In the drone marketplace, there exists a thin line between toy quadcopters and enthusiast-level equipment. In other words, consumers end up with a cheaply-made, yet inexpensive, toy that is difficult to fly or an expensive device designed for hobbyists that requires a lot of room and additional safety precautions to fly.
The Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 is one of the only drones that sits right on top of this proverbial line by offering high-end features without the high price tag normally associated with comparable devices.
With two built-in cameras and an easy-to-fly interface operated by any Android/iOS smartphone or tablet, the AR.Drone 2.0 is a bit more than a toy and is the only quadcopter in this price range ($299.99) (For the latest prices and discounts, check here)with an included camera.
At nearly two feet wide, the AR.Drone 2.0 Elite Edition is the same size as the standard AR.Drone. Parrot decided to offer the Elite in a new body package that offers three camouflage color choices–sand, snow, and jungle.
The AR.Drone 2.0 Elite Edition comes complete with two cameras (front and down-facing). The front-facing camera has a 93 degree field of view and 720p HD video recording capability.
The down-facing camera is low-resolution but works well for ‘bird’s eye view’ shots. Although the camera equipment on the Elite isn’t stabilized, the video quality is definitely a step above toy drones.
The Elite is equipped with a 1GHz 32-bit ARM Cortex A8 processor, 1GB of onboard RAM, Wi-Fi connectivity, GPS, a gyroscope, pressure sensors, and ultrasonic sensors to keep the drone airborne and stable.
Many of these features are unique to the Elite Edition. Of these, the addition of GPS is the most notable as it allows the pilot to set waypoints for automated flight as well as takeoffs and landings.
Recordings are stored on a USB flash drive (not included) or the pilot can opt to purchase the Parrot “Flight Recorder”. This add-on includes 4GB of onboard video storage. Otherwise, recording can be stored on the smartphone or tablet used to control the aircraft.
Parrot includes two hulls in the box–one for indoor use and another (without rotor guards) for outdoor flying. The Styrofoam hulls slip over the drone frame and stay in place with very little pressure.
Unlike many modern quadcopters, theAR.Drone 2.0 is built using high-quality materials. The frame is made from a combination of carbon fiber and nylon parts and the brushless motors are more reliable (and consume less power) than less-expensive brushed motors.
Like other models in the AR.Drone lineup, the Elite doesn’t come with a radio control unit out of the box. The AR.FreeFlight app is currently available for Android and iOS smartphones and tablets.
Although full Windows device support isn’t available at this time, FreeFlight is also available for Windows 8 tablets.
The default controls on the FreeFlight app require that the pilot tilt the phone or tablet to control the AR.Drone. This takes some getting used to and should be considered before first flight.
The app does provide the option to use virtual joysticks located on the touchscreen, but even these seemed somewhat difficult to use compared to control apps for competing products.
Two virtual joysticks are used to control the AR.Drone via FreeFlight. The left virtual stick controls elevation and direction while the right stick is used to move the aircraft forward, backward, left, or right.
The app does offer some advanced features that make up for the lackluster control setup. FreeFlight limits the drone’s altitude and speed and even allows the pilot to flip the drone with the press of a button (only when 30% or more power is remaining).
The drone can be coupled with the Nvidia Shield (a portable gaming device) to control flight with the Shield’s physical control sticks. The Nvidia Shield, however, costs $500 and is probably not worth the investment on a drone of this class (for most enthusiasts).
Flying time is limited to about 12-15 minutes although high winds and fast flying will significantly decrease actual flight times. In some cases, flight time can be as short as five minutes. Unfortunately, batteries take nearly two hours to recharge forcing many pilots to invest in additional batteries.
At the time of this writing, there are also some third party batteries available that increase flight times to nearly 20 minutes. The AR.Drone only comes with a single battery. An additional 1,000mAh battery costs about $50 (For the latest prices and discounts, check here) but is a necessity for pilots requiring more than about 10 minutes of flight time at a time.
The range of the AR.Drone 2.0 Elite Edition is a limiting factor when compared to other drones in this price range. According to official specs, the drone only has a range of approximately 50 meters.
Even in the cheap drone market, this is considered a very short range. In an attempt to make up for this limitation, the AR.Drone 2.0 does stabilize and hover when it loses signal. It will also land automatically when the battery runs low (only a problem when flying over water).
The only problem with this system is that if the drone loses connection with the controller at altitude, the Elite will hover in place until the battery runs low enough to initiate an automatic landing. This can be frustrating–and in some cases–even dangerous.
Pilots can switch between the front- and down-facing camera during flight and the overall video quality is decent considering the cost of the quadcopter.
Keeping in mind that no other drone in this price range comes with an HD-quality video camera, the video quality isn’t much better than what one would expect from a cheap smartphone.
In terms of durability, the AR.Drone 2.0 gets high marks. The high-quality frame and foam bumper system combine to create a quadcopter capable of taking a few crashes without any lasting damage.
When a crash is detected, the FreeFlight app automatically shuts down the drone to prevent additional damage. Even a pilot with no prior experience can learn to pilot the Elite within a few hours of flight time.
New pilots should consider keeping the indoor hull on the drone even during outside flight to provide additional protection in the event of a crash.
The Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 Elite Edition offers a lot more features than a mere toy without the high price tag associated with professional-grade flying camera equipment.
That said, the low battery life, low camera quality, and limited flight range are all things that should be considered before deciding to purchase the AR.Drone 2.0 over some of the other quadcopter options in the same price range.
- Easy to fly
- Only quadcopter in this price range with an HD quality camera pre-installed
- FreeFlight app is user-friendly and intuitive
- Price is perfect for entry-level flying camera technology
- Limited battery life
- Poor video quality
- Lack of GPS functionality out-of-the-box
- No physical controls available without purchasing Nvidia Shield
While Parrot offers no shortage of upgrades to improve the functionality of the AR.Drone 2.0, these upgrades quickly put the Elite Edition out of reach for many budding quadcopter enthusiasts while putting the drone into direct competition with other Parrot products (Bebop) and the DJI Phantom lineup.
When compared to these aircraft, the AR.Drone 2.0 simply doesn’t compare. With that in mind, the AR.Drone 2.0 is an excellent entry-level piece of equipment that can serve as an introduction to the world of quadcopters or as a capable back-up flying camera for professional videographers.
Patrick Sinclair is a geek; make no mistake about that. He runs All Home Robotics in his spare time so he doesn’t have to think about his depressing cubicle and it gives him an excuse to buy expensive gadgets to review!