With cultural icons like Amazon.com flying into the Game of Drones, there’s little doubt that UAVs will soon – if not already – blow out the mainstream consumer market. Already, drone use is one of the fastest growing recreational hobbies and global sales of drones are expected to exceed $89 billion over the next 10 years. But like any emerging market, consumers want the best product for the least amount of bucks. With that in mind, here are five drones that will knock your aerial socks off without emptying your bank account (or ApplePay, Google Wallet or PayPal – this is 2015, Grandpa).
Parrot’s AR 2.0
The Parrot has been a favorite at DRONELIFE for some time – and you can easily see why. The Parrot edges out a lot of mid-priced models thanks to its ease of use. It includes a free mobile app allowing the user to send the Parrot skyward using a smartphone or tablet. For beginners who want to practice before outdoor launch, the Parrot AR 2.0 is capable of indoor flight. The Parrot flies just under the less-than-$350 radar at $327. With its built-in camera, the UAV can live-stream video at 720p resolution to the user’s smartphone or tablet and can even save the footage. Lots of bang…a few bucks (ok, $327).
DJI Phantom 2
The Phantom is an aerial videographer’s dream – and it doesn’t even include a freaking camera (unless it does, of course). Avid image-loving pilots usually prefer to mount their own video/photo rig (like a GoPro) and the Phantom 2 offers that flexibility. However, if you can’t be bothered to shop around for your own gimbal/camera setup, DJI offers the Phantom 2 V2.0 Bundle with H3-3D Gimbal as well. A rugged, crash-worthy UAV, the second iteration of the Phantom out-flies many models with semi-autonomous flight patterns and longer flight times than the first generation of Phantoms. With a 2.4 Ghz Remote Control Receiver (with a range of 1 km), speeds up to 15 m/s (horizontal) and 6 m/s (vertical),a 5200mAH LiPo battery capable of a flight time of 25 min, high Intensity LED lights under each arm and self-tightening propellers, the Phantom 2 is an industry darling within the mid-priced market. $519, $859 (bundle)
The Goo Goo Dolls could not have been more mistaken when they belted out their hit “Iris” . We DO want the world to see the IRIS+ because we DO think that they’ll understand — understand what a great deal can be found for under $1,000 with 3D Robotics’ top-of-the-line, GoPro-ready UAV. The IRIS+ features the amazing Pixhawk autopilot system that empowers the beginner or expert with autonomous flight, thanks to its two-axis gimbal. Although it doesn’t ship with a GoPro, users can order a Go-Pro Hero3+ Silver HD camera as an option. The IRIS+ boasts an Automatic Mission Planning mode in which pilots can chart a predetermined flight plan using an Android device with the free DroidPlanner app. Oh, yeah – the IRIS boasts a huge support community and they DO understand. Take THAT, Goo Goo Dolls. $750
Who ya gonna call for a feature-rich drone? The mid-priced Ghost Basic. But rather than spooking users with complicated remotes, the Ghost uses waypoint navigation. Users tap a location on the in-app map using a smartphone or tablet and the Ghost will haunt its way to the coordinates. And unlike a wandering specter, the Ghost is a precision poltergeist — height and orientation can be controlled via the app by sliding bars. You won’t find a smarter spirit because the Ghost uses auto GPS identification and auto-return. And what kind of phantasm would this UAV be if it didn’t include a night mode with LED lights to track drone in the sky? The Ghost ships ready-to-fly but without a camera (GoPro Compatible). $650
180 QX HD
If your idea of value dips below $200, look to the 180 QX HD by Blade. The QX boasts a lightweight camera with up to 720p resolution in high definition video and offers 1.3 megapixel still image capture — maybe not the most high-quality photos but well within the boundaries of its humble price. The QX is easy to use – it allows a pilot to toggle between the photo or video function on the camera in flight. The QX ships with SAFE technology that enables a diversity of flight modes. With so many mode options, the UAV’s angle of direction relative to flight control — in lower modes prevent rapid changes in altitude or direction. This makes the 180 QX more difficult to crash and results in stable image capture. The RTF model comes standard with an E-Flite lightweight camera. $190
Jason is a longstanding contributor to DroneLife with an avid interest in all things tech. He focuses on anti-drone technologies and the public safety sector; police, fire, and search and rescue.
Beginning his career as a journalist in 1996, Jason has since written and edited thousands of engaging news articles, blog posts, press releases and online content.
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