The best cheap drone of the year, we review the top budget drones that offer the great value for their price.
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UAV technology is improving day by day as more and more of these devices find their way into the market. Drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), come in different shapes and sizes for different purposes, but have similar systems. They may contain state-of-the-art technology such as GPS, lasers, infrared cameras and rely on a remote control system (ground cockpit). The technology of these devices covers everything from the aerodynamics and materials used to the circuits, chipset and software that form the drone's brain.
In general, most drones that cost less than $100 have many shortcomings. They are unstable, have no advanced features and present many other challenges during flight. Although it only costs $99, the Ryze Tello is a fantastic drone under $100 and won our Best Cheap Drone of 2020 award in our test for the best drone of 2020. The Tello comes with surprisingly different advanced features. For example, it runs on a 14-core Intel vision processor, has a 5 megapixel camera that can record 720p HD video, DJI flight stabilization technology and a 13-minute battery life. In terms of design and construction, the Ryze Tello drone is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. It has a compact frame with a sleek, minimalist two-tone structure and weighs only about three ounces.
However, the Ryze Tello is not supplied with a controller. You have to rely on its smartphone app with virtual joysticks that can prove inaccurate and difficult to use. To address this problem, this drone supports third party attachments, meaning you can buy a physical controller and connect it to the Ryze Tello. This should cost a few extra mice, which is fine considering how cheap this drone is.
Like all other DJI products, the Tello is characterised by its excellent workmanship. I find the manufacturing quality of the Tello to be outstanding and unsurpassed. The body of the Tello is mostly nylon, which is a good choice as it is very impact resistant. Nylon engine arms bend and flex in a crash rather than break. This is a common problem with stiffer materials like ABS. Although the arms of the Tello are quite stiff in the vertical direction, they are designed to offer a lot of lateral flexibility.
Under the hood is the 1100mAh 3.8V LiPo battery of the Tello, which takes up almost half of the space in the case. The battery has a proprietary slot-in design. There is no fixed battery latch and the battery is installed by simply pushing it in until a slight click. During my first test flights with the Tello the battery is quite slightly bent in crashes. This is not exactly a bad thing, as a battery that comes loose on impact allows the engines to shut down immediately in a crash.
The image quality of the Tello's 5MP camera is quite impressive, although not quite as good as the image quality of mid-range smartphone cameras. If you need a drone for GoPro, we recommend you take a look at our special GoPro drone test, where we have tested the best GoPro drones for 2020.
In the basic version of the Tello, flight control is performed entirely via the Tello app. Interestingly, unlike other DJI drones, the Tello does not rely on the DJI GO app. The Tello app allows the drone to be flown using virtual joysticks. This is not exactly the best way to fly a drone, since virtual sticks do not have the same tactile feedback as real remote controller sticks. In other words, it is quite difficult for you to get a good feeling for how much input you put into these virtual sticks.
Related: Check out our Star Wars drone review freshly updated for 2020.
The flight performance is one of the things that distinguishes the Tello from other toy drones. Specifically, the Tello is one of the few toy drones currently equipped with optical and infrared sensors that assist in positioning and altitude holding. Under optimal lighting conditions, the downward pointing optical sensor helps Tello to "see" the ground and maintain its flight position, while the two infrared sensors help it to maintain its exact height.
For an inexpensive UAV, the range on Ryze Tello is good enough at 100 meters and speeds of up to 11 miles per hour. You can use it both outdoors and indoors. In the latter case you must use propeller protection for safety reasons. When the battery is running low, the drone sets the shortest flight path back home to avoid a crash.
2020 Updates: None Scheduled
Like any other piece of tech, you need to consider a few things before investing in a budget drone. You will need to look at three essential aspects and find the right balance between them to ensure you get the best. These include:
The range of a UAV determines the distance it can travel without losing communication with its remote control. Depending on requirements, some drones can fly up to four miles away from the signal. At the lower end, some budget drones can only fly up to 150 feet. It's a good idea to choose a drone with a considerable range, because you don't have to lose control every time.
The battery life is the trickiest part for most UAV manufacturers. They have to find the right balance between battery size and capacity to avoid endangering the weight of a drone and at the same time allow a longer flight duration. UAVs on the current market last between 5 and 35 minutes. Some have a "Return Home" function that redirects the drone home if the battery runs out.
Speed may not be important because it is not a limiting factor. However, you may need a fast cheap drone for racing purposes. If you need a fast drone we would recommend a professional drone, which have record speeds of up to 45 miles per hour.
As you can see from our our review of the best cheap drones for 2020, The Ryze Tello is still killing in this space in terms of performance and build quality.