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Table of Contents
UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) are remote controlled air crafts that are growing in popularity. Flying them is fun and relaxing activity that can involve getting the whole family outdoors. They don’t require any connecting cord to be attached to it and most will come ready out-of-the-box. They are controlled with a separate radio control unit or a tablet or Smartphone.
While UAVs are great fun, they can comprise any type of air vehicle. To be more exact, drones are growing in popularity among hobbyists and they have been taking over the hobby. Quadcopters became prevalent in the late 2000’s. Many people also call these vehicles quadcopters and often you will see the terms drone or quadcopter used interchangeably.
A quadcopter is the most popular design and it is available in several sizes. It has four propeller units, which are powered by motors. They use the simplest operation principle for controlling pitch, yaw, motion and roll. Today quadcopters are being used in movies, racing, surveillance, hobbyist fun, etc.
Tricopters are another cool new gadget gaining more notice. Tricopters were some of the first flying vehicles on the market. They ranked high in popularity for light use. They still have some popularity for the small and light hobby use applications. The tricopter uses 3 motors and propeller propulsion units with servo. It is recommended to buy inexpensive tricopters first to see if you like flying them more than quadcopters.
They were popular earlier before the technology for quadcopters (brushless motors and propeller units) was able to extend their flight range and times. Most people are not going for tricopters because the design is primarily outdated. Also, the tricopter suffers from lower performance and they don’t scale well to the bigger sizes.
With that aside, the two mentioned toys both have their advantages. However, the big question is which one really controls the sky?
Differences between Quadcopter and Tricopter
These two toys have a different number of rotors and that is the main difference you will notice between a quadcopter and tricopter. A quadcopter has four rotors while a tricopter has three.
Also, most quadcopters come equipped with a hard shell that helps protect it. On the other hand, most tricopters do not have this feature. This means their main hardware is left unprotected and if there is a crash it can result in severe damage.
The flight time of these two crafts are considerably low. There are several conditions which affect the flight time. For instance, during more maneuvering or on a windy day, the flight time will last for a shorter period. A flight time of a tricopter will usually last about 21 minutes during a calm day. On the other hand, a flight time of quadcopter usually lasts between 10 and 15 minutes. The highest ever recorded flight time for a drone is about 180 minutes.
Choosing a tricopter over a quadcopter may be simply because of personal choice. Some tricopters may have gimbals attached so that you can capture high quality videos, while others may be made as toys. Many tricopters look more like the traditional helicopter shape and they are marketed as helicopters or UFOs. On the other hand, quadcopters are a vehicle in their own right and they have its own style.
Some quadcopters are equipped with cable cam, 4K live streaming, follow me mode, auto-landing feature, etc. Tricopters are much more basic and they do not possess this kind of features.
There are some similarities between tricopters and quadcopters. They are both motor copters. The traditional helicopters have two rotors, a tail rotor and the main rotor.
Pros and Cons
After you have understood the main differences between the quadcopters and tricopters, we will compare other characteristics to see the main advantages and disadvantages between the two vehicles.
PROS AND CONS OF QUADCOPTERS
- They are simpler
- Easier to fly
- Low-cost repair
- They can lift a bigger weight
- They are easier to find
- Better chances of surviving a crash
- They can move to any direction
- Available in many designs
- One motor failure can cause a crash
- They are not reliable
PROS AND CONS OF TRICOPTERS
- Lower price
- They have one less motor
- They have longer battery life
- Less weight
- They are vulnerable
- They have less chances of surviving a crash
- They are harder to find
- They are complex
Tricopters do not sell in the volume that quadcopters do so the price appears higher for a tricopter that has similar features to a quadcopter. This is particularly true because many quadcopters under $100 are equipped with a video camera.
At one time it was simple to find an inexpensive tricopter. However, for some reasons they just don’t seem to be around anymore and today, it is almost impossible to find an affordable tricopter which is priced under $50.
With tricopter it may be difficult to recognize which end should be facing forward and this is one main disadvantage of the tricopter. An experienced flyer may quickly recognize it. However, to a newbie, they may be confused as to why the controls of the controller aren’t working the way they should.
Flying a tricopter may be a little more difficult unless it has a headless mode function. This function enables the flyer in a forward direction no matter which way the nose is pointing. The drone flies in the direction that the nose is facing so when you sometimes want a tricopter to fly forward, it flies sideways instead. An experienced flyer will be able to sort out the direction and compensate accordingly. However, for the novice this may be difficult to achieve.
On the other hand there is nothing complicated about quadcopter’s design, construction or controls. They don’t need servos like those of tricopters. Furthermore, quadcopter’s frame is a cross shape and the motors are simply bolted on the frame.
Nowadays tricopters don’t necessary have a longer flight time than quadcopters because the battery technology is improving. Many of these toys have flight times of six or seven minutes. After that they have to be charged up again.
Tricopters may be easier to learn how to fly because it is of a lighter weight. It is also important to note that quadcopters are used as commercial drones, while rarely tricopters are. This is why you may feel more comfortable to learn how to fly a tricopter first.
Tricopters can also withstand crashes because most of them are built with durability in mind. There are also fewer worries about safety with tricopters because they are lighter weight. This is especially important if there are children around. For these reasons, tricopters might be a better choice for kids or the hobbyist.
Most users report that tricopters simply don’t achieve the speed of quadcopters. The reason for this is probably the fact that tricopters have three motors and blades and quadcopters have four motors and blades. These three motors and blades mean a slower speed and less powerful performance. This also means that there is less thrust in tricopters than in quadcopters.
This feature is perfect for the newbies because they can control the tricopter more easily and keep it within a viewable flight range. However, this feature may be a problem for a professional. Tricopters are often only available in smaller sizes due to this lack of performance.
This is why many people choose tricopters as a present for kids, rather than quadcopters. In fact, because of the quadcopters’ reputation as a fast-paced flying vehicle, they are often seen as vehicles for adults.
Both quadcopters and tricopters are made from the same plastic carbon fiber materials and they are available in virtually any color. More common colors are black, white, red and blue.
Both quadcopters and tricopters can have lights. The newer LED lights seem to be more common on quadcopters. On the other hand, tricopters seem to have bigger light bulbs which delegate them to mostly daytime flights. This should be fine for novices or kids because they aren’t going to be flying this toy at night.
Just like with some models of quadcopters, tricopters can also carry a camera. However, these toys can be more expensive. You may also need to buy additional gimbal and camera.
Whether you choose to buy a tricopter or a quadcopter you should know that there are many issues and benefits. It highly depends on what you enjoy and your skills. If the goal is extremely long flight durations and you want more challenge you should look into a tricopter.
Tricopters can be more efficient, they are cheaper and will offer you an exciting journey. Tricopters are also a good option for an affordable DIY experimental platform.
On the other hand, quadcopters are much rugged and are less susceptible to damage in case of a crush. If you are not too sensitive about cost, just go out and purchase a quadcopter frame. After that purchase the propellers and motors and you will be in the air in no time.
While you are here, have a look at other drones worth buying that cost a lot less than the ones we listed here. I made sure to break them down into price categories and if you go through them, you will be surprised what do some of these cheaper models offer.
- Best drones under $50
- Best drones under $100
- Best drones under $200
- Best drones under $300
- Best drones under $500
Also, take a look at the best cheap drones for beginners. And in case you are a more serious pilot, we did a detailed guide on the best professional drones as well.