Last year drones were flying off the shelves at online retailers and local store shelves. This year it’s expected that there will be increased sales, particularly since there are so many exciting new drone releases for 2016. A drone is generally a toy, though the military utilizes them for various confidential and security purposes. A drone can also be equipped with a camera and used for aerial photography or videography. To know more about the various uses of drones please read.
While the toy aircraft is almost always an RC—Remote Controlled—toy, there are actually some commercial tethered drones too. The tethers are cables that are attached to the quadcopter drone, and used by climbers or the media so that they are not lost or stolen while filming.
You must first consider why you are buying it, and then work out which is the best one to buy. They can be quadcopters with four rotors, but there are also a few other types available in the consumer market that may be of interest to you.
It’s also important to learn terminology, glossary, abbreviations, and the components of a quad. Different ones may have different capabilities and features. There can be a bit of magic required in keeping it in the air, or at least that’s what you tell your kids when you don’t know.
There are also some popular manufacturers and brands with a good reputation. Buying an aircraft and then learning how to operate it requires a learning curve that you don’t get if you’re simply buying a toy helicopter that requires only “hand power” to move around the room.
If you’re in the market to buy one, please use this buying guide to assist you with your purchase. You will also gain a better understanding of some of the other drone reviews on this site.
Table Of Contents
This is the main reason why you are choosing drones for sale. Narrowing it down will assist you with choosing a model and a good price you can afford. You may also wish to work out whether you will be flying indoors or out. A smaller quad will work better for indoors, while a larger model will be better for outside flights.
You can go as far as you want with your hobby or business. Some people are happy with toys, while others go as far as to buy individual components to build one from scratch.
Fun and Entertainment
Will the quadcopter be for you, or a gift for a friend or relative? Is the gift for a teen, an adult, or a child? You can’t disregard that any age will love to receive any type of copter, but there are some issues at hand.
A young child will require supervision to play with a quad. Since the toy must be controlled in the air, and it has four rotating blades, there is the potential for injury and damage to walls, furniture, or other objects. This can be frustrating if mum or dad doesn’t have time. There are some types of quads that are safe for over age ten, so kids can play unsupervised.
Some quads, such as the Parrot Bebop or the UDI come with a protective frame that prevents injury or damage. It can be removed for outdoor flights where damage is less of an issue.
The teen who loves video games may appreciate the type of toy that runs with a remote controller unit rather than an app.
The adult who is hoping for simplicity will want a simply to operate aircraft, perhaps one that works with app and their smart phone. If you’re buying a gift, looks may be more important.
If you’re planning on buying one for fun and entertainment you can choose one of the more affordably priced models without all the additional features that can add up to a considerable cost.
If you’re considering one with camera to assist you in the running of your business, or to have value-added services, you’ll be seeking one of the commercial or professional types of copters.
Some of these are meant for the beginner, recognizing your need to do your work effectively and not have a lot of time for a learning curve. Some have built-in protective features too.
Farmers are commonly using drones to do a visual scan of crops or animals. If all is well, they don’t even have to leave the barn. If not, they can get in the truck and head out to the trouble spots.
Many photographers and videographers are adding video services to their businesses, and that includes videos filmed by UAVs. The real estate agent may purchase one so she can film around a large mansion or estate and then upload video to her site. It gives a better view of the property on sale.
Copters for business use have a wide assortment of features that you don’t find on a toy. While some toys have simple video cameras, the pro user will have a professional quality camera of upwards of 4K video and 12.4 megapixels. This is pro industry standard and required for films or for magazines.
There may also be other features such as a “follow me” mode, or GPS and WiFi that enables it fly out to farther distances, or come back at a click of a button. Some come with apps where you can edit your video footage to make professional quality videos that can be shared.
There are perhaps many other applications to use quad photos or videos that we haven’t even considered yet.
Main Uses of Drones
Some of these are tied into why you want to buy a drone. But there are many uses for a drone that you may not be familiar with. Once you read through the list, you may realise that you need one for your own business.
- For fun and entertainment.
- To use for visual inspections of a farm, buildings, or other type of business.
- To record video for a real estate website.
- To record video for a wedding or event.
- To record video for a large festival or concert.
- To use as video monitoring by police services on a site or event where it’s easier to monitor from above.
- For the media to take photographs or video from a safe distance in war-torn countries or regions with natural disasters.
- Use for promotional services by companies or associations.
- To take stock photographs or stock video footage for resale.
- To set up a company for hire.
- To use for participation in a competition.
- To use by professionals to officially document a project or experiment.
- To film inspirational videos for churches.
- To operate for rental types of businesses.
Drone Construction Types
There are many different models that have a different type of construction. An RC helicopter is generally in the RC toy line and not a quad. It usually has one rotating blade, or rotor. A hexacopter has six rotors.
There are tricopters with three rotors. These are harder to find, though there are a couple available in online shops.
A quadcopter has four rotors. There are also hexacopters though they aren’t as easy to find for sale. These have six rotors.
An octocopter has at least eight rotors.
Some of these are also called multicopters but generally you can count the rotors to narrow them down to a more specific name.
Likely there will be many other types offered for sale in the future. Right now, the tricopter is a bit difficult to operate, particularly in windy conditions. The hexacopter is a lot simpler to operate, but has a higher cost due to the intricacies of its mechanics.
When you’re searching for drones for sale you’ll notice that they each have the same set of main components. This may also assist you in figuring out whether your purchase is more of an quad than a aircraft. Here are each of the components broken down into what purpose they have for flight.
Accelerometer —This is an internal sensor that measures acceleration. It works with the gyroscope. The flight controller will be able to calculate the angle that your toy is flying at and be able to do self-correction so it always remains upright and stable in the air.
Antenna—The antenna is that short pointed object on your radio controller. It’s what enables the radio control between radio control unit and your aircraft.
Body—The body of your drone is that oval-shaped centre that contains the controls for your aircraft. Often it has a built-in camera, or the camera hangs down from a gimbal.
Camera—A camera can be low or high-quality. Sometimes they’re built into the body of the quad, but other times they can be installed on a gimbal which hangs down from the centre. The camera may take only snapshots or only video, or do both.
Flight Controller—This is the brains of your quad. It can read all of the data it receives from the sensors that are built into the nose. It can then calculate what are the best commands to send to it so it flies optimally.
Frame— The frame is the structure that supports your quad. If it were stripped down, it would be approximately an X shape. If you were to do your own build, this is what you would start with, and then install the components onto the frame one by one.
Gimbal—The gimbal is a support for a digital camera and attaches to the base of your quad. Not all quads have this feature, but generally the more premium models do. The GoPro HERO cameras are a popular brand that are installed on the quads.
Gyroscope— The gyroscope is part of the stabilization system and it measures rotation. It works with the accelerometer so it can calculate the craft’s angle and helps it to do the corrections to keep it stable in the air.
Magnetometer—This is the compass located inside. It is a sensor that measures the magnetic force. It’s required, because more than the gyroscope or accelerometer sensors are required to discern which direction the nose is facing.
Processor—This is the CPU or central unit that runs the firmware. It does the calculations to stay in flight. The common ones have a 32 bit processor, though cheaper ones have 8 bit.
Radio Control—Radio signals are used to communicate from the hand-held radio controller, also called a radio transmitter and sends them directly to the aircraft.
Radio Controller Unit—Also called a radio transmitter. Contains all the controls to operate your drone in the air, including an antenna, joysticks, trim buttons, trick buttons, on/off switch, and sometimes a view screen.
Rotors—There are the four rotating blades or propellers that rapidly turn on top of each of the arms of the quad. They can vary in construction or material. Some are built to improve the speed while others are built to increase stability and durability.
Sensor Fusion—There can be a lot of sensors onboard a quad. Sensor fusion enables them all to work together. All measurements are combined, along with some calculations, which all work at providing a stable flight.
Telemetry—This is the function that sends and receives data between the toy and the radio controller unit or the app or ground station.
When you’re checking quadcopter reviews you’ll want to carefully read through the features to ensure that they have the capabilities you’re seeking. The drone reviews for each model should tell you about the basic components, what it looks like, and best features.
Airspeed Sensor—This is only used on fixed wing drones much like an airplane rather than a quadcopter. This sensor will measure pressure but not altitude. Instead it measures how fast the air is passing the aircraft.
Barometer—This is another sensor that detects pressure. It is used to measure the aircraft’s altitude, or distance from ground to craft. They are quite sensitive and can detect minute changes in air pressure, even if your craft has only moved a few centimetres.
Battery Capacity—The cheapest drones only take disposable batteries that must be replaced on a regular basis. This can become costly over time. The best drones for sale will have a rechargeable battery that can be plugged into your computer or your wall for recharging. Some of the battery packs can be charged up in advance so you can have a good supply on the field, and all you have to do is switch them out when the first one runs dry. This extends the flight time.
Datalogging—This is used while your toy is on autopilot. It’s where all the information is stored on what the autopilot is doing. It’s akin to an airplane’s black box. Some models have it so that the info can be sent to technical support if there is an issue that needs to be solved.
Distance—Check the drone reviews to see how far it can fly. Some only go as far as your visual acuity while others can go further beyond your eyesight. For the ones that can go further distances it’s better to buy a radio controller unit with a view screen, or to use an app to view live streaming video on your smartphone or tablet. Finding the best drone with camera should always involve a quick check to see how many metres ahead the quad can fly.
Flight Time—The flight time can be extremely important when searching for drones for sale. Often many of the basic offerings online will only fly for three or four minutes on one charge. Unless the battery pack can be swapped out for a fresh one, this doesn’t leave a lot of time for enjoyment on the flying field. Some of the more premium models will have flight times of over twenty minutes, and up to thirty minutes. Generally you’re looking at a cost of over $400 for one of this type.
Flying Attitude—Flying attitude shouldn’t be confused with flying altitude. It’s measured by an attitude indicator. It’s also called a gyro horizon, artificial horizon, or ADI—attitude director indicator. It measures the orientation of the quad in relation to the horizon.
Flying Altitude—Not to be confused with attitude, altitude is the distance the craft is from the ground, for example, ten metres.
Payload—The payload is basically the carrying capacity of your vehicle. It’s generally measured in weight. In drones for sale the payload is going to be all of its components, instruments, motors, microchips, and materials. It could also include a camera and camera gimbal. In real aircraft it would include the crew and passengers but of course that’s not possible in a toy.
There are also some aircraft toys that may have additional payloads, so it can differ slightly from model to model.
The special features are likely going to influence your purchasing decision. They can help keep control of the quad or just be additional features to increase your enjoyment of the hobby. Generally, the more features you have on your toy, the more you’re going to pay for it.
Here are a few of the best options to check out before purchase.
Autopilot—The same as flight planning.
Distance Sensor—Yours may or may not have it. It can send an ultrasonic ping to measure how long it takes to bounce back from an object in front of it. There are also ones that involve lasers.
Flight Planning—Flight planning is like having an automatic pilot on your aircraft. There are some radio controller units that have an advanced feature where you can pre-program in a flight path. You may also have this functionality in an app that is controlled through your smart phone or tablet. A flight path can be in an oval or a circle, but other software may allow you to program in anything that you want.
Follow Me—The “follow me” mode is a handy one to have when you are filming. It works better when you are in a car or on a bicycle, as a drone can move fairly quickly, and it would be hard to jog or walk faster than it. You can set it up and the toy will follow your signals on the radio controller unit or your smart phone app. You can then go on ahead of your craft while it will float behind you filming as it follows. You can get some great footage this way.
GPS—This is the Global Positioning System that works with one of several satellites rotating the earth. The Russian GLONASS network is one system though there are others for consumers. The GPS will enable your drone to connect to a satellite to determine exact positioning. You can then bring up a map of where you are located and see exactly where your craft is located. This is handy when it has a wider flight range than what you can view with your eyes. It gives you a chance to film more amazing video beyond what you can see. There are even some GPS modules that can communicate on more than one GPS network. This can help your drone to pickup more satellite signals, which will improve overall performance and reliability. The good news is that these do not cost a lot more than the others. The GPS modules are often installed at the very top of the model. This helps it to get a good solid signal.
Ground Station—This is software that runs on your smart phone, tablet, or computer. It’s used to monitor and control your quad. It can tell it what to do, such as return to home, set waypoints, or follow me.
Power Module—This provides the power supply to your model. It converts battery voltage to a lower voltage that the autopilot uses.
Ready to Fly—Ready to fly means that your quad will be ready to fly out of the box so you don’t have to do any installations or screw on the propellers. You will have to do a charging of the batteries though. There are some quads that come in the box and need assembly. These are often the cheaper brands that want to save space in packaging.
Return to Home—The return to home function is an essential one. This can prevent you from losing an expensive toy. If it gets beyond your eyesight, you can press a button on the radio control unit and your aircraft will fly directly back to its original starting point. Some will also automatically fly back when they discern that there is a low battery charge occurring. In any instance it’s great to know that you won’t lose your quad because it went beyond your viewing range.
Tricks—Some drones can perform tricks such as rolls and flips. The expert may be able to do tricks with the radio controller unit but that can take some practice. Some of the more premium models can do tricks with only the press of a button on the radio control unit or from the app. This doesn’t take much effort but can certainly impress your friends.
WiFi—WiFi is essential when you wish to use an application to control your toy or to view live streaming footage. The radio controller will have a WiFi component so that it can send signals directly to your smart device.
How a Drone Stays in the Air
If you’re searching for the best drone to buy, you’ll want to learn all about how a drone stays in the air. Be sure to also read the drone reviews to get a good feel for what they are and how they work. The theory for how they stay in the air is quite simple. And together with each of the main components, the quad will soar through the air while you use your radio control unit, or an app and a device, to control its movements while in flight.
A quadcopter drone is built with the lightest materials possible so that it’s lightweight in the air and requires less power to stay airborne. Light materials also give it maneuverability. This also allows it to soar at higher altitudes.
Surprisingly, it’s the larger quads that can go the furthest distances, and not your tiny palm-size quad. This is due to the rotors being one of the most essential components that provide speed, thrust, and direction. Larger rotors means more power to the drone.
In the nose of the aerial vehicle is where you’ll find all the sensors and navigational equipment that will help to fly the toy. The body optimizes space so there will be no unused space or gaps. The quads that have the internal cameras are very cleverly designed, in a space that you thought could fit no more components.
The materials used are complex composites that are also designed to prevent vibration and reduce noise, which is optimum for when there is an onboard camera that must take sharp and in-focus shots.
It’s the gyro tech that will keep the aircraft on a smooth path while soaring through the air. When there are air forces working against the quad, the gyro will step in and provide correction. It also provides navigational information to the radio controller unit. The cheapest quads only contain a basic gyro while the more premium models have excellent gyroscopes.
To get the quad in the air, the motor is turned on from the radio control unit that you hold in your hands. The four motors will power each of the 4 rotors. Two will spin clockwise while the other two spin counterclockwise.
When the left joystick is pushed forward on the radio control unit, the rotors will lift it into the air. Once you’re achieved your height, you can send your quad in any direction. The rotors will also work to propel your toy forward. Its the changes in speed of each of the rotors that will provide the thrust to move your toy in any direction.
Every year new tech is being designed for new products. It will be exciting to see what will be the best drone to buy five years from now. If you read the quadcopter reviews you’ll be able to get a good feel for how the drone stays in the air.
Drone Manufacturers & Brands
There are dozens of manufacturers. If you’re hoping to buy the best, stick with a popular name brand rather than buying an no-name product made in China that may not fly well. Often the knock-off models will be missing key components and they’ll do little more than fly erratically around the room. Remember that if it’s super cheap, there is likely a reason for it.
If you’re a professional who is hoping to add one to your company’s services, you should be spending your cash on one of the top manufacturers.
Here is a table of some of the more popular consumer manufacturers or brands that you’ll see offered in online stores today. The ones highlighted in bold are built for professionals and experts.
TOP 20 MANUFACTURERS & BRANDS
Akaso Holy Stone
DB Power Parrot
DJI Q Copter
GoolIRC Top Race
There are many abbreviations that you’ll commonly see on websites that talk about drones or quadcopters. Here are some of the more common ones that you should learn before taking your quad out for a test drive.
Common Abbreviations & Meanings
ACC—Accelerometer. This measures velocity and acceleration on a specific axis.
AGL—This is the altitude above ground level.
AH—Altitude hold. This is a flight mode that allows you to maintain height with a sensor.
AIL—Ailerons or roll.
AL—Auto levelling. This keeps the quadcopter stable in the air.
ALT—Altitude. This is the measurement from the ground and up to the aircraft.
AP—Aerial photography that is done with the onboard camera.
ARF or ARTF—Almost ready to fly. You may need to do some simple assembly once you get your quadcopter out of the box.
ATT—Attitude or the angle of the vehicle from front to back.
AUW—All up weight, which includes the batteries and camera.
BNF—Bind N Fly. Generally involving builds or mods and it means when the unit is ready to bind to your transmitter so it can be flown.
BVLOS—Beyond visual line of sight. This means you can no longer see your quad in the air. May or may not be an issue depending on the features.
CA—Cyano adhesive. Used by hobbyists in their mods.
CG or CoG—Centre of gravity. It’s that central point within where it would be in perfect balance if it were suspended in the air.
CW/CCW—Clockwise or counterclockwise as pertaining to movements.
FAA—Federal Aviation Administration. This is the agency in the USA that governs and regulates all aspects of flight. May have a differing name in your own country.
FC/FCS—Flight controller or flight control system. This is a system of controls and is either on your remote controller unit or within the app on your smart phone or tablet that has a similar function.
FOV—Field of view. A measurement in degrees of the area that the camera lens can see.
FPV—First person view. Same as RPV. It involves a camera on the quad and live streaming video (in the better models), and is displayed on aview screen on the radio controller unit or on the smart phone or tablet that works with an app.
FW—Firmware. This is software that runs your quad. Some types enable you to do updates to fix bugs or improve function.
GCS—Ground Control System. This can be an app or software. It will receive information from the aircraft, including status and progress from sensor and video data. It also works in reverse by transmitting in-flight commands up to the copter.
GPS—Global Positioning System. This involves connecting with one of the many satellites orbiting the earth. It may involve the GLONASS system. It allows a quadcopter to connect and determine its location. This is beneficial for the pilot to know where the quad is, and to assist it in returning back home, or to do a variety of tricks, such as spin around a specific object.
Gyro—Gyroscope. This is to maintain a level orientation in the air.
IMU—This is the inertial measurement. It consists of a controller system with an accelerometer and a gyro. This aids in keeping it in the air and also on a stable horizontal flight level.
INS—Inertial navigation system is a way that it can calculate its system by using the initial GPS reading. It’s a backup for when the GPS fails or can’t connect with a satellite.
IOC—Intelligent orientation control also means a noseless mode. This is when it doesn’t matter if aircraft is facing nose first or backwards. It will still pilot onwards. Very useful to the beginner who can’t figure which is the front or back of the craft.
LED—Light emitting diode. Virtually all types of quads, from cheap to expensive, have LED lights. They enable you to discern forward nose direction or to see it in the dark.
LiPO—Lithium polymer. One of the best types of rechargeable batteries for the RC toy.
LOS—Line of sight. This is when you can see your toy in the air with your eyes, rather than on the view screen. Keeping it within your LOS is important to keep it safe. Similar toVLOS.
MOD—Modification. If you’ve been in the R/C hobby for any length of time, you’ll soon be curious about doing your own modifications. Can consist of changing colours of quad, LED lights, and propellers, or as complex as changing the look or function completely.
NAZA—This is specific to the DJI Phantom line. It’s a flight controller system that has a control chip, accelerometer, gyroscope, and a barometric altimeter.
OSD—On screen display. Images, video, or functions displayed on the screen.
Quad—Short for quadcopter.
UAV—Unmanned aerial vehicle. Applicable to toys that run on batteries and have no human seated inside.
RC or R/C—Radio controlled. Almost all quads are RC controlled, unlike the tethered drone which runs with a cable attached between your handheld device and the craft. Most radio control units have more than one channel, so that you and your friends can operate their own toys on the field without interference from the other.
RPV—Remote person view. Same as FPV.
RTF—Ready to fly. Means that you can take your toy out of the box and not have to do any assembly, or screw on the rotors or propellers. It doesn’t mean charging up, which you’ll have to still do.
sUAS—Small unmanned aircraft system. Usually in reference to the palm-sized toys they have on the market. Usually these only have the most basic functions and are hard to control.
TX—Transmitter or transmit. One of the components involved in the radio transmissions between controller and craft.
UAV—Unmanned aerial vehicle. Can be any type of toy, such as an aircraft, plane, helicopter, or quadcopter that is a smaller version of the life-sized one, and doesn’t require a person to be seated within it. A person can control the aircraft with the use of a remote controller unit that sends signals to the toy.
VLOS—Visual line of sight. Similar to LOS.
Now that you’ve worked your way through the buying guide you’ll be able to confidently ask questions anywhere they have UAVs for sale. Don’t forget to always check the drone reviews online. Whether you’re seeking the best drone with camera, or simply the best quadcopter, there is sure to be the best quadcopter to suit your budget and purposes.