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The 5 coolest drones money can buy
To fly. It’s been man’s dream for centuries. These drones won’t get you up in the air, but they’ll do the next best thing, capturing photos and video from up above. So whether you’re looking to soar above canyons and creeks or just want a little indoor model to glide around the house, you’re sure to find a fly drone to suit your needs.
1. DJI Phantom 3 Professional
At nearly $1,800, this drone certainly doesn’t come cheap. But it’s surprisingly usable. The Beginner Mode teaches you how to fly, and keeps the drone in a safe, limited area, so you won’t have to field any angry calls from air traffic control. It also has an auto take-off function, auto-return home, and the ability to come back if the battery runs low or it loses the connection with the control. Thankfully, you won’t have to watch your thousand pounds fly off over the horizon.
It records video in 4K – which is four times sharper than HD – and takes 12-megapixel stills, which is high enough resolution to print. The three-axis gimbal holds the camera steady, so your photos won’t be blurred and your video footage juddery. You can even watch its view of the world live on your phone or tablet, to feel like you’re up there flying with it.
You can control it using the controller or mobile app, and it has an indoor mode that detects – and avoids – walls and ceilings. If there’s a better drone around, we haven’t seen it.
2. 3D Robotics Solo
The remote control on 3D Robotics’ solo drone will be instantly familiar to anyone who spent their teenage years playing video games at the arcade. The two joysticks control both the drone and the camera – let it do the flying, and you can adjust the camera angle for the best shot. An HDMI port means you can connect it to most tablets and watch the action in glorious HD.
It’s built specifically for use with the GoPro Hero 3+ and 4, which are two of the best action cameras you can buy. It even powers your GoPro, so the battery won’t die in the middle of an Oscar-winning shot.
It also has a number of one-press modes to make your shots look more professional. Cable Cam makes for the perfect fly-by shot, while Orbit locks onto an object or place and circles it for a wraparound shot. Follow makes the drone stay on your tail, and Selfie puts you front and centre of every shot, so you’re always the star of the show.
The downside? The $1,500 price tag doesn’t include a GoPro camera ($310) or the three-axis gimbal (around $150). But shop around and you should at least find a better deal on the drone and gimbal.
3. Parrot BeBop
French firm Parrot made some of the first drones to hit the UK, so it’s no Johnny-come-lately. At $660, the BeBop is more affordable than the more pro offerings available, but it still packs plenty of tech. Not only does it have GPS sensors to keep it steady, it also has an accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer and ultrasound. The result? It flies like it’s on rails.
The basic package needs an Android or iOS device to fly it – download the free Parrot BeBop app, and you can control the drone by tilting your mobile device. The app also lets you control the camera, gives you in-flight stats and lets you take off and land with one button. If you want a dedicated Skycontroller remote control, you’ll have to spend another £340, though the remote increases the BeBop’s range from 300m to a whopping 2km.
The camera is fixed in position, and while it can tilt up and down, it’s nowhere near as adjustable as those that use a gimbal. Other than that, it’s a top drone.
4. Hubsan X4
The above three drones are fairly sizeable beasts, but the X4 fits in the palm of your hand. As you’d expect, there are some compromises: it’s made for indoor use, and will be difficult to control outdoors in even the slightest of breezes. It also only has a 0.3-megapixel camera onboard, so your snaps won’t be good enough to print. You also can’t see what you’re shooting, so it’s more a case of hit and hope.
Having said all that, it records video in HD and only costs around $125. And it’ll be great fun terrorising the pets on Christmas day.
5. Micro Drone 2.0
Another cheap and cheerful flying machine, the Micro Drone 2.0 costs just $79 and is easier to fly than most. It can perform stunts like 360-degree flips, somersaults and barrel rolls, and you launch it by throwing it in the air. If you want a camera (that shoots video in HD), it’ll set you back $110 (including the drone). Or you could go without and just amaze everyone with your loop-the-loops in the lounge.
The drone charges via USB, so you can juice it up from your computer between flights, and every part is replaceable. Handy should any of those stunts go wrong.