5 Things to Look For When Buying Your Next Consumer Drone

Let’s face the truth: an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) has somehow made it onto your Christmas wish list this year-the one filed away in that wistful part of your brain that leads you to window shop online. It’s understandable. Drones are awesome. They make videography cooler and are an upgrade to traditional RC vehicles.

In a span of several years, they’ve populated civilian skies providing hobbyists, photographers, and RC converts with another fun tech toy. It’s a product with yearly sales exceeding over 100% and tech companies and manufacturers – mostly from China – have jumped in to fill demand.

Sharing your awe of drones, we can guess that an impulse buy is near. But before you race to Amazon to compare prices and specs, here’s a list of general factors you should consider before deciding what type of drone to buy.

Use Factor

After paying for and carting that drone home, the first thing you’d like to do is take that baby out for a spin. But what if it spends too much time in your closet after that initial experience? If set up and maintenance are so inconvenient that you hesitate to bring it with you every time you go out, then this drone may not be your best fit. Drones are still expensive so whichever you buy should get a lot of use. This is what the use factor is: how often you expect a quality experience out of your drone. Take note of setup instructions, battery charge life and other necessary maintenance needs when shopping around. There’s no clear example for this type of standard though. It really all comes down to what kind of drone you’re looking for and how much work you are willing to do for set up.

Modularity

Drone modularity doesn’t necessarily mean your device should be able to transform into a hovercraft and a car. But there are instances when you’d like to go beyond just buying a drone with a camera. Sure, you can be resourceful but your drone should save you the hassle of doing that. After several years of popularity in the public sphere, drones have developed a variety of uses that make industry results more achievable. Security, mapping locations for 3-D models, and delivery are just a few of the different ways drone technology has allowed people to make their jobs easier. Landing gear, max sensor distance, and tech attachability are all features that allow your drone other uses.

Power

A search and rescue drone with the lift capacity capable of plucking a snowboarder from a mountainside certainly packs a lot of power. The amount of power given to the drone determines flight time and carrying capacity among other specs. This power comes from batteries. For drones, the standard seems to be Lithium Polymer batteries (LiPo batteries). These LiPo batteries are compared through their C-Ratings. Higher ratings mean more powerful and heavier batteries.

Heavy lifting drones require vast amounts of power. If you’re in the market for these be prepared to spend a lot of money. Leading consumer drone manufacturer DJI, for example, offers the DJI Agras  MG-1 for agricultural use for around $8,500.

Ease of Flight

Ease of flight might be more important if you’re a first-time user or just plan to take your drone to far places. Most drones come fully equipped to do the work for you and at their rate of development may not be too far off from basically flying themselves. Anti-collision software, GPS, and autopilot are the budding features that should make flight controls work with ease. But drone pilots exist for a reason and that reason is that flying drones is hard (for evidence search “drone crashes” on YouTube).

A starter drone would provide simple flight control for beginners.

The Phantom 3 Standard from DJI is a good, beginner choice and should get you used to flight in short time.

Customer Service

Unless you built it yourself, chances are you don’t know everything about the $500 UAV you just ordered online. That’s not to mention the potential crashes this little tech will have to endure. For these foreseeable issues, customer service should be at hand to assist. A 24-hour call or online chat line and technical support are the best options for basic service. Other, larger manufacturers might also include sales support and warranties which should come in handy for first-time hobbyists. All this information you can find on the manufacturer websites. In-store sales reps usually are knowledgeable on this as well.

There you have it. Like any purchase, buying a drone is easier if you prepare by knowing what you want. When you decide to get your own drone, keep in mind these things to look for and you can more easily narrow your choices

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