Those looking to bring some high-flying Christmas cheer to the 2017 festive season are spoilt for choice, at least when it comes to today's hobbyist drones. These things are now available in all shapes and sizes, from amphibious aircraft that capture underwater shots to the ever-growing contingent of affordable selfie snappers. Here are our picks for the best unmanned aircraft to get a loved one buzzing come Christmas morning.
DJI has built its name on larger prosumer drones that shoot high quality video and photos, but that doesn't mean it was about to ignore the selfie drone space. The Spark is the Chinese company's answer to the horde of startups offering diminutive micro-drones that autonomously snap their owners, and it features some clever automated and gesture-controlled shooting capabilities.
Weighing just 300 g (0.67 lb) and measuring 14.3 cm (5.6 in) along each side, the Spark can be launched from the user's hand and has a number of pre-programmed flight modes to make shooting autonomously a simple affair. These include a mode to automatically circle the user, a Helix mode where it spirals away and upwards, and Rocket where it is sent straight up into the air with the camera facing downwards. Should you need to take control, you can raise an arm out to their side to start recording and again to stop it.
The DJI Spark is available now for US$399.
The Breeze is a smartphone-controlled micro drone built for selfies. By doing away with a dedicated controller, owners pilot the aircraft through an app, a move hoped to ease the learning curve. On-screen sliders can control the drone's altitude and distance to the user to set up the perfect shot, while it also includes automated flight modes like Orbit and Follow Me.
It sports a 4K camera and takes 13-megapixel stills, and the companion app can also handle editing and direct uploading to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the like. The Yuneec Breeze is available now for $325.
FlyBrix Lego drones
These Lego-lugging drones are part playtime, part education and are designed to give owners a lesson in engineering, robotics and creativity. They come in the form of kits, which the owners then turn into airworthy drones of their own creation.
By flying and (presumably) crashing these drones, the owners then learn through trial and error what works and what doesn't, refining their designs over time. The Flybrix kits are available now, with pricing beginning at $139 for the starter kit.
One of the latest playful minidrones from French company Parrot, the Mambo is a tiny aircraft built for big mischief. It features a Lego-like panel on top to attach different implements, depending on the task at hand.
A cannon can be affixed to fire up to six soft pellets at unsuspecting victims in nine seconds flat, while a grabber can also be connected to its belly that has the ability to lift objects up to 4 g (0.15), including its own ammo. The Parrot Mambo is available now for US$113.
Splash Drone 3
If you're looking for a high-end drone to be used in the vicinity of water, then you could do worse than the Splash Drone 3. Packing a waterproof 4K camera with 2-axis gimbal, this floating aircraft has the ability to land and take off from the water, and shoot whatever is below the surface while parked there.
It also comes with what's called a Payload Release System, which means it can deliver things like fishing bait or life preservers weighing up to 2.5 lb (1.1 kg), up to 1 km (0.6 mi) away. The Splash 3 Drone with a fishing line release module is priced at $1,399.
DJI Mavic Pro Platinum
Kind of like the palm-sized Spark, the Mavic released last year was an attempt by DJI to plug a gap in its product lineup. The compact-yet-capable camera drone can be folded for easy transport and sports a sharp 4K/24 frames-per-second camera that shoots DNG, RAW and JPG images for editing flexibility.
The updated version for 2017, the Pro Platinum, makes use of new propellors and electronic speed controllers to stretch flight time from 27 to 30 minutes. On top of that, these are claimed to produce 60 percent less noise than their buzzing predecessors. The Mavic Pro Platinum is priced at $1,099.
Walkera Vitus 320
The Mavic carries the badge of the world's biggest drone manufacturer, but that kind of pedigree can come with a price. The Walkera Vitus 320 offers a suspiciously similar-looking package at a lower cost.
It also folds up for easy transport, sports a 4K, gimbal-stabilized camera and a small controller with arms that fold out to hold your phone for live streaming. In a way, it actually improves on the Mavic's forward-facing obstacle detection, with sensors keeping an eye out to the left and right as well. The Walkera Vitus is available now and is priced at $800.
Parrot Bepop 2 Power
The latest version of Parrot's Bepop drone, the Bepop 2 Power is a fixed-wing flyer that brings more airtime than the earlier models thanks to a pair of 3,350-mAh batteries that offer a total 60 minutes of flight time by way of a quick battery swap.
The camera remains the same as the previous models, with a 14-megapixel CMOS sensor that shoots full HD video at 30 fps and storing your captures on 8 GB of internal storage. Parrot's Skycontroller 2 and FPV goggles are included, so users will be able to strap in and view all the high-flying action from the drone's perspective. The Parrot Bepop 2 Power is priced at $549.
DJI Phantom 4 Advanced
DJI's wildly successful Phantom drones have ruled the roost when it comes to the prosumer arena, and the latest addition to the family is a heavy hitter when it comes to high-grade aerial cinematography.
The Phantom 4 Advanced packs a 1-inch, 20-megapixel sensor, shoots 4K video at 60 fps and 30 at a bitrate of 100 Mbps. Flight time is listed as 30 minutes and a forward- and downward-facing obstacle avoidance system should help prevent collisions. The Phantom 4 Advanced is priced at $1,299.
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