Buying a cheap drone can be a good introduction to remote-controlled flying machines as well as a great gift for someone else.
Compared to more expensive quadcopters (see Best drones you can buy) these require you to man the controls constantly. There's no hovering, no automatic flying and only basic stabilisation from an on-board gyro.
They're fun, but flying time is limited to a few minutes, so budget for a few extra batteries - they're cheap and readily available. Just make sure you get the correct connector type.
Crash packs are available for many mini-quads, too, and it's well worth getting one, if not just a couple of sets of extra propellers as you will break those that come in the box. Don't forget that they're not all the same: one pair rotates clockwise, the other pair anti-clockwise.
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Revell Proto Quad XS
- RRP: £49.99
One of the smallest quads around at 28mm, the Proto Quad can be stored on the controller itself. It has a six-axis gyro, three speed levels (so you can start off at low speeds to avoid crashes) and the ability to perform flips. Because it's so tiny, it's harder to fly than larger models, but it has a big wow factor.
- RRP: £14.99, US$14.99
The CX-10 has been around for ages now, but is one of the cheapest quads you can buy. If it seems familiar, it’s because it’s the model OnePlus rebranded when it did its April Fool's joke and pretended it was going to launch a drone, the OnePlus DR-1. Dr-one, geddit?
Anyway, it’s absolutely tiny and fun to fly both for beginners and experts alike.
Metakoo Mini Drone
- RRP: £64.99, US$79.99
Not to be confused with the Metakoo Bee, the Metakoo Mini Drone has a built-in camera and comes without a controller. It also costs considerably more, but you do of course get a first-person-view from the camera on your iPhone or Android phone.
It also has the same auto-hover as the Metakoo Bee, and via the app you can make the drone take off and hover automatically. Actual control is harder because you have to use the touchscreen or tilt your phone, so in some respects you might prefer the cheaper version. The makers tell us they are considering releasing a version of this with a controller based on customer feedback.
Don't expect high-quality aerial photos - this is not a 1080p HD camera, it's meant for a bit of fun flying indoors or outdoors in windless conditions.
Also, the battery is not removable, so you can't buy extras - and it lasts only five minutes. Charging takes 30-40 minutes via USB.
Hubsan X4 H107C
- RRP: £59.99, US$39.99
We’ve reviewed the FPV (first-person-view) version of the X4, which is much more expensive. This still comes with a camera but you can’t see the video in real-time on the controller. Video quality is pretty poor (as it is on any quadcopter under around £300) but the X4 is a very precise flyer.
Spares are cheap and easy to find, too.
Revell Nano Mini
- RRP: £24.99
Bigger than the Proto Quad, the Mini is more like the Cheerson CX-10. It can be flown outdoors in still conditions, but weighing only 11.5g it's going to be blown around in the wind. Like most other quadcopters here, it will fly for around 5 minutes and takes 45 to charge, so spare batteries are essential.
- RRP: £57.99
The X5C is bigger than the nano quads so far, measuring 31x31cm. This makes it better suited to flying outdoors where it’s less susceptible to being blown away. It has a 2Mp camera which captures shaky, poor quality video, but as an introduction to drones, it’s not bad at all. Plus, because it’s popular, spares are cheap and easy to find.
Mota JetJat Nano
- RRP: £44.99, US$39.99
This really is one of the smallest drones we've seen measuring just 22x22x20mm. Like the Revell Proto Quad XS, it's so tiny it can fit into a container on the already small controller. It's currently only available for pre-order in the UK, though is already out in the US, and we've seen a couple of UK eBay sellers offering it for £25-30. Amazon is guaranteeing a pre-order price of £28.12.
It lasts about 8 minutes between charges and the battery isn't removable, but it will wow your friends and family.