The Best Drones Under $200 of 2018By Adam Doud
When it comes to consumer electronics, few are as complicated as drones. Between the different drone types and the wide range of pricing, there’s a lot to process. So, what should you buy? It’s a good question with no easy answer.
To keep things simple for the everyday person, we focused on ones that cost less than $200. After flying them through a series of obstacles to see how they maneuver, the Potensic T25 (available at Amazon) stood out from the pack. We also tested the Force 1 U45 Blue Jay (available at Amazon), which is great for the budget-conscious buyer.
Here’s how the best drones we tested ranked, in order:
- Potensic T25
- Force 1 U45 Blue Jay
- Holy Stone HS200
- Fat Shark 101
- Holy Stone HS @30
- Dromida XL
Updated July 26, 2018
Potensic T25Best Overall
The Potensic T25 is my favorite drone. For under $200, this drone has just about anything you could ask for: stability, GPS, 1080p camera, and more. This is a variable speed drone, meaning it can fly slowly for precision flying or fast if you have a lot of ground to cover.
The batteries can be easily changed, too. Not only do they slide into the drone with a satisfying snap, you don’t even have to remove them to charge it, as there’s a microUSB port on the drone’s outside. The thing that makes this drone stand out is the GPS, which provides it with rock-solid stability. You can release the controls and this drone will stay where you left it.
One of the downsides is that there’s no way to fly it without the app. That’s not a bad thing, per se, but if you want a few extra minutes flying without streaming, that’s not an option. The controller also feels cheap, like the way a toy drone might feel.
Nitpicks aside, the precision flying that this drone provides along with quality video with a 1 axis gimbal (meaning you can move the camera up and down) is awesome. Picture quality is good, too, though not the best we tested. You probably won’t impress anyone with your landscapes here, but the camera is great for first-person-view (FPV) flying.
How We Tested
My name is Adam Doud. I’ve been a reviewer predominantly in the mobile technology sector (phones and tablets), and I like to test and review other consumer electronics when I get the opportunity. In addition to having bylines with Pocketnow, Android Authority, and Booredatwork, I'm also a podcast producer.
I did most of the testing by flying the drones outside in a large field near my house in the Chicago suburbs, where there’s almost always wind. After reading over each instruction manual, I downloaded the app (when needed) and calibrated each drone per the instructions. I always flew in beginner mode except when testing called for speed tests.
For each drone, I turned it on and brought it to a hover at eye level. Then, after a few seconds of this, I sent it up to the treetops for another hover before flying it around an open field. For obstacle testing, I guided it through different playsets (jungle gyms, if you will). I also flew the drones indoors in a large warehouse around some gym equipment.
Other Drones We Tested
(At the time of testing, the following drones were less than $200. Prices may fluctuate with time.)
Force1 U45W Blue Jay
Force1 U45W Blue Jay
The Force1 U45 Blue Jay brings a lot to the table. It’s actually one of the most inexpensive drones we tested, which is always a plus. The standout feature here is that while the battery only lasts for five to seven minutes of flight time, the Force 1 comes with three of them in the box, giving you up to 20 minutes of flight time.
Beyond that, the Force 1’s maneuverability is quite good, as it’s able to navigate obstacles fairly well. There’s no GPS, so you’ll need to keep the drone horizontally stable when there’s wind. The app interface is also very straightforward. Another little bonus is that the remote controller includes a sun shade to help you see your phone in the mount on bright days.
The digital readout on the controller has some information about power and trim of the drone, but it’s not really needed to fly. You’re far better off watching the drone in flight than relying on the limited information displayed on the remote.
The camera on this drone is terrible. However, that’s not surprising, given that it’s only 720p. There’s also no HDR support. So, when you have a shot with the dark greens of a field and the bright blues of the sky, the camera gets over-exposed and the transition is slow between the two.
Holy Stone HS200D
Holy Stone HS200D
Next on our list is the Holy Stone HS200. If you’ve researched drones on Amazon at all, you’re probably familiar with the name. The HS200 is a perfectly fine drone. I had next to no issues flying it, though it required a bit more adjustment than most to stay in one place.
One notable fact (and not a good one) is that it takes a long time to charge. The advertised time is approximately two hours, which is consistent with our testing, but that’s a lot of downtime. Plus, to charge the battery, you need to plug a microUSB cable into the drone.
Overall, I found this drone to be less maneuverable than others when it came to obstacles, as it struggled the most with precision movements. You can generally maneuver the drone where you want it to go, but obstacles are a problem.
The camera also suffers from the same problem as the Force 1, but it handles contrasting colors a little better, as they're not completely blown out. Rather, the camera compensates with a sort of half dark/half light composition. It’s not HDR, but it’s not the worst camera we’ve ever seen.
Fat Shark 101
Where To Buy$214.29 Amazon Buy
Fat Shark 101
The FatShark 101 is a racing drone, which is in another class of drones entirely, as they’re much harder to fly than their consumer counterparts. The main reason for this is the lack of altitude hold. Racing drones by design allow you to control the power of the blades along with everything else. That makes sense when you’re trying to zip through obstacles, but it makes flying quite difficult to manage when you’re an amateur flyer.
You’re getting a lot with this tiny drone. Not only does it come with a full-sized controller that feels good to use, you’re also getting FPV goggles, which are common in the racing circuit. That being said, I rarely used the googles since I had to check on the altitude of the drone to make sure it didn’t crash.
If you’re trying to get into the racing circuit, this is a great drone to get started with. There are three modes of flight: beginner, intermediate, and expert. Plus, there’s a software-based simulator that you can use to learn how to fly without risking the drone itself.
It’s a good idea to spend time with the simulator, as Fat Shark suggests. Without proper practice, I was unable to complete our obstacle course with the Fat Shark.
All told, if you’re looking for a racing drone, start the conversation with Fat Shark.
Holy Stone HS230
Holy Stone HS230
Similar to the Fat Shark, the Holy Stone HS230 racing drone is hard to fly due to lack of altitude control. However, the remote control has a video screen built into it, removing the necessity of holstering your phone. That’s a solid plus here.
So, rather than using the first-person-view goggles, which would undoubtedly give you a more immersive experience, the built-in screen gives you the ability to use FPV from the drone and visually check the drone itself.
The camera on here is also good for FPV racing, as the quality looks really good on the built-in display on the remote. However, once you pull that footage from the memory card, the video is awful, wavy, and nausea-inducing. Keep it to the tiny screen and you’re fine.
The Dromida XL, the biggest drone on our list, really disappointed us in the end. The large size is nice because it helps with stability. The shape is also cool because it’s really sleek and looks like a jet plane. But that’s the extent of the coolness here.
The Dromida is very herky-jerky in flight. No, that’s not an industry term. Flying it is a bit of a challenge because it throws itself into whatever movement you dictate with gusto. It’s almost too sensitive, which makes for a somewhat broken flying experience.
Regarding build quality, the outside covering feels more like a thin candy shell. Add that to the plastic internal gears and the drone itself is shockingly delicate. Plus, the battery is the hardest among all the drones to change due to a very stiff power connector.
However, the camera is the best on this list, handling both dark and and light environments with aplomb. It did some odd auto-saturation with extreme greens at times, but that’s it. Overall, I was impressed with the camera quality. That said, the jerky nature of the flight led to jerky video as well.