Updated January 2022
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Buying guide for best hand-controlled drones

Drone flying is one of the fastest-growing hobbies in the world, but it can be expensive and comes with a bit of a learning curve. You need to invest a fairly sizable amount of time to master drone flight, and still you may find yourself flying into trees, buildings, and just “away” far too often. Fortunately, hand-controlled drones offer a simpler experience.

These “flying balls” can be a great introduction to the world of drone flight and are perfect for younger pilots seeking their first drone experience. Hand-controlled drones all incorporate some form of sensors, which allow you to use your hands to move the drone. Some, however, go a step further by providing remote controls that give you even more precision when guiding your drone.

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To increase your flying time, find out if the manufacturer sells additional rechargeable batteries. If so, stock up.

Is it a toy?

Yes, but while the majority of hand-controlled drones are simple caged-rotor drones that react to objects near them (such as your hands), others add remote controls for finer adjustments. The more expensive models in this niche are closer to a traditional remote-controlled drone than a simple toy, which may be exactly what you’re looking for if you are hoping to teach your children about using and maneuvering drones.

Key considerations

Construction and appearance

Bouncing off objects and crashing — this is what your drone may do, particularly when you’re first learning how to pilot it. As such, a drone should be durable enough to survive a steady stream of abuse.

The best hand-controlled drones are built from rugged, non-toxic plastic that is also flexible enough to bend when it strikes something instead of breaking.

Drones ship with their own cool factor and should look the part. The majority of hand-controlled drones go with a UFO design or some other futuristic shape. Some manufacturers also offer a choice of colors.


None of these hand-controlled drones would be considered large, but some are more compact than others. A smaller drone is generally more portable but may be difficult to control in even a slight wind. If you plan to use your drone outside, consider going with a larger model.

How easy is it to fly?

As mentioned, there can be a bit of a steep learning curve with some drones. The majority of hand-controlled drones use simple hand gestures and are usually simple to control right out of the box. Those with mouse-type or other controllers can take some time to master.

Any directions included with the drone should be simple to follow and well organized. Instructions utilizing both text and illustrations are a plus.

Battery life

One of the biggest limitations faced by these drones — or really, any drones — is battery life. Much of the fun in flying a drone will disappear if you are constantly having to recharge the battery.

Hand-controlled drones usually contain a battery that can be recharged via USB. They range in flight time from 4 to 15 minutes, with 6 minutes being standard. With a recharge time of anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes, a longer flight time becomes a significant feature, particularly if you’re trying to entertain those with short attention spans.

Remote controls that ship with some hand-controlled drones generally run on disposable batteries.


While not an issue with simpler hand-controlled drones, those that use some form of remote will require you to take range into account. In other words, how far can you be from the drone before you lose the ability to control it with the remote? The range on these is generally limited (many models have a range of around 20 feet), so be sure you know what your range is and stay within that distance.


Hand-controlled drones typically offer you one of three different ways to control them. These will vary from drone to drone, with some models offering all three methods.

  • Hand-controlled: As the name implies, hand-controlled drones will all ship with the option of controlling them by just using your hands. Infrared sensors in the drone detect your hands (and other objects), and the drone will respond by moving in the opposite direction.
  • Take off/land remotes: These remote controls — usually in a teardrop shape or similar compact design — provide you with an easy way to take off and land, but little more.
  • Remote control: A remote control will provide you with close to full control of the drone, including takeoffs and landings, flight directions, and special features such as a stunt button (to do mid-flight flips). Some of these are available as wearable controllers.
"According to the FAA, there are more than 2,000,000 drones currently in use in the United States."



Switches on these drones, and the functions they control, are pretty minimal. The majority of drones will have an on/off switch, while some will also feature a switch that allows you to choose between two to three different flight speeds.

LED lights

LED lights are largely standard on hand-controlled drones and can be used in a number of ways. Some LED lights will notify you when the drone is in the process of charging or has finished charging. Similarly, some LED lights can notify you of a low battery. In addition, some drones have LED “running lights” so the drone can be used in the dark. Drones that offer various speeds will often have different colored lights, so you can tell at a glance what speed the drone is set at.


Hand-controlled drones ship with a variety of extras that will vary depending on the model you choose. Some of these extras include:

  • A USB charging cable (this should be standard)
  • Spare rotors
  • Extra batteries
  • A screwdriver

Hand-controlled drone prices

Unlike traditional remote-controlled drones, which can cost hundreds of dollars, hand-controlled drones are fairly affordable. These drones start at around $10 and cost up to $40.

On the less expensive end, you will mostly find children’s toys with compact sizes and hands-only controls.

At a higher price point, drones tend to be larger and have the ability to stay in the air longer. Higher-priced, hand-controlled drones will also offer you much more varied ways to control the drone, often with wearable controllers that provide you with control options that can rival more expensive RC drones.


  • If you are getting several drones for all of your children, go with a manufacturer that offers a variety of colors, so every child’s drone will be unique.
  • If your drone includes some form of remote control, it is probably going to take some time to reach the point where you can fly it without running into objects. Try practicing a little every day to increase your skills, and be patient!
  • In headless mode, the orientation of the drone stays constant, so you won’t need to worry about which end is which.
  • Be sure that the power switch is in the “off” position before attempting to charge up your drone.
  • If you have pets, be particularly careful when flying your drone that you don’t use it where dog and cat hair can collect. Pet hair can easily gum up the rotors of a drone.
  • Despite their general safe design, hand-controlled drones still use rapidly spinning propellers and should be used carefully as a result. For safe use, keep the drone away from your face, hair, and eyes, and avoid poking your fingers through the guards when the drone is in flight.
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Hand-controlled drones will generally auto-land when their batteries run low.


Q. Are these for indoor or outdoor use?
This will vary drone by drone. Your best bet is to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations regarding use. That said, here are some general guidelines:

  • If it has no remote control, keep the drone indoors. Without a surface to sense, it may fly away from you.
  • If it is larger, consider only using it outdoors where it is less likely to cause damage.
  • If it is super lightweight, keep it inside, as any gust of wind can easily affect a lightweight drone.

Q. How are hand-controlled launched?
Hand-controlled drones are generally launched in one of two ways. The lighter-weight, hand-controlled-only drones can simply be tossed up into the air, where they will start to fly immediately. If the drone uses some form of remote with a launch/land button, set the drone on a flat surface and launch it by pressing the button.

Q. What are the age recommendations for these?
This will vary by model, but in general, the simpler hands-only controlled drones are usually appropriate for kids ages 7 or 8 and up, with younger children able to use them with adult supervision. These types of drones should also incorporate a cage-like guard to keep tiny fingers away from the rotors.

Hand-controlled drones that have a remote control are usually more difficult to use and should be restricted to those 14 or older. When in doubt, double-check with the manufacturer to verify their specific age recommendations.

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