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Drones are a hoot to play with, and though regulations are tighter than they used to be, it’s still easy to own and operate one.
If you don’t plan to make money with your drone (selling aerial photography, for example) but play to fly it outdoors, one $5 payment will get you registered with the Federal Aviation Administration for three years. They’ll give you an identification number that needs to go on the outside of all your drones somewhere (either drawn on—silver or black Sharpies work—or you can print stickers.)
You don’t have to register your device if you don’t plan on flying outdoors or if fly a tiny drone (less than 8.8 ounces). And If you’re using a full-scale professional drone—something larger than anything recommended here—you’ll need special licensing.
Selecting the best drone depend on what you intend to used it for—fun on the weekends, shooting some video, playing with the kids, etc. No matter your motivation: Use common sense when flying. You have to keep drones below 400 feet, but also stay away from busy streets, airports, or anything else that might damage your drone or vice versa. It goes without saying that you should always keep them away from people.
Enough warnings! On with the airborne fun:
Best Drone for Racing: the EMAX BabyHawk Race – R – BNF
The EMAX BabyHawk Race – R – BNF.
Everything about this little drone from EMAX looks speedy and mean, from its translucent red propellers to its sleek black-and-translucent housing. It weighs a little over three ounces, with a carbon fiber frame, and measures 8.1″ x 5″ x 1.6.”
Speedy drones like this are measured on propeller size, and this one runs three inches; a nice compromise between the more-powerful five-inch and more-maneuverable two-inch versions. It’s plenty fast, with top speeds and flight time depending on how much battery power you choose to install (it’ll accept three or four cell lithium-ion packs.) To make it fly, you’ll also need a FrSky Radio and those batteries (e.g., a 650mAh 3S battery with a XT30 Connector).
Best Drone for Kids: Parrot Swing Quadcopter and Plane Minidrone
The Parrot Swing Quadcopter and Plane Minidrone.
This affordable drone is best for middle schoolers and up, because not only does it look terrific—sort of like a miniature version of a Star Wars X-Wing fighter—but it’s also speedy, hitting up to 19 miles per hour in “plane” mode. (Quadcopter mode points the X at the sky, with the propellers on top; plane mode points the X horizontally, with the propellers in front.)
This version of the Swing includes the highly-regarded flight pad, an Xbox-style controller on which you can mount your phone, which is much easier to use than a phone app alone. One button launches it, and it will automatically maintain position when airborne. The Swing measures 13″ x 5″ x 5″ and its lithium-ion battery will last about six minutes on a charge, which isn’t too bad for a drone of this caliber. Your kids—and you—can use the flight pad to guide your drone into loops, hairpin turns or barrel rolls for extra fun.
Best Indoor/Outdoor Drone: Parrot Mambo FPV Starter Kit
The Parrot Mambo FPV Starter Kit.
The Parrot Mambo is a fully-featured drone, and this kit comes with goggles (so you can see what it is seeing through its camera) and a controller. The guards around the propellers make this a nice all-in-one solution for a drone you can safely fly in larger rooms indoors or outside.
The first-person view (FPV) is a especially fun, and it will stream directly to Facebook or YouTube live—the only mini drone to do so at the time of publication. (The Parrot Mambo Mission is a similar drone, but drops the FPV goggles in favor of a cannon and grabber for picking things up and dropping them on your friends.) It’s 5.2″ x 5.2″ x 1.6″ and has about a 10-minute flight time.
Best Mini or Nano Drone: Hasakee K5 Mini Nano Drone
The Hasakee K5 Mini Nano Drone.
This teeny 2.4″ x 2.4″ drone packs a ton of features into its equally diminutive price tag ($20). Small enough to rest in your palm, it has altitude hold, one-button takeoff and landing (useful for not damaging those delicate little propellers), can perform barrel rolls and spins, and a controller that also charges it.
Nano drones are best used indoors, where their teeny parts are slightly less likely to get damaged if the drone is blown into trees or buildings. This one stores inside the controller case for a compact package if you want to take it with you, and has a 6-8 minute flight time.
Best Drone for Video: DJI Mavic 2
The DJI Mavic 2.
For Spielbergs of the sky, the DJI Mavic 2 has some amazing video features. It has a whopping 31-minute flight time, currently the longest for a consumer-quality drone. Its camera sports a 1-inch CMOS sensor and Hasselblad optics, allowing for 4K HDR 10-bit video. At top speed, the 10″ x 9″ x 10″ Mavic 2 can hit nearly 45 miles an hour, which means its collision avoidance system may come in handy.This is the drone you want to take those beautiful sunset videos at the beach or skyline photos of the city of your choice. And if you want to spend a little more when you become an aerial auteur, go with its big brother, the DJI Inspire 2.
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