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Best beginner drones 2020: the 7 best starter drones for new fliers

Potensic Dreamer 4K
(Image credit: Future)

Looking for the best beginner drone you can buy? You've come to the right place. We've piloted all of the finest budget drones and boiled down all of our findings into this in-depth guide.

Starting out with a beginner drone makes a lot of sense. They might be more toy-like than pro flying cameras, but they operate on many of the same principals, particularly when it comes to manual flight controls. If you want to make sure you’re well versed in quadcopter flight techniques before investing in a delicate, expensive aircraft, spending some time flying one of the best beginner drones is the perfect way to get prepared.

To help you pick the right one, we’ve run the rule over the best beginner drones out there, ranging from the simple and ultra-affordable to the advanced and mid-priced. As well as pricing and flight performance, we’ve also looked at control range, camera performance, build quality, portability and any safety features that might be included. We’ve then ranked the drones in order.

With everything considered, our current top pick for title of best beginner drone is the DJI Mavic Mini which, while by some stretch the priciest model here, feels like it’s in a different league to everything else in terms of control range and camera performance. 

DJI is the current world market leader in consumer drones, and while the Mavic Mini is one of its most affordable models, it still feels like an advanced, 'grown-up' piece of technology rather than a toy. The other seven models are simpler and cheaper, but there’s still a lot of variation in their capabilities, so make sure you take a look at everything in the list before making any decision to buy. All set? Here are the best beginner drones you can buy right now...

The best beginner drones you can buy in 2020:

DJI Mavic Mini

(Image credit: Future)

1. DJI Mavic Mini

The market leader’s little drone is hugely impressive

Recommended ages: 12+** | Camera resolution: 12MP | Range: 4000m | Weight: 249g | Battery size: 2600mAh | Controller: Included, works with iOS/Android phone and DJI Fly app

Stable video footage
Collapsible design
Good battery life
No object tracking or avoidance
No 4K video capture

At a shade under 250g in weight, the Mavic Mini doesn’t require registration with aviation authorities in the UK or US – a clever move from DJI that should appeal to new pilots intimidated by the legal ramifications of buying a heavier drone.

But make no mistake: the Mavic Mini isn’t a toy, and its rock-steady gimbal-mounted camera captures fantastic-looking 2.7K video footage and sharp 12MP stills. It also boasts 30 minutes of flight time per battery charge and a much longer range than any other beginner drone we’ve tested here (up to 4km in theory, but technically you should never be flying it out of your visual range).

On the downside, it lacks the anti-collision tech of pricier DJI drones and while its footage is punchy and beautifully stable, it’s not 4K resolution. These criticisms seem quite picky given how much DJI has packed in here, though: the Mavic Mini is by far the most advanced and feature-rich of the beginner drones we’ve looked at, and well worth its asking price if you’re looking for a serious entry point to the hobby.

There are currently some rumors about a DJI Mavic Mini 2 launching later this year, but until we hear official news this is the best beginner drone you can buy right now.

Ryze Tello

(Image credit: Future)

2. Ryze Tello

The best beginner drone for those on a budget

Recommended ages: 12+ | Camera resolution: 5MP | Range: 100m | Weight: 80g | Battery size: 1100mAh | Controller: iOS/Android phone and Tello app

Responsive controls
Tiny and lightweight
Decent battery life
Doesn’t fly well in wind
No controller included
Choppy video

Designed in partnership with DJI, Ryze’s Tello is an affordable, compact and lightweight drone that’s ideal for mastering the basics. 

Controllable via your smartphone running the Tello app and Wi-Fi (you can also use a Bluetooth gaming controller, albeit at a shorter range), it’s a responsive and lively flier that’ll teach you the ups and downs of twin-stick quadcopter flying. It even features stability sensors to minimize drifting when it’s supposed to be static, and the 13-minute battery life isn’t bad at all.

It’s not all positive. The flight range is limited (well below the 100m maximum Ryze suggests, think 30m instead) while the slightest breeze will send the drone drifting off in whatever direction it’s blowing. The 720p video camera isn’t up to much either, and with no local storage it sends all footage and photos directly to your phone – which results in choppy video if and when the Wi-Fi connection dips in and out.

Those caveats aside, the Tello is a great starter drone that does the simple things well and feels better made than other budget models.

Eachine E520S

(Image credit: Future)

3. Eachine 520S

A more advanced starter drone

Recommended ages: 14+ | Camera resolution: 8MP | Range: 300m | Weight: 280g | Battery size: 1200mAh | Controller: Included, works with iOS/Android phone and Eachine TEC app

Includes GPS
Reasonable image quality
Good range and battery life
No gimbal for video stability
Plasticky build quality
Requires registration

Eachine’s top-of-the-range model is the spitting image of the DJI Mavic Pro, but don’t get it confused with an advanced enthusiast model. This still feels quite toy-like, much more so than the Potensic Dreamer 4K (see below). The build quality has a cheap and plasticky finish, while the flight range and camera capabilities don’t come close to matching even the DJI Mavic Mini. At 280g, you’ll also have to register it with authorities.

That said, it’s a decent performer for its price. The 15-ish minutes of battery life feels perfectly acceptable for a larger affordable drone and its control range of 200-300m is generous, while the inclusion of GPS makes flying in trickier weather conditions a less fraught experience than with GPS-free drones: it won’t simply drift off with the wind.

The camera offers '4K' resolution photos and 2K video clips. These don’t benefit from any form of stabilization, so videos are extremely shaky, as well as being distorted due to the wide angle lens (which means you can clearly see the front propellers in shot). But compared to the lower resolution cameras on most of the models here the results are more detailed and clean. A microSD also slot lets you add local storage for videos and photos.

Revell Icon

(Image credit: Future)

4. Revell Icon

A well-built little drone

Recommended ages: 14+** | Camera resolution: 0.9MP | Range: 40m | Weight: 180g | Battery size: 1000mAh | Controller: Included, works with iOS/Android phone and Revell Icon app

Good build quality
Solid camera performance
Responsive and fast in flight
No stability sensors
Controller requires four AAA batteries

Known best for its scale models and RC vehicles, Revell has dipped its toes into the drone world with the optimistically named Icon. 

Priced roughly the same as the Ryze Tello, the Icon has similarly solid build quality – a cut above the cheap feel of the Simrex and Eachines models. Its controller is particularly impressive, with pleasingly big hand grips and a rubberized finish – it’s a shame it requires four AAA batteries instead of having its own rechargeable power source, though.

In flight, the Icon is responsive and very quick, zipping around at a pleasing clip. You can reduce speed to 30% or 60% using the app, which is handy for indoor flying. That’s something you’re likely to be doing a lot of, because like most of the models here, it’s extremely tricky to control outdoors in anything but the calmest of wind conditions. It lacks the Tello’s downward-facing stability sensors too, so even indoors you can’t take your hands off the controls for a moment.

Camera quality and battery life are decent, but the only real reason to pick the Icon over the Tello is that it comes with a physical controller.

Potensic Dreamer 4K

(Image credit: Future)

5. Potensic Dreamer 4K

A toy drone in serious drone’s clothing

Recommended ages: 12+ | Camera resolution: 8MP | Range: 800m | Weight: 765g | Battery size: 3000mAh | Controller: Included, works with iOS/Android phone and PotensicPro app

Sturdy build quality
Responsive controls
Long battery life
No video stabilization
Limited flight range

Don’t be fooled by the name: the Dreamer 4K doesn’t record 4K video. Its still photos might be at 4K resolution (3840 x 2160, or 8MP), but videos are restricted to 2688 x 1512, or 2.7K. It’s a cheeky little trick, but then there’s a lot to this drone that isn’t quite as it first seems.

With its excellent build quality, high capacity battery, GPS and sturdy, phone-gripping twin-stick controller, the well-packaged Dreamer 4K looks and feels like a 'serious' drone – something akin to the DJI Phantom range, perhaps. In reality, it’s just a toy-class drone wearing fancier threads, with performance sadly not quite meeting the expectations set by its outward appearance. The gimbal-less camera is shaky and unstable, while the impressive controller only works to a range of around 50m before the video feed to your phone becomes choppy.

Battery life runs to well over 25 minutes per charge, however, and the drone does fly smoothly and responsively over its Wi-Fi connection, so this isn't a complete deal-breaker. The Dreamer just isn't quite the drone its looks and build quality suggest.

Simrex X300C

(Image credit: Future)

6. Simrex X300C

A tiny pocket-sized flyer at a great price

Recommended ages: 14+** | Camera resolution: 0.9MP | Range: 30m | Weight: 45g | Battery size: 750mAh | Controller: Included, works with iOS/Android phone and Simrex FPV app

Super cheap
Tiny and lightweight
Responsive Wi-Fi controller
Prone to drifting around
Short battery life

Low on frills but big on value, this tiny foldable drone will easily fit in a coat pocket – and its included controller requires a similarly small amount of space. Despite its bargain basement pricing, it even comes with a 720p video camera for FPV flying (when used in conjunction with the companion mobile app).

As a flyer, the X300C is fast and responsive up to its maximum range of about 30m, but with no safety features (unless you count the included prop guards) it does have a tendency to drift. If you’re flying indoors or in a confined outdoor space you’ll need to keep a close eye on its wayward movements and correct them manually, lest the drone bumps into something. As a way to master the principles of quadcopter flight, it’s effective – if not particularly relaxing.

The included battery only affords you seven or eight minutes of flying time before it requires a lengthy hour-long recharge, however – so if you’re planning on having extended aerial fun you may want to buy some extra batteries.

Potensic T25

(Image credit: Future)

7. Potensic T25

GPS smarts make it hard to lose the T25

Recommended ages: 12+ | Camera resolution: 2MP | Range: 300m | Weight: 185g | Battery size: 1000mAh | Controller: Included, works with iOS/Android phone and Potensic-G app

GPS functionality
Hard carry case included
Some pairing issues
Low quality camera

One of the more advanced beginner drones at this price, the Potensic T25 comes with one feature that sets it apart from its toy contemporaries: GPS. This gives it a return-to-home feature (tap a button on the controller and it’ll come back to where it launched from) and will help you locate it should you crash it out of sight somewhere. It also comes with a hard carry case included.

Elsewhere, things aren’t quite as impressive. The battery lasts just eight minutes (thankfully two are included in the box) and the drone doesn’t fly stably in anything but the calmest conditions – so make sure to attach the included prop guards. While the app is nice and simple, we also experienced issues pairing the controller and drone: it required lots of switching both items on and off to get them communicating, which is never fun. 

The live view camera is also best treated as a pilot aid first and a camera second, due to its low resolution and lack of stabilization. Use it for the odd snap, we say, but don’t expect it to deliver aerial footage that's as good as the best beginner drones in this list.