While many of us might drool over powerful high-flying drones like those from DJI, Yuneec and 3D Robotics, most of us will be flying less expensive radio-controlled multirotor toys made to zip around your living room or backyard for a few minutes at a time until you inevitably crash or get stuck in a tree.
They're a blast to fly -- whether or not you're into RC toys -- and because they're small and relatively inexpensive, you can have a good time without worrying about watching something $1,000 or more hit the ground or disappear into the trees.
There are plenty to choose from, though, so we've rounded up some of the best that we've flown right here to give you a starting place. Keep in mind when you're shopping that flight times on toy drones are typically around 5 to 8 minutes, so if you want to keep flying without charging first, go with a model that uses removable rechargeable batteries. Also, if this is your first toy drone, we recommend going with one that has replacement parts readily available.
Note that while recreational drone pilot registration with the FAA is required in the US, it is only for models that weigh more than 0.55 pound (250 grams) and less than 55 pounds (approximately 25 kilograms) on takeoff. All of the following drones fall under that weight specification, so there's no need to register.
Axis Turbo-X Drone
Axis Drones specializes in selling the tiniest quadcopters around including what it says is the smallest one currently available, the Aerius. Its $45 Turbo-X (about AU$60 and £30 converted), however, is a little bigger and easier to fly. Axis bills it as the fastest microquad capable of 30mph/50kph speeds.
Controlling such a quick and small quadcopter takes practice because it's very responsive to even slight stick commands. You might find yourself spending more time crashing than flying at first, but it is fairly tough. You'll get about 5 minutes of flight time off a single charge and, since the battery isn't removable, you'll have to plug it into a USB port for about 20 minutes to start flying again. And don't expect to easily replace anything except propellers.
If you've already been shopping for a quad this small, you may have come across the strikingly similar (and far less expensive) Cheerson CX-10. Turbo-X designer Robert Morrison of New York-based Morrison Innovations says its quadcopter is 50 percent faster and more responsive than the CX-10. It also has a better charging port, made from metal instead of plastic, and it's round instead of CX-10's unidirectional square, for ease of use. The Turbo-X's LED lights are brighter and easier to see as cruises around your living room. It's available at Axis Drones.
Recommended for: If you want a quadcopter to take out and fly anywhere at anytime. It's not the best experience for beginner pilots, though, as it takes practice and patience to fly well.
Hubsan X4 H107L
If you're looking for an inexpensive quad to learn the control basics, the X4 is a great place to start. It's available with or without a camera built in, and prices start at just under $40 (about £30 or AU$50). For the money you get the quad and spare propellers, a gaming-style controller, a single battery that lasts about 5 to 7 minutes a charge and a USB charger.
The X4 is stable enough to not frustrate newbie flyers, but offers plenty of zippy action for even advanced pilots. Its motors have enough power to fly outside and the latest version of the H107L has very bright LED lights to help you see the quad's orientation from a distance or even fly it around at night. Replacement parts and batteries are easy to come by, too.
The X4 is widely available. We got ours from Monoprice.com bundled with a 2,000mAh power bank for charging the X4's batteries on the go, but it's also available from Amazon.
Recommended for: Taking a baby step into racing quads. Anyone looking for a quick minidrone to learn piloting basics indoors or outside, but it's still fun for more advanced pilots.
Parrot Hydrofoil Minidrone
Parrot has a whole fleet of Minidrones for the sky and the ground -- ranging in price from about $100 up to $190 -- including ones with LED headlights for piloting in the dark, and even a quadcopter with Lego-type studs on it you can attach minifigures or bricks to.
There's also the Hydrofoil for $150, £120 or AU$180, which combines a quadcopter with an attachable floating base. Attach the copter to a hinged mount on top of the base and spin up its propellers. The quadcopter lifts into a vertical position, pushing the Hydrofoil across water at speeds up to 5.4 knots (6mph, 10kph).
You can also fly the quadcopter alone and everything is controlled via an iPhone, iPad or Android device over an extended range Bluetooth connection. The sensors on the bottom of the quadcopter allow it to hover in place without your assistance and takeoffs and landings are done with a single tap on screen. Battery life is about 5-7 minutes depending on how hard you're pushing it, so you don't want to float too far from shore. But it's definitely a cool combo to consider. It's available at Amazon.
Recommended for: Those who want a drone as a smartphone accessory. It has the indoor stability of more expensive drones and the capability to take on the sky and water.
Air Hogs Star Wars Ultimate Millennium Falcon
The most "toy" of the models here, but just so much fun to fly. I mean, it is the Millennium Falcon after all, and the controller will even scream out sound effects as you fly around.
The body is basically made from Styrofoam and its four propellers are completely protected on their sides (steer clear of the single-rotor version). This makes for fairly safe flights indoors, but it really can't handle anything more than a slight breeze outside.
There is unfortunately no easy way to access the battery, so once the battery winds down after a little more than 5 minutes of flight you're waiting about an hour for it to fully charge up again.
You don't get much for your $70 (or about £80 in the UK and AU$145 in Australia if you can find it): Just the drone, a controller and a USB charging cable. Still, it is the Millennium Falcon.
Recommended for: Crash-prone indoor pilots. This one is very easy to fly and soft enough to not do any damage to furniture and walls. A good fit for anyone -- young or old -- who just wants a cool little quad to fly around the house.
Odyssey Toys X-7 Microlite
The X-7's design is what set it apart from other microquads. Its tiny propellers are protected from the bottom and sides by its body. And those rings around the props are lined with superbright LED lights helping you tell easily tell the direction your headed as well as adding some fun to flying in the dark.
Available for around $60 (roughly £40 or AU$80), it's a steady flier indoors or outside, and with a button press and a flick of the right stick it will do flips and rolls that look even cooler at night.
Recommended for: A beginner palm-sized drone for zipping around the house or in the yard, day or night.
Syma X5C Explorers
At around $50 (AU$70 or £40), but easily found for less, the 5XC is one of the least expensive toy drones with a 720p camera (it even comes with a 4GB microSD card). This thing feels pretty cheap and the camera is basically toy-quality, as you might expect for the price, but it flies surprisingly well and can take quite a lot of crashing.
Battery life comes in at about 7 to 10 minutes, but extra batteries as well as replacement parts are easy to come by, and the manual even gives you an assembly breakdown. It's available at Amazon.
Recommend for: Aerial photography on the cheap. This is a simple, ready-to-fly toy quad with a camera that flies better than its price suggests.
UTO Drone U960 (MJX X600) Hexacopter
If you want to learn flying by first-person view (FPV) -- i.e. by looking through a camera mounted on the drone -- this is an inexpensive way to try it out. The U960 has a camera and built-in Wi-Fi. Download an iOS or Android app to your smartphone and connect to the wireless network created by the drone. Once connected, open the app and you'll have a view from the camera on your screen.
The video downlink range isn't great, however, and there's too much lag between the drone and what's on screen to reliably guide yourself around obstacles. But, if this is your first drone and you want to try flying by FPV alone in an open area, the U960 is a bargain for about $80 (around £60 or AU$125).
Recommended for: Dipping your toes in FPV flying at a low price. In general, it's a very good hexacopter with a wide feature set for the money, but the FPV feature is basically a bonus and not the main reason to buy.
At $170 (£135, AU$260) the Glimpse is toward the high end of toy-class drones. Like the UTO it offers first-person view flying (FPV) via a Wi-Fi connection and the Glimpse app for Android and iOS. It will also record 720p-resolution video and 1-megapixel photos to an included microSD card. The video downlink range is up to 80 feet (24 meters) and, while there is a slight lag, it's much better than the UTO's range and video performance.
The quad's small size is perfect for navigating indoors, though, and the landing gear does double duty as prop guards (though it doesn't protect them from hard landings). It looks and sounds like a small flying insect and although the motors are strong enough to fly outside, it'll get blown around a bit in the wind. Otherwise, it's very stable and getting it to hover is pretty easy.
Battery life with video is good at about 7 minutes and batteries and spare parts are readily available and fairly inexpensive. A battery will run you about $12, for example.
RC hobby retailer Horizon Hobby sells the Glimpse and other Blade drones big and small. It also stocks all the extra parts and batteries you could need and is an excellent resource in general for researching RC hobbies. It's also available at Amazon.
Recommended for: Entry-level FPV flying around your house or outside on a calm day.
Have a favorite of your own? Let us know in the comments.