There comes a time in every pilot’s life when they must ask themselves a difficult question.
Should I continue using my drone as is, or is it time for an upgrade?
You should consider upgrading your drone if it’s older, you have the financial means, it has flaws like a fast-dying battery, or you have new use cases. An upgrade is also in order if your current drone isn’t fun to use or makes professional operation too difficult.
As drone technology moves forth at the speed of light, deciding when to upgrade or stick with what you got becomes harder.
This guide will help you answer critical questions to determine if you’re a good candidate for a drone upgrade.
To help, we’ve identified and reviewed the best drone courses for beginners and professionals.
Why upgrade a drone?
You’ve grown accustomed to your drone’s performance, which suits your needs well enough.
Then, one day, when you’re out at the flying field, another drone whizzes by and blows yours completely out of the water.
A thought flits into your mind just as fast – can my drone keep up?
Your drone’s tech will become inferior shortly after it’s released, and the next drone in the collection comes out. The following reasons make an upgrade beneficial.
Few things are worse when using your drone than a short-lived battery.
Your drone returning to you midway through filming or photographing because of a low battery is a nuisance at best and an occupational hindrance at worst.
You can’t complete projects in a timely manner if your drone battery peters out in 10 or 15 minutes. You might miss deadlines and lose clients.
You’ll also spend more time on projects than you should, preventing you from completing other jobs.
The average battery life of a drone in the 2020s is about 20 to 25 minutes. Others max out at closer to 30 minutes.
Once you fly a drone with a battery that lasts that long, you will never want to go back!
More intelligent features
Drone intelligence is a rapidly evolving field.
Today’s UAVs have more sensors and features to equip them to follow you, do tricks, fly at a set distance, and utilize other smart features.
These features aren’t only for fun, even if they are enjoyable.
They’re also designed for hands-off operation and simplification of tasks, especially in commercial realms.
Drone safety features have come along as quickly as intelligence flight modes.
A drone from even two years might lack some of the safety sensors and obstacle avoidance that today’s drones from the same manufacturer boast.
Continuing to use an outdated model puts your drone at risk with every flight.
Greater transmission range
If you use your drone for videography, its transmission range is one of the primary features you prioritize when shopping.
A good transmission range becomes better with the next model, then even better with the next.
Although not a dealbreaker to many pilots, why wouldn’t you take it if you had the option for a better transmission range?
Another risk you face when flying an outdated drone is that the manufacturer can stop or reduce support.
Apps might not be compatible with your drone anymore, and parts will become unavailable for that model.
The latest models as part of a drone series always usurp their predecessors.
They will edge out the prior model in speed, height, features, wind resistance, weight, and durability.
Upgrading allows you to get on the cutting edge.
Buying a new vs. used drone – Which is better?
Deciding to upgrade your drone is only half the battle.
Once you’ve overcome the hurdle that is answering the hard question of “to upgrade or not?” another one comes barreling your way.
This time, you must engage in the age-old debate. Should you buy a new drone or a used one? Let’s explore.
✅ The pros of buying your drone new
- You can rest assured your drone is the best from your chosen brand…until they release another drone, that is.
- It will come with the latest and greatest features in drone technology the manufacturer is capable of.
- All the parts and features are brand new and should work their best.
- You have a long future flying this drone, barring any unforeseen circumstances like an accident.
- You can brag about your new drone to your friends, family, coworkers, social media followers; basically, anybody who will listen!
❌ The downsides of buying your drone new
- It can be expensive. You might face a bit of sticker shock purchasing a new drone from DJI or Autel if it’s been years since you bought your last one.
- You must configure all the settings from scratch.
- You probably have to download a new app or update the app you already use.
- You will be scared to fly it for a while because it’s so new, and you don’t want anything to happen to it.
✅ The pros of buying a used drone
- It’s much more inexpensive than buying one new most of the time.
- The definition of “used” can vary. The drone might be in very good shape, but only flown a few times.
- You can be extra picky about the type of drone you’re looking for, down to the included features, size, shape, and weight.
- You can try a different drone model or type of drone without spending a small fortune.
❌ The downsides of buying a used drone
- You must do your due diligence to avoid getting saddled with a lemon.
- The guarantees and warranties the drone came with will likely not carry over to you.
- The drone won’t last as long if it’s been used for years before you buy it.
Key factors to upgrade a drone – Deciding when it’s time
Is the time right for you to upgrade your drone?
The answer is yes if the following scenarios seem eerily familiar to you.
When the drone is too old
Older drones get left in the dust. They simply lack the technology that today’s models have.
They can’t compete in speed, smart features, battery life, and safety.
If you just fly your drone for fun and don’t mind that it’s not the best dog in the park, so to speak, you can continue using it.
That said, commercial pilots should consider an upgrade sooner rather than later.
You need a quality drone to work, just like a freelancer would buy a high-end computer to do their job or an artist would pick up art supplies.
A subpar drone will drag you down and hurt your commercial drone career.
When it makes sense financially
Let me say it again – a good drone isn’t cheap.
Few of us have thousands of dollars lying around that aren’t earmarked for bills or savings, which can cause us to put off replacing a drone for a while.
Weeks turn to months, then months to years, and before you know it, your drone could really use an upgrade.
If you’re starting to have issues with your drone, or you’ve had your eye on a newer model, begin saving up now.
You’ll be financially ready within a few months to upgrade without stressing about making bill payments.
» MORE: Best Drones Under $1,000
When it makes your life easier
Wrestling with an outdated drone, constantly recharging its battery, and replacing its SD card is not fun.
It’s time-consuming, annoying work.
You don’t have to continue struggling with your drone to prove a point. You should strongly consider an upgrade if you’re not already.
» MORE: Best Camera Drones Under $2,000
When you have new use cases
Have you recently switched from recreational to commercial drone use?
If you’re already a commercial pilot, perhaps you’ve expanded operations, shifting into a new career or niche and using your drone in a fashion besides the usual.
You might realize your current drone doesn’t support the use case, especially commercially.
Why use a standard drone for agricultural spraying when manufacturers like DJI have models intended for that purpose?
You put your drone at risk when you use it in ways beyond what the manufacturer intends, and you also make it harder for yourself.
The money you invest in a drone upgrade now can pay back dividends later when you land more projects or expand your business.
Upgrading your drone to a newer one – How to choose
You’re officially ready to make the jump to a newer and better drone.
Here are some considerations to keep in mind as you narrow your decision.
» MORE: DJI Mavic 3 Pro Review
Our true north when shopping is often cost, and rightfully so! Unless you’re buying yours used, anticipate spending more money on a drone upgrade than what you paid for your current model.
It’s newer, for starters, so it will cost more based on that alone. The drone also has better features to necessitate a higher price tag.
Drones don’t always have to cost several thousand dollars.
Many mainstream models are accessible because they’re within the $200 to $600 range, which is in most people’s budgets.
You can buy cheaper drones still, such as those that cost $20 to $100. At that point, we’re talking about toy drones.
Those certainly have their place, especially for beginner pilots, but are rarely a worthy upgrade.
Spending more money on your drone now will prevent you from having to turn around and replace it within the next few months, assuming you fly it carefully, conscientiously, and according to regulations.
» MORE: Best Beginner Drones Under $500
Do you have to stick to one drone brand? Of course not!
We drone pilots prefer brands like anybody of any consumer good, but you’re not shackled to that brand for the rest of your days.
Now that you’re on the verge of upgrading your drone, you’re in a unique predicament.
The entire drone world is your oyster. Perhaps you try a DJI drone, or maybe you select a Potensic.
You could even experiment with other emerging brands like SwellPro, PowerVision, and EXO.
Drone weight is a priority among more manufacturers than ever, who are locked in a race to produce the best 250-gram drone (or under!).
The FAA’s 250-gram registration threshold explains the obsession with that weight.
Not every type of drone can weigh under 250 grams.
Most drones from your favorite brands have several options that are sub 250 grams or just squeak by that limit, precluding you from having to register your drone.
Here’s a point to keep in mind: If your drone surpasses the 250-gram limit with a payload like extra accessories and you plan on launching it, you must register it.
» MORE: Best 4K Drones Under 250 Grams
Today’s drones come with a library of standard features that transcend brand, such as return to home, low-battery alerts, good wind resistance, and follow-me.
Does every drone in the mid-priced market have these features?
No, they don’t.
Expensive drones will have more features, and what’s included will be of a higher caliber than a lower-cost alternative.
For example, a DJI drone will have better wind resistance and a greater transmission range than a Holy Stone.
I recommend creating a list of the drone features most important to you, then narrowing down your selection based on the inclusion of those features.
Maybe you don’t care so much if your drone can’t automatically do flips, but you can’t take a lax stance on drone safety.
Safety features keep your drone operational for longer, so you should want the cream of the crop.
Another benefit of most drones stretching toward that 250-gram weight threshold is that light drones usually fly longer.
I mentioned earlier the standard flight time of around 20 to 25 minutes, but higher-end drones like DJI can blow that figure out of the water.
Some DJI drones can fly for 30+ minutes.
I must mention the difference between the listed battery life by the manufacturer versus the true battery life.
Manufacturers test the drone in ambient conditions and use that as the basis for battery longevity.
You almost always get less time than what the manufacturer says, even if it’s only by several minutes.
Flying in windy or otherwise inclement conditions will reduce the battery life even more.
Does upgrading a drone have any downsides?
While upgrading a drone is often advantageous, I’d be remiss not to discuss some downsides of the change.
You have to learn your drone all over again
Through thousands of hours in the sky, you’ve learned your drone like the back of your hand.
However, purchasing a new drone will no longer have that reliability, especially if you choose a different brand.
It’s almost like learning to fly all over again.
You’ll know the basics but must finetune your operations according to how the drone works. It’s a difficult process fraught with anxiety.
You must pair and recalibrate it
Although less arduous, it’s still no one’s idea of fun to pair up your drone with the remote controller and related devices like your smartphone.
You also must recalibrate your drone, another obstacle to flying it.
You might not need to upgrade
I saved the most pertinent point for last.
We live in an era where we upgrade our tech not based on whether we need to but if we want to.
We’ll buy a new smartphone even when our current one works fine just because a new one is out.
You can easily fall into this trap with your drone.
With the prices of drones and smartphones comparable (at least if you’re buying iPhones when they’re brand-spanking-new), you must ask yourself – is it worth the money?
Some of you reading this will answer an emphatic yes. In that case, you do you.
However, for those of us who feel the pressure to buy, buy, buy and aren’t sure if it’s worth it, you have the chance to break the cycle.
You don’t need the latest drone if your current model works fine and still receives support. New drones aren’t always the bee’s knees anyway. They’re not perfect out of the gate.
They need updates and bug fixes.
Your favorite third-party apps take a while to build an app version compatible with the new drone, leaving you scrambling.
Sometimes, waiting until the kinks are worked out of the new drone and you need one is best. The pilots who can’t wait will be the guinea pigs.
What happens to my insurance when I upgrade my drone?
Drone insurance is optional in many parts of the United States, as the FAA doesn’t require it, but other countries do.
Getting insurance is also a good practice, as you can safeguard yourself from lawsuits, medical expenses, and legal fees if you cause an accident or hurt someone with your UAV.
What happens now that you’ve upgraded your drone? Does your insurance still apply?
That depends on the type of insurance you selected.
Some policies protect the pilot, and others the drone. A liability plan should extend to any drone you fly if you cause any third-party injuries or damage.
Hull coverage applies to specific drones. Some manufacturers offer it, but you can also purchase hull insurance through any insurance provider with a drone plan.
You would have to speak to your insurance provider about upgrading your insurance to cover the new drone.