Chances are, if you're searching for a drone targeted at beginners, DJI's Mini models might not be at the top of your list. Instead, you might sift through dozens of less expensive offerings from alternate brands. Holy Stone is prominent in this category and we at DPReview were curious to see if a more affordable option, minus some more advanced options, was worth exploring for anyone starting their drone journey.

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Holy Stone's HS710 and HS175D models are foldable, weigh less than 250g, are advertised as having features like 4K cameras and GPS positioning and offer sophisticated flight modes including waypoints and subject tracking, something low-end DJI models omit. However, while they look the part, there are significant gaps in the specifications the company publishes, which makes it difficult to compare the cameras, for instance. We thought it'd be interesting to see how well they work in the real world.

The first impressions aren't great: Holy Stone drones are made of plastic and have a toy-like feel to them. Still, for those starting out on a small budget, are they a viable alternative? Let's find out.

Compared to...

I regularly talk to a lot of beginners who think DJI's Mini SE is the ideal beginner's drone. Can the Holy Stone models compete for that honor? Though similar in size, Holy Stone's offerings are close to 10g – 20g lighter, which means prop guards can be added without the need for registration with the Federal Aviation Administration (or similar government agency in other countries). Remember, there is no need for registration if you are flying recreationally.

Holy Stone HS175D Holy Stone HS710 DJI Mini SE
Price $259.99 $199.99 $299
Batteries included (standard) 2 2 1
Battery life 23 minutes 23 minutes 30 minutes
Camera 2.7K* ** 4K** 2.7K
Image format JPEG JPEG JPEG
Max camera transmission 300 meters (984 feet) 300 meters (984 feet) 4,000 meters (13,123 feet)
Dimensions 145x90x60 mm 268x301x54 mm 138x81x58 mm
Weight 215g 245g 249g
Flight modes Waypoints, Circle Fly, Follow Me Point of Interest, Follow Me, Headless QuickShots

*We were unable to capture 2.7K footage from the HS175D, instead finding that it only shoots 1080p in some instances. Photos may be captured at near-4K (4096x3072) resolutions, however.

**We were unable to glean any information from available spec sheets about camera sensor size, resolution, or other pertinent details. Representatives from Holy Stone did not answer our requests for more information.

A quick introduction

Before I get into my assessment of these drones, there are a few points I should mention – especially since I'm accustomed to flying DJI and Autel models. Holy Stone produces a large range of drones for a variety of beginners and hobbyists, some with built-in prop guards. Although the two models we tested supposedly feature 4K, some are limited to 1080p cameras to keep the price low.

Instead of one monolithic app for all Holy Stone models, your phone's app store may have a bunch of different companion apps. You will need to look at the user manual for your model and scan the QR code provided to ensure that you're downloading the correct one. Also, because these drones only capture JPEG and MP4 files, they hold a memory card with a max capacity between 32 GB or 64 GB (check your manual to find the limit). Cards larger than the max will not be recognized.

What We Like What We Don't
  • Durable build
  • Easy to set up
  • Clean app design
  • Unpredictable and difficult to fly
  • No gimbal for stabilization
  • Weak GPS signal
  • Poor camera quality results in ugly photos and videos
  • Toy-like construction, cheap remote quality

Both drones I tested offer one-key take off and landing, plus GPS that, according to Holy Stone, will stabilize the drone, allow it to hover and conduct a Return to Home operation with the press of a button. Intelligent automated flight modes found on more sophisticated drones, such as Waypoints, Circle Fly (the equivalent of DJI's Point-of-Interest and Orbit modes) and Follow Me are also available on both models.

Holy Stone HS175D ($259.99)

Holy Stone's HS175D is 145 x 90 x 60 mm (5.7 x 3.5 x 2.3") folded down and weighs 215g (0.47 lbs). Holy Stone advertises it as offering up to 46 minutes of flight time, but this is across the two batteries included; each one should last up to 23 minutes. The maximum transmission distance on a 2.4 GHz frequency is 500 meters (1,640 feet), while the maximum transmission distance for the camera is 300 meters (984 feet). That's surprisingly short – DJI's competing $299 drone, the Mini SE, boasts a range of 4 kilometers with its included remote, a distance up to 8x farther.

A 2.7K camera is mounted on a 1-axis tilting mechanism and gives you a pitch range of -90º to 0º with a 110º AOV. It can capture JPEG stills and MP4 video that save to both your smartphone and the drone's memory card. This drone runs on Holy Stone's HS GPS V5 app.

Holy Stone HS710 ($199.99)

The HS710 is 268 x 301 x 54 mm (10.5 x 11.8 x 2.1") folded down and weighs 245g (0.54 lbs). Like the HS175D, it comes with 2 batteries that offer up to 46 minutes of flight time combined (but only 23 minutes per flight, and you'll need to swap the battery out). Oddly, even though the HS710 is the less expensive model, it felt more sophisticated and easier to operate. The maximum transmission distance is 600 meters (1,968 feet) while again the camera will stay connected up to 300 meters (984 feet).

The HS710 runs on Holy Stone's Ophelia GO app. For all intents and purposes, it's clean and user friendly. It's also more sophisticated than the HS GPS V5 app I used with the HS175D. Fine tuning the camera's settings, for example, is much more straightforward. The 4K camera has a 120º AOV with one axis of pitch from 0º down to -90º and can capture JPEG and MP4 imagery. It only takes memory cards up to 32GB.

The HS710 has a remote with a LCD screen that displays pertinent info. The right antenna broke off not long after this shot, when I was attempting to attach my smartphone.

One thing worth noting: the HS710's included remote has a nice LCD display in front that reveals important information including battery life for both the drone and remote, the altitude and distance of your drone at any given time and the number of GPS signals the drone is connected to during flight. You will need two AA batteries to power the remote; there is no other way to charge it up.

Similarities between both models

On both apps, it's easy to access Follow Me, Point of Interest, and Headless flight modes from the main screen. You can also hit Return to Home in-app or from the remote. While it's not Mapbox, there is a detailed map in the corner that you can toggle on and off to get an idea of where your drone is at all times.

The HS710's camera, mounted on a 1-axis tilt mechanism, is encased in a shell. In the event of a crash, this could keep it protected but does image quality no favors.

The cameras on both drones have one way to move the camera: tilting up and down. In essence, you can move the camera but won't get the benefit of a more advanced gimbal setup. For example, a 3-axis gimbal, found on DJI drones and other similar competitors, stabilizes the footage to counter the drone's movements and can give you a very cinematic-looking image.

Holy Stone has made their their camera casings sturdier, with the beginner pilot in mind. The tradeoff is the footage seems to lack stabilization entirely. Adjusting the camera's pitch was also needlessly awkward on both drones. On the HS175D, you can only adjust the pitch, in app, and it didn't work most of the time. You also need to press and hold down for several seconds to get the main battery to power the drone on and off. It felt clunky, to say the least.

What are they like to fly?

My first drone was a DJI Phantom 1 when I started flying in mid-2014. It was sturdy and even though there wasn't any first-person-view camera affixed on board, it was easy to maneuver. Movements were fluid and the drone held its position automatically, even when hovering. Despite the 6-minute battery life, it put me on a path towards professional drone flying.

My experience with these Holy Stone models was nothing like that. While I was able to get the drones up and running by following their respective manual's instructions, I never felt as though I had full control of either one. Upon launch, each drone would ascend nicely enough, but that confidence was short-lived.

The HS175D camera, pictured, shoots unattractive video and stills.

The first time the HS175D took off, it automatically made a beeline for the nearest tree – about 150 yards (137m) away. It got caught in a branch, then fell to the ground. At least these toy drones are resilient – I snapped an arm back into place and tried flying it again. I followed all the instructions, calibrating the compass and making sure it had a GPS connection, but while I had no further collisions the drone was still shaky in flight and would drift often.

The HS710 wasn't much better. At one point, would not respond to my joystick commands and flew around erratically in circles before the battery life drained. It ended up landing in a tree and falling onto a soft lawn when the Return to Home command failed. It's true that Holy Stone instructs you to fly in wide open spaces – I can see why – however there aren't any open to the public that don't have trees where I live.

That included remote was also somewhat of a bust. While trying to affix my smartphone in the remote's holder, one of the antennas snapped off like a twig. Worse yet, there is a GPS button on the side but no indication if it turns the mode on or off.

A sunset I was attempting to capture with both drones was glorious. However, you wouldn't be able to tell as these cameras are poor quality.

But what about the footage? A sunset I was attempting to capture with these drones was glorious to the naked eye. However, you wouldn't be able to tell as both cameras are terrible quality and have dim colors and poor dynamic range. The fisheye effect even showed up at times, depending on which direction you flew or tilted the camera. Making any maneuvers felt labored and added to the jerkiness of the footage.

The HS175D failed to make this amazing sunset look anywhere near impressive. If it can't even do that, what's the point?

Overall, I did not enjoy flying either Holy Stone drone. I was on edge the entire time, ready for one to fly away at any moment. At one point on the HS175D, I tried changing the video settings and got a popup warning in Chinese. This model, though advertised as having a 4K camera (the caveat is that it's for 4K stills only), did not offer video settings beyond 2.7K/50p and even then I was only able to capture a 1080P clip when testing. This is because the 2.7K footage didn't save to the memory card, even though it was formatted and should have worked.

The fact that there are so many different apps designed to control a variety of different models means you may see settings for functions your drone doesn't support. Holy Stone would be wise to pare down these offerings and focus on making one or two apps uniform and consistent in their user experience.

Final thoughts

My background is in photography. When I decided to pursue a drone hobby (which became a profession), my main goal was to master the most sophisticated aerial imaging technology available. Whenever DJI came out with an upgraded model, I was one of the first to purchase it because I wanted to take the best photos and video clips possible.

You're not going to get even decent-quality footage with a Holy Stone drone.

Even if image quality isn't your be-all and end-all, be aware that you're not going to get even decent-quality footage with a Holy Stone drone. Photos and video look terrible, and the lack of stabilization means video is unbelievably shaky to boot. If you care about image quality stay far away from these two Holy Stone models. I have seen a few halfway-decent looking videos posted online from other users. However, I have no doubt that a lot of post-processing, including stabilization and significant color grading, were involved to achieve that particular result.

These drones are built with a beginner in mind, whether the company wants to admit it or not. Their bodies are durable and designed to take a licking and keep on ticking. However, it really does feel like you are operating a toy. The controls are not ergonomically friendly and it feels awkward to make any sophisticated movements on the joysticks or with the gimbal wheels.

Another pet peeve is how long it took for the drone to connect to 7 satellites in order to take off. I estimate it took 3–5 minutes every time.

My iPhone takes better photos than the HS710 drone.

Who are these for?

Many beginners buying a starter drone do so to learn how to fly and to discover if it's something they enjoy enough to make a more significant investment in. Technically one of these Holy Stone drones could serve this specific purpose but realistically even those with low expectations shouldn't buy them.

You need to understand that you get what you pay for and there are deal-breaking limitations in play here. The marketing sells something mostly detached from reality, and good luck getting anything resembling responsive support for technical issues.

Personally, I would strongly advise beginners to spend a little extra money on a DJI Mini SE for better image quality and a far more stable flying experience, not to mention peace of mind. Even if you were hoping to share simple images and videos to social media, Holy Stone's drones fall, figuratively and literally, short.