Check out these five commercial quadrotors ranging from toys to tools.
At press time, the Phantom leads the pack among “prosumer” quads. We’re not crazy about the manual, but love how it flies: It’s fast, powerful, and has a very long range. Onboard GPS provides waypoint hovering and a “panic” function that automatically returns and lands if the transmitter link breaks. Accessibly priced, but the add-ons are spendy (gimbals, landing skids), and after a few flights, you’re gonna want ’em.
Micro UFO Quadcopter
This is a great starter quad that should still be fun for experts. It has a 6-axis gyro that makes it nearly impossible to flip over, and it’s very durable; we’ve crashed it into trees, grass, concrete — even a pond — and it still runs well. It comes with two batteries, so you can always keep one charging, and ours consistently outperformed the advertised 7-minute mark, giving flights of 10-12 minutes per charge. You don’t get an onboard camera at this price point, but otherwise this guy is hard to beat in terms of maximizing fun per unit buck.
Crazyflie Nano 10-DOF
At just 19g and 9cm across, this is the smallest commercial quad we know of, and certainly the most indoor-friendly. Assembly is required but it’s pretty easy: Solder 8 wires, place the motors, and plug in the battery. You can adapt a handheld transmitter to control it, but the out-of-box flight mode is through a USB radio dongle attached to a computer running the Crazyflie client software. Billed by the designers as “a development kit that flies,” everything about the platform — hardware, software, firmware, mechanical design — is fully open-source, so hack to your heart’s content!
Parrot AR.Drone 2.0
The Parrot sits between basic off-the-shelf R/C quads and more serious offerings. It uses your smartphone as the controller, which is easy for beginners, but maybe not precise enough for pros. An onboard camera streams video right to your device for FPV and/or recording. We did break ours by flying it (hard) into a tree. Luckily, Parrot is extremely fix-it-friendly: Spare parts and quality docs are readily available online.
3D Robotics Iris
Shipping in late December with the new Pixhawk PX4 flight controller, the Iris is a sweet R/C platform, but really shines when flying itself — it can land, take off, loiter, circle, capture video, navigate waypoints, and perform scripted missions on its own. Avionics and software are completely open-source. If you’re more interested in “true drones” than hobbycoptering, this is probably your best “one box” bet.