The palm-sized, ready-to-fly X4 is perfect for indoor flight, though it is very sensitive to control input which makes it quite tricky to fly, even with a 6-axis flight control system on board. Due to its diminutive size (just 70mm x 70mm) and consequent low weight, the X4 should only be flown outdoors in a light breeze. Anything stronger and the little fella may struggle to hold its position and may possibly even be taken with the wind. While this drone's fixed 0.3 megapixel camera can't compete with the Phantoms of this world, it's more than capable enough for casual consumer use. The camera shoots in 720p or 480p and recordings are saved to a microSD card on board the craft. However, as there is no screen to monitor what you're shooting, video and image results can be a bit hit and miss.
Micro Drone 2.0
The trouble with most cheap palm-sized quadcopters is that, despite being easier to fly than any model helicopter, they still tend to drift around the room and have great trouble maintaining a steady hover at a fixed altitude. Built-in gyrometers and trim controls are very good at keeping the average quad steady in flight but it's usually up to the pilot to maintain altitude. And, as anyone who has bought a toy drone will know, one second the thing is hovering just fine and the next it begins to plummet. The first reaction of the pilot is to slam the left stick forward at which point the little blighter shoots straight up and slams into the ceiling. The onus is ultimately on the pilot (and very gentle input on the joysticks) but we do think it's time manufacturers started making their hand transmitter systems a little less sensitive. Or perhaps fit an altitude pressure sensor like those in Parrot's range of consumer drones.
Thankfully, the new ready-to-fly Micro Drone 2.0 is better than most indoor quadcopters at maintaining steady flight. True, it does tend to lose altitude when the transmitter's left stick is held in a static position (even more so when the battery is on the way out), but regaining height and a stable hover is somehow easier than we've found with other similarly-priced models. Like many toy drones, it does 360˚ flips, too, and can be launched by throwing it into the air.
A titchy new HD camera is available as an optional extra (£35) and it's well worth fitting it. Unlike most small cameras that produce square, fuzzy 480 video, this one remotely records decently crisp 720 widescreen visuals – and stills – and saves it all to an on-board MicroSD card. Just remember that the image will tilt whenever the drone is moving.
The Micro Drone 2.0 is extremely well built (all parts are replaceable), amazingly quiet and tough enough to withstand even the most cataclysmic collisions. It's also incredibly fast and the right-hand stick is super sensitive so take it very easy if flying in a confined environment or it'll be into the nearest wall before you can shout 'incoming'!
Currently, this is the only commercially-available voice-activated drone of its kind. The X-Voice uses cutting-edge speech recognition technology and is pre-programmed with 16 different languages. It's able to understand accents and dialects, and is "virtually indestructible" thanks to the flexible caging surrounding each of the four propellers.
Users can fine-tune flight using the 2.4ghz controller for added precision whilst speaking commands like 'take off', 'land', 'dance' and 'flip right/left/back/forward' into the supplied microphone headset. Or say nothing and it'll just stay put. Flying time is ten minutes from a 20 minute charge, which isn't too shabby for an indoor toy drone. The X-Voice also uses the latest six-axis gyroscope (versus the standard 4 axis) which means you can lob it into the air and it'll right itself and start hovering. The X-Voice will be available in the UK from April 2015.
Parrot Rolling Spider
Now here's a fun thing. It's an indoor drone with on-board stills camera that not only maintains a rock steady hover but, with its skinny plastic wheels attached, it'll even ride along the ceiling and up walls. And because it weighs just 55 grams, it shouldn't damage the mantelpiece collection. Parrot somehow crams more technology into its toy drones than anyone else and the most welcome element here is the built-in altitude pressure sensor which ensures the Rolling Spider hovers in one spot without moving an inch. Like all Parrot drones you fly it using an iOS or Android app. Expect around eight minutes of fly time from a single charge. Top buy.