What You Should Know Before You Buy a Drone

By Mark LaFay

You should know a few things before you go drone shopping. Buying has gotten a lot easier these days thanks to the Internet. Buying has also gotten a lot harder these days because of the Internet. Not only do you have limitless options on products and product variations, you also have limitless information about each product, its features and the value of the features, and feedback from purchasers (qualified and unqualified).

Buying a drone is an exciting endeavor because they are so incredibly cool! But you need to have a method to your shopping, or it will become shopping madness. If money is no object, disregard that statement and just read-aim-BUY! You probably just want to buy one drone (for now).

But you don’t want to buy just any drone. . .

You want to buy the right drone.

To be sure you buy the right drone, you need to take a methodical approach to your shopping. First, know how you will use your drone, and second, get to know the features available on the drones you’re considering.

How will you use your drone?

Before you buy a drone, you need to know how you will use it. The reason for this is simple: Every drone has its own set of features and options, some better-suited for certain applications than others. If you plan to use your drone strictly for hobby flying, you want to look for a drone with a built-in camera or no camera at all.

Conversely, if you want to use your drone to take pictures and video, you want to look for a drone that comes with a high-quality camera or a mount for your own camera. Whatever scenario you can think of, the important thing to understand is that the way you intend to use your drone should determine which drone you buy.

Here are some questions and explanations to help you think through how you intend to use your drone.

  • Do you intend to fly for hobby purposes only?

    If you intend to fly your drone for hobby purposes only, you may not need camera support, internal or add-on.

  • Do you intend to fly for extended periods of time?

    If you intend to fly for extended periods of time, you want to make sure that you have the right balance of motor power and battery life. You also want to consider whether you need the ability to swap out batteries or add additional batteries.

  • How do you want to fly? Do you want to fly fast in a straight line?

    If you want to fly fast in a straight line, an airplane or other fixed wing drone may be the right fit. If you want to be able to hover, vertically take off and land, and go in any direction what-so-ever, then a multi-copter may be a good option for you.

  • Do you intend to use your drone for aerial pictures or video?

    If you intend to use your drone for aerial pictures or video, you may want to consider camera support. This opens up a litany of additional questions.

  • How important are picture and video quality?

    If picture or video quality is of high importance, you may need to consider a drone that can support an add-on camera device.

  • How important is streaming video support?

    If streaming video support is of high importance, you need to select a drone with a built-in camera that supports video streaming, or you need to be prepared to make an add-on camera purchase that supports this functionality.

  • How far do you want to be able to fly your drone?

    Communication with your controls is a big deal, so you will want to make sure you look at communication methods and distance.

Of course, the age old question that must always be answered is: “What is your budget?” It almost always comes down to this, right? The spectrum of drone pricing is vast. You can spend as little as $100 for a drone and as much as hundreds of thousands of dollars (although pricing in this range is for drones that are intended for more than hobby, personal or small business uses). Establishing a budget can help you whittle down your options.

When contemplating budget, take into consideration how much money you can spend on replacement parts and repairs. It doesn’t take much to render a propeller unusable. One serious crash and, depending on the drone, you may have a pricy replacement on your hands.

Whether you are a hobby flyer, photographer, videographer, or maybe you have a use within your business, diving deep into how you intend to use your drone will help you select the right drone.

Drone features

Each drone comes with its own design and feature set. You’ll find a direct correlation between price and feature availability. If you want a ton of features, you have pay for them. The first feature you need to pay attention to is the fly package. Most drone manufacturers will make their drones available in either of these packages:

  • Ready to fly: A ready-to-fly drone is a drone that comes complete with everything you need to fly. Typically, you need to do some assembly, but this is typically limited to attaching propellers and plugging in ­batteries.

  • Bind and fly: More advanced drone flyers may have their own remote controllers or maybe even a high-end or custom built ground-control system. For this reason, some drones are available as a drone-only package. Bind and fly simply means you need to bind your drone to your controller before you can start flying.

Understanding the difference between these two packages will save you some headaches and also help you if you are budgeting to purchase a drone. First-time drone-buyers will always want to buy a ready to fly because it comes with everything needed to get up and running right away! Other features that your drone might offer beyond a different paint job include:

  • Advanced control options: Different communication protocols, such as Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, enable you to connect your drone to a computer, smartphone, or tablet.

  • GPS home function: Drones with this function know where they started flying from and attempt to return to that location if there is a problem. (This is not something you should rely on.)

  • GPS navigation: GPS navigation makes it possible to track your drone or program routes.

  • Streaming video: Drones with this capability let you stream video from a first person video view or simply stream video back to a computer, phone, or tablet.

  • Power: Payload size, battery life, and propeller speeds all impact flight time, flight radius, and so on.

  • Camera support: Built-in (integrated) cameras and add-on camera support give you flexibility in how you use your drone for video and photography.