Which Drone or Quadcopter to buy first? It’s time to stop your research and get flying!
Although we have an existing section for beginners, I thought it would be nice to have an even easier and shorter guide to getting started in this hobby and pursuit. The below advice applies to those with NO flying R/C experience in the past.
Your first Quad
Note – this article is about 6 months old and things can change quickly! See the article about the 10 best quadcopters for this holiday season to learn about some newer models. The Syma, though, is still a fine first quad for those who actually want to learn the ropes (some newer models are more stable, but some pilots would rather learn to fly a more “manual” copter like the Syma).
Since this is a short guide, I suggest all new flyers pick up the Syma X1 (or other X), Hubsan X4, Blade Nano or Latrax Alias as their first learning machine. Here is our flight test on the X1 and an update on the Hubsan X4
The prices will vary, but they are usually about $40-$50 delivered. It does not matter which body style you chose (spacecraft, bee, ufo), they are all the same inside and you can even remove the body and install a better looking one yourself (make it from a soda bottle, etc.)
Here are some pro’s and cons – note that the 3-axis units do not automatically self-level when you release the transmitter sticks – so they are harder to fly. BUT, you may end up being a better pilot if you learn on them.
Hubsan X4 – 6 -axis micro – best value all-around current learning machine – $40-50 – buy the optional prop guards!
Syma X1 – 3 axis mini – older technology but very durable and inexpensive ($35) – if you can fly this well, you can probably fly any quadcopter. Syma now makes newer models (X5, 6) which may have 6-Axis stabilization.
Blade Nano – a higher end model from a very reputable maker ($90) – this has two modes so you can learn both 3 axis and 6 axis flight.
LaTrax Alias – 6 axis – high end model ($150) with great performance and durability.
UDI U818A – 6 Axis with camera – a decent deal and has gotten good reviews from 100′s of users. Of course, these cameras are just for your entertainment – the pictures and video they take are of low quality.
The idea of your first quad is to get a couple hours of flight time in so that your brain and your muscle memory start knowing how to fly.
What else do I need?
Most come complete with everything except the batteries for the Transmitter. It even comes with an extra set of propellers. You should purchase at least 1 extra battery for the quad itself.
Inside? Outside? Where to learn?
Can I fix it if I break it?
Parts are available – however, these things are quite small and if you are not handy you may find it just as easy to sell your unit for parts (many online forums have free classifieds) and buy another one. The difference is probably only $20. However, they are relatively easy to repair for those with basic skills – although a soldering iron is needed (on some models) to properly replace motors.
To keep this article short, we will mention only the basics. First, once you have a little experience, you’ll want to lift your quad off the ground almost instantly to 2 foot or so high – because there is a ground effect when it is close to the floor/ground.
Secondly, an important step is to start your practice by standing behind the quadcopter and having it face AWAY from you. This will allow the movements on your sticks (the Transmitter) to make the quadcopter go in the same direction as you push!
What about the Parrot AR Drone or DJI Phantom?
No doubt that the AR Drone is one of the most advanced machines you can obtain for about $300 at the time of this writing. However, it’s operation differs from the standard (older) R/C type and therefore you may be better off learning on a more “manual” model. Better to crash the less expensive modesl or leave it up in a tree…lessons learned…than to do so with your new AR Drone or Phantom.
Once you learn the ropes – depending on what you then want to do, the AR or DJI may be right for you. Or, you may decide you want to head up in size in the more standard quadcopter ranges. There are dozens of options.
For many drone flyers, there may be no reason to lust after larger quadcopters. Larger units mean more expenses, just as with – for example – boats. Yet often the sailor with the small boat is having just as much (or more) fun than the large yacht. Unless there is a specific reason (payload, etc.), I’d suggest staying with smaller and mid-range quadcopters until and unless you have an actual reason for stepping way up.
But, hey, we can all talk about that later!
Thanks for reading!