By land, sea or sky: The best drones and droids available this Christmas

Information verified correct on December 4th, 2016

Best drones available this Christmas (1)

Buy the gift that everyone’s been talking about without breaking the bank.

Drones have been all the buzz this year, and they make a perfect Christmas gift for any tech head. However, some of us live in tiny apartments or simply can’t afford a high-end UAV.

LandSeaSky

Whether you want to catch some aerial footage or are looking for something nautical, we’ve rounded up a list of affordable drones suited to any environment.

Land

Screenshot 2015-11-17 17.00.28

BB-8 by Sphero

When the adorable drone BB-8 first appeared in the Star Wars VII trailer, many were bewildered by the fact that it was created using practical effects rather than CGI. Soon afterwards, Sphero announced a BB-8 iteration of its rolling drone line, bringing the magic of this curious little soccer ball droid to our living rooms. For Star Wars fans and tech enthusiasts, it doesn't disappoint.

You control BB-8 through its companion app on iOS or Android. Direct it using the on-screen controls, through voice-activated commands (saying “It’s a trap” will cause BB-8 to panic and dart off in one direction), or simply set it to autopilot and let it roam the hazardous wasteland of your living room. We found the latter to be the most amusing use of BB-8.

The companion app also uses augmented reality to project recorded video messages onto a nearby wall, which is bound to bring the kids some joy.

If there is one criticism, it’s that the BB-8 may be a little overpriced for what is essentially a licensed Star Wars Sphero 2.0 with a magnetic head, but the BB-8 makes a worthy companion if you’re willing to splurge this Christmas.

Update: We got some hands-on time with Sphero's soccer ball droid. Read our full review here.

  • Battery: 3 hour charge / 1 hour usage
  • Buy it from: ozgameshop
  • Who would I buy this for? Any Star Wars fan will get a kick out of the voice commands and the little bleeps and bloops the droid makes while it’s roaming around. We think the BB-8 will be most appreciated by families who can’t have pets in their building.

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Parrot Diesel Jumping Night Drone

Out of all the gadgets we’ve gotten our hands on this holiday season, the Parrot Diesel has to be one of the most entertaining. When Parrot launched its minidrone line back in August, it was clear it was going after a younger demographic. However, after spending some time with the Diesel Night Jumping Drone, we think it’s a suitable gift for any RC enthusiast.

The Jumping Night Drone range is full of surprises, the first pleasant surprise being its cost. Only slightly more expensive than the BB-8 by Sphero, Parrot’s Diesel boasts more value with features like one-touch commands (including spin, jump and slalom), live-feed video recording and voice communication.

Using the live video feed, you can navigate Diesel to a different room in the house and even talk through your smartphone to communicate through the drone.

The only downside we found with Parrot’s rolling minidrone was that the setup was a bit finicky. For some reason, it insists on hogging your Wi-Fi, which makes the mandatory software updates a slow and tedious experience.

  • Battery: 25 minute charge / 20 minutes usage
  • Buy it from: Apple 
  • Who would I buy this for? Anyone who has a deep-seated passion for all things RC.

RollingSpider_Lifestyle_05

Parrot Rolling Spider

Parrot’s Rolling Spider offers the best of both worlds. It’s essentially a mini quadcopter attached to a pair of big wheels that allows it to traverse floors, walls and ceilings, hence the “spider” moniker. At any time, you can detach the big plastic wheels for a standard aerial experience, but we found the wheels offer a little more protection for amateur drone pilots.

The Rolling Spider does offer video recording with its downwards-facing VGA camera, but the quality is quite poor. Then again, not much else can be expected for a device that sells for around $139.

The only other downside is that the Rolling Spider averages about eight minutes of flight time on a 90-minute charge. We recommend purchasing an extra battery.

  • Battery: 90 minute charge / 8 minutes usage
  • Buy it from: Apple 
  • Who would I buy this for? This minidrone is small and inexpensive, but don't let that fool you. Its sturdy frame, ultrasonic sensor, pressure sensor, and 3-axis gyroscope and accelerometer make it the perfect indoor drone. If only the battery were lasted a little longer.

Water

orax

Parrot Hydrofoil

Just like the Rolling Spider, Parrot’s Hydrofoil does two jobs. On one hand, it’s a mini quadcopter (similar to the Rolling Spider, except without a camera), but when attached to the included styrofoam hull it becomes a remote-controlled boat.

The quadcopter sits in a swivel that swings 90 degrees when the minidrone takes off, propelling the waterbound copter across the water’s surface at about 10 km/h.

Being of Parrot’s minidrone range, the Hydrofoil doesn’t have the emergency return feature that higher-end drones have, and the battery will only last about seven minutes, so it’s best to keep this one to smaller bodies of water where it can be easily retrieved.

While the Hydrofoil can take a splash of water, it’s not designed to be submersible, so take care when operating near water.

  • Battery: 25 minute charge / 7 minutes sailing / 9 minutes flying
  • Buy it from: Apple 
  • Who would I buy this for? Aviators and sea dogs alike. This versatile minidrone can be enjoyed inside on a rainy day or out by the water when the sun is shining.

Splash-Drone-on-Water

Splash Drone

Just like the Rolling Spider, Parrot’s Hydrofoil does two jobs. On one hand, it’s a mini quadcopter (similar to the Rolling Spider, except without a camera), but when attached to the included styrofoam hull it becomes a remote-controlled boat.

The quadcopter sits in a swivel that swings 90 degrees when the minidrone takes off, propelling the water bound copter across the water’s surface at about 10 km/h.

Being of Parrot’s minidrone range, the Hydrofoil doesn’t have the emergency return feature that higher-end drones have, and the battery will only last about seven minutes, so it’s best to keep this one to smaller bodies of water where it can be easily retrieved.

While the Hydrofoil can take a splash of water, it’s not designed to be submersible, so take care when operating near water.

  • Battery: 17 minutes of usage
  • Buy it from: Kickstarter
  • Who would I buy this for? Marine biologists, ocean enthusiasts or anyone who appreciates great underwater footage.

Sky

AirHogs_CategoryBackground_HELIX_V2

Air Hogs RC Helix X4

Air Hogs have long been the go-to manufacturer for kid-friendly RC helicopters, but its quadcopter is one of its most impressive toys to date. A barebones quadcopter, the RC Helix is about as simple as they come. It has four propellers to keep it stable, gyro-stabilisation and a light “crash-resistant” styrofoam frame that can take a beating.

The RC Helix X4 is the ideal quadcopter for newcomers. It has  a remote control with a stunt button that allows you to do flips, barrel rolls and 180-degree flips.

Although it only gets about 6-8 minutes of flight time, the RC Helix X4 only takes about 20 minutes to charge and can be recharged on the fly by connecting it to the remote.

  • Battery: 40-60 minute charge / 5-7 minutes
  • Buy it from: Amazon
  • Who would I buy it for? Destructive kids or clumsy adults. It’s also good for those who don’t own a smartphone, as it’s operated entirely from the included remote control.

Parrot-Bebop-01

Parrot Bebop

Its minidrone range is bringing the world of drones to the living room, but it’s the Bebop that made Parrot a household name.

While the Bebop boasts some advanced features, like an onboard camera that take 12MP stills and records 1080p full-HD video, the Parrot remains relatively easy to pilot. Its ease of use, ABS-reinforced build, foam body and readily available replacement parts make the Bebop a formidable drone that anyone can get the hang of. Best of all, it boasts advanced failsafe features that will send the drone straight back to the pilot if things get a little out of hand.

  • Battery: 40-60 minute charge / 22 minutes
  • Buy it from: Apple 
  • Who would I buy this for? Relative newcomers who don’t want to skimp on the aerial experience.

dji phantom

DJI Phantom Standard

Shopping for someone who is a hardened drone veteran? Don’t settle for anything less than the DJI Phantom Standard.

It has all the trappings you would expect from a premium drone, including but not limited to 12MP photos, 2.7K HD footage and a 3-axis gimbal, all of which can be controlled using the included controller, allowing you to achieve unprecedented angles in stunning HD video.

The Phantom 3 Standard will set you back a pretty penny – much more than any of the drones above – but don’t let that throw you off. It has sensors directed at the floor that know when it’s landing, and a tutorial application teaches the user how to fly before letting it loose in the skies. There’s also some pretty neat features coming to the DJI Pilot app, like waypoints, point of interest (where the Phantom rotates around a single point)  and follow me (where the Phantom autonomously follows the user).

  • Battery: 40-60 minute charge / 5-7 minutes
  • Buy it from: DJI
  • Who would I buy this for? Confident and competent RC enthusiasts who want the best experience a consumer drone can offer.

Brodie Fogg

Brodie is a staff writer at finder.com.au covering breaking tech and telco news. When he's not drooling over the latest comic book releases or grinding away at the newest time-devouring RPG, he's helping people choose between Australia's various streaming services.

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