If the Federal Aviation Administration’s augury turns out to be true, then roughly a million quadcopters will be buzzing this way during the holidays. But the gift of spinning blades, which certainly keeps giving, can also be hard to pick out. That’s why we combed through all the drones, quadcopters, and unmanned aerial systems to create a seasonal guide to buying drones as presents.
The first step of this process, though, is understanding your audience. Are you dealing with someone who wants a toy, an extendable selfie stick, a Millenium Falcon stand-in, a hobby, or a way to rain death from the sky? Every drone user, after all, is different.
With the size of its chassis and the aggression of its motor approximating to the heft and earnestness of a hummingbird, the Cheerson packs a lot of drone into a teeny package. It’s just about as delicate as a bird’s hollow bones, too — you might want to consider snagging a few replacement blades for what, when it debuted in 2014, was the world’s smallest quadcopter. It won’t fly for very long, and it’s not meant for much beyond entertaining yourself with its flips or providing a swatting target for your cats, but the Cheerson will make a dent in your wallet appropriate for its stature: You should be able purchase one for under $20.
Extendable Selfie Stick
The European selfie drone Zano was a Kickstarter crash, but that doesn’t mean all relatively inexpensive drones are duds. The UDI-U818a makes for a solid beginner drone you can get for less than $100, though be warned it struggles in strong headwinds, and the camera quality isn’t stellar.
Millenium Falcon Stand-in
Is it the best-flying drone? No. Does it sound like a metallic cat in heat? Yes. Does it have a light-up engine band exactly like the ship that made the Kessel run in less than 12 parsecs, and also a controller that makes pew-pew laser sounds? We rest our case.
When you picture a consumer drone, the DJI Phantom is probably what you imagine — it’s the iPhone of drones, all slick lines, white casing, and popularity. The Phantom 3, the latest model, is in the $1,000 ballpark. The camera can take 4K video, it’s got a flight time of over 20 minutes — pretty good — and you can’t fly it within a 15-mile radius of the White House. Whether these are pros or cons are up to you. The DJI Inspire is more expensive, larger, and can let someone fly shotgun to operate the camera.
Way to Rain Death From the Sky
It may not be the most morally responsible way to keep down an insurgency, but the Predator is a force to be reckoned with. Capable of firing Hellfire anti-tank missiles and boasting a 14-hour flight time, the Predator MQ-1B inspires awe in the good guys and fear in the hearts of the enemy. The clear cons, Christmas present-wise: The drone requires a large crew to operate; the price tag is several million dollars; post-traumatic stress disorder is common among pilots; alarming numbers of civilian are killed in strikes. But, hey, no present is totally perfect.