How we test drones
By Oli McKean
Discover the lengths we go to in our drone tests, and why you can trust our reviews to uncover the best drones you can buy.
We put drones through an assault of stringent lab assessments, and our independent reviews reveal the best that money can buy – and those you should avoid.
Drones aren’t a cheap piece of kit, and you don’t want to splash out on a model that inspires more concern than confidence.
Our reviews answer the most crucial questions:
- How well does the drone fly?
- Can it take good photos and videos?
- How long does the battery last?
- Does it have safety features?
- How simple is it to set up?
- What extras does it offer?
- Should you buy it?
Find out which drones are truly worth considering in our drone reviews.
How well does the drone fly?
A drone that doesn’t fly very well is like a washing machine that doesn’t clean clothes – it simply has to, to be worth its salt.
We assess drones on every aspect of flight – from how well it takes off and lands, to whether it stays stable even when there’s a bit of wind.
You want a drone that gives you confidence when you’re flying it. Our testing also looks at how simple it is to control from the ground, whether that’s via a physical remote control or an app on your smartphone or tablet.
Does the drone take good photos and videos?
Most drones come with cameras, for taking photos and videos while in flight. For instance, you might like the idea of taking an aerial photograph of the countryside.
We have a range of camera tests for drones to help you choose the best. For instance, we look at how well they reproduce colour and bring out detail while in flight – for both videos and photos. We also check video and photo quality in low-light conditions, in case it’s a bit of a grey and miserable day when you take the drone out.
How long does the battery last?
Drones require a lot of power – and we’ve found sizeable differences in how long they last in-flight before needing recharging. The best we’ve found in our tests last for more than twice as long as the worst.
We measure how long each drone lasts while hovering, noting when the low-battery and critical-battery warnings flash up. Plus, we look at how long it takes to recharge the battery – the quickest take around 60 minutes while the worst take nearly two hours.
As battery life is generally fairly short with drones, you might want to have more than one battery – especially if you’re travelling some distance to fly one. Bear in mind that an extra battery can cost up to around £150.
Does the drone have safety features?
To help you feel confident when you’re flying, we take a focused look at safety features. For instance, we check whether there’s any tuition for first-time flyers and whether it highlights CAA regulations.
We also look for a return-to-home feature. This is where the drone will return to where it took off from when the battery is close to running out of power.
How simple is set-up?
Nobody likes a product that takes many hours of work before you can start using it. That’s why we rate each drone for how easy it is to set up, and assess aspects including clarity of instructions and pairing the controller.
What extras does it offer?
We take a look at the drone’s suite of features, and whether they add anything of value. For instance, not only do we note whether a drone has a camera; we also look at things like how easy it is to attach.
As it’s likely you’ll be taking your drone from place to place, we look at how simple it is to do that. We note down the dimensions of the drone, and applaud models that come with a carry case. Some simply fold up with the propellers attached, while others require disassembly – which might become very boring very quickly.
This test also includes our assessment of build quality – you probably won’t want one that feels flimsy, especially as you’ll be lifting it into the air.
Should you buy it?
80%The score a drone needs to earn our Best Buy recommendation
All the above tests are analysed to create an overall test score and recommendation. This helps us separate the wheat from the chaff, and helps you make the best choice of what to spend your money on.
The total test score is made up of the following factors:
- 30% flight
- 25% image quality
- 15% battery
- 12.5% versatility
- 10% safety features
- 7.5% setting up
Drones that earn 80% in our stringent assessments are awarded our Best Buy recommendation. Drones with a total test score of 45% or less, on the other hand, are shunned to our Don’t Buy hall of shame.