Here’s some advice for beginner air drone enthusiasts. Don’t buy an expensive drone if you don’t know how to fly. Cheap drones have gotten really good, and there’s no better way to hone your skills without exploding money into the side of a tree.

The problem with cheap drones has always been the cost to quality ratio. If you go too cheap, you risk losing an eye thanks to awful flying abilities. If you go too expensive, you might as well upgrade to a more full featured drone like the DJI Spark or the Yuneec Breeze. So for our latest instalment of Battlemodo, we rounded up three cheap drones with three different approaches to cost versus quality: the $130 Drocon Cyclone, the $170 Ryze Tello powered by DJI technology, and the $270 Parrot Mambo FPV.

Our battles were straight forward. How easy is it to get airborne? How well does it fly? How good is the camera? Spoiler: the winner won by a landslide.

Usability

Unlike their larger, prosumer siblings, cheap drones are relatively simple affairs. There’s a battery, four rotors that stay on the drone, and typically, four clip-on attachments to form a hull for safety. Even still, getting the little birds in the air can be annoying if the controller or app doesn’t work well. That’s why we focused on the frustration of flight preparation for this first battle.

The Drocon Cyclone was immediately eliminated — not just because of how shady the set up is, but because of how dangerous it is too. Adam Clark Estes Gizmodo

Let’s get the painful one out of the way first. The Dronon Cyclone, Amazon’s best-selling cheap drone, is a nightmare. To fire up the gadget, you need to plug a shady-looking battery into a tiny cable in the drone’s undercarriage, and then, when you switch on the flimsy controller, the drone is immediately live. It’s frightfully easy to hit the throttle joystick before you’re ready. Meanwhile, you don’t need to use the app to fly, and you really shouldn’t use it at all because it’s so terrible. We eliminated the Drocon drone from this battle immediately.

The Ryze Tello and the Parrot Mambo were both pretty easy to get flight ready. Both use handy battery packs that clip into the drone. Both work well with separate controllers, though it’s worth pointing out that the Mambo comes with a controller while you have to buy one separately for the Tello. The Tello is also different because it comes with a built in camera, while the Mambo uses one that clips on to the top of the body. All that said, the Tello defeats the the Mambo in this battle simply because the software is slicker and more dependable, perhaps thanks to the underlying DJI technology. It’s just easier and quicker to get the Tello in the air.