If you’re interested in buying your first drone or are curious but afraid of adopting an expensive new hobby, you’ll be happy to know you’re probably holding your first drone controller in your hands: your iPhone or iPad.
While professional drone pilots rely on sophisticated transmitters, which can end up costing hundreds of dollars, an amateur hobbyist just starting out can definitely get away with using their iPhone or iPad to control their drones, thanks to apps created by Parrot and DJI — arguably the biggest names in drones. We’ve broken down the best options for drones that are compatible with your iOS devices and divided them up into three categories depending on your budget and skill level.
All the drones in this section are under $300 and your best options for novice or younger folks interested in drones. The Parrot Hydrofoil and Swing are not your typical quadcopter, either, and are better options for those looking for fun rather than seriously considering getting into drone racing or first-person-view (FPV) flying. These options are also small enough not to require registration with the FAA.
Parrot Mini Drone Hydrofoil
The Parrot Mini Drone Hydrofoil is essentially a hybrid drone which can be flown as a standard quadcopter or attached to a hydrofoil base to turn it into an aquatic vehicle. Whether it’s in the air or skimming along the surface, you can easily control the Mini Drone Hydrofoil with Parrot’s FreeFlight app for iOS.
At under $100, this is a great option for those curious not only about drones but RC in general. The mini drone included here is very basic, though it does include a basic onboard camera that works in both aquatic and aerial mode. You’ll get about nine minutes of flight time or seven minutes on the water on a fully-charged battery, which is pretty standard for drones of this size.
Parrot Mini Drone Airborne Cargo
The Mini Drone Airborne Cargo is a durable little quadcopter that’s perfect for beginners. It, too, includes a basic camera, which won’t afford you the epic footage you’d get from options farther down this list, but enough to start understanding and practicing recording video while in flight.
This drone features a base for attaching figurines and building blocks to customize the look of it a bit, making this one a great option for kids. The battery also lasts for an average of nine minutes per battery charge. Its durable design means it will survive the shock of a crash when you’re still learning how to keep the thing in the air, making it a great entry point for someone just starting out with drones. Get yours for just $60
Parrot Swing and Flypad Minidrone
Part drone, part RC plane, the Parrot Swing is another hybrid. It can take off vertically like a drone but then switch over to plane mode and zip around at up to 19 mph. It ships with a Flypad controller in the box, which includes a holder for your smartphone to monitor battery life and flight time, but can also be controlled by your iPhone or iPad via the FreeFlight app.
As with the Mini Drone Hydrofoil, this won’t be the ideal option for those looking to get into proper quadcopter drone racing, but it sure does stand out amongst the crowd with its futuristic design and unique control options, including an autopilot feature. Perfect for those just interested in the joys of flying and yours for just $78.
Extreme Fliers Microdrone 3.0
Extreme Fliers Microdrone 3.0 was originally a crowdfunded project, but is now available via Amazon. This quadcopter ships with a capable controller, but can also be controlled via your iPhone or iPad with the Micro Drone 3.0 app for iOS. It’s a great option for someone pursuing FPV drone flying but looking for an entry-level drone that won’t break the bank.
The Microdrone includes a modular HD camera that connects to your phone via Wi-Fi and allows you to fly along with your drone while wearing a Google Cardboard-esque headset, which is included. You can also use the app to control the drone if you’d prefer. The camera attaches directly to the battery via magnets and is part of the modular design of the drone. Extreme Fliers is preparing to release a 3-axis gimbal to steady your drone footage and has also mentioned other potential mods that might come down the line.
So you know the basics of how to keep a drone in the air and are ready to move onto something a bit more substantial. These are your best options for mid-range drones that will offer a bit more speed, style, and more features, while still remaining fairly affordable.
Parrot Bebop 2 FPV Drone
The Bebop 2 FPV Drone is nearly identical to the Bebop 2 featured above, except this kit also includes a quality headset to use for FPV racing.
If you’re serious about FPV racing, but not quite yet ready to invest in a custom-built racing drone, this option from Parrot will absolutely do the trick for getting used to controlling your drone in first-person. You’ll use the Parrot Freeflight app to stream live video to your iPhone and use the included headset for FPV piloting. Like the non-FPV Bebop 2, you will need to follow FAA guidelines and register this drone. Also outlined in FAA regulations, make sure you only ever fly your drone in FPV when supervised by a friend. Get your Bebop FPV kit for just $424 on Amazon.
Airselfie is a CES darling, and this year they were showing off their latest model of the compact drone that’s sole purpose is taking selfies. The Airselfie drone is a drone you can store in a phone case for capturing brilliant aerial photos and videos whenever and wherever (legally, of course). Entirely controlled via smartphone with the AirSelfie Camera app, the AirSelfie is capable of flying up to 20 meters and has autonomous flight features so you can focus on posing for the camera while the drone hovers steadily.
It’s a pocket-sized drone that you can take selfies with — the future is right now! Get your taste of it for $339 and take your selfie game to the next level.
The DJI Spark is one of the best consumer drones we’ve seen. It’s a full-featured video drone that’s fast, maneuverable and capable of stable flight in winds gusting up to 30mph for skilled pilots, but also easy enough for beginners to pick up.
Regularly priced at $500, you can find the DJI Spark on sale for as low as $375 which is an absolute bargain. DJI is the world’s premiere drone maker, and unlike lesser drones the Spark is packed with all the coolest camera tricks you’d want from a video drone — all using your smartphone.
There’s TapFly that lets you use the onboard camera to plot the course, while the Spark’s sensors detect and avoid obstacles for a safe and stable shot. ActiveTrack lets you keep focus on a moving subject as the Spark follows and tracks automatically. You’re also able to control the Spark via hand gestures for the ultimate selfie.
The best of the best drones that work with your iPhone, these are professional-grade options that should only be considered by those who are confident in their drone piloting skills.
DJI Phantom 4 Camera Drone
For those serious about recording epic drone footage, you simply can’t beat the DJI Phantom 4. It includes a camera mounted on a 3-axis gimbal, capable of shooting 4K video at 30FPS, as well as 12-megapixel photos. The included controller has smart features such as one-touch take off and an auto return home powered by the onboard GPS.
There are also more advanced professional options such as setting GPS waypoints, so you can focus on the camera while the onboard computers handle all the flying. You can also use ActiveTrack to automatically follow a moving subject and keep it in the frame, while using its Obstacle Sensing Systems to avoid crashes. It’s just a really smart, top-of-the-line drone (reflected in its price) that’s great for professional videographers looking to add aerial footage to their arsenal, or hobbyists looking for one of the best pre-built drones on the market. Get yours for just $765 from Amazon.
DJI Mavic Pro Camera Drone
The DJI Mavic Pro Camera Drone is the latest from DJI and is currently available for pre-order (expected to start shipping in late December).
It takes all the professional features found in the DJI Phantom 4 and repackages them all into a much sleeker and portable package. The Mavic can be folded down to about the size of a water bottle, making it way easier to bring your drone along with you everywhere. DJI’s new OcuSync transmission system offers an insane amount of transmission range — up to 4.3 miles — which is great news for professional videographers and probably overkill for hobbyists.
If you’ve got a need for speed, the Mavic can reach speeds of up to 40mph. You’ll be able to your iPhone to see what the Mavic’s camera sees, as well as track battery life, where your Mavic is, and where it’s going. This is another one of those drones that you will for sure need to register with the FAA, and, despite all its enhanced stability and safety features, you’ll also want to be confident in your drone piloting abilities. You can get yours on sale for under $900.
What do you fly?
Are you a drone pilot? What are you flying right now? Let us know in the comments below!
Update January 2017: Updated to add the DJI Spark and AirSelfie to our list, and update pricing info.
Best Drones for iPhone | iMore