7 Best Phone Controlled Drones

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Today’s drones are versatile, sophisticated, affordable, and easy to fly. The typical way to control these flying robots is with a dedicated RC controller, but it’s not the only way. Some drones now provide hand gesture controls and flying by smartphones using special apps. Some even offer all three. This handy guide looks at the 7 best phone controlled drones available right now.

Budget
budget-Phone-Controlled-Drone
Holy Stone HS160
4.5/5.0
229 ft.(70M) max range
60+ minutes charging time
4 speed modes, one-key takeoff/landing and altitude hold.
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Best Value
best-value-Phone-Controlled-Drone
Altair 818 Hornet
4.8/5.0
500 ft.(152m) max range
Fast charging time
Custom flight routes, multiple skill settings and headless mode.
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Top Pick
top-pick-Phone-Controlled-Drone
DJI Mavic Pro
4.6/5.0
4.3mi (7km) max range
90 minutes charging time
Gesture flying mode, fast 40mph top speed and obstacle avoidance.
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There are pros and cons to flying with each of the above control methods. Keep reading if you’re unsure of the differences. This short introduction can help you to make better buying decisions.

Dedicated Controller Vs. Gesture Vs. Smartphone

The four drone control methods are:

  1. Dedicated remote controller or RC (most widespread)
  2. Hand gesture and face recognition control
  3. Smartphone-only control
  4. RC and smartphone combined control





About My Guide

There are some excellent phone-controlled drones available today. There are also plenty of wanna be models out there that are a total waste of money. I’ve selected seven capable quads from across the budget range that all offer something unique. These are not solely based on my opinions. This shortlist is also the result of expert thoughts and—most important of all—real user feedback.

These mini-reviews are concise and to the point. They tell you everything you need to know in simple, straightforward language. The first three drones are Best Budget, Best Value, and Top Pick in that order. The remaining reviews are in price order, lowest to highest.

7 Best Phone Controlled Drones Comparison Table

The table below shows the seven phone-controlled drones as they appear in this guide:

Make and ModelCameraFlight TimePrice
Holy Stone HS160 Shadow FPV Quad720P HD9 minutesCheck Price
Altair 818 Hornet Beginner FPV Camera Drone2MP 720P HD15 minutesCheck Price
DJI Mavic Pro Portable Camera Quadcopter12MP 4K UHD27 minutesCheck Price
Holy Stone HS200D FPV Camera Copter720P HD10 minutesCheck Price
Potensic T18 GPS FPV Quad w/ Camera1080P HD10 minutesCheck Price
Contixo F18 RC Drone w/ HD WiFi Camera1080P HD20 minutesCheck Price
DJI Spark Camera Quadcopter1080P HD16 minutesCheck Price

1. Holy Stone HS160 Shadow FPV Quad

Holy Stone HS160 Shadow FPV QuadView on Amazon

Editor’s Rating: 4.5/5.0

The Best Budget pick is Holy Stone’s HS160 Shadow quadcopter. It has full app and WiFi control. That means pilots can fly it using any modern iOS or Android controlled smartphone.

  • Best feature 1: Full smartphone app control
  • Best feature 2: Compact foldable structure (fits into a pocket)
  • Plus points: 720P HD camera, 4-speed modes, bonus battery, flight modes, LED lights
  • Minus points: Flight time, not good in winds, cannot do stunts

There’s a lot of technology packed into this affordable, pocket-sized drone. It’s First Person View (FPV) capability lets users watch live video and record aerial footage direct from a mobile device. The quality of the FPV 720P HD camera won’t blow you away in this category. Even so, it’s more than presentable for a budget-priced drone. It’s also a perfect introduction to flying and operating camera quads.

You need a 3D VR (virtual reality) headset for the ultimate First Person View (FPV) experience. The headset isn’t included, but the option’s there for those who want a truly immersive experience.

Flying the Holy Stone HS160 Shadow

There are plenty of beginner-friendly flight options available with the APP and mobile device. The Gravity Sensor mode has the drone follow the direction the pilot moves their smartphone. The built-in barometer provides the altitude hold function for improved flight stability. Other novice-friendly features are the one-key takeoff/landing and the four low to high speed modes.

Holy Stone’s HS160 Shadow comes equipped with bright LED lights for nighttime flying. It’s got to be one of the best FPV camera quadcopters around for the money. It certainly sells well, and the extras in the box contribute to that. There’s a bonus battery, spare props, landing pads, and extra controller sticks. There’s even a dustproof bag to store the drone when not in use.

The Not So Good

The 9-minute flight time is typical for a quad in this class, but it’s still a frustration. The bonus battery helps, but you need to allow 10 minutes for the quad to cool down between swaps. The drone isn’t stable in blustery conditions, so restrict flying to indoors if there are winds above 8mph. This drone isn’t stunt-capable either—something that’s sure to discourage a few.

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Tech Specs
Dimensions: 2.6 x 5.5 x 1.2″
Product Weight: 2.88 oz.
Camera: Wi-Fi 720P HD FPV
Max Flying Time: 9 minutes
Max Range: 229 ft. (70M)
Battery: 3.7V 500mAh Lipo
Charging Time: 60+ minutes (1+ hr.)
The Pros
Full smartphone app control
Wi-Fi First Person View (FPV)
Compact foldable structure (fits into a large pocket)
Easy to fly at beginner level
4 speed modes
One-key takeoff/landing
Altitude hold
Bonus battery
LED lights
The Cons
Not good in winds
No headless mode
Cannot perform stunts

2. Altair 818 Hornet Beginner Camera Drone

Altair 818 Hornet Beginner Camera DroneView on Amazon

Editor’s Rating: 4.8/5.0

The Best Value slot goes to the Altair 818 Hornet quadcopter. It’s an ideal drone for anyone who wants to upgrade from a tiny toy model but is not ready for the higher-quality camera quads.

  • Best feature 1: Smartphone/app ready, works with iOS/Android devices
  • Best feature 2: Custom flight routes
  • Plus points: Multiple skill settings, headless mode, failsafe alarms, bonus battery
  • Minus points: Average camera, average flight time

The Altair 818 Hornet is an attractive beginner quadcopter. It comes with a small 2MP wide-angle HD camera that shoots 720P video. It’s also capable of flying in First Person View (FPV) using the screen of a regular smartphone. FPV lets the pilot see what the camera sees in real-time. The camera quality is average, but the aerial photos and video are still clear and easy to view.

Flying the Altair 818 Hornet Beginner’s Quad

The Altair 818 Hornet is an upgrade from its predecessor the AA108. It’s still a beginner-friendly drone despite the improvements. There’s a little assembly to do before you can take to the sky, but it doesn’t take long. The instructions are clear and easy to follow, and that’s not something all brands can boast. Setting up the FlyingSee App by UDI RC for iOS and Android smartphones is also quick and painless.

A quick set up puts you in full charge of the drone and its camera. The intuitive controls make flying trouble-free. And the three speed modes let newbies take to the sky at their own pace. The headless mode makes easy work of steering the drone as there’s no focus on orientation.

The maximum range—flight distance from controller to craft—is 500 feet (152m). Video transmission range is much shorter though. A video connection should be good up to around 190 feet (58m). There’s no worry about losing the drone either, thanks to its out-of-range and low-battery alarms. Other noteworthy features include altitude hold, 1-touch takeoff/landing, and Custom Flight Routes.

The Not So Good

You won’t be disappointed if you have realistic expectations for the camera. Remember, this is an entry-level quadcopter. The footage is perfectly okay, it’s just that it doesn’t have breathtaking clarity. The flight time is a decent average for a quad in its class. The bad news is that an average flight time still only gives 15 minutes. Altair does include an extra battery in the box, so that’s something.

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Tech Specs
Dimensions: 15.3 x 14.3 x 5.2″
Camera: 2MP FPV wide-angle 720P HD
Max Flying Time: 15 minutes
Max Range: 500 ft.(152m)
Battery: 7.4v 1000mAh LiPo
Charging Time: Not specified (fast)
The Pros
Fun and affordable camera quad for all skill levels
Smartphone/app ready, works with iOS/Android devices
Custom flight routes
Multiple skill settings
Headless mode
Failsafe alarms
Bonus battery
The Cons
Average camera
Average flight time/td>

3. DJI Mavic Pro Portable Camera Quadcopter

DJI Mavic Pro Portable Camera QuadcopterView on Amazon

Editor’s Rating: 4.6/5.0

The Top Pick goes to the favorite DJI Mavic Pro Fly More Combo. Enthusiasts love this handsome quadcopter for its foldable design, ease of use, and range of flexible flying options.

  • Best feature 1: Fly by smartphone with app control over WiFi
  • Best feature 2: Gesture flying mode
  • Plus points: Obstacle avoidance, 4K camera w/ gimbal, fast top speed, long flying time, extras
  • Minus points: Average field of view (FOV), lots to learn

The Mavic Pro has a gimbal-stabilized 12-megapixel camera. It’s capable of shooting high-quality 4K video at 30 frames per second (fps). Don’t let the small size of this drone or its camera put you off. Seriously, the impressive camera spec sheet is close to that of a full-sized quality product. The camera rotates by 90° and can focus on subjects as close as 0.5 meters. That’s ideal for people shots.

The drone has five other cameras—or sensors—that make up its FlightAutonomy system. The FlightAutonomy technology provides high-precision, long-range obstacle sensing up to 49ft (15m). The effective collision avoidance results in safer, more reliable flying for pilots and their drones.

Flying the DJI Mavic Pro with a Smartphone

WiFi smartphone piloting is a cinch with the DJI Mavic Pro and DJI Go app. The artificial control sticks appear once your fingers or thumbs contact the phone’s touchscreen. Everything on the screen’s uncluttered layout is orderly and easy to follow. The drone can takeoff and auto-land using simple tap commands. And this quad automatically returns to base if the battery dies or the app crashes.

Smartphone control is ideal for shorter, restricted flights. You can also use a compatible phone to set up the Active Track mode. ActiveTrack automatically follows a subject and simultaneously films. Gesture Mode is also pretty cool for nearby flights and taking selfies. For full features and maximum range, though, you want to use the DJI dedicated controller.

The flight time of the DJI Mavic Pro is an impressive 27 minutes—the longest in this guide. But spare batteries are not cheap and charging takes about 90 minutes. That’s why I suggest the Fly More Combo here as it comes with a total of three batteries.

The Not So Good

The Mavic Pro is a superb, high-quality camera quad, but it’s not for everyone. The camera’s lens has a field of view (FOV) that’s not wide enough for some needs. The tech specs look like this: 28mm lens, 78.8-degree FOV at f/2.2. The other minus is also a plus, and that’s the plethora of features. Yes, it’s an easy drone to fly, but there’s a lot to learn if you want to exploit all that it offers.

amazon

Tech Specs
Dimensions: 12 x 12 x 12″
Product Weight: 6.61 lbs.
Camera: Built-in 12MP 4K
Max Flying Time: 27 minutes
Max Range: 4.3 mi (7km)
Battery: DJI Intelligent Flight Battery
Charging Time: 90 minutes
The Pros
Fly by smartphone with app control over WiFi
Gesture flying mode
Foldable design, portable
Obstacle avoidance
12MP 4K camera w/ gimbal
Fast 40mph top speed
Long flying time
Extra batteries, propellers, charging hub, shoulder bag
The Cons
Average field of view (FOV)
Lots to learn (feature-packed)

4. Holy Stone HS200D FPV Quadcopter w/ Camera

Holy Stone HS200D FPV Quadcopter w/ CameraView on Amazon

Editor’s Rating: 4.9/5.0

Meet the popular Holy Stone HS200D. It’s an easy little drone to fly that’s affordable, fun, and feature-packed. It’s possible to control the quad using smartphone/app or transmitter-only.

  • Best feature 1: Controller with smartphone clamp for app control
  • Best feature 2: Wide-angle 120° 720P HD camera
  • Plus points: Speed modes, First Person View (FPV), altitude hold, headless mode, and more
  • Minus points: Average-quality camera, short flight time, not stable in winds

Flying the Holy Stone HS200D

Flying the Holy Stone HS200D with app and smartphone is easy at any level. The Gravity Sensor Mode lets you control how the quad flies from the way you hold and move the phone. It’s also possible to attach a smartphone to the controller’s device clamp. That lets you enjoy First Person View (FPV) flying via the drone’s 720P, 120° wide-angle HD camera direct to your phone’s screen.

This drone is fun to fly at any level and a cracking little quad for beginners. It has altitude hold, simple 1-button, takeoff & landing, and an emergency stop button. The headless mode allows pilots to fly without worrying which direction the quad faces. The 3D flips look impressive, but they’re also child’s play to perform. The control range is around 325 feet, which is far enough.

The Not So Good

The camera quality isn’t going to impress film and photo critics. Aerial stills and video are fun to view, but they’re not award-winning. Better quality footage comes at a much higher cost than this affordable quadcopter can provide. The flying time is around 10 minutes. That’s not long, but it’s average in this category of drone. Consider one or two extra batteries if you buy this model.

The final gripe—and a common one—is the wind issue. These lightweight drones just don’t have enough power, weight, and stability to cope well in winds over 8–10 mph.

amazon

Tech Specs
Dimensions: 12.6 x 12.6 x 4.70″
Product Weight: 5.8 oz.
Camera: 120° Wide-Angle 720P HD
Max Flying Time: 10 minutes
Max Range: 328 ft. (100m)
Battery: 3.7V 1000mAh Li-ion
Charging Time: 120 minutes (2 hrs.)
The Pros
Decent camera for category
Controller w/ smartphone clamp
App/phone or transmitter control
Fly indoors and outside
Easy flight modes: headless Mode, altitude hold,1-button takeoff/landing
Three adjustable speeds
Low battery alarm
Emergency stop
3D flips
Bright LED lights
The Cons
Average-quality camera
Short playing time
Too light to fly in winds

5. Potensic T18 GPS FPV Quad w/ HD WiFi Camera

Potensic T18 GPS FPV Quad w/ HD WiFi CameraView on Amazon

Editor’s Rating: 4.4/5.0

This is the Potensic T18 camera First Person View (FPV) quadcopter. It boasts plenty of beginner-friendly features and guarantees enjoyable, safe flights with its updated built-in technology.

  • Best feature 1: Controller with clamp for app-enabled smartphone
  • Best feature 2: Three failsafe GPS return-to-home features
  • Plus points: Headless mode, 1080P HD camera, Follow Me, GPS hover, included extras
  • Minus points: Average battery life, not good in the wind, poorly translated manual

Follow Me mode is a fantastic feature that uses the GPS in a smartphone. It’s a brilliant way to get the quadcopter to auto-track someone as they go about their business. Think jogging, surfing, skateboarding, or any other actions you’d like to capture from above. The HD 1080P wide-angle camera is better quality than the Holy Stone quads on this page.

First Person View (FPV) Using a Smartphone

You can also put your smartphone into Virtual Reality (VR) glasses (not included). VR glasses give an immersive 3D First Person View (FPV) flight experience in real time. There’s a clamp on the controller to accommodate a regular smartphone. You can then use its screen to view astounding HD aerial video and stills and to control various flight and camera functions.

Flying the Potensic T18 GPS FPV Quad

The Potensic T18 is another easy camera quad to fly at the entry-level. Headless mode is always a welcome newbie feature. That’s because pilots don’t have to concern themselves with the nose direction to fly the craft. Other easy-to-fly controls include the altitude hold, one-key takeoff/landing, and GPS hover. The Three failsafe return-to-home features make sure the drone never gets lost.

Auto return-to-home activates with a low battery, weakening signal, and the one-button return. The model also comes with a few useful extras. These include extra landing gear, props, and prop guards.

The Not So Good

The battery life (flight time) is one of the first things people want to know about with any new quad. The T18 gives just 10 minutes in perfect conditions. That’s typical for its class but still depressing. The included extras don’t include a bonus battery either. This drone uses a 3.7V 1000mAh LiPo that average around $30 each give or take.

It’s not advisable to fly this drone outside on windy days. It only weighs 6.5 ounces, and any wind above 10mph is going to render it useless in the air. The last criticism is the poorly translated user manual. There are complaints that it’s difficult for new users to understand in parts. YouTube is perhaps the best place to look for advice for anyone who gets stuck.

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Tech Specs
Dimensions: 16.3 x 10.1 x 5.3″
Product Weight: 6.5 oz.
Camera: WiFi Wide-Angle 1080P HD
Max Flying Time: 10 minutes
Max Range: 984 ft. (300m)
Battery: 3.7V 1000mAH LiPo
Charging Time: 60 minutes (1 hr.)
The Pros
Controller with a clamp for app-enabled smartphone
Three failsafe GPS return-to-home functions
Headless mode
Decent camera for the price
Follow Me mode
GPS hover
Extras included in the box
The Cons
Average battery life
Hard to control in a wind
Poorly translated manual

6. Contixo F18 RC Drone w/ HD WiFi Camera

Contixo F18 RC Drone w/ HD WiFi CameraView on Amazon

Editor’s Rating: 4.7/5.0

The Contixo F18 is a popular camera quadcopter with a higher price tag than the previous two picks. It shares familiar features with the Potensic T18 above, but is it worth the extra cost? Let’s find out.

  • Best feature 1: Smartphone app control for Apple iOS and Android devices
  • Best feature 2: Powerful brushless motors (see review for details)
  • Plus points: Novice-friendly, water resistant, FPV, 1-key functions, auto-return, altitude hold
  • Minus points: No camera gimbal (stabilizer), slow charging

Contixo’s F18 sports a built-in 1080p HD, WiFi camera. It comes with an intuitive controller that has a clamp to accommodate any modern smartphone. You can then use the phone’s screen to see that the drone’s camera sees in real time. The free app for Android and Apple iOS downloads in seconds. That’s it. You then have smartphone live streaming and all the app-controlled functions at your fingertips.

Special Features

This drone uses powerful brushless motors, but many drones don’t, especially at the budget end. It matters for a few reasons. Brushless motors pack more oomph for one. They’re also quieter, need no maintenance, and last longer than the brushed alternatives. These motors work together with super-fast Electronic Speed Controllers (ESCs) to make the F18 faster, more agile, and responsive.

The quad is also water-resistant according to the guide. A little weather protection is welcome, but don’t confuse it with waterproofing because it’s not that. The quad comes with a free drone backpack which is another welcome extra that few models provide.

Flying the Contixo F18 Camera Quadcopter

The F18 is another fun flying quad that’s easy for beginners. It has an auto-hover feature, one-button takeoff/landing, and three automatic return-to-home features. The craft returns to base when the battery gets low or when the signal becomes weak. You can also call it back at any time by pressing the GPS 1-key return button. The quad then lands within 10ft. or closer of the GPS waypoint.

The GPS mode can precisely locate the drone if ever it gets lost. And the ultra-bright LEDs make sure you don’t lose the craftin the dark. The F18 is heavier and more robust than some of the smaller picks on this page. That means it can handle windy conditions better, helped further by its 6-axis gyroscope. Flight time is a reasonable 20 minutes, but the charging time lets it down (see below).

The Not So Good

The main criticism with the Contixo F18 is that the camera’s not stabilized. It has many great features but no gimbal. That’s a pity because it’s an excellent little camera that would be even better with stabilization. On a cheerier note, the F18 offers a lot of value for its price. The only other shared gripe is the crazy 4+ hour battery charging time. Be sure to factor extra batteries in with the cost.

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Tech Specs
Dimensions: 16.1 x 3.1 x 9.1″
Product Weight: 1 lb.
Camera: 1080p HD WiFi Camera
Max Flying Time: 20 minutes
Max Range: 1 mile (1.6 km)
Battery: 7.4V 2100 mAh Li-Po
Charging Time: 4+ hours (240 minutes)
The Pros
Smartphone app control for Apple iOS and Android devices
First Person View (FPV)
Powerful brushless motors
Novice-friendly
Water resistant, FPV
1-key functions
Three return-to-home modes
Ultra-bright LEDs for night flying
Altitude hold
The Cons
No camera gimbal (stabilizer)
Long charging time

7. DJI Spark High-Quality Camera Quadcopter

DJI Spark High-Quality Camera QuadcopterView on Amazon

Editor’s Rating: 4.5/5.0

The final phone-controlled drone is the much-loved DJI Spark. It’s a mini camera quadcopter that’s not short on quality features or value for money.

  • Best feature 1: Full smartphone control with the DJI GO 4 app
  • Best feature 2: Hand gesture control
  • Plus points: Fun and easy to fly, 1080P camera w/ 2-axis gimbal, wide lens, face recognition
  • Minus points: Controller extra, non-foldable design, price, battery life

Setting the DJI Spark up is a simple process. All you do is turn it on and linkit to a regular Android or iOS controlled smartphone. The DJI Go 4 app has everything you need to fly and film with this tiny camera quad. Another useful feature is the Edit & Share templates and filters. They offer a quick and effective way to edit new vids and share them to social media.

The Spark’s Camera Capability

The video and stills quality is superb. The 1080P camera has a 2-axis gimbal for effective stabilization and shake-free footage. The drone’s Sports Mode automatically puts the quad into First Person View (FPV). The FPV lets you view what the camera sees in real time. For the ultimate FPV experience, though, you want to view the world through DJI Goggles (not included).

TapFly is a lot of fun and practical. All you do is tap a location on your smartphone screen and the drone flies over to capture it. ActiveTrack ensures the drone recognizes objects and stays with them. ActiveTrack can recognize various shapes, sizes, and movements for more precise tracking.

Flying the Tiny DJI Spark

Anyone can fly the DJI Spark, and it’s so easy to get this quad airborne. The FaceAware feature lets you launch it from the palm of a hand. The drone then goes into hover mode awaiting its next command. Control choices for the Spark are remote, remote with smartphone, and palm gestures. Hand gesture control is perfect for those quick, nearby video and aerial photo opportunities.

It doesn’t take long to impress friends with newfound piloting skills. Capturing cinematic quality video is as simple as a few taps on a touchscreen. The intelligent flight modes do all the hard work so that pilots don’t have to. That gives you more time to focus on the footage and less on the flying.

The quad’s strong motors and props help to keep it stable in windy situations, despite its small size.The Spark comes equipped with forward-facing obstacle avoidance sensors. They’re not the best I’ve experienced, but they’re much better than nothing at all. Try not to rely on the avoidance system too much, especially around finer, less obvious obstacles.

The Not So Good

To get the most out of the drone’s features—especially its range—you need the DJI controller. Alas, it’s a separate purchase. You can still fly with hand gesture controls and smartphone, but with restrictions. Another missing feature is foldable arms. The Spark is already small and portable, but it would be even better if it folded down like the DJI Mavic series.

The drone offers amazing value, but it becomes a tad expensive with the controller. The last complaint is the shortish 16-minute flight time and the high cost of spare batteries.

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Tech Specs
Dimensions: 5.6 x 5.6 x 2.2″
Product Weight: 10.58 oz.
Camera: 1080P w/ 2-axis gimbal
Max Flying Time: 10–16 minutes
Max Range: 1.2 miles (2 km)
Battery: 11.4V 3S 1480mAh LiPo
Charging Time: 50+ minutes
The Pros
Small, lightweight, compact
Smartphone/app control option
Hand gesture control
Gimbal stabilized camera
Wide lens (25mm equivalent)
Face recognition
TapFly
ActiveTrack
The Cons
Non-foldable design
Price
Remote controller extra
Low average battery life

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