’s throttle. 

Battery life comes in at about 7 to 10 minutes, but extra batteries as well as replacement parts are easy to come by, and the manual even gives you an assembly breakdown. It’s available at Amazon.

Recommend for: Learning how to pilot — and repair — a quadcopter. This is a simple, ready-to-fly toy with a camera that flies better than its price suggests.

Sky Viper V2450GPS

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Josh Goldman/CNET

One of the technologies that makes pricier drones more stable and easier to fly is GPS. With it, a drone can use satellites to help it know where it is in space, so it can just stop and hover in place if you let go of the sticks. It can also allow the drone to return to where it took off from with the press of a button or if its battery starts to get too low. And that’s exactly what you’re getting with the Sky Viper V2450GPS.

The 720p HD camera drone sells for less than $150 ( AU$179 or £100) that can live stream to your phone, capture photos or video to a microSD card and gives you the stability and safety of GPS. Its battery will get you around 10 minutes in the air and extras are about $8 each. 

Recommended for: Beginners or more advanced pilots who want the stability and convenience of GPS in a quick and nimble quadcopter with a camera at a rock-bottom price. 

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