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Review: Parrot's AR.Drone 2.0 makes iPhone aerial reconnaissance easy

post #1 of 26
Thread Starter 
As one of the most popular iOS-friendly aerial camera platforms available, Parrot's AR.Drone has become a great example of what's possible within Apple's mobile ecosystem. AppleInsider was recently able to spend time with the second-generation version to see if it's worth the $300 price of entry.



Due to its association with modern military operations, the word "drone" has become part of the vernacular and for some carries negative connotations. In spite of -- or because of -- the buzz surrounding the term, Parrot has continued with the AR.Drone moniker for version 2.0 of its remote control quadricopter.

Whether you call it an unmanned aerial vehicle, remote-controlled aircraft, or simply a drone, Parrot's iOS-compatible accessory does the neat job of hovering, performing tricks and flying about all while recording video.

Clearly the Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 Elite Edition isn't cheap at a starting price of $300, but it costs less than the $1,199 DJI Phantom 2 Vision we reviewed in March.

It should be noted, however, that the Parrot is better classified as a recreational toy, while the better-equipped DJI Phantom 2 series of products are aimed at enthusiasts and professionals.



Tech specs



Unlike other remote control machines, the AR.Drone 2.0 doesn't come with a traditional two-stick transmitter. Instead, it uses an ad-hoc Wi-Fi network to connect to an iOS device running the FreeFlight app, which can be used to configure and control the device.

Streaming video is also offloaded from the AR.Drone's integrated front-facing HD camera for first-person maneuvering. A second, lower-resolution camera captures a downward-looking birds-eye-view, but the quality is sub-par and easily distinguishable even in-app.

The front facing camera captures video to either the iOS device or an attached USB flash drive secured to the AR.Drone's battery. Video is recorded in 720p at 30 frames per second using the H.264 encoding base profile. This means the video is ready for playback through an Apple TV or any iOS device.



Flight information like battery life and video recording status are overlaid on top of the live video feed alongside virtual joystick controls.

Using the included 1000mAh batteries provided by Parrot, normal flight time is advertised as 12 minutes. When testing with an iPhone, the app displayed a low battery warning at about that time, but we consistently got around 15 minutes before complete shutdown during testing. In fact, we suspect battery life may have been reduced due to cold winter weather.

Setup



The AR.Drone 2.0 Elite Edition comes with two body hulls, a closed rotor configuration for indoor use and an open aerodynamic version for outside. The unit comes with the indoor hull preinstalled, while the outdoor shell sits cradled under in packaging under the drone body. There are no extra blades to install and no complicated preparation steps required to start flying out of the box.

To acclimate ourselves to the drone's flight characteristics we flew a few short circuits indoors, cruising a few inches off the ground before graduating to a few feet. What we discovered from this experience is that the drone tilts dramatically when coming to a stop. We also discovered that it's risky to fly around houseplants (the quadrotors butchered a perfectly lovely peace lily). Green leafy bits showered in a 10-foot radius and profuse apologies were rendered to the rest of the family, but the AR.Drone was left unscathed.



Control and flight



iOS integration is a much more important part of the Parrot drone than the DJI model we tested. That's because unlike the DJI Phantom, which has its own dedicated controller and used the iPhone for viewing purposes only, the Parrot relies on an iOS device both.

Unfortunately, the instruction manuals detail everything about the hardware, the shells, battery charging, but almost nothing about actual flight. In-app help was similarly inadequate. Learning how to fly was largely trial and error.

The AR.Drone 2.0 can be controlled either with virtual joysticks displayed on the touchscreen, or via an iPhone's accelerometer. We found the accelerometer to be twitchy and a little beyond our abilities in the freezing cold, so we stuck with the virtual joysticks.



We were able to get the hang of flying outdoors relatively quickly. Once we set the app to "outdoors" mode, we were able to climb to higher altitudes, flying above rooftops for better vantage points. To be honest, we were surprised at how easy it was to master flight.

We did, however, have difficulty with the Flight Recorder, which comes with a GPS module for mapping out flight paths and on-board storage for video recording.

Specifically, we but didn't feel comfortable using the provided mapping functions to add waypoints due to close proximity to power lines. The map does didn't allowus to zoom in enough, making accurate flight paths nearly impossible. The 4GB of flash storage did come in handy to record movies, however, especially when we ran low on space in our iPhone.

One feature that proved useful was the app's "EMERGENCY" button. When tapped, the button causes the aircraft to cut power and drop from the sky. The only problem is that it's possible to hit EMERGENCY when attempting to hit RECORD.

Many of our testing sessions were during the polar vortex that hit the U.S. east coast earlier this year. Once, during a power outage, we flew the AR.Drone through our neighborhood and over to a heavily-trafficked street corner that had been blocked by a police officer. Power company employees were working to restore electricity and, while we chose not to push our luck by flying near the workers, the officer acknowledged us and made no effort to stop our flying.



Besides the obvious risks of annoying workers and the police, or flying too close to power lines, flying was relatively straight-forward. But be advised, there's nothing subtle about it. There are four brushless motors spinning rotors at a high rate of speed; it buzzes like a swarm of hornets.

As for weather, the AR.Drone handled moderate cold just fine, but we cannot say how performance is affected by extreme conditions. While we tested the DJI Phantom down to -25 degrees, we just didn't have that sort of cold winter weather when we used the Parrot.

iOS integration



As mentioned above, iOS integration is essential for controls, but thankfully Parrot's efforts go beyond that. The AR.Drone has been an iOS-native accessory since the first generation launched in 2010 and setting up the ad-hoc Wi-Fi connection was relatively easy. There was a slight amount of video lag due to limited data bandwidth, but controls were responsive and immediate.



Because we had the Flight Recorder GPS attached, we were able to plan a flight path on a map and have it run the course autonomously. We didn't really get the hang of this and are not convinced it is a good idea given power lines and road conditions.



The Fight Recorder has a USB port on its end -- essentially an internal USB hub -- which allows USB flash drives or other accessories to be connected.

Conclusion



At $300, the Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 Elite Edition isn't cheap -- especially when you add in extra batteries and the Flight Recorder GPS attachment. Even so, this drone is mostly easy to fly and operates as advertised. Video quality is reasonably good, although not as good as a GoPro Hero. We are a little concerned about the fragility of the airframe, but it didn't break even after a couple of bad landings.



We can easily recommend the AR.Drone 2.0 to anyone looking to casually fly a drone for fun, but if you're serious about getting into iOS-compatible remote control quadricopters, consider the DJI Phantom 2 lineup instead. Professional photographers and videographers would be best served by a standalone rig with a gimbal.

Pros

  • Easy to fly
  • On-screen joysticks work well
  • Flying over rooftops and higher altitudes is cool


Cons

  • Easy to crash, easy to harm defenseless houseplants
  • Uncertainty in settings, uncertainty on how to use the GPS to plot course best in suburban or urban settings
  • Easy to fat-finger the Emergency button and crash land


Score: 4 out of 5



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Where to buy



The Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 Elite Edition Quadricopter is available at Amazon for $299.99, where it is tax-free in all states but AZ, CA, IN, KS, KY, MA, NC, NJ, NY, ND, NV, PA, TN, TX, WA and WI. Amazon also sells the Flight Recorder kit for $110 and a high-density 1500mAh battery pack for $60.
post #2 of 26
Pro: easy to fly
Con: easy to crash

One of them has to be wrong.
Citing unnamed sources with limited but direct knowledge of the rumoured device - Comedy Insider (Feb 2014)
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Citing unnamed sources with limited but direct knowledge of the rumoured device - Comedy Insider (Feb 2014)
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post #3 of 26
Even if you go for the Phantom, don't get the standard supplied camera if you are serious about better video and photography.
From Apple ][ - to new Mac Pro I've used them all.
Long on AAPL so biased
"Google doesn't sell you anything, they just sell you!"
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From Apple ][ - to new Mac Pro I've used them all.
Long on AAPL so biased
"Google doesn't sell you anything, they just sell you!"
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post #4 of 26
How is the WiFi range? What happens if you fly it out of range?
post #5 of 26
What are its measurements, how much weight can it carry, speed?
post #6 of 26
As a professional photographer, the Phantom 2 Vision camera is fine for stills but too jerky for quality aerial video. Get the Phantom 2 with 3D gimbal, add an FPV and shoot with your GoPro.
post #7 of 26
Some observations:

I thought that the video was less jerky than the Phantom reviewed recently. Still annoying, though.

The video quality seemed worse than the Phantom.

Whenever there was video from the other camera, it was a relief, due to the higher quality picture and relative smoothness.

I know I'm being a negative Nelly, but I don't find much appeal to the whole video aspect. If I were given one, I'm sure I'd find it fun to play with for a few minutes, then put it away to gather dust. What would be amazing would be to have one with miles of range, pristine video quality that was ultra-smooth and that could go thousands of feet high. Effectively a portable helicopter. But it's never going to happen for the consumer, for obvious reasons. Even when I watch extreme sports video using GoPro or something similar, I always find the video quickly gets tiring to watch. The best shots are done with still or fixed cameras or professional aerial cameras.
"If the young are not initiated into the village, they will burn it down just to feel its warmth."
- African proverb
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"If the young are not initiated into the village, they will burn it down just to feel its warmth."
- African proverb
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post #8 of 26

OMG that is my wife and she is with another woman.  Later on.  Hey honey come and watch this cool video I got.  Your gonna love it.


Edited by tylerk36 - 4/6/14 at 4:47pm
An Apple man since 1977
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An Apple man since 1977
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post #9 of 26
  • Quote:
    Easy to crash, easy to harm defenseless houseplants

     

Houseplants?  Seriously? Come on!!! At least generalize a little

post #10 of 26

I think it is funny that the first part of the video shows a cop car blocking the road. The paranoid would think that you are risking your life videoing cops.

post #11 of 26
Well this could be a fun toy for some people.

But if you are serious in getting sharp pictures go for the DJI Phantom Vision that takes excellent pictures and have a great integration with IOS/ iPhone (and android).

If you are into video go for DJI Phantom II with the Gimbal for the GoPro. This one will give you much better Video (although no integration with iPhone) than the unstabilized DJI Phantom Vision (which however takes better pics than the GoPro).

What I have heard the DJI copters are much more easy to fly then the Parrot.
post #12 of 26
I hope that is not a marketing video! Long time since I have seen less compelling reason to buy anything! (Does the music play like that whenever it flies?) That drone is a real groan.

The only way I can see these drones being any fun would be if you had two of them, trying down the other. No need for cameras, but perhaps some fun weaponry?
post #13 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by Benjamin Frost View Post

Some observations:

I thought that the video was less jerky than the Phantom reviewed recently. Still annoying, though.

The video quality seemed worse than the Phantom.

You need to check out 1080p video obtained with the Phantom 2 fitted with either a 2D or the new 3D gimbal mount and a GoPro Hero 3+. The whole shebang can be purchased for about $1700 with FPV controller and produces results that are simply fascinating to watch. Range is about 1 km and includes go-home GPS capability.

post #14 of 26

Does anyone here have experience with waypoint autonomous flight? I'd like to specify a straight line 250 yards long and have the drone fly the same path repeatedly, staying on a straight line, at the same speed each time, at the same height each time.

 

Is that realistic with something like the Phantom or just expecting too much?

Lorin Schultz (formerly V5V)

Audio Engineer

V5V Digital Media, Vancouver, BC Canada

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Lorin Schultz (formerly V5V)

Audio Engineer

V5V Digital Media, Vancouver, BC Canada

Reply
post #15 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ireland View Post

Pro: easy to fly
Con: easy to crash

One of them has to be wrong.

If the con had been hard to land I could understand the inclusion of both but as you note their wording seems to odd.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Chandra69 View Post

  • Houseplants?  Seriously? Come on!!! At least generalize a little

You want them to just say houseplants and not defenseless houseplants? Personally I think the well-protected houseplants probably had it coming.

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This bot has been removed from circulation due to a malfunctioning morality chip.

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post #16 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lorin Schultz View Post
 

Does anyone here have experience with waypoint autonomous flight? I'd like to specify a straight line 250 yards long and have the drone fly the same path repeatedly, staying on a straight line, at the same speed each time, at the same height each time.

 

Is that realistic with something like the Phantom or just expecting too much?

I wouldn't know but it looks like the Phantom 2 can do that with optional waypoint hardware, but only for the life of its battery (about 25 minutes max.)

post #17 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ireland View Post

Pro: easy to fly
Con: easy to crash

One of them has to be wrong.


Well, it's got to be in the air before it isn't in the air, doesn't it?

;)

Kudos to author Douglas Adams for the eternally amusing quote "The ship hung in the sky exactly the same way that bricks don't".

If you want to make enemies, try to change something.
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If you want to make enemies, try to change something.
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post #18 of 26

   Apple develops an improved programming language.  Google copied Java.  Everything you need to know, right there.

 

    AT&T believes their LTE coverage is adequate

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   Apple develops an improved programming language.  Google copied Java.  Everything you need to know, right there.

 

    AT&T believes their LTE coverage is adequate

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post #19 of 26

Nice choice of music Stringfellow! :)

post #20 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by ascii View Post

Nice choice of music Stringfellow! 1smile.gif

I enjoyed the Air Wolf theme too. 😃

It's funny how coincidences happen. The day before I watched that video, I was rehearsing the music for The Pirates of the Caribbean. In an idle moment, part of it vaguely reminded me of the Air Wolf theme, so I doodled on it on the piano, which raised a smile or two from the choir. I can't remember when I last thought of that theme, having watched the cool tv series as a boy in the 80s.
"If the young are not initiated into the village, they will burn it down just to feel its warmth."
- African proverb
Reply
"If the young are not initiated into the village, they will burn it down just to feel its warmth."
- African proverb
Reply
post #21 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by Benjamin Frost View Post


I enjoyed the Air Wolf theme too. 😃

It's funny how coincidences happen. The day before I watched that video, I was rehearsing the music for The Pirates of the Caribbean. In an idle moment, part of it vaguely reminded me of the Air Wolf theme, so I doodled on it on the piano, which raised a smile or two from the choir. I can't remember when I last thought of that theme, having watched the cool tv series as a boy in the 80s.

I watched it as a kid too. For those too young to remember, Airwolf was an 80s TV show about an experimental jet helicopter.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2IKeJmhCJBg

post #22 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by DaveN View Post

I think it is funny that the first part of the video shows a cop car blocking the road. The paranoid would think that you are risking your life videoing cops.
The paranoid? No. The educated.
It would depend on the cop. One that is a normal human being poses no threat to anyone. The 40 iq mental patients that they slap badges and guns on and set loose on the public are another story. PD's all over the nation are littered with both.
post #23 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by Cpsro View Post
 
[] it looks like the Phantom 2 can do that with optional waypoint hardware

 

What I haven't been able to determine from casual reading is what's meant by "it can do that." Does that mean it will stay within RF range of a particular point, or is it actually useful within fairly tight confines, like staying within a metre or so of an imaginary ring in the air over a distance of 1/4 mile or so (recording pet whippets running an oval).

Lorin Schultz (formerly V5V)

Audio Engineer

V5V Digital Media, Vancouver, BC Canada

Reply

Lorin Schultz (formerly V5V)

Audio Engineer

V5V Digital Media, Vancouver, BC Canada

Reply
post #24 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lorin Schultz View Post

Quote:
Originally Posted by Cpsro View Post

 

What I haven't been able to determine from casual reading is what's meant by "it can do that." Does that mean it will stay within RF range of a particular point, or is it actually useful within fairly tight confines, like 
staying within a
 metre or so of an imaginary ring in the air over a distance of 1/4 mile or so (recording pet whippets running an oval).

It can fly GPS waypoints to within the accuracy of the GPS location (should be a few meters). It may struggle to keep up with whippets though - it tops out around 30 mph.
post #25 of 26
I eyed one of these for ages... a fun toy, but worth the price?

No regrets! It really is fun to fly, with the 2 different modes. Relative mode especially. The camera stuff is more for fun than for top quality--and I'm OK with that. You can still get some neat shots/movies.

I'm too chicken to fly it very high, though. Or indoors for that matter!
post #26 of 26

A grappling hook on the bottom would make it more fun :)

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