Can You Use a Drone Without a Phone?

Last updated July 20th, 2020
A woman using a smartphone

When recreational drones were the sole preserve of enthusiasts, smartphones were an integral part of the UAV system. But that was over a decade ago. Technology and tastes have changed. So you may be wondering whether you can fly your drone without a phone altogether.

When you buy your drone and unpack it for the first time, you’re probably going to get a battery pack or two, a few other accessories and tools, a remote control and the drone itself.

Chances are, you are not going to get any separate device to act as a display. That’s what your phone is usually used for. Sometimes the phone acts as a controller, but that’s rare and usually reserved for cheaper models.

That makes the phone pretty important, doesn’t it?

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Can You Use a Drone Without a Smartphone?

Short answer: Yes. You need your smartphone for flying your drone because, for majority of drones, a smartphone will act as the first-person-view (FPV) screen.

The FPV screen is what displays via live stream what the drone ‘sees’ to the pilot while it is in the air.

That’s the first basic function of your mobile device when operating your drone. But in truth, smartphones are capable of much more — like commanding flight.

The fact is, the more capabilities that are packed into your drone remote control, the less you will need to rely on a smartphone.

For example, if you ever have the chance to stand on the sidelines and watch drone racing, or watch the remote control airplane pilots in action, you will notice that they have no need for smartphones.

Drone racers have a view they use, but that comes in the form an FPV virtual reality headset, not a smartphone.

And having a remote control packed with more functionality can be good or bad, depending on how you look at it.

Think about it: the more functionality the manufacturers pack into your remote, the more difficult it would be to operate and fly your drone.

If you’ve been around drones for some time, you may have come across some of the best drone transmitters that look like they could launch a rocket ship into space. Controls and levers everywhere, and most likely a small display too.

The display on some of these higher-end remote controls aren’t used for first person view, but rather for displays like battery level, telemetry and software status updates regarding your flight.

Now, if you happen to be an aficionado of unmanned flight or someone who falls on the more experienced side on the spectrum of drone pilots out there, you would feel at home with remote controls like these.

You would want the full experience of being in control of your own aircraft and testing your mettle and skill against the wind and similarly experienced pilots.

You would also be in the minority.

Drone manufacturers know that majority of drone pilots are either inexperienced or cannot be described as core hobbyists.

So to soothe the way for these new pilots, majority of remote controls are made simple. No frills and telemetric displays involved. Many remotes can even be aptly classified as being “toy class” with nothing more than the run of the mill down/up/right/left operations available.

Because smartphones are fully capable of carrying the functionalities of these high end remote controls, the advanced controls are shunted into the accompanying phone application of your drone.

So what you end up with when you unpack your drone is a remote control you can fly with and a mobile app that does the hard work for you.

This brings us back to the initial query: do you need a phone to fly your drone?

And the answer is: perhaps not. But you are likely to need a mobile phone to fly your drone if you want something beyond the basic flight functions which will be available on the remote control. You will also need your phone for real-time FPV video footage.

Of course, all of this debate is unnecessary if your drone doesn’t actually have a camera at all. If you have no camera and the drone has its own transmitter, then you absolutely don’t need a phone to use it.

Why Do Most Drones Need a Smartphone?

Smartphones attached to your drone controller can be distracting, why do you need them anyway?

If you are like most people, when you take your drone out for a spin, you want to have fun and enjoy the feeling of control that comes with fiddling with the control sticks.

You want to see the drone as it obeys your every command and flips and zooms through the air.

You don’t really need a smartphone for this and the last thing you want is to get distracted from all these by a notification popping up on screen.

In addition to that, drone apps can crash and the sun can darken your display and make it harder to see, making it more frustrating to concentrate and fly.

Despite these drawbacks, why do manufacturers insist on tying our drones down with smartphones?

A few reasons.

First of all, smartphones and their displays make it possible for pilots to fly their drones further than they otherwise would have been able to. Without a first person display to give you accurate information about where your drone is, you can’t fly it too far away from you without risking it getting lost.

In areas where the law permits, you can fly your drone out of range of your naked eye and still know where the drone is and how to bring it home. This is thanks to the smartphone attached to the system.

Secondly, you can’t forget the GPS capabilities that recreational drones enjoy. These are usually handled with the help of your mobile as well.

Simply put, if you fancy flying your drone over long distances, then a having a smartphone or external view attached to your controller is not a bad idea.

The Best Drones that Don’t Need a Phone

There are a few drones that come with remote controls that have built-in screens. These are drones that take away the need for having a smartphone in order to operate them.

Here are a few of the very best drones that don’t need a smartphone:

Yuneec Typhoon H

The Yuneec Typhoon H is a hexacopter that counts an advanced collision avoidance system as one of its perks.

It also has an ST16 transmitter for a controller with an adequately sized LCD display planted firmly in the middle.

Key Features:

  • Retractable landing gear
  • 3-axis gimbal stabilization system
  • Multiple smart flight modes and team modes
  • 4K camera display
  • 5 rotor failsafe landing

The Typhoon H has a flight range of 1 mile or 1600 meters, and a flight time of 25 minutes, making it a premium drone that is up to industry standards.

DJI Phantom 4 Pro

The DJI Phantom 4 Pro is one of the most popular consumer drones ever released. In addition to the many perks that come with the Phantom series, the Phantom 4 Pro comes with an advanced obstacle avoidance drone system.

DJI Phantom 4 PRO
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DJI Phantom 4 PRO
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  • More powerful video processing supports H.264 4K videos at 60fps or H.265 4K at 30fps,...
  • Max Flight Time Approx. 30 minutes
  • Five-directions of obstacle sensing. Please refer the Instructional Video and the User...
  • Note: Refer the Instructional Video and the User Manual before use which is highly...

This system makes use of many onboard sensors that allow the drone to precisely locate itself in its surrounding area

Key Features:

  • Flight range of 7000 meters
  • Flight time of almost 30 minutes
  • 3-axis gimbal for camera stabilization
  • 4K camera

UPair One

The UPair One is a drone that comes with a huge display on its controller, one that would be good for anybody on a tight budget. Entry level photographers would most likely appreciate the 4K camera display and excellent balance.

UPair One with 7-inch Screen
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UPair One with 7-inch Screen
  • 2.7K HD Camera with 2-axis Gimbal: Capture high definition footage and directly save to...
  • FPV Monitor Transmission: The FPV drone controller equipped with a 7-inch LCD screen, just...
  • Smarter Return Home: GPS assisted flight, rc drone can perform automatically return home...
  • Professional Flight Experience: High-capacity 5400mAh intelligent battery yields up to 19...
  • Easy and Fun to Fly: It is easier for newbies or beginners, assisted with functions like...

Key Features

  • 5400mAh smart battery
  • 20 minutes of flight time
  • 1km flight range
  • 7 inch LED display

Hubsan H109S

The H109S comes with many features that make it hard to qualify it as anything other than a solid drone. Most notably, however, it has a touchscreen display on its dedicated remote control.

Key Features

  • Full HD Camera
  • 1 axis gimbal
  • Altitude hold
  • GPS technology
  • Headless mode
  • Automatic return
  • Flight range of 1km
  • Flight time of 25 minutes

Yuneec Q500

Yuneec Q500
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Yuneec Q500
  • Designed for Aerial Photo and Video
  • 16 Megapixel Full HD 1080p 60FPS camera with a redesigned lens to produce lower image...
  • Capture Up to 4K / 1080p120 Video
  • Take Up to 16 MP Still Photos
  • 3-Axis Gimbal Stabilizes Camera

You can count on the Yuneec Q500 for spectacular aerial photos any day of the week. It’s huge controller comes with a sizeable LCD touchscreen display at the bottom to offer FPV footage.

Key Features

  • Slick black frame
  • 12 megapixel camera capable of 4k resolution at 30 frames per second
  • 25 minutes of flight time
  • Flight range of 800 meters

Hubsan H501S

Hubsan H501S Drone with Screen
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Hubsan H501S Drone with Screen
  • 1080P HD Camera: Built in 1080P HD camera to capture high quality pictures and videos....
  • 5.8G FPV Live Video: Has a 4.3 inch LCD screen on the controller that is capable of real...
  • Automatic Return Home: Includes a GPS and automatic return-to-home function.If your...
  • Already upgraded to H501S-S version. How to distinguish: the difference between H501S and...
  • Functions: GPS, 1080P Camera, Headless Mode, Follow Me, Altitude Position Hold, Automatic...

The Hubsan H501S can be described as an all-round solid drone with a slick design. In addition to that, its highly responsive controller comes with a 4.3 inch LCD display capable of 480×272 resolution.

Key Features

  • Full HD camera
  • Altitude hold
  • GPS technology
  • Follow Me feature
  • Return to home feature
  • Flight range of up to 300 meters
  • Flight time of 20 minutes.

These are 6 drones that you can fly without phones, and their prices range from the premium bunch to easily affordable. So no matter where your budget stands you have the option of enjoying your flight without being interrupted by a device that should remain in your pocket.

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