By William G. Swenson
Updated March 14, 2018
drone buying guide

If you are thinking of buying a drone today, the task can be daunting. There are so many choices on the market these days you’ll be well served to do some preparation and research beforehand. Whether you are looking for the best overall quadcopter with multirotors or maybe you would just like to have a drone with the longest flight time? Either way, you’ll rest assured the choices are plenty, but we have your back.

Before you buy a drone we’ve compiled a list of tips that will guarantee you a smooth drone shopping experience. You may want to know where you are allowed to fly your drone. Or if you need any certifications and or a license to legally fly. Maybe you need to know which drone is the best budget buy.  Now, here are seven things to consider before you buy a new drone

​​​​Where Can You Fly it?

In the United States, you can find out where to fly your drone with the B4UFly app available from the FAA. Checking Mapbox or Airmap.com will help for sure. Remember national parks are off limits and there are also state by state ordinances which may differ somewhat from that of the FAA. It's much easier to find a place you are allowed to fly away from the big cities.

Know the Lingo

Before you buy a drone you should know the drone lingo. This will expedite the buying process. It will also enable you to hold conversations with other hobbyists when out and about, or even at social events. For instance, what does UAS or UAV mean? UAS stands for Unmanned Aerial Systems and UAV stands for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, while Sometimes drones are referred to as radio-controlled planes.

What is a BNF or an ARF? BNF means “bind’n’fly” which means it comes with a receiver but not a radio controller, and ARF means “almost ready to fly” meaning you will need to get a receiver and a controller You may want to know what a “gimbal” is. A gimbal is a camera stabilizing mechanism which enables you to get crisp videos and photos even while darting back and forth in the air. How about a brushless motor? These are quieter, last longer, and more efficient.

New or Used?

Buying a brand new drone can be enticing, however, there are some things you’ll want to keep in mind before you go that route. First of all, how often will you be using it? Next, are you a fast learner? Say you spend your hard earned money on a brand new drone. Maybe $500 or so. If you aren’t able to learn to control it quickly you may ruin your drone within the first few days. In this case, it may be wise to start with a beginner level drone that is used or at least less than $100 but still in good working order. These are not hard to find. Like the UDI U818A HD.

Big or Small?

When it comes to drones, size does matter. The general rule is the bigger the drone the more stable it is. This is important because wind ends up being a major factor in whether or not you have a smooth flight. Smaller drones while more maneuverable and fast. Although, they get bounced around quite a bit and are susceptible to crashing. This is especially true for an inexperienced pilot.

Cost

Drones can cost anywhere from less than $50 to upwards of $5,000. Some are even close to $20,000. However, you can still find a quality drone for less than a semester at Harvard. Try the DJI Phantom 4 for about $1,500 or if you’d rather go the budget route check out the DBPOWER MJX X400W FPV Drone for around $70.

Etiquette

It’s a good idea to acquire some knowledge in drone etiquette. For instance, do not fly over people. This can turn bad quickly and end up in serious injury or even death. Make sure you always have eyes on your drone during its flight. It’s also best not to fly over someone’s house. There have been incidents where people have shot down drones when they felt their personal space was invaded, especially if the drone is capable of snapping pictures. Also, don’t fly your drone near roads or airports. You’d think the latter is obvious to everyone however, there have been incidents at airports in the past. Try not to fly your drone in extreme weather too. And lastly, do not fly near a military base.

Extra, Extra

One last tip to utilize when buying a drone is accessories. First, how many accessories will you need with the drone you are considering? Second, do the extras come with the original purchase or do you need to shell out more cash for them? Also, how much are the said accessories if you do need to buy them. Another thing to remember is that even if the accessories or extra parts originally come with your purchase how much do replacements cost? You may want to buy a faster charger since many drones take at least an hour to recharge with a flying time of only 10 minutes. Lastly, some drone manufacturers offer insurance in the case of an accident, which is a great perk, especially for beginners.

Drones are becoming very popular these days and the good thing is you have many choices. Whether you are spending a ton to get all the bells and whistles or looking for a bargain drone with multirotors. Maybe you want a drone with one-touch takeoff and landing. Perhaps you want the drone which takes the best photos or performs 360-degree flips?

One thing is for certain, it’s best to take your time and do your diligence when it comes to choosing a drone. The possibilities are endless in today’s drone world. With these tips, you will be able to make the most of your drone buying experience and go home happy.

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