Tested: $50-$100 Entry-Level Quadcopters

By Terry Dunn

On average, these costlier models have similar features to sub-$50 quads, but they are larger and more powerful.

I recently reviewed a handful of multi-rotors costing less than $50. All of those units were beginner-oriented and best-suited for indoor flying. This time around I'll be looking at some quads in the $50-100 price range. As you will see, doubling your budget doesn't necessarily buy you better products--just different ones. On average, these costlier models have similar features to the sub-$50 crowd, but they are larger and more powerful.

With one exception, the quads showcased here are meant for outdoor flying. They have geared motors spinning sizeable propellers. Whereas a mini-quad might simply bounce off of a picture frame on the mantel, one of these ships would probably send that frame crashing to the floor. You're better off flying these larger models outdoors unless you have access to a vacant warehouse or basketball gym.

While you certainly could use any of these quads for learning to fly, I still think that is the domain of the less-expensive indoor ships (or a simulator). Indoor flying generally presents fewer variables, allowing you to better focus on flying. The ships presented here are at their best when you're flying just for the fun of flying.

As before, this is not a comparison where I'll rank the models first to worst. The intent here is to illustrate what your money buys in this price range. I'll also point out any notable capabilities or detriments as they pop up. Let's get to the testing!

The Lineup

In alphabetical order by manufacturer, these are the multi-rotors that I tested:

Ares Ethos QX 130 ($100)

Blade Inductrix ($70)

Dromida Vista ($80)

LaTrax Alias ($100)

World Tech Toys Striker ($60)

One of my biggest gripes about the sub-$50 models is that nearly all of them include undersized transmitters that are nothing like the well-established RC standard.

One of my biggest gripes about the sub-$50 models is that nearly all of them include undersized transmitters that are nothing like the well-established RC standard. I was pleased to see that none of the transmitters in the $50-$100 lot fall into this trap. While there is some variation in the sizes and form factors, all of these transmitters are close enough to the norm that there is no risk of negative training.

The flight times listed in the table are the averages from three flights consisting of static hovering and slow translation in zero wind. Flying in wind and/or performing aerobatics will reduce flight time to varying degrees. I ignored any low-battery warnings while measuring the timed flights. I flew until the multi-rotor wouldn't stay airborne any longer.

Ares Ethos QX 130

I was first introduced to the QX 130 when I did a review of several quads in the Ares lineup. I was sufficiently impressed that I felt it deserved mention here among its price peers. Coming back to the QX 130 after a few months, my opinion hasn't changed. It is a solid, middle-of-the-road quad that gets a lot of things right.

I think the transmitter is my favorite aspect of the QX 130. It is a full-size piece that feels comfortable and works well. This quad offers two control-sensitivity settings and a button that instigates quick aerial flips.

The Ares QX 130 is a good all-around quad that does numerous things well. I appreciate its full-size transmitter.

The QX 130 is a smooth flyer with adequate power and control authority to tolerate a little wind. I'd say that it's feasible to fly in winds up to 5mph or so. More wind is possible, but it wouldn't be much fun.

A unique feature of the QX 130 is that it is equipped to interface with a handful of different accessories. I think that the water squirter and rocket launcher are particularly fun. Sure, they're just novelty gadgets. But they add a little fun and variety, while still challenging your flight skills.

Blade Inductrix

The Inductrix is an outlier in this particular group of quads. Although its size and features give it more in common with the sub-$50 set, the $70 price for the ready-to-fly version places it out of that category. Those who already own a Spektrum computer radio can get back to the $50 threshold by choosing the Bind-N-Fly version of the Inductrix.

So what do you get by spending a little more on a small, indoor quad? Well, stability for one. One of my observations of another Blade ship, the Pico QX, was that it became less stable as the battery drained. Not so with the Inductrix. It has one of the most "locked-in" stability systems that I've ever seen on a mini-quad…and I've flown lots of them. I was really impressed by how crisply the Inductrix responded to control inputs.

Unlike the other quads tested here, the Blade Inductrix is meant for indoor flight. Its in-flight stability is spot on.

Rather than traditional prop guards, the Inductrix features a full shroud around each of the propellers, effectively making it a ducted fan system (hence, the quad's name). The shrouds are tough and do a good job of protecting the props. I think you'd have to try pretty hard to damage them. Perhaps that is why spare props are not included.

I would have expected the closely shrouded props to be inefficient and noisy, but that isn't the case. The Inductrix is actually one of the quieter quads I've flown.

Dromida Vista

At first glance, the Vista appears to be a slightly tweaked version of another Dromida quad, the very popular Ominus. While there are many similarities, there are also a few significant differences. One apparent delta is the radio system. The Vista's transmitter is considerably larger than that of the Ominus, although it functions similarly. More significant is the fact that the Vista uses the SLT protocol. This allows you to link the quad with Tactic or Hitec brand SLT-compatible computer transmitters. This provides all of the minute adjustability that comes with computer radios. With that said, I felt like the stock transmitter provided more than enough adjustability with four flight modes…including adjustable dual rates.

The Dromida Vista provides exceptionally long 12-minute flight times.

The Vista flies well, with good controllability and plenty of power. As with the other outdoor quads, you'll probably want to fly when the winds are 5mph or less. The most impressive performance attribute of the Vista is its flight time. I was able to log 12-minute flights, which is extraordinary for models in this class.

LaTrax Alias

The Alias is the only aircraft model sold by LaTrax or its partner company Traxxas. Their combined product line consists mainly of RC cars and monster trucks, with an occasional boat. I've owned several Traxxas vehicles over the years, and I've always liked them. Based on that experience, I was anxious to see how the Alias measured up.

The Alias really impressed me. It seems to do everything well and also stands out in a couple of areas. The first thing I noticed when flying the Alias is that it is exceptionally easy to see…which is always an important consideration. Like most other quads, the front and rear props are different colors. With the Alias, however, the frame arms and body have similarly colored accents. It all adds up to make this quad very easy to orient. At least that was the case with the orange unit that I tested. The other available colors (red, blue, and green) may be less vibrant.

You can fly the LaTrax Alias with rate mode controls, just like a racing quad.

Without a doubt, my favorite thing about the Alias is that it offers a setting with "rate mode" controls. Unlike other control modes where your control inputs command the quad to tilt to a certain angle, rate mode commands the quad to tilt at a certain rate of rotation. Rate mode also does not provide any self-leveling functions…it's all up to you. Many pilots of racing quads prefer rate mode because of the maneuverability and precision it affords. Flying competently in rate mode requires practice. So, having that option on a tough and affordable ship like the Alias can be a real asset.

World Tech Toys Striker

Honestly, I was on the fence about whether or not to include the Striker in this round-up. I always try to focus on hobby-quality items, and this one blurs the line between toy-quality and hobby-quality. I ultimately decided to keep it in the lineup because many of its toy-like attributes are rather trivial things that can be easily fixed or ignored. For instance, the transmitter joysticks had plastic flash on the grips and the prop shafts displayed considerable axial slop.

Despite the Striker's nitpicky shortcomings and my initial misgivings about it, the quad actually flew quite well. It displayed good stability and response to my control inputs. I sometimes found myself trying to push the throttle stick past the stops. The Striker just didn't have enough guts to handle very much wind. Yet, the power seemed adequate when flying in zero wind.

The Striker from World Tech Toys flies well, but it does not measure up to hobby-quality multi-rotors.

The Striker is the only ship in this lineup that includes a camera. It is capable of shooting still photos or video via controls integrated into the transmitter. The camera works as advertised, although it's really just a novelty feature. It's fun to play around with, but don't expect to get high-quality footage that you will want to upload to YouTube. That squawk is not aimed specifically at the Striker. My opinion holds true for every small quad I've ever flown that had an integrated camera.

At the end of the day, my only big disappointment with the Striker was its flight time. On every flight, I was only able to get 2 minutes of solid air time before the power started to fade. I could sometimes coax another minute or so of flying in worm-frightening ground-effect.

I love an underdog as much as anyone and I wanted to see the Striker perform well among its peers. Ultimately, however, I think that it validated my preference for using only hobby-quality items. If a well-meaning aunt puts a Striker in your Christmas stocking this year, be sure to accept it with a smile…knowing that you will have fun with it. I just can't recommended it over these other more-refined machines – even considering the cost differences.

Final Thoughts

So there you have it, a snapshot of multi-rotors in the $50-$100 price range. As you can see, all quads are not created equal. There is a wide variety in size, quality and capabilities…even among this small sample. You should decide what aspects are most important to you and shop around before you plunk down your money.

Terry spent 15 years as an engineer at the Johnson Space Center. He is now a freelance writer living in Lubbock, Texas. Visit his website at TerryDunn.org and follow Terry on Twitter: @weirdflight