While high end quadcopters are the way to go if you’re looking for features and high definition cameras, they’re expensive. As a result, purchasing a high end quadcopter as your first quad or even purchasing one just to play around with isn’t always the best option. I mean, who wants to sink $500.00 into a new DJI Phantom, just to end up crashing it into tree and ruining it.
So we spent weeks combing forums, reading review sites, talking to experts, and conducting our own hands on reviews to find the the best “cheap” quadcopters that offered the best bang for the buck, and not ones that will break the bank.
While the opinions and reviews vary, the one model that we love, and continually ranks high on everyones list as the best cheap quadcopter is the Hubsan X4, which offers maximum value for your money:
Purchasing a cheap or inexpensive quadcopter is your best bet for first quadcopter or just one to play around with and have fun. New models are appearing on the market almost daily, but a few quads give you the best “bang for your buck”. These quads are easy to fly, reliable, have a good battery life for their size, and tough.[TOC]
Why take our advice?
I’m an inexpensive quadcopter addict and have been for a couple of years now. I love the smaller and inexpensive quads, and own a number of the models listed below along with a few others. Flying them around the house and outside is really fun and a great way to learn the basics of flying a quadcopter without risking damage to a higher end and more expensive model.
Additionally, we read numerous reviews from others sites, along with making a few posts to quadcopter enthusiast forums to get their takes as well, notably our preferred forum the The Multi Rotor Forums. The forums consist of thousands of quadcopter enthusiasts that really know what they are talking about.
How we picked the best cheap quadcopters
The “best” quadcopter really boils down to your own personal needs, preferences, and budget. Smaller quads, often called micro-quadcopters are often very inexpensive, but don’t offer the flying capabilities or features of higher end models. Additionally, if you want to fly outdoors, smaller quadcopters are often more difficult to fly due to wind.
Inexpensive quadcopters are a really great choice though if you are learning how to fly a quadcopter or enjoy flying your quad indoors or in a small area. Not to mention, they are just really fun. There is just something pretty amazing about watching these little quads hover and fly around. The technology is pretty impressive.
While some of the features depend on personal needs, there are some common basic factors that should be considered:
- Ready to fly out of the box – meaning you charge it, turn it on, and it flies.
- Easy to fly and relatively stable – Given these quads are designed for beginners, they should be fairly stable and easy to fly. Nothing is more frustrating than a difficult to fly or unstable model.
- Less than $100.00 – All of our picks can be purchased for less than $100.00, and often far less.
- Availability of spare parts – Let’s face reality, you’re going to crash your quadcopter at some point and break something. Having inexpensive spare parts on hand is essential. I personally keep multiple sets of replacement blades for my quads at home all the time.
In our Multi Roter Forums post, we received many different responses and used them, along with the various reviews here on DroneBuff.com and other retail to pull this list together for you. We additionally factored in our own experience with the various models, or at least the ones we’ve been hands on with.
Tom’s Guide shared their picks for best quadcopters, with many models well under $100.00 and meeting our basic factors. They considered battery life and the quad having a camera as their primary criteria. Battery life for us isn’t a huge concern, due to extra batteries for the smaller quadcopters being so inexpensive. Cameras are not a consideration for us either, as cameras on smaller quads just add weight, and are generally very low quality anyway.
Gizmodo also featured their best picks for beginner drones – we were a little surprised at the models they picked, as their higher rated models are models that rated a little lower for us, and our top rated model they found to be unstable. Completely contradictory to our findings.
People definitely seem to have their options about the various models, but we personally feel the choices really boil down to personal preferences and what you’re looking or in a quadcopter. Again, for our picks we made: ready to fly, easy to fly, less than $100.00 and availability of spare parts our main criteria.
With that in mind, let’s get to our picks:
The Best Cheap Quadcopter – The Hubsan X4The Hubsan X4 quad remains my personal favorite for the money. Out of all the small quads I own, this is the one I continually go to when I just want to fly around and have fun or when I want to let my kids fly a quad and practice.
Why do I like the X4 so much? At roughly $40.00, you just can’t beat the how well this small quadcopter flies. Equipped with a 6-axis gyro, and properly adjust trim, the the Hubsan X4 will almost hover on it’s own. The quad reacts quickly the controller input, especially when in expert mode, and at full throttle really zooms. It even does well in low wind conditions, drifting as expected, but definitely still flyable.
The X4 is incredibly durable, as well, especially when equipped with the optional blade protectors. The blade protectors do weigh the unit down a little more, and it’s noticeable when flying, but you can easily compensate for it after a few minutes of flying. The extra weight is worth the trade-off indoors, where you’ll often hit the blades on lights, furniture and walls. When flying outdoors, I generally remove the blade protectors.
I’ve crashed mine more times than I can count, especially during the first week or so of learning how to fly it. We live in a very wooded area, and my little hubsan has had more tree encounters than I care to count! The only damage it has sustained is broken or chipped propeller blades. The X4 comes with an extra set in the box, but I went ahead and purchased extras to have on hand. Flight performance decreases significantly with a warped or chipped propeller blade. Replacement blades are very inexpensive.Further demonstrating the X4’s high features for your money, this inexpensive quad comes with a few nice features generally found only on more expensive quadcopters. One big problem with less expensive models is that from a distance, when you are flying them, it’s difficult to tell which direction is the front, and which is the back. In lower light conditions, this is even more of an issue. Hubson solved this problem by using different propeller colors on the front and rear. Additionally, the unit is equipped with LED lights that are different on the front and back, not only helping with direction, but also enhancing the ability to see the unit at night or in low light conditions.
We also love the size and weight on the X4. It’s just a little larger than your hand, and very light weight. It fits perfectly in a backpack or gymsack. While small, it is large enough to fly really well outdoors evening with some minor wind. We find it to be surprisingly stable for it’s size with a light wind and minor gusts.
The included controller is easy to use, and looks like most standard quadcopter controllers. The controller is light weight, easy to use, not overly sensitive, and has adjustable trim controls. Range in clear view is up to 984 feet, which is really impressive for it’s size.
While I do think the X4 is an awesome little quadcopter, there are a few cons to consider. It doesn’t include a camera. There is a more expensive version of the X4 that has a camera, it’s more expensive. Battery life, due to the small size is short, about 8 minutes of flight time. Given it’s size, that’s actually pretty good, but overall 8 minutes isn’t long at all. Fortunately extra batteries are very inexpensive, so just keep a few extras on hand. Finally, the battery is a bit difficult to get in and get out, an the clip that attaches the unit to the battery is really hard to remove sometimes. Once you do it a few times, you’ll get better at it, but I really wish they would redesign the clip.
Overall, the Hubsan X4 is an amazing little quadcopter for the money, and one I recommend to anyone asking for a good beginner quadcopter or just looking for something fun to play with. We actually own a few of them, and I enjoy racing them with our kids.
Other Great Picks
While the Hubsan X4 is a great model, there are a few others that are outstanding as well. They didn’t make the top pick, due to not having the same “bang for the buck” that the X4 has, but are still excellent quadcopters and ones that you should seriously consider.
Dromida OminusThe Dromida Ominus is a highly praised small quadcopter that receives high reviews on Amazon as well. The ominous is agile, easy to fly, and really takes a beating – which is ideal for those learning to fly.
The Ominus is larger and a heavier than the Hubsan X4, making it a bit more stable and allowing it to a remain a little more stable in low wind conditions. The increased size also provides room for a larger battery, offering 10 minute flight times, versus the Hubsan’s 7 min average.
The Ominus provides 4 different flying modes: Easy, Normal, Advanced, Expert. These modes adjust the responsiveness, max speed, and adjusts the flight assistance features. The modes allow you to gradually increase the quads flight capability as you learn to fly better. On expert mode, the Ominus is insanely quick and responsive, flying up to 30 miles per hour.
Durability is the key feature of the Ominus. This quad is designed to take a beating, as you can see in the product video below. We live in a very dense wooded area, and I hit a number of trees and bushes. You just flip it over and it keeps on going. I would recommend buying some extra blades for it, as they do eventually get dinged up enough to begin impacting the stability of the unit.
A few other really nice features include LED lights on the bottom of the unit that are large and very easy to see. The Ominus is available in 4 different colors (red, green, blue, and yellow). Stabilization is provided by a 3-axis gyro and a 3-axis accelerometer.
A nice touch is the LED indicator for the battery that warns you when the battery is low. This allows you to land the quad safely before the battery dies. Unfortunately on other quads in this price range, they just tend to fall when the battery dies.
Awesome quad, with great flight capability and really takes a beating. The key selling feature on the Ominous is durability. This quad can really take a beating, and just keeps on flying.
Why didn’t it make our top pick? Price. Given the lower price point for the Hubsan, and it’s stable flight capabilities, the Hubsan X4 is just a better bang for the buck. Remember, this review is “Best Cheap Quadcopter“, not best overall.
I purchased a Drominus Ominus for the purpose of reviewing it, and had planned to give it away, but elected to keep it since I’ve enjoyed flying it so much.
Syma X5C-1The Syma X5C-1 is the only quad in this article with a camera, which might make it the preferred option for many. I personally don’t use the cameras on the smaller quads much at all, so not a huge feature for me personally. The HD camera is bottom mounted, and writes video out to a micro SD card (included in the box). The resolution is pretty good.
The X5C-1 is is the largest of the quadcopters in this review at about 12 inches in diameter. The X5C-1 is very stable, and easy to fly. The -1 model is a significant improvement over the original X5C (without the -1), which was notorious for instability and other flight issues. Syma has definitely resolved those issues with the new model.
The Syma is an ideal quad if you plan to fly mainly outdoors, due to it’s larger size. It’s much easier outdoors to see than the smaller X4 and seems to have a little more range. If you’ll be flying indoors, you’ll want to consider the larger size, and perhaps consider the Hubsan X4 instead.
With the camera on, you only get about 3 minutes of flight time. With the camera off, you get more than double that time, at 7 minutes of flight time. One nice touch on this quad is when the battery gets low, the LED lights on the underside
The X5C-1, like most other quads in it’s price range has a beginner and expert mode. Expert mode provides increased agility, speed and maneuverability. Beginner mode provides incredible stability, and less reaction time to help novice pilots learn to fly and avoid crashing.
Overall the Syma is a great little quadcopter for the money, and highly recommended, especially for beginner pilots. The X5C-1 didn’t make our top pick as it’s a little too big to be flown both indoors and outdoors. BUT, if you want a camera, and will be flying mainly outdoors, this is the quad you want to buy.
Blade Nano QXBlade is a very well recognized brand in the quadcopter and personal drone industry. Blade makes a number of high quality and reliable quads. For this review, we looked at he Nano QX, a very popular, well rated and inexpensive quad.
The QX is about the size of the Hubsan X4, and includes both flexible arms and built in blade protectors, making the QX a very durable quadcopter. The built in blade guards are a really nice touch as well, and help with indoor flying. Because of these two features, we consider the Nano QX the one of the most durable quads in this review.
When flying both our top pick, the Hubsan X4 and the Blade Nano QX together, the QX is notably quieter. I honestly didn’t realize how loud my X4 was until I flew the QX.
The Nano QX has two modes, similar to other quads in this review: stability mode and agility mode. Stability mode is designed for beginners, and makes the quad less responsible and more stable during flight. Expert mode provides much faster response times and quicker speed. We found the Nano QX to be a lot more stable stable in it’s “beginner” (aka stability) mode compared to the X4. So if your are a new quad pilot, the QX makes a good choice and provides stable and easy flying. Surprisingly, this quad doesn’t include any special built in tricks like flips or rolls.
Flight time is about 8 minutes, a little longer than the Hubsan X4, and on par with other quads in this size and price range. The controller provides the standard controls and trim adjustments.
Range is much shorter than we would expect for a quad in this size and price range. Max range is about 50 – 75 feet depending on conditions. On the contrary, range on the Hubsan X4 is over 300 feet.
While a great quad, the Blade Nano QX didn’t make our top pick due to price and it’s short range, however it is the most stable quad in this line up.
JJRC H8CWhile not a big brand name like the Blade and Hubsan, the JJRC H8C is an amazing little quad for the money and unlike most of the models in this review, it includes a built-in camera. Unfortunately the camera isn’t the greatest, but it does work.
One of the things you note right away with the H8C is the size of the props. In this case, the large props equate to speed. On max speed, this is one fast quad. Even on lower settings the quad is pretty quick. As a result, it’s not a good quadcopter for beginners and better for intermediate and expert pilots.
Two JJRC H8C has two major issues, that require a little “hacking” to resolve. The copter has significant video jello (waves in the video) when flying. This is due to improperly balanced propeller blades. This is most likely due to their size in comparison to the quadcopters body size.
The second issue is that it has very short range, less than 100 feet, even thought it’s advertised much higher than that. This can be resolved by opening up the controller and increasing the length of the antennae, but you really need to know what you are doing.
The body design is nice looking, and it comes with prop guards, a nice controller that looks a lot like an Xbox controller and extra propeller blades. The unit is equipped with bright LED lights that not only help you see the quad, but also beginning blinking when the battery gets low – a nice feature.
Flight times vary depending on speed and whether the camera and LED lights are on. A slower speeds, with both the camera and LED lights off, you an get 8-10 minutes of flight time. With both the LED light and camera on, you’re looking at 6-7 minute flight times. Not bad for a small quad with a camera. JJRC managed these longer flight times by using two batteries wired in series, rather than just one.
While we love this quad, it didn’t make our top pick due to the out of box issues, and the fact that it’s not ideal for beginners. If you are experienced quad pilot, and don’t mind doing a few pretty simple hacks, we would definitely recommend picking one of these up.
I’ll be honest, picking just one of these as the top pick was difficult, as they are all really great quadcopters, and all under $100.00. You really can’t go wrong with any of them, and they each have their own sets of pros and cons. The Hubsan X4 offers the overall best bang for the buck, but doesn’t come with a camera, which could be important to some of you.
We recommend getting all of them! Seriously, we really do. They are all fun, in different ways. Add a comment below and let us know which one (or ones) you decided to buy. We would love to hear your feedback and comments on the quads and this article as well!