Parrot AR Drone 2.0 Review and Giveaway

parrot ar drone 2 review   Parrot AR Drone 2.0 Review and GiveawayThe Parrot AR Drone 2.0 is the most expensive remote control toy money can buy; it’s a smartphone controlled quadrocopter with a 720p HD camera, and it’s ridiculously fun, but quite temperamental. It’s an enthusiast level device with an affordable $300 price tag. There simply is no competition at a comparable price. It’s far from perfect, but it’s certainly fun! The device is remote controlled, but you will need a smartphone or tablet running either iOS or Android – there is no standalone remote supplied.

What follows is a review of the Parrot AR Drone 2.0 untainted. We purchased the review unit ourselves and will be giving it away to the MakeUseOf community. Read on to find out more about this $300 toy and how to be in the running to win it!

Initial Impressions

The box arrived unpackaged and as-is leaving no doubt as to what was inside – the mailman was quite intrigued. Inside is sparse, but here’s what’s included:

  • Outdoor hull
  • Indoor hull
  • Main unit
  • Battery charger and 4 different plugs
  • Battery
  • Quick start guide
  • Stickers

   Parrot AR Drone 2.0 Review and Giveaway

Initial impressions taking it out of the box: it’s a delicate product, and featherlight. I was quite shocked by the size of it actually – it was certainly larger than I imagined. Tiny motors drive the four blades; there’s exposed circuitry under each one, with a small LED to indicate status.

Snapping in the UK plug, I set it to charge while reading the quick start guide. The first thing you’ll need to do is download the controller application – FreeFlight 2.0 – to your iOS or Android device.

The Parrot AR Drone’s Design

The drone is incredibly lightweight, with the inevitable consequence of being nigh-impossible difficult to fly in the wind. Construction of the main unit is polystyrene and tough plastic - solid enough to protect the onboard computer – but the fact that replacement circuit boards, and motors are readily available imply it can break easily. I didn’t break this one yet though, you’ll be glad to hear.

Two hulls are supplied – the indoor one offers complete protection for the blades, and is made entirely of polystyrene to absorb the shock of crashing. The outdoor hull offers zero protection for the blades, and just serves to cover the battery pack. Both are hooked over the front of drone and secured via magnet in the back. Removing and replacing it is easy, as you need to do it everytime in order to charge the battery. In all the photo’s here you’ll see the indoor hull being used.

   Parrot AR Drone 2.0 Review and Giveaway

Underneath the device you can see ultrasonic sensors and an additional camera – these aid with detecting the ground level, but you can record or view that video feed too if you wish (it’s not HD). On the front of the drone, pointing forwards is the main 720p HD camera – which is surprisingly great quality.

   Parrot AR Drone 2.0 Review and Giveaway

Review

This is not a pickup-and-play toy by any accounts; it takes a good amount of practice to really get a hang of flying. There are going to many bumps and scrapes along the way before you’re soaring over canyons and producing the next “BBC Natural World” masterpiece. My inaugural flight was very unadventurous, in the only bit of unused space in my tiny backyard:

The manual recommends not flying in wind speeds of 15km/h or more, but I found even a light breeze could play havoc with controlling the lightweight drone. Im my part of the UK, a day without any wind at all is virtually non-existant, so my other test flight in the park was marred somewhat. You can see how the wind badly affected control in this video:

When the wind completely dropped, the drone was a joy to fly, and after a little practice, I soon got the hang of cornering properly.

   Parrot AR Drone 2.0 Review and Giveaway

It’s just a shame that every minute or so, despite the best efforts of onboard stabilization algorithms, a slight gust would either send it crashing to the ground or just refuse to go the direction I told it; sometimes it was possible to land safely when this happened, sometimes not.

   Parrot AR Drone 2.0 Review and Giveaway

The indoor hull – which I kept on all at all times in order to protect the blades and motors – does get damaged easily. I apologise in advance for some slight chips that occurred during testing. Replacement hulls are available, but at $40 (or even £40, if you’re in the UK) they seem a little expensive. Either way, I wouldn’t dare flying with the outdoor hull.

Another test flight:

I’m just one guy though; if you want a good idea of how successful others have flown their AR Drones, check out the best of selection from real user videos.

Interface

When inserting the battery, the device creates it’s own ad-hoc WiFi network to which you must connect. You’re then free to launch the FreeFlight software.

   Parrot AR Drone 2.0 Review and Giveaway

The main screen of the software is a little deceptive; the Academy hasn’t even been implemented yet, and instead takes you to a sign up form to be notifed when the feature is available. Other buttons offer web integration to user videos or the (also non-existant) games apps, and quick access to your own media. The main part of the app you’ll be concerned with is Piloting, which is where you fly the thing!

Open up Piloting, and you’ll immediately see a video feed of the device:

   Parrot AR Drone 2.0 Review and Giveaway

Takeoff and landing is done by simply tapping the green button in the bottom centre. I suggest you adjust the options before taking off for the first time though. There are two control sticks on the left and right of the screen. The left one controls pitch and roll and is used in conjunction with tilting your smartphone or tablet – so you need to push the stick forward, and tilt your device forward – in order to move in that direction. I found this to be counter-intuitive, but its stick movement only can be enabled with Joypad mode from the options screen. The right stick controls altitude, and yaw (lateral rotation). If you’ve ever tried to control a helicopter in Battlefield, it’s a similar concept, but a lot more forgiving; without your input, the device hovers, so you’re free to take things slowly and explore the controls.

Absolute Control is a beginner friendly mode that adjusts the steering to be from your perspective rather than the drone itself. In the default mode, if the drone is facing you, pushing left on the control will move the drone it’s left – your right – so you either need to navigate using the camera feed on-screen, or imagine yourself from the device’s perspective. In Absolute Control mode, pushing back will always bring the drone back to where you are; pushing left will always move it left; regardless of what direction it’s pointing currently.

Flip is a new feature for the Ar Drone 2.0 as well; a double tap on the right control stick will make the drone instantly do a mid-air somersault. It’s a crowd pleaser, basically – though I did find that even flipping from a height of about 3m, the drone would drop down to the floor and bump the ground at the end, which you can see in the videos.

The flight options are incredibly customizable – there are default settings for indoor and outdoor flights, but you can adjust everything from altitude to tilt angle and rotation speed.

   Parrot AR Drone 2.0 Review and Giveaway

With the device is placed flat in front of you, Flat Trim from the options screen resets the on-board sensors, so you should always run this before a flight, especially if you’ve just had a knock.

Though the box indicates that additional “games” are available to download, these are not configured to work with the AR Drone 2.0 yet. Expect compatible games to be released over the coming months. Interestingly, the device has a full SDK available, which means enhanced flight controllers are also available; though I haven’t tried this, check out the demo video of Drone Ace 2.0, which adds tons of features.

Battery and specs

The stated battery time is 12 minutes, which I found was accurate. This is undoubtedly a limiting factor, and could really be a downer if you’ve driven a long way to a special location just to film. It takes 1.5 hours to fully charge, but you can purchase additional battery packs for $40 each to get the most enjoyment, as I suspect most owners do.

When the battery falls really low, the emergency cut off will kick in, which is supposed to land itself to avoid damage. In practice I found that with about 10% battery left, the drone would refuse to take off again; running longer flights is the only way to use up the last ebbs of battery power.

The WiFi has a 50m range, but interference will occur in built up areas can occur; if you fly out of range, the link will be cut and the auto-pilot will stabilize the drone in place, waiting until you come back into range.

Crashing

This is going to happen a lot at first, but an emergency cut out will occur at the first signs of a motor jam or full on crash; this avoids the motors trying to continue spinning and burning out or damaging themselves. Recovery is usually as simple as placing it flat and taking-off again, but one on occasion it refused to take off again due to “angle error” and a full reset was required – here’s a guide from the AR Drone flyers forum on how to do that.

Recording

As well as relaying the video feed to your controller, there are two options for recording.

First, you can stream video and record directly to your mobile device; this is by far the easiest option – just hit record and you’re sorted. However, the video quality as you can see from the sample flights can be sketchy at times when WiFi signal isn’t ideal.

   Parrot AR Drone 2.0 Review and Giveaway

For best recording quality, you can attach a USB stick directly to the drone, just above the battery. This is difficult to get working though, and there’s no way to check if it worked correctly until the recording is completed. The USB stick needs to be formatted as FAT32, shielded with a metal case, and furthermore the case needs to be grounded to the correct pin on; one forum user tried 5 different metal-cased USB sticks, and only one of them worked correctly. You also need to allow time for the on-board embedded computer to save the video file – this takes roughly as long as the video itself. During this time you can continue flying, but just not be recording any longer. Ideally therefore, you want to take your video for the first 5 or 6 minutes, then turn off recording, and continue flying until the battery dies. None of the sticks I tried worked correctly, if you’re going to take professional quality films with the drone, you’ll need to seek a memory stick that’s proven to work.

Should you buy the Parrot AR Drone 2.0?

Despite having an indoor hull, you’d be hard pressed to find a house big enough to fly this in. A hall or hangar perhaps, but the average family home won’t suffice. I also can’t suggest flying with the outdoor hull at all – with all the blade protection removed, you may quickly find the motor gears are broken.

The ideal environment for flying this is a windless desert, but honestly you’re going to have a great time with it and be turning heads anywhere you fly. As long as you avoid windy days, and give yourself plenty of space, you should be fine. Take things slowly and don’t assume the onboard flight assistance is going to mean you never crash. You’re going to have a lot of fun with the AR Drone 2.0; if you can stop worrying about breaking the most expensive toy you’ve ever owned, that is.

MakeUseOf recommends: Buy it, but be careful!

We’re giving this review unit away to one fortunate MakeUseOf reader! If you enjoy high-flying, join the giveaway to win this Parrot AR Drone 2.0!

How do I win the Parrot AR Drone 2.0?

Step 1: Fill in the giveaway form

Please fill in the form with your real name and email address so that we can get in touch if you are chosen as a winner.

The giveaway code required to activate the form is available from our Facebook page, Twitter stream and Google+ page.
 

The giveaway is over. Congratulations, Rob Berry! You would have received an email from jackson@makeuseof.com. If you require any assistance, please get in touch with jackson@makeuseof.com before Aug 20. Enquires beyond this date will not be entertained.

Step 2: Share!

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This giveaway begins now and ends Friday, August 10th. The winners will be selected at random and informed via email.

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286 Comments -

0 votes

Jonathan

Where can I buy the magnetic strip that holds the hull to main unit

0 votes

Rob Berry

Wow can’t believe it!!

Can’t wait for it to arrive!!!

Thanks!!! :D

0 votes

Ron Morrow

Still want this!

Just got done reading a new book called Kill Decision all about unmanned drones and part of it had a huge “army” of these, or something pretty close lol, with guns mounted on them. Crazy scenes and sounded pretty scary but a good book overall…if you are into that thing lol.

0 votes

Sahil Dave

WHere are the results ??? :O
I want to win :O

0 votes

dimek

great giveaway!

0 votes

Sam Davie

This will upset the cats that stalk birds in my back yard!

0 votes

berni.

w,ont lift small camera

0 votes

berni.

tried lifting a small camera no chance

0 votes

James Bruce

It has two cameras built in. Why on earth would you try to LIFT another?

0 votes

Anree Summer

this would be perfect especially during night so i could spy if there’s snatchers or something.

0 votes

John Burkhart

I find it to be a bit disconcerting that I am required to be a member of various social network sites to enable me to be eligible for this give-away. I have been a loyal reader of your site but your social network requirements are overall unfair. Please remove me from your newsletter as I wish to not participate any longer. As an aside, I fully understand that I will not receive a response from your organization. So be it. Regards, John Burkhart

0 votes

muotechguy

Firstly John, that’s very presumptuous of you to assume we won’t respond, and I’m quite offended. Second, there is an unsubscribe link in every email, please use that. I don’t have access to the email list for security reasons.

As for requiring a social network, I’m sorry you don’t agree with that requirement. For your information – your GMAIL account would work just fine for authentication. All you need to do is login with that, and you would be eligible. There’s nothing “social” as a requirement at all, and you needn’t share the article unless you want the extra entries. It simply provides us with an authenticated user, a guaranteed email address, and a one-click entry method for yourself (as well as opening up the gaming possiblities where users that contribute to the site more gain access to a wide variety of free software on our rewards page http://www.makeuseof.com/rewards).

Also, I’ve removed your email from your comment for obvious reasons – try to avoid writing your email in plain sight to the public on the internet, John. It can be harvested and used to spam you.

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