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Best beginner drones 2021: the 8 best starter drones for new fliers

DJI Mini 2
(Image credit: Future)

Looking for the best beginner drone you can buy? You're certainly not short of options these days. Thanks to the fast pace of drone innovation, small learner models are no longer the cheap toys they once were. Luckily, we've tested all of the top entry-level drones and recommended our favorites in the list below.

Beginner drones come in all shapes and sizes, but the best ones all share the basic blueprint. They're stable in the air, easy to fly and hardy enough to survive a few crash landings. Naturally, they also come with an affordable price tag, too.

If you haven't flown a drone before, it's usually a good idea to start with a beginner model like the ones in our list. Not only will your crashes be less expensive, you should also find them simpler to fly with fewer modes and options to confuse you. Another bonus is that, in some regions, the flying regulations for smaller drones are a little less onerous.

We've also found the best prices right now for all of the drones in this guide, but if you can wait a little longer you may find some bonus discounts during Amazon Prime Day 2021. Taking place on June 21-22, the shopping event can see some decent price cuts on already affordable models. Last year, for example, the DJI Mavic Mini Fly More Combo received a 20% price cut.

Our top pick for the title of best beginner drone right now is the DJI Mini 2. While it's fairly pricey for an entry-level mode, it shoots great 4K video, is very easy to fly thanks to its automated QuickShot modes, and offers good flight time from a single charge. 

That said, it might not necessarily be the right drone for you. We're currently reviewing some strong contenders including the FIMI X8 Mini and Hubsan Zino Mini, or you be looking for a simpler toy for basic aerial antics. On that front, the Ryze Tello fits the bill, and is available in educational bundles that help teach kids how to code.

The list below features a whole range of options, spanning a broad spectrum of budgets and capabilities. Read to the end to make sure you find the best beginner drone for you.

The best beginner drones in 2021:

DJI Mini 2

(Image credit: Future)

1. DJI Mini 2

Ultra-compact and easy to use – the perfect beginner drone

Specifications
Recommended ages: 12+
Camera resolution: 12MP
Range: 10km
Weight: 242g
Battery size: 5200mAh
Controller: Included, works with iOS/Android smartphone and DJI Fly app
Reasons to buy
+Compact, convenient drone+Intuitive flight controls
Reasons to avoid
-No new camera hardware-No follow mode

The DJI Mavic Mini was an aerial game-changer, offering strong battery life, accessible controls and fantastic footage, all in a compact folding package. Almost identical to its predecessor, the DJI Mini 2 features a handful of upgrades that make it an even better beginner drone. 

Small enough to slip in a jacket pocket, the second-generation Mini is also even easier to fly thanks to a revamped controller. The streamlined handset is advanced yet intuitive, permitting nuanced inputs without overwhelming the pilot. It’s a joy to operate and, with a maximum range of 10km, improves the entire flying experience. The hardware itself might be familiar, but improved motors, stabilization and wind-resistance deliver rock-steady footage in all but the breeziest conditions, while battery life remains solid with a flight time of around 30 minutes. 

And though the sensor resolution is the same as before, the Mini 2 can capture buttery smooth footage in sharp 4K at 30fps. Scenes are a little underexposed for easier editing, but clarity is undeniably impressive. It’s not a total overhaul and there’s still no obstacle avoidance, but the DJI Mini 2 is nevertheless the best starter drone beginners can buy.

DJI Mavic Mini

(Image credit: Future)

2. DJI Mavic Mini

Still a fine choice if you don't need 4K video

Specifications
Recommended ages: 12+
Camera resolution: 12MP
Range: 4000m
Weight: 249g
Battery size: 2600mAh
Controller: Included, works with iOS/Android phone and DJI Fly app
Reasons to buy
+Stable video footage+Collapsible design+Good battery life
Reasons to avoid
-No object tracking or avoidance-No 4K video capture

It may have been succeeded by the DJI Mini 2 (above), but the Mavic Mini has remained on sale – and it's still a great beginner drone option if you don't need the option of shooting 4K video. That said, it's worth keeping your eyes peeled for the DJI Mini SE, which is a rumored version of the Mavic Mini with a new controller.

Far from a toy, the Mavic Mini's 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 4km range that's really only beaten in this price bracket by the Mini 2's 6km 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. But if you don't need that kind of resolution or extra treats like the ability to shoot raw still photos, then the Mavic Mini currently offers better value than its pricier Mini 2 sibling.

Ryze Tello

(Image credit: Future)

3. Ryze Tello

The best beginner drone for those on a budget

Specifications
Recommended ages: 12+
Camera resolution: 5MP
Range: 100m
Weight: 80g
Battery size: 1100mAh
Controller: iOS/Android phone and Tello app
Reasons to buy
+Responsive controls+Tiny and lightweight+Decent battery life
Reasons to avoid
-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)

4. Eachine 520S

A more advanced starter drone

Specifications
Recommended ages: 14+
Camera resolution: 8MP
Range: 300m
Weight: 280g
Battery size: 1200mAh
Controller: Included, works with iOS/Android phone and Eachine TEC app
Reasons to buy
+Includes GPS+Reasonable image quality+Good range and battery life
Reasons to avoid
-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)

5. Revell Icon

A well-built little drone

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Good build quality+Solid camera performance+Responsive and fast in flight
Reasons to avoid
-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)

6. Potensic Dreamer 4K

A toy drone in serious drone’s clothing

Specifications
Recommended ages: 12+
Camera resolution: 8MP
Range: 800m
Weight: 765g
Battery size: 3000mAh
Controller: Included, works with iOS/Android phone and PotensicPro app
Reasons to buy
+Sturdy build quality+Responsive controls+Long battery life
Reasons to avoid
-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)

7. Simrex X300C

A tiny pocket-sized flyer at a great price

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Super cheap+Tiny and lightweight+Responsive Wi-Fi controller
Reasons to avoid
-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)

8. Potensic T25

GPS smarts make it hard to lose the T25

Specifications
Recommended ages: 12+
Camera resolution: 2MP
Range: 300m
Weight: 185g
Battery size: 1000mAh
Controller: Included, works with iOS/Android phone and Potensic-G app
Reasons to buy
+GPS functionality+Hard carry case included
Reasons to avoid
-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.