Best GPS Drone
In the last several years, the popularity of drones has enjoyed tremendous growth in both the commercial and private sectors. High-tech, feature-packed drones are now well within the price range of everyday affordability and many are appealing (and very tempting!) to even the most budget-conscious buyer. Regardless of whether you're looking for your first drone or your next drone for a specific purpose that you have in mind, the discussion below should help you decide, or at least provide you with a good start in the right direction.
Which GPS Drone Should I Get?
Well, that depends on your flying skills, intended uses of the drone and whether you want to try your hand at getting a side gig flying it. Is this your first drone? Is this an upgrade to the type of drone you already have? Most of the drones that we will discuss here are equipped with a camera, so ask yourself what kind of photo and / or video capabilities you might need. Do you need a high-end photo / video setup with the intent of doing aerial cinematography or detailed photographs for mapping, or do you just need something that will take great shots and post them to a social network while you are out on a day hike?
Let's look at some of the GPS drones out there and maybe one or more of them will be a good fit for your needs, or at least be a starting point in your search for the right drone.
MAVIC 4 PRO V2.0
If you are seriously looking at a high-end system that you can use to at least start practicing for possible side gigs, this drone is more than capable of handling it. The Mavic 4 Pro is geared for an advanced user who wants to do some intricate flights both outdoors and indoors and still get the best shots and videos possible. New fliers will probably find the Mavic 4 Pro somewhat intimidating and awe-inspiring at the same time, but with features that go largely unused when all they want is to be able to post a great vacation video to Facebook. Some of the specs and features of the Mavic 4 Pro V2.0 include:
The Mavic 4 Pro does have one of the longest flight times compared to many other drones. Note that the controller also has a good battery life and a range of just over four miles, great for those times when you want to get in a good long video or set of still photos and still have plenty of battery life left for any editing you would like to do before you share the video or photos.
The 20MP camera with its dual coding is advanced enough to let you get high-definition shots and video which is almost instantly picked up on your screen and the high-speed mechanical shutter will let you get some highly detailed shots and even slow-motion shots that are almost distortion-free.
Its dual-vision sensors, infrared sensing system, rangefinders and redundant Inertial Measurement Units (IMUs), compasses and obstacle sensing / avoidance mean that the Phantom 4 Pro has a real-time view of its environment and can locate itself within a self-created 3D map of its environment. With a sensor range of 98 feet, infrared sensing up to 23 feet and a feature called Narrow Sensing mode, flying outdoors and indoors just got a whole lot more interesting. This is great for people who want to take their drone out into the wilderness and take video inside their home for a realtor, create video that can provide a viewer with a virtual tour of an indoor venue or outdoor adventure, create instructional videos, etc.
This drone is no slowpoke, either, with a top speed of 45 mph outdoors and an indoor maximum speed of 31 mph – amazing for outdoor cinematography and cool indoor effects if you happen to have some crazy-good flying skills, but not good for someone with the bad idea of zipping through the house "at city speed" which most likely will end up in a very unimpressed family member trying to swat the drone out of the air with some type of household implement.
In short, the Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 is good for advanced users who want to try their hand at commercial ventures or cinematography, but new users may be somewhat overwhelmed by all the bells and whistles that accompany this drone.
The Autel Evo appears to be friendly to new users with an ease of setup for someone's first flight. It is also easy to travel with by just folding it up and packing it; the controller is also foldable. The Evo is a relative newcomer to the drone scene, having made its appearance in late June of this year and is a more affordable competitor to the Phantom 4, albeit without a few of the features that the Phantom 4 has. The review here shows an unboxing and first flight of a new Autel Evo.
The Autel Evo does have a good lineup of features, including:
The controller has a built-in 3.3-inch screen and you can also hook up your tablet or smartphone to it as well. This drone also sports obstacle avoidance and 3D mapping features as well as a Novice mode for new fliers, allowing them to learn how to fly it before getting into the more involved features. Many high-end drones have a video and receiver link of 2.4 and 5.8Ghz; the Evo, on the other hand, operates at the 2.4Ghz and 900Mhz frequencies.
The Anafi is another new drone model that just became available this summer. Parrot is a large French corporation based in Paris and is the leading European drone manufacturer. It also has an impressive lineup of business solutions for a wide range of industries, ideal for companies that need a drone's capabilities but do not have the time to learn the drone skills necessary for their application.
Parrot's new Anafi is ultra-portable, folding up to about the size of a bottle of water and weighing in at about three-quarters of a pound. It also boasts some more great features:
If you happen to be a newer flier or a practiced one and want to take your drone with you almost everywhere you go for some great dronies and videos, the Anafi is great. You also won't have to take a bunch of extra gear, as the Anafi doesn't come with a charger. What?? It's true. No charger. Instead, it charges via USB cable right from your smartphone, computer or power bank. And both the drone and the controller charge up in less than two hours, so you can take a break from your activities without waiting forever for them to charge.
The nose-mounted camera can take upward shots, which a lot of drones cannot do. That allows it a full 180-degree range of motion for cloud-to-ground shots. This feature also allows the drone to take shots of whatever is above it. You can live stream your video at 720p, so family and friends can enjoy what you happen to be doing as well. You can also find the best framerate from several available with the Anafi, as well as get some 1080p slow-motion video. It also has a dolly zoom feature, which means you can capture some cool hyper lapse videos.
The only caution on the Anafi is that it does not have any obstacle avoidance features, so it will quite merrily fly into whatever may be in its path. Line-of-sight flying will therefore be important with this drone, especially for new fliers, and you'll need to make sure that there aren't any obstacles along the way if you go into follow-me mode.
The Mavic Pro is another foldable drone suitable for beginners and advanced users alike. It also has the convenient feature of allowing the user to fly the drone using just their smartphone, which is great for those who just want to take the drone out for short selfie trips or just some great shots along their way. The "fly by phone" feature does have some height and distance limitations, of course, with a maximum height of 164 feet and a maximum range of 262 feet, but it is still decent for tons of great shots. Speed and battery life are good and despite being lightweight, it won't be tossed around in a light breeze. The Mavic Pro sports the following features:
So, you can see that this is a speedy drone capable of taking great high-definition shots and videos, with the options of live streaming at both 1080p (short-range) and 720p (long-range). It will sense objects up to 49 feet away and the DJI GO 4 app allows it to be flown indoors in "tripod" mode. Beginners learning to fly will benefit from the "tapfly" mode, letting them fly in a straight line pretty much right out of the box. You can also control it with hand gestures for getting all the dronies you want, and when you decide to go for something different, changing between flying by phone and using the controller is done by a simple switch on the drone itself. The Mavic Pro also has four vision sensors which it uses for obstacle avoidance, precise hovering and for flying either in places that do not have GPS or for flying indoors.
If you can spring for the extra cash the DJI Mavic Pro 2 was recently released and will get you few more minutes of flight time and has some other great features.
The Mavic Air is another highly-capable foldable drone. The controller is also foldable, plus the control sticks are removable so that they don't get accidentally broken off during transport; the sticks are stashed inside the controller, so they won't be lost. It also sports a high-end camera with a lot of photo / video options and capabilities. This is a good drone for beginners and veteran users alike, with features such as:
Interestingly, this drone comes with 8GB of internal storage on the drone itself, giving you the option of storing photos and videos on the drone for downloading or editing later, or if you forgot to pack a micro SD card (or just can't find it in your bag now). The charging time is faster on the Mavic Air, so by the time you stop for lunch and to get a memory card, you'll be back in business.
It packs a lot of camera into a small drone. The camera is capable of more than just taking dronies or aerial shots. It also has four different panoramic modes in addition to taking 4K ultra high-definition video. The slow-motion option exists as well as the ability to take HDR shots, which will automatically give you the right exposure settings for your photos.
This drone can also be controlled with hand gestures in addition to its "fly-by-phone" and controller modes. It will also track your group if you want it to follow everyone while you are out hiking, biking or just enjoying the sights as its "ActiveTrack" feature will simultaneously track up to 16 subjects.
The Spark packs a lot more than what one would expect from a mini drone. Not only is it set to take some good pics and videos, it can be controlled by hand gestures, smartphone or the controller. Since it can be totally controlled by the smartphone app, there is no controller automatically included in the box when you get it unless you order the "Fly More" package. On the other hand, the Spark does have some good features and capabilities:
The Spark can be flown and take some great shots by hand gestures alone. It makes a great little drone for both casual users and beginners. More experienced users may want a drone that has a longer flight time and greater range, but even these users may find the Spark a useful addition to their lineup with its wide range of photo and video options, especially if they want to get some quick shots or video while their primary drone is charging. It is also a good drone for young people who are interested in learning how to use a drone without the large expense of a drone that is geared for more advanced users. It also gives them the freedom to use the many photo / video options with just their smartphone by downloading the app.
The photo / video options include various panoramic shots as well as high-definition streaming video by a better camera than one would expect from a mini drone. The one-inch focal length gives highly-detailed shots and video with several flight modes so that the user can perform some maneuvers such as tracking a subject, spiral, rocket upwards, tap flying and other flight modes to get the type of videos and photos that you want. All in all, the Spark is a good buy for new and casual users, with some options and features that seasoned users will also appreciate.
MJX Bugs 5W
The MJX Bugs 5W is a lightweight GPS drone with a lot of options and capabilities and an extra battery is included in the box, unlike many other drone packages. It has a 1080p camera, works with both 2.4 and 5G functionality and is stabilized with a 6-axis gyro. Let's get some specs:
This GPS drone has a lot of good functionality despite being on the lower end of the cost spectrum. True, it does not have a lot of range that come with the higher-end GPS drones, but it does have great short-range capabilities, perfect for new users who want to learn how to fly and get some great video of their kids playing in a local park or just playing in the backyard. The shorter-range of the Bugs 5W does help new users keep visual track of where their drone is and it has some other novice-friendly features as well, including a one-key take-off and land feature, the ability to fly in headless mode so that the drone will move in the direction in which the control stick is pushed, regardless of which way the drone's camera is pointed. Headless mode is generally an easy way for new users to learn to fly, shortening the learning curve in line-of-sight flying.
The Bugs 5W app provides an automatic return-to-home function in cases of low battery life or lost signal, following and tracking flights, various photo and video options, etc. The camera gimbal is mechanically stabilized for steady shots. Batteries take about three hours to charge, but the controller itself uses four AA batteries. The controller does not come with a built-in screen, but it does connect with most smartphones for use as a display.
MJX Bugs 3 Pro
The MJX Bugs 3 Pro is the only one in this discussion which does NOT come with a camera. This is going to be a disappointment for many users, as the main purpose for buying a drone is to be able to take aerial photos and videos without having to buy the camera separately, especially when there are good GPS drones out there that come with the pre-installed camera. Cameras that are listed as compatible with this drone are the GoPro Xiaomi Motion camera and the C4000, C5000 and C6000.
The user manual, however, only lists the latter three that can be purchased separately at additional cost. As a ballpark reference, the C6000 camera runs about $60 and has a 1080p resolution. The user manual also does not state that this drone is compatible with a GoPro camera.
The Bugs 3 does have specs and features like most drones in this class/size, such as:
The built-in display only shows symbols for the drone flight, battery life, etc. It is not large enough to show any photo / video, actual flight path, etc. MJX does sell an accessory for holding one's smartphone so that the Bugs app can be used to see actual photo / video, use the intelligent flight modes and the like. The Bugs 3 Pro is a good drone if you just want something to fly without taking any photos or video, or if you are comfortable with the extra expense of a camera and / or phone holder. If not, it would be easier to buy a drone that already has these features.
Hubsan H501S Professional Version
Despite what seems to be a considerable amount of confusion over the various models and upgrades to this drone, it does have some good flying time and camera features. Let's look at what this package has to offer:
The Hubsan does have a good flight time and if you have a set of FPV goggles for it, you'll get a good FPV view during flight. The 1080p camera will certainly give you some great high-definition photos and videos but bear in mind that this drone has a fixed-mount camera; there is no gimbal to tilt the camera, so you will have to point the drone to the area that you want to film or photograph. It has flight modes including return-to-home, hover, follow and headless mode. This is a good drone, but the only caution is that a potential buyer should pay very close attention to which version they wish to buy, as versions seem to have overlapped in some respects and it would be a good idea to contact the Hubsan or their seller for the latest information.
What are GPS Drones and How Do They Work?
GPS drones are those drones which use GPS to orient themselves for flight. This is important for the drone since many of them today have a "return to home" (RTH) feature to prevent losing the drone during an outing. It also is necessary so that the drone can hover at a spot if desired, and so that a drone can follow a pre-determined flight path that the user has chosen. Many of today's drones use the RTH feature once the battery is low so that it avoids crashing to the ground from a dead battery and no one wants to spend several hundred dollars on a drone just to have it ruined when the battery dies. Especially after getting that awe-inspiring video during your trip to the Grand Canyon…with the tears-spilling knowledge that your lovely drone now rests somewhere towards the bottom, permanently ensconced in the rocks because the battery just had to croak less than 20 feet from the safety of your location.
GPS drones require satellite signals to do many of the maneuvers available to them, such as the return-to-home, hover, etc. The drone's position is calculated from the use of at least three or four GPS satellite signals to obtain a 3D positioning of the drone. Many people who are new to flying drones are more concerned with practicing how to fly and getting a feel for how to control the drone before they become too involved with how many satellites will give them the best positioning for that perfect photo. Users who are much more comfortable with flying and getting their pictures or videos just right tend to start experimenting further with the GPS capabilities and other advanced features that the drone's app has in store for them. While some newer users start wondering about their drone's advanced features relatively early, most are just happy when their drone comes back "home" in one piece.
A GPS drone will present an entirely new set of issues if you want to try flying one indoors. The GPS system will be useless, as will other features that help orient the drone outdoors. Your best bet will be to turn off as many of those features as you can, flying the drone as manually as possible. You'll also be prone to all sorts of interference from devices using Bluetooth, WiFi, FM radio and magnetic interference from almost all things steel. Not to mention all the breakables indoors, so indoor test flights are probably out of the question, especially if you want to avoid Mom's (and Grandma's!) wrath, or your own dismay at breaking your trophy case.
Speaking of interference, GPS drones will generally use three different frequency bands (900 Mhz, 2.4 Ghz and 5.8 Ghz) and many of them use more than one of these. Many wireless devices use the 2.4 Ghz band and it can get crowded with all the WiFi networks that those devices use. Many drone users ask about which frequency they should use, and the answer is almost always the same: it depends. It depends on how many obstacles are around (such as buildings, trees, etc.), your desired flight range, whether you decide to fly using FPV (First-Person View) goggles, or just want to do line-of-sight (LOS) flying. It is generally recommended that new users fly LOS until they get a good feel for how their drone behaves in various locations and ranges before they try flying with FPV goggles. In some areas, FPV flight is regulated or even prohibited but there are apps that can tell you if the location in which you want to fly is appropriate for the flight that you are planning.
What Can I Do with a GPS Drone?
That awe-inspiring video is just one of the things that you can do with a GPS drone. You can take breathtaking pictures. But you knew that. And depending on the unit, you can also get some wonderful shots, have them all automatically stitched together to make a great panoramic shot of whatever you would like. You can have the drone follow you at a specific height and distance while you hike, bike, jog or even plant those new rose bushes that you bought that morning. Take a video of the landscaping project you just finished or get some nice aerial shots for your realtor. Show off that muscle car that glints in the sunshine. Make some memories of your kid's three-point driveway hoops shot.
There are literally hundreds of things that you can do with a GPS drone, either as a private user or in a commercial capacity. Rules and regulations do apply to drones in many areas, especially in public or commercial areas. Many drones must be registered with the FAA. Getting photos or video of your kids' team sports may not be possible, unfortunately, but obtaining permission from the relevant authority is certainly advised and keep in mind that some parents or other student athletes may not wish to have someone's drone camera on their kids and see it as invading their privacy. Either way, you may find it easier to use the camera on your phone than to discover that your drone isn't welcome at a team sport.
I Want to Make Money Flying My Drone
Commercial venues using drones are becoming very common. Real estate, construction and civil engineering are just some of the more common business uses of GPS drones. Many people are getting commercial training in drone flight to be in business for themselves, using their skills for creating real estate videos, getting video of structural elements of a building which may be hazardous entry for a construction crew and even visually inspecting infrastructure (bridges, highways, etc.) which may be difficult or impossible to reach.
GPS drones are also proving their worth worldwide in assessments of natural disasters. They are highly capable in determining the true extent of mudslides, earthquakes, hurricanes, floods and associated damages so that aid can be more quickly delivered, insurance claims can be processed faster, and any infrastructure can be more easily assessed for damages. The path of wildfires can be determined as well as any remaining hot spots which may need to be taken care of before those areas flare up again. Drones are also capable of seeing people who are stranded by a disaster, whether they are trapped on a roof or surrounded by floodwaters.
Currently, the largest outsourced commercial application of drones is in the farming and agricultural industry. Being able to quickly and easily determine problem areas in crop production is of vital importance to a farmer and drones can provide a much closer and less expensive view than a plane or helicopter. It is also useful for monitoring pesticide use and herd management. But so far, the big money is being made in surveying and mapping, followed by aerial photography and utilities monitoring. There are lots of ways that you can make a decent living with your GPS drone, if you are inclined to do so. Obviously, the better your flying skills, the better your chances of landing some gainful side gigs or even full-time employment.
GPS Drone Conclusion
GPS drones have a lot to offer for new fliers as well as veteran pilots. Many of them have the latest camera sensors, flight modes, resiliency and immersive experience that drone operators are wanting. There is also certainly a lot of competition as far as styles, features, operations, accessories and pricing. The latest, greatest and fastest drone might not be right for you, for your budget or for your needs and perhaps none of the GPS drones in this discussion will be the right one for you, but a careful search will help you find the one that is right for you.