As a kid I was a huge fan of remote controlled toys.
Growing up in the late 80’s and early 90’s I remember progressing from an awesome BigFoot truck (2 gears! 😃 Not radio controlled 🙁), through one of those RC cars that would only turn by going backwards, then finally graduating to a fully-fledged RC off-road car which I must have used for literally hundreds of hours by the time it gave up the ghost.
But there was one thing I never had.
A remote controlled aircraft.
I definitely asked for one. And they definitely existed. But I recall my Dad explaining to me at some length how planes were too expensive, fast and dangerous for a kid, and RC helicopters were “virtually impossible” to control!!
No doubt he was exaggerating to a degree, but his arguments were largely true. The only realistic way of powering RC aircraft back then was petrol, and sticking a two-stroke in a toy essentially stopped it being a toy. All models were instantly rendered large, heavy, expensive, difficult to fly and hard to maintain; the only people actually buying and flying them back in those days were middle aged men who were prepared to spend 10 hours on prep and maintenance for every 10 minutes of flight time.
Any offspring who showed an interest were doomed to eternal observer status, or at best, assistant engineer.
But then, sometime between my off-road RC car dying and my first son being born, the LiPo battery was invented, and a few other useful developments occurred which together, led to drones becoming a consumer product, and more specifically, led to drones for kids becoming a thing!
So, obviously, I had to get one.
For my kids’ benefit. 🤥
The first kids drone I ever bought was the HS210 and the short story is, I loved it, the kids kind of liked it and that was a good enough result to justify the growth of what has now become a comprehensive range of toy drones.
Our collection spans the full range from gimmicky novelty items through to fairly sophisticated camera-wielding, app-controlled drones. These larger ones push the boundaries of what might be considered a toy, and make me say things like,
“Sorry boys, this one is a bit fast, and dangerous and you’ll find it virtually impossible to……”
OMG! What have I become….!?!?
Sorry Dad, love you!
But seriously, any given drone can be a great kids toy, or it could be a bit inappropriate. So the rest of this article is going to look at the things you need to take into account if you’re thinking of buying one as a birthday present. Or a bribe. Or just a way to get them to shut up for a while.
I’ll organise it by looking at the pros and cons of drones, in the context of children using them.
Why a drone might be a good kids toy
They are fun – Let’s start with the big, obvious one…… Flying a drone is really good fun!! I don’t think I’ll explain this one in words. I’ll just show you a few pictures of my kids playing with respectively, the Avialogic Q9S the Tudello H850H and the Holy Stone HS210. You can use your imagination with regards to how much your kids might like to fly a drone:
The only fear here is that some kids might find drones a bit too much fun. Our little one went through quite the obsessional phase. Literally every morning for about 4 months the first thing he would say to me in the morning was,
which he would repeat until I went and fetched him a drone to play with. Or two.
They can be multi-player – So we’ve established that messing around with drones is fun, even if it’s just you, playing alone. But what if you could play with a friend, or even a bunch of friends!? Chasing each other through the sky, around obstacles, doing challenges, seeing who is fastest…..
Well, kids these day don’t merely have to dream about it. Due to recent advances in technology (stuff to do with frequencies that I don’t claim to understand), you can generally fly around 7 or 8 drones, of the exact same type, with the exact same type of controller, in close proximity without a problem. If this is something you’re interested in, do make sure you check the details of the specific product you are looking to buy because this ability isn’t universal, but you’ll probably find it’s ok; it’s been ages since I came across a model that couldn’t do this.
Flying takes skill – My eldest son is a huge fan of activities that require him to concentrate and learn.
So he’s a weirdo, right?
But you’ve got to work with these people, so I let him play with some of the more complex ‘toy’ drones and he loves it.
If you also have one of those strange kids who plays with Lego for hours, colors inside the lines and actually listens to what you say, a drone could well be a good option for their next birthday.
They allow for progression – kind of an extension of the above; one of the positive things about drones for kids is not actually based on what kids like when they’re kids, but what a toy can do for a kid as they grow up.
Unlike most toys, which are just standalone products to entertain children, toy drones are a kid-friendly offshoot of a large, and rapidly growing industry in the grown-up world.
Drones are now used in a huge range of industries from video game production to farming to mining to engineering and more.
If you’re looking to buy a drone for an older child, I’d suggest forking out for a model with some higher level features (for example, a camera and an app that allows for communication with the drone whilst in flight) and let it be an initial gateway to an understanding of how to fly one of these increasingly useful tools and how to use them to collect data.
You could also look at buying a programmable drone and combine learning about drones with learning about basic computer programming.
Price – this factor very much belongs in both the pros and cons sections. It deserves a place here in the pros because some toy drones are really cheap.
One of the most oft-used models we’ve owned was this one, and at the time we bought it I believe it cost $15. So from a cost to benefit point of view, it has been pretty much unbeatable, and I mean in comparison with all the kids’ other toys, not just other drones. And as previously mentioned, some fully manoeuvrable, proper quadcopters come in at only around $30 so drones are definitely not the preserve of the rich. But there is a flip side, which I’ll mention below.
Why a drone might not be a good kids toy
They can be tricky to fly – all modern drones, including toys, have some pretty clever stabilization software on board, so they don’t get knocked off track by slight air movements, nor do they become unflyable if, for example, one rotor starts to lose efficiency and slows down a touch.
However, there is no ignoring the fact that drones are flying machines, that move in all three dimensions and are considerably more difficult to control than RC cars and boats.
Some kids will be completely fine with this; they will love the challenge and will put hours into learning how to make the drone do what they want. Others will give it two minutes, become completely enraged, have a massive cry, require a cuddle and then will never look at the drone again.
Of course, there’s also a middle ground. Here’s a quick video of my 3.5 year old having a great time trying to fly a drone, but not exactly nailing it….
Some are hard to set up – this one only applies to the expensive end of what you might realistically describe as a ‘toy’ drone, so you can probably ignore it. Just be aware that some drones will come with cameras and apps which may take an adult a little while to set up and learn, let alone a child. So, whilst this shouldn’t ultimately pose a problem (I believe in you! You can do it!!), you need to be aware that not all drones are ‘plug and play’.
Battery charging causes friction – The batteries used to power expensive non-toy drones like the DJI Mini 3 are quite long lasting, with performance now exceeding an hour per charge in some models. But this isn’t the case with toy drones as they can only lift much smaller cells.
In my experience, toy drones generally have a flight time around the 7 to 8 minute mark. If you have a look at what is on offer at Amazon, you’ll see that many kids drones come with spare batteries, largely to deal with this issue.
Multiple batteries are definitely helpful here, but if your kids are still too young to do things like putting batteries on to charge, you’re going to have to do this for them, and this can be problematic when your day is already busy enough.
One piece of advice I can give you here is to buy a power pack alongside the drone. They are portable and have multiple outlets so you can charge more than one battery at a time which can really help if you’ve got a number of children demanding various batteries be available “NOW PLEASE DADDY!!!” I personally use this one.
They are breakable – the breakability of toy drones varies quite a lot between models. My rule of thumb is that the smaller they are, the more likely they are to break. But don’t let this affect your decision if there are other factors too; most toy drones will hold up reasonably well in the face of some rough play.
That said, you do need to be realistic about what you’re buying and for whom! This is not a set of indestructible building blocks. Drones have some fairly delicate working parts and your kids are going to crash them. So don’t expect the toy you buy today to still be in good working order a year from now. It won’t be!
They are hard to repair – this goes hand-in-hand with the above point; you can’t really repair most parts of most toy drones. They are simply too small and delicate. The firms that manufacture them do not try to make them repairable as it is just not cost effective. Once a toy drone is broken it is heading for the bin, unless you have a penchant for microsoldering.
The only caveat to this is that virtually all drones do come with a spare set of propellers, so the single most breakable part of them can be fixed, but that’s about it.
They break other stuff – Doesn’t need much explaining, this one! Toy drones are best suited for indoor flying but this means they will be flying very close to that vase on the cabinet and that glass of water you left on the table.
You can decrease the chances of this being an issue by judging your kids’ abilities and perhaps buying a smaller, slower model if you think they are going to be more Maverick than Ice Man.
If controllability is important to you, you need to consider the Tudello H850H. See why in my review.
They are noisy/distracting – whether or not this is an issue for you or your kids is a bit subjective. It will depend on things like the size of your house, where you let them play with the drone and which model you buy.
The noise from a toy drone is not horrific. To give you an example, compared to a vacuum, they are quiet. But compared to the background hum of your dishwasher or microwave, they are loud and intrusive.
You’re certainly going to notice if the kids are playing with a toy drone whilst you’re trying to watch TV in the same room. Or perhaps more importantly, if one of your kids is watching TV and another comes in and starts playing with their drone, you’re going to know about that real quick!
Price (again) – As I said in the ‘pros’ section, toy drones are really quite affordable. They certainly cost a lot less than some other toys we’ve bought for our tribe, and they have provided a lot more playing hours than some of our less good choices.
But now that you’ve read the ‘cons’ section you’ll understand that there are some reasons why the drone you choose to buy might end up providing very little benefit at all. It might not have any lasting appeal for your kids, or even if it is well liked, it could end up biting the dust aggravatingly quickly. In either of those scenarios, the ‘reasonable’ outlay will feel a lot less reasonable in the end.
Which drone should you choose?
So that’s the end of my breakdown of what to take into account when considering if a drone would be a good kids toy.
Now you need to have a think about the specific children in question. What are they like?
You need to think about their physical skill level, temperament and what kind of stuff they are generally into.
But the single biggest factor is going to be their age.
If you would like some guidance about which drones are well suited to a particular age group, check out these articles: