So you’d like to buy a drone for your kids for the holidays… but drones are fragile (and expensive). Those two qualities don’t combine well with kids of any age. What’s a parent to do?
Luckily, these flying gadgets are so ubiquitous that they can be had for a song, at least compared to much more powerful and capable consumer drones. Sure, they’re more like a modern take on an RC car than an actual flying robot—but since your kids would smash a real drone into a thousand pieces after a minute or two, it’s probably a prudent move to go cheap.
We’ve selected the best option for standard drones and one equipped with a camera, plus a faster “racing” drone for older kids. If you’re worried about someone getting hurt, there’s also a super-light option with a completely enclosed rotor design. Check them out below.
Best Overall Drone Under $50: Holy Stone HS210 ($50)
If your aim is to get your recipient into drones as a hobby without spending much money, this model from the well-regarded Holy Stone line is ideal. It comes with an included physical controller, unlike many models that rely on less precise phone control apps, and has no less than three batteries included for longer play sessions.
Sturdy plastic rotor rings and a lightweight should protect it in inevitable crashes, and a position hold function and an easy steering mode help beginner operators come to grips with typical drone controls.
Best Camera Drone: Hubsan X4 H107C ($30)
For those who prefer the photography angle of drones, this Hubsan model includes a 720p video camera in a package under thirty bucks. At that low of a price, you don’t get remote camera controls: you’ll have to press the record button on the drone, begin your flight, and then press it again when you’re done to finish the recording on the MicroSD card.
For the price the flight is surprisingly fast and stable, making for entertaining videos even if they’re not easy to share or edit. Oh, and don’t forget to use the money you saved to pick up an inexpensive MicroSD card for the recording…and note the model number. There are a lot of X4 variations that are more expensive and/or don’t have cameras.
Best Racing Drone: Holy Stone HS150 ($46)
If you’re buying for an older kid who feels the need for speed, then check out this alternative model from Holy Stone. The “Bolt Bee” is rated to fly at over 50 kilometers per hour (about 30 miles per hour), which isn’t really fast enough to compete with more elaborate racing models, but will outpace pretty much anything on a playground.
The package includes a remote and a spare battery, and a “headless” mode will help with controlling the drone as you’re starting out. Note that the rotor protection on this thing is pretty minimal—you may want to pick up some spares at the same time.
The Best Safe Drone: ACECHUM “Flying Ball” ($40)
Those with especially young children may be put off by drones as a gift, given that they are, you know, flying robots. But this whitebox model is more of a floating toy than a remote control helicopter. The gadget uses no remote, but raises, lowers, and changes direction based on infrared motion detection with a wave of your hand.
The whole thing weighs only about an ounce, and the rotors inside are protected by a fully-enclosed soft shell, like a table fan. So at worst, a child could get an extremely gentle bump in the head… instead of a 20MPH spinning rotor in the eyeball. An important distinction.
Honorable Mention: Propel Star Wars X Wing Quadcopter ($69)
Technically this drone is ~$20 outside of our price range at the time of writing, but considering that this licensed Star Wars toy generally goes for a couple of hundred bucks, we figured it was a worthy inclusion. Propel makes some pretty high-end drones for the child market, and this X-Wing shaped one can do some fun stuff.
It’s fast, with a top speed of 30 miles per hour, and comes with a themed “rebel” remote. The foam body is a convincing facsimile of the iconic spaceship, and it can “fight” with other Star Wars drones with infrared “lasers” and a phone app. It’s a real treat for a Star Wars fan, if your budget will stretch.