I have had my eye on the AR.Drone 2.0 Elite Edition Quadcopter for quite a while, though I was never quite ready to drop $300 for one. So when Parrot offered to send me one, to say I was ecstatic would be an understatement. When the package arrived at my door, I quickly dropped what I was doing and got to work (well, got to play I guess). I popped open the box, pulled out all of the pieces, installed the free app (Android & iOS) and it was up, up, and away!
The first thing I noticed was just how big the AR.Drone was. It measures around 517mm x 451mm with the indoor hull attached, and just a bit smaller with the outdoor hull — the difference in the two being the guards around the props for flying inside. Everything is essentially ready to fly right out of the box — save for charging the battery. Pop the battery on the included wall charger and wait for the green light. Charging up fully from zero was around 60-90 minutes in total, so having a spare on-hand isn't a bad idea. While charging I took some time to read over the manual (yes that's right, this guy was a bit intimidating) and download the free AR.Drone app. I look things over to get a feel of what I was getting into. The AR.Drone is about more than just flying — it can also record HD video and do some pretty neat tricks.
The AR.Drone is built tough. It's constructed mostly of carbon-fiber tubes, with 4 brushless motors on the corners and plenty of high-tech electronics and sensors tucked inside a styrofoam shell. I was surprised at just how simple the AR.Drone is overall, and it's actually made to be fully repairable for those inevitable incidents you're sure to experience (I know this because I had to make a big repair after I bent one of the propellor shafts and stripped the gears).
If you're into geeking out, here's what the AR.Drone 2.0 Elite Edition is packing inside:
- 1GHz 32 bit ARM Cortex A8 processor with 800MHz video DSP TMS320DMC64x
- Linux 2.6.32
- 1GB DDR2 RAM at 200MHz
- USB 2.0 high speed for extensions
- Wi-Fi b/g/n
- 3 axis gyroscope 2000°/second precision
- 3 axis accelerometer +-50mg precision
- 3 axis magnetometer 6° precision
- Pressure sensor +/- 10 Pa precision
- Ultrasound sensors for ground altitude measurement
- 60 FPS vertical QVGA camera for ground speed measurement
The AR.Drone connects to a multitude of devices, including Android, iPhone, Surface 2, Nvidia Shield and more. It works over Wi-Fi so it holds a strong connection for your high-flying antics. Using the smartphone app, you have everything you need for tweaking and flying your AR.Drone. The settings can actually be a bit overwhelming at first, so thankfully the defaults can get you up and running without many changes.
Within the app you are presented with the main controls for your AR.Drone. The bulk of the screen will give you the view from your drone's camera, while you'll see touch controls and other vitals scattered around the screen. I prefer Joypad mode when flying — one thumb controlling the altitude and panning, the other doing the turning work. Of course there are other options to suit various flying styles. Around the screen you'll see stats for battery, altitude, speed, and Wi-Fi. You also have quick access to settings, video recording, photos, and the ever important takeoff/landing & emergency buttons. For most flights I got around 10-15 minutes of battery life, which means that you'll most likely want to pickup one or more spare batteries. With a cool toy like this, waiting 90 minutes for a battery to charge and only getting ~15 minutes of use isn't the greatest — so when it comes to batteries — the more the merrier.
Even if you have no idea what you're doing, the AR.Drone is surprisingly easy to use
Even if you have no idea what you're doing, the AR.Drone is surprisingly easy to use. A quick breeze of the instructions will tell you what's what when it comes to controls, and in a few minutes you'll be off to the races. Keep in mind that you'll most likely want to use the AR.Drone outside unless you have a big area indoors. You won't want to fire this guy up in your living room for fear of crashing into all of the things. Outside is your best bet, in an open area free of trees and other obstacles — and wind. Wind is your enemy until you learn how to pilot, so don't take flight with any gusts coming your way.
Set the AR.Drone down in a good takeoff spot, tap the takeoff button and your new toy comes to life. Give it a few seconds to get oriented, then slowly start flying around. One big thing to keep in mind is that should something go awry — there is a red emergency button you can tap that will instantly kill the motors and drop your drone where it is. I used this more than a few times the first day.
As I said before, after the first few minutes of flying, it became super easy to pilot my AR.Drone. Now I was no master pilot, but I was able to make it go where I wanted, when I wanted, and I didn't crash into any big objects — which is a huge plus. For the 15 minutes of flying you get from a battery, it's actually seems like a good amount of time. Flying this guy around my yard was a blast — speeding straight, doing some "air brakes", even racing around trees. Plain and simple, once you get the controls down, the AR.Drone is an absolute blast to play with.
After the first few minutes of flying, it became super easy to pilot my AR.Drone
One of the biggest draws of the AR.Drone is the HD video recording. The front-facing camera records 720p video at 30FPS. You can record video directly to your smartphone, or better yet use a USB drive or Parrot's own flight recorder. One of these options ensures that your Wi-Fi connection is solid while flying as the AR.Drone isn't relaying back any data in the process. Of course you can also snap JPG photos while you're flying around and taking in the sights. It's a bit awkward at first to try and hit the photo button while you're flying, but after you get the position down you can tap it without even looking.
One last thing to note is that even though you should treat your AR.Drone with love and care, things will happen. I experienced this first hand when I had a bum landing straight onto one of the propellors, thus bending a shaft. Replacement parts are extremely easy to find however, and there are tons of how-to videos scattered across the net for fixing things up. My repair took me only about 15 minutes from start to finish, and my drone is now as good as new.
Overall I really love the AR.Drone 2.0 Elite Edition. It's an amazingly fast and fun toy that kids of all ages will love to play with. There is a bit of a learning curve for eager kids that may want to try their hand at it, but after a few practice sessions it's really not difficult to do some advanced flying.
At $299 it's not the cheapest connected toy out there, but it's more of an investment in an awesome device. For me it's worth the price, especially if you have wide open areas in which to fly, or will be making use of the HD camera. There is an alternative in the Rolling Spider minidrones — which is much smaller and 1/3 the price — but this is bigger fun on a bigger scale. I do recommend picking up a extra battery or two, and it wouldn't hurt to have some spare parts on hand should you need to preform a quick fix. Now, take to the skies!!
The AR.Drone Elite Edition is available now from Amazon for $299.