Top 5 best Chinese drones on AliExpress in 2021

Drones are amazing! For the average enthusiast, it’s like flying a mini personal helicopter. If you’re into photo and video like me, it’s getting a gods-eye perspective on things.

Read my AliExpress shopping guide if you’re new to shopping on AliExpress

The only problem is, for their amazing capabilities, the best drones come at amazingly pocket-crunching prices. I mean, a DJI Air 2S from amazon costs well over $1300, and that’s not even the third-best DJI drone on the market.

If you’re on a budget (again like me), what then do you do? Give up your drone-fueled hobbies (or profession)? Nah, not with AliExpress stocking some pretty sick drones at what I’d describe as a pocket-friendly price point.

In this Chinese drone buying guide, I’ll talk about the best Chinese drone on AliExpress, and add one or two extra bits of info on how to shop for drones on AliExpress.

let’s start with a fair warning; don’t get any ridiculous ideas

No, except you’re prepared to splurge out $2000 on some untested Chinese drone, the budget drones I’ve covered in this review won’t rival a DJI Mavic 2 Pro.

What they’ll do is provide a close enough experience at a more than affordable price point. On average, the drones on this list cost $200, and for that price, they shoot excellent photos, have most of the GPS functions available on DJI drones, and some come with an excellent build too.

Can I trust AliExpress when buying a drone?

Absolutely! AliExpress is much like eBay or Amazon. When you shop for a drone there, you’re covered by the AliExpress Buyer Protection Program.

Similar to the buyer protection programs on both eBay and Amazon, this service allows you to request and get a full refund if your item doesn’t get delivered to you, is damaged on delivery, or damaged during the product warranty period.

How long will it take for my drone to reach me?

That depends on the shipping method you choose when placing the order. AliExpress allows you to select either of;

  • DHL/FedEx
  • AliExpress Standard shipping
  • Free shipping using SingaporPost or Cainiao

The fastest is the first option, but it’s also the most expensive. Your drone should arrive in about 1-2 weeks.

The second is cheaper but takes longer, usually a month or a month and a half.

The last is the cheapest but slowest. Wait times can extend to months.

Now, what makes a great drone.

For the short of it, the technology packed into the drone. For the long of it the following features:

The range of the drone

The range of the drone, that is, how far you can fly it without losing connection (control), is determined by the transmitter tech in the drone. Great drones (again, DJIs as an example) can hold their connection for miles. Cheaper drones, the kind you’ll buy on AliExpress if you’re not careful, may have a range of only a few feet.

Whether for photography, videography, or fun, good range on a drone is extremely important. For the photo geeks, it means more impressive photos with better perspective. For enthusiasts, it means more fun; your drone can go higher without flying off and getting lost. Trust me; the AliExpress drone market is rife with reviews from buyers of VERY cheap drones complaining that their drones went awol on first-flight.

The Camera

Exciting drone cameras take exciting pictures but unfortunately, the camera department is one place where many budget drone manufacturers cheap out. There’s are five major things to consider on a drone’s camera.

  • Image stabilization tech – optical image stabilization (OIS) preferred
  • Aperture size – the smaller the number, the better
  • Frame rate – for videos. The higher, the better. Standard is 30fps
  • Photo Resolution – how many megapixels can the camera cram into one photo. Anything above 12MP is good enough.
  • Video resolution – HD video, 4K, or 8K.

Note that some drones come with a base mount to attach an extra payload which can be an external camera, although these types of drones tend to cost more and not fit in the budget category.

Headless mode

Drone piloting is a tough job. Despite what you see on YouTube with suave photographers effortlessly maneuvering drones, it’s a tough job that definitely takes some getting used to.

Headless mode makes the task of piloting a drone a little bit easier. What it does is ensure that your drone moves in relation to you and not the drone orientation when you pilot it. Let’s say your drone is returning to you after a flight with its front facing you.

In that drone orientation, turning the stick on the controller left will actually cause the drone to move right because the drone’s left is now effectively your right and vice versa. Headless mode makes it so that you don’t have to worry about any of that; your left will always be left and right always right when piloting.

Flight time

Flight time is how long the drone can stay in-air before it needs a recharge, and this is mostly down to the battery capacity and efficiency of the drone. The typical good drone will last anything between 20 – 30 minutes in flight. Again, if you’re not careful on AliExpress, you might land a drone that can only stay up for like five minutes which is awful regardless of your use case.

Battery technology hasn’t really caught up with the pace of tech today, except you’ve got in the $20,000 range for some specialty drone gear, going past the 20 – 30 minutes flight time is hard. So how then do you extend flight time when you need your drone in-air for hours. Well, it’s simple you get a drone with batteries that can charge up fast and make you get more than one battery while you’re at it.

2, 3 axis gimbal

This is a specialty feature, but if you plan on taking professional photos or videos, then it’s something of a must. Drone gimbals are mechanically stabilized mounts that allow drone cameras to turn, tilt, and do without vibrations. With all the movement coming from a drone’s rotor and wind, vibrations are standard and transmitted to the camera mount. A vibrating or shaky camera will take blurry pictures and videos.

GPS navigation

Drones can come with their inbuilt GPS module. GPS is short for global positioning system, and you can think of it as technology that allows digital devices to place a hand on where they are in space. Apart from allowing the drone to track and find its way around, a GPS module allows for the implementation of a whole range of other GPS dependent functions, including;

  • Pre-programmed flight – where you can map out a route for the drone to fly by.
  • GPS home function – which allows the drone to return to where it started its flight from. Super handy function that makes sure you don’t lose your drone.
  • Follow around function – where your drone can actively track you and follow your movement from above.

Not all drones with GPS functionality will include these extra functions. Generally speaking, the more extras, the more pricier the drone.

That about sums it up for the main features you need to look out for when drone shopping on AliExpress. With that out of the way, let’s quickly look at what I consider the best drones on AliExpress based on the inclusion of these features and the value for money sentiment.

The best Chinese drones on AliExpress

The overall best – the Fimi X8 Mini

Image of Fimi X8 Mini
The Fimi X8 Mini is the best all round Chinese drone on AliExpress

Pros

Best camera quality on a Chinese drone

Ability to shoot 4K HD videos

250g Portable and lightweight drone

Full-on complement of GPS flight system

Cons

Most expensive option on this list

No obstacle detection system

There’s a lot going on for the FIMI X8 Mini, but I’ll sum it up by saying this is the best drone you could get on AliExpress that matches up fair and square with some of the more premium drones on the market today. I mean, the FIMI X8 is widely regarded as a true and worthy competitor to the DJI Mini, so that says a lot.

While the DJI costs $600, this drone retails for a price-friendly $350. That’s enough to get you a 20MP digitally stabilized camera capable of shooting true 4K videos at 30fps. This camera module is mounted on a 3-axis gimbal, which, as I said, is a big deal if you want crystal clear professional photos.

Image of the Fimi X8 Mini 3-axis gimbal
3-axis gimbal on the Fimi X8 Mini

Expectedly, images and videos from the X8 Mini are sharp, detailed, and with a nice deal of contrast. FIMI has also included a night mode Optimizer, which cranks out noiseless pictures in low lighting conditions.

But away from optics, where the FIMI truly makes its mark is in the flight capability department. This 245g drone can stay in-air for up to 30mins and retain stability even in windy settings. FIMI says the X8 can handle ‘level 5 winds,’ not exactly sure what a level 5 wind is, but I know this will stay steady on the typical hot summer day. If it senses the wind is becoming too much to handle, it’ll beep off its alarm.

New pilots will love the GPS-enabled features available on the X8. In addition, there’s active smart tracking – where the drone follows your movement, flight planning – where it autopilots to predefined points, and return home mode that allows the drone to end its flight by returning to where it was launched. The X8 Mini will also do an emergency return if its battery drops too low.

Drone range is a substantial eight kilometers, just two shy of the DJI Mini 2, but that’s more than enough anyway. Anything above 1 km, and this, considering its very smallish build, will be out of sight.

Image of Fimi X8 Mini portability
The Fimi X8 is hella portable

Talking about build, the X8 Mini feels robust enough for the price, and the design is overall very portable. It’s a foldable drone that’ll comfortably fit into the average backpack, and since this weighs less than 250g, you don’t need a license to fly it in countries like the US.

1st runner up – the HKNA KAI One

Image of HKNA KAI One
The HKNA KAI One is a lot cheaper than the X8 Mini but it’s the only drone on this list to spot obstacle avoidance technology

Pros

Decent camera quality

Ability to shoot decent 4K HD videos

Obstacle avoidance system on board

Full-on complement of GPS flight system

Portable

Cons

Less durable build than the Fimi X8 Mini

Less airtime (under 20 Mins) than the Fimi X8 Mini

The KAI One is the only AliExpress drone on this list with laser obstacle avoidance support, and as a feature, that’s a big deal for a sub $150 Chinese drone. Add that to what I consider an excellent camera system, a superb build, and a flight performance that goes toe to toe with the FIMI X8 Mini, and you’ve got yourself a very good contender for an all-rounder drone.

The FIMI X8 only beats this because it spots a more premium build and an overall more polished drone usage experience. But still, this is a drone you’d want to consider if you’re not too keen on build quality – it will do most of what the FIMI X8 Mini can do, and the obstacle avoidance tech on board is a really attractive add-on.

Image of the HKNA KAI One camera system
The camera system on the HKNA KAI One

The KAI One spits out FIMI X8 levels of photo quality through an onboard 16MP camera. HKNA claims this camera can shoot 8K videos, but I’ve seen that the picture quality sort of drops when you go past 4K in the video shooting mode.

You’re better off sticking to 4K at 30fps, which is what most people – even the very professional videographers – would need anyway. To balance this camera system in flight, the KAI One comes with a 3-axis gimbal. That and the digital (EIS) image stabilization tech allows this drone to take pretty crisp photos even in windy conditions. Images come out with a lot of detail.

While it doesn’t beat the X8 Mini in terms of contrast and sheer photo quality, the KAI One still shoots some awesome photos with little to no noise, even at very high altitudes.

Effective range on this drone is cut down to just 1 kilometer. But again, it’s very unlikely that you’re going to need more than that. Drone regulations mandate that your drone must be visible to you while you fly it – anything above 500 meters and this drone will be pretty much out of sight due to its portable and compact build.

The KAI One can stay in-air for at least 20 minutes thanks to a 2200mAh battery on board. GPS functionality is included, so this drone has all the GPS party tricks ready to go out of the box. Active tracking for when you need to drone to track and follow your movement, gesture control, return home mode, custom waypoint, and everything else is supported. This drone will even attempt to land at its take-off GPS position if it losses the connection to its controller. Neat.

When folded, the KAI One measures 15cm by 8.5cm and weighs only 280g. That’s approaching FIMI X8 Mini levels of portability. Build quality is very good. This is still plastic for the most part, but you can tell that it’s plastic that was meant to last.

2nd runner up – the KUN SG908

Image of the KUN SG908
The KUN SG908 is pocket friendly drone. It lacks the superb camera of the Fimi X8 Mini but manages to pack all the other features you’ll find on the latter

Pros

Extremely budget friendly

Ability to shoot 4K HD videos (this time at 25fps)

Portable and lightweight

Full-on complement of GPS flight system

Cons

Less durable build

No obstacle detection system

Average camera performance

Maybe professional photos are not your main reason for wanting a drone, and if that’s true, the KUN SG908 allows you to take advantage and save about a hundred bucks.

Yeah, if you don’t mind a small but noticeable drop in camera quality, this drone comes fitted with all the necessary tech you need to have a nice fun afternoon photographing nature (or yourself, or your family or, if you edit well enough, some professional clients).

Don’t get me wrong, this thing takes some pretty great photos. It’s just not up to the level of the FIMI X8 Mini or the KNHA KF01. But the good thing is like I already mentioned, you get to save almost $100 for that slight dip in camera quality which is, for me, a very good deal.

Image of the KUN SG908 3-axis
3-axis support on the KUN SG908

The camera setup on the KUN SG908 is similar to that on the KNHA KF01. It’s a Sony IMX179 sensor that can shoot 4K videos, but this at a reduced framerate of 25fps. Onboard image stabilization is digital (EIS), and everything is balanced by the same 3-axis gimbal setup you’ll find on the FIMI and the KF01.

Images are bright, sharp, and clear, although you’ll notice a picture quality drop when you shoot from very high altitudes. Video quality is top-notch. No real complaints there.

The SG908 has the same effective range as the KF01 – 1.2 kilometers, and that’s more than enough in anyone’s book. This can stay in-air for about 20 minutes on a full charge, although the manufacturer claims it will do 30 minutes.

This drone also comes equipped with most of the GPS-enabled functions you’d get on the KNHA KF01. Emergency low battery return is standard, so also is flight planning via what the manufacturer calls Pointing Flight. Return home mode, or one key return as it’s called on this drone, works great as well. And it’s the same case for the auto-follow mode, which tracks your movement and autopilots the drone to keep you in focus.

There’s an added extra in the form of gesture controls. The SG908 will recognize hand gestures and automatically take photos when it detects one. It’s not so accurate, though, so this is more of a gimmick than it’s an actual feature, but it’s still good to have nonetheless.

Build quality is in the KF01 range. It’s all plastic, although not quite as durable as the KF01. Unlike the KF01, however, this is very portable with foldable arms and a build structure that almost matches the FIMI X8 Mini.

3rd runner up – the HKNA KAI One

Image of the HKNA KF101
The HKNA KF101 has that bang for buck factor. It comes with a decent camera system and some amazing auxiliary tech

Pros

Good camera quality

Ability to shoot 4K HD videos

Full-on complement of GPS flight system

Budget friendly

Cons

Hefty build at 578g

Less durable build quality

If you want practically all of what the FIMI X8 Mini packs in a somewhat lower quality build and finish, then you’d go for the HKNA KF01. Granted, the KF01 won’t exactly match the camera quality of the FIMI X8 mini, but you’re surely going to get picture-perfect photos and videos that come very close.

That’s all thanks to a capable camera mounted on the same 3-axis gimbal you’ll find on the FIMI X8 Mini. This setup can shoot 24MP pictures and take 4K footage at 30fps.

Image of the HKNA KF101 3-axis gimbal
3-axis gimbal on the HKNA KF101

There’s no night optimizer or any other camera image quality modifier as you would get on the FIMI X8 Mini, though. That notwithstanding, daylight footage is excellent, and even at night, the KF101 manages to pull off some very okayish shots.

You can tell from the get-go that this drone’s gimbal and balance system is no gimmick – there’s none of that blurriness or noise you’d get from the $100-$150 drones available on AliExpress.

Asides from the fact that this has an effective range of 1.2KM, flight capability is on par with the X8 Mini. A 2500mAh battery keeps the KF101 in-air for the same 30 mins as the X8 Mini when fully charged, and HKNA says this can handle ‘level 8 winds.’

So that’s 3 points in wind strength better than the X8. All the GPS-enabled features we talked about earlier are well supported on the HKNA KF101. You can flight plan all you want using the waypoint flight function with this drone.

Image of the HKNA KF101 smart follow mode
Smart follow mode on the HKNA KF101

Like the X8 Mini, there’s also active tracking for when you want the drone to follow you around with its inbuilt autopilot system. The feature works great with options to customize the altitude and follow-distance based on your preference. There’s also a return home mode which, as I explained earlier, allows this drone to land at the same spot from which it took off.

While not as portable or premium-feeling as the X8 Mini, the KHNA KF101 feels solid for the price. It’s a plastic build, but it’s plastic that looks like it can take a few falls here and there. The HKNA KF01 weighs a hefty 578grams, so that’s almost twice the weight of the FIMI X8 Mini. Expectedly it’s also a bigger drone, but it’s still compact enough to slide into an average-sized backpack.

4th runner up – XKJ KF102

Image of the XKJ KF102
The XKJ KF102 is the drone of the choice if you wanted something super cheap that still managed to do all the basics right

Pros

Extremely affordable price point

Ability to shoot 4K HD videos

Portable and lightweight drone

Full-on complement of GPS flight system

Cons

2-axis gimbal as opposed to 3-axis

No so good camera performance

If you’re really, really on a tight budget and don’t mind shaving off a few core features, then the XKJ KF102 is just what the doctor (read: drone expert) ordered. Instead of a 3-axis gimbal, you get 2-axis. Instead of 30 minutes battery life, you get something in the 15 minutes range. And instead of highly detailed photos that pop, you get smartphone-quality photos.

While all of these may sound like a lot, in reality, it’s not that much, especially if you’re an enthusiast who’s just looking to get your hands dirty with a beginner drone. Rather than coop out well over $350 for the FIMI X8 Mini, you could save more than $250 if you stick with the KF102.

Image of the XKJ KF102 2 - axis
2-axis (not 3-axis) gimbal on the XKJ KF102

For that pocket-friendly price, you get a camera that can shoot 8K videos, although I recommend setting this to 4K to preserve the video quality. The camera itself is a 16MP shooter. In daylight, it does an okay job of capturing clear and sharp photos.

Nighttime quality is not that great, however, and as I mentioned, this comes with a 2-axis gimbal compared to the 3-axis gimbal on the FIMI X8 or the KAI One. In practice, the absence of stability control in one axis means the KF102 might not get the best footage when it’s oriented in that angle  -specifically the horizontal angle for this drone.

Still, it comes equipped with digital (EIS) image stabilization, and that certainly helps. You won’t so much as notice the absence of the third axis stabilizer if you’re just doing basic shots at low altitude. Take the KF102 high enough, however, or use it in windy environments, and this deficit becomes more apparent.

Image of the XKJ KF102 smart follow mode
Smart follow mode on the XKJ KF102

Aside from the shortened 15 mins flight time, there’s no other cutback in flight performance on the KF102 compared to other drones on this list. This drone is GPS-enabled, so every feature you’ll find on the KAI One is present here and not just present; they work perfectly as well.

Build quality is not as excellent as what you’d find on the FIMI X8 Mini, that’s for sure, but it’s still good enough. This is a portable drone. At 19cm by 10.5cm, it’ll fit into any backpack without too much hassle.

Conclusion

That about rounds up this review of the best drones on AliExpress. Remember, while AliExpress sellers on AliExpress put up some ridiculously cheap drones, ridiculously cheap often translates to ridiculously crappy. If you want a good drone be ready to shell out some cash – it’ll definitely be cheaper than going the standard popular brand route, that’s for sure.