he Parrot AR Drone is now an old-ish design, being first launched in 2012, but it was one of the first drones that didn’t feel like you needed a pilots license to fly and could produce some decent videos and stills. The benefit of an older design means cheaper current prices and, as long as you’re not too worried about not shooting in 4K, you still get reasonable quality and a fun flying experience.
The frame of this drone is mostly nylon and carbon fiber, with each rotor reassuringly protected by the frame, at least from the sides. The frame may make the unit a lot bigger than other drones like Mavics, but having that protection around each rotor means if this unit gets dropped it may survive more damage than other units out there. You get two hulls with the package which can be used for indoors and outdoors, basically one without the rotor guards. The hull can come in three camouflage styles of jungle, snow, and sand. All processing for the drone is done via a 1GHz ARM Cortex A8 processor and 1GB of DDR2 RAM.
The brushless motors are higher quality than the cheapest units out there and proved to be quite solid and reliable. Like all drones, it’s advisable to buy a few spare blades as what goes up must come down.
Operation of the drone is done via a smartphone or tablet with the AR.FreeFlight app. It’s fine working on an iPhone or Android, but being app-based means you are reduced to touching the screen to fly, which may not be as tactile with feedback as from physical sticks you get with other units. You have to move or tilt your phone to fly the unit, but you have plenty of controls and functionality to play with. You do have the option of virtual joysticks, which work best by a live video stream, but they are still not as intuitive as real joysticks. However, the plus side of using an app means you can use the full processing power of the phone. Unfortunately, if you have a Windows phone you have to buy a separate controller.
You don’t get as many flight options as the top drones out there, but you still get usable flight modes. 3-D flip mode is really for showing off to your friends what the unit can do in flight. The stability systems keep things really stable and will allow you to fly in winds of up to 15 mph. Your first few flights will be made easy by just tapping the ‘Takeoff’ button and then it’s down to moving your smartphone around for flight. The FreeFlight 2.0 application has a few preliminary games which you can use to train yourself on flying the drone if so needed.
The onboard camera delivers 720p at 30 FPS and has a 93-degree field of view. The images aren’t stabilized, but it’s perfectly adequate for things like low-level surveying or hobbyist video. It’s definitely not going to be the same quality as the top of the line drones out there, but it’s definitely better than the entry-level drones on the market. There is a second vertical camera for getting a bird’s eye view of things, but much lower quality.
Footage can be extracted from the drone via USB flash drive or with Parrot’s ‘Flight Recorder’ which has 4 GB of storage and a GPS receiver – but its an expensive addition compared to the price of the unit. What it does add to the drone is flying via GPS waypoints, but you will have to factor in if this is a feature you really need. Video footage can be shared via YouTube with a tap of your phone, all done through WiFi. All these features may not be as sophisticated as the higher-priced units, but when you consider the price of the Parrot AR, you’re still getting a lot for your money.
With a 1,500mah battery, your flight time is roughly 12 to 15 minutes (10 minutes with the supplied 1,100mah battery), with a 60-100 minute charge time depending on how much the battery is drained. Third-party batteries are available to buy online quite cheaply such as a 2,300mah battery which can give you 25 minutes of flight time, so it is advisable to always have a few charged up spares.
The recommended flight height is within 50 feet, but as it operates via WiFi it doesn’t have the greatest range within 35 yards. This may not be such a problem in reality, as this unit will probably be a beginner’s drone to get you started in the hobby. The drone can also takeoff upwards up to 3 m/s and accelerate at 11.11m/s.
If the drone drops in power or even loses signal it will land itself safely, but there is no guarantee what it will land on. Thus, watch for any obstacles like tall trees or even water when the batteries are running low. It’s also advisable to land the thing on a dry surface if possible. Wet grass, for example, is a no-no, especially repeatedly.
How Does It Compare?
|Parrot AR Drone 2.0 Elite||DJI Phantom 3|
|Flight Time||12 mins.||25 mins.|
The AR Drone 2.0 Elite is a very capable drone for its price point. The video and stills are reasonable for its price with the drone capable of hovering and flying very smoothly. Roughly speaking, the unit should be classed as a hobby or beginners drone.
This unit may not have as many features or the video and stills quality of something like a DJI, but you are getting a very capable drone for the money. I have a friend who uses the unit for surveying two-story rooftops to see if any repair work is needed. It’s within the drone’s range and only adequate video is needed for this scenario. This shows that you don’t have to break the bank to buy a drone which can fulfill a set purpose on a regular basis. Having been out for a few years, the unit also benefits from having a good second-hand market and plenty of third-party spares. You could even get a little bit more creative with that camouflaged hull look.
You do have other options such as the DJI Phantom 3 or Mavic drones, which have far more features and high-quality cameras, but you are also paying far more money.
It would be much better if this drone could be radio controlled rather than using Wi-Fi, but all things considered, this unit is reasonably priced and still houses loads of features for you to take your first steps into drone technology. Prices are reasonable and there’s loads of third-party spares on the market for you to replace or customize your drone. It’s a drone that won’t break the bank and is still loads of fun to use.