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My brothers would like to start drone flying, as they haven't ever flown my Syma before. I am looking for a small, inexpensive pocket or medium drone for beginners that will probably get thrown into our magnolia tree.

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    $\begingroup$ There are a whole bunch of no-name options on amazon and other marketplaces. At this tier, there really isn't a difference. IMO, you should just pick one that looks good to you and buy it. :) Syma is a decent brand. $\endgroup$ – ifconfig Sep 29 '20 at 1:13
  • $\begingroup$ Get something cheap and small (<30 grams, but not any "world's tinyist") with "whoop" style shrouded props but without automatic altitude (which never works) - ie, the left stick should stay where placed up and down, not have a center return spring. Start without FPV; the cheap wifi FPV doesn't really work anyway and it's important to learn to fly from "outside" the aircraft. $\endgroup$ – Chris Stratton Sep 29 '20 at 20:54
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There's no single 'best' starter drone, as new ones are released every few months. However there are lots of good options under \$30, and some as cheap as $15.

What you're looking for is something small and light, so you can fly it indoors without breaking things. It should have rings around the props to protect them and anything it hits.

Syma, Eachine and Hubsan are popular brands but there are others.

Do get more than one battery. They typically only last about 5 minutes and take an hour to charge. A charger that can charge more than one battery at a time is a bonus too. That said, 10-20 minutes is enough for most people - at least after the first time.

'Headless mode' is quite a useful feature for beginners, it allows you to ignore yaw. Forwards is always 'away from you', whatever direction the drone is facing. It's not essential though, and can be confusing or lead to bad habits.

'Altitude hold' should be useful but I've found these drones always need an experienced pilot to trim them first. It's good for an experienced pilot to teaching kids under 10, but not for teaching yourself.

Many cheap quads have tiny 'jelly bean' transmitters, which can be difficult for those with big hands. If you think this might be a problem, you can spend a bit more for a proper sized controller. There are various hacks for extending the sticks too.

Don't buy one with a simple recording camera. Until you pay enough for one that can transmit the signal to you in real time, the footage will be rubbish because you can't point the camera and frame the shot. The first time you do it, it's cool to see a blurry, poorly coloured picture from the air but the novelty quickly wears off. View your first drone as a trainer and indoor toy that will take the knocks of learning while you save up for something better.

Don't bother buying loads of spares, these little things don't break very often, and it's as likely to be a motor burning out as a broken prop, and a pack of spare motors can cost more than the drone.

That said, they are very prone to picking up stray hairs and winding them around the props and motors. Try not to spend all your time bumping around on the floor, and check for hairs after each crash.

When you're learning, try to pop up into a hover a foot or so off the ground and concentrate on holding the right height. When it has drifted half-way to an obstruction, cut the power and land. Don't try to fight it because you'll just crash harder. Put it back in the middle of the room, review what you should have done and try again. When you can control the height, try correcting the drift but still land and review when it gets half-way to an obstruction. If you struggle, find a larger space to practice for a while.

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My experience with cheap drones (<=30€) is very bad. These drones are nothing compared to either DJI or an FPV drone. I say it as it is. And I'm usually the guy who saves on every penny possible.

I've had a Revell Nano Hex and a Carrera drone, each around 30€. Both are completely unable to hold their position or anything. These drones just end up frustrating the operator. Also, the batteries on both wore out crazily fast (<20 flights until only around 60-70% of flight time was left). When I started up my DJI P3S, it was a completely different feeling. Nothing like I was used to.

What I want to say is: cheap toy drones are not representative. There might be good quality ones, but event these are completely different in their functionality than DJI.

DJI/Ryze have the Tello drone. I've flown that a couple of times and it seemed pretty stable in the air - that is a good practice drone when your brothers want to get into "Camera first" drones. But, this drone is not cheap at 90-120€.

Headless mode is pretty much non-existent at these lower cost drones and I'd also say it's nothing necessary. I've used it only once or twice with my Phantom in 4 years.

Altitude hold is the thing you should be after at a beginner drone. Drones with altitude hold won't shut their motor off when you pull down the throttle - instead they go into a controlled descent. I found that drones with this feature are basically the ones that do not frustrate you, whereas without it, the drones are cheap.

Conclusion

1: If you can afford it, buy a (used) Tello. These things are good for practicing: reliable, good quality, easy to control -> few to no crashes.

2: I've found out that you can also buy a used "smart"/"Camera first" drone (DJI spark, mavic mini or from another brand) and sell it afterwards. These drones have little to no price degradation so they'll be equally as inexpensive as cheap toy drones, while preventing frustration due to crashes. Bear in mind, there's a DJI announcement coming up, where they're expected to launch a Mavic Mini 2. If you end up buying a DJI Mavic Mini 1, do sell it prior to this event as this event will vastly decrease the value of the Mavic Mini 1.

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  • $\begingroup$ Could not disagree more strongly. Many sub-$20 toys like whoop clones have great flying qualities and superb damage resistance, which makes them perfect for learning actual flying skills in small indoor spaces - which means all-weather and no chance of fly-aways or trees. Altitude hold is really a negative for flying skill and should be avoided. Once someone can actually fly, they can consider if they want to get into something larger for outdoor use and face the greater consequences of a mishap. $\endgroup$ – Chris Stratton Oct 5 '20 at 19:49
  • $\begingroup$ Imo, whoops (and clones thereof) are not suitable for beginners. Beginners should learn in auto-level or even altitude hold if they are just starting. This greatly minimizes the risk of crashing $\endgroup$ – Bastian Springer Oct 6 '20 at 20:05
  • $\begingroup$ Auto level is a feature of all the toys. The point is that crashes of such toys are essentially without consequence, giving the opportunity to learn. Altitude hold on the other hand basically doesn't work at indoor precision, and should be avoided so one actually learns to fly. Managing the throttle is typically the first skill before positioning and way before yaw or banking forward flight. One can learn to really fly for $20. $\endgroup$ – Chris Stratton Oct 6 '20 at 20:13

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