Review: Parrot AR.Drone

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Showcased at CES 2010 in January and launched in the United States already, Australia is finally getting the long awaited device. The quadricopter that can be controlled with your Apple iPad, iPhone or iPod touch seems pretty cool in the videos, but does it relate to reality when you get your hands on it? Is it also worth your hard-earned dollars to get, or give as a gift to a friend or a love one?

Find out, in our review of the Parrot AR.Drone, after the jump.

  • Score:

    9.0 / 10

  • The Good:

    It is pure fun to play (once you get your head around it)

  • The Bad:

    Huge learning curve; runs only on iOS devices; the price

  • Bottom Line:

    Pure and simple geek toy that is absolutely fun.

The AR.Drone is, pure and simple, a geek toy, and you can tell by some of the parts being exposed and not being wrapped in plastic. There are two cameras, one on the front and one on the bottom, and runs on lithium batteries. It does have a very short running time of about 15 minutes, so if you want to use it, make sure you recharge the batteries.

It also comes with two shells – one designed for the inside and one designed for outdoor play. The inside one (above) is designed to protect the motors from being damaged from anything around the house, while the outdoor shell (on right) leaves no protection for the motors because it has been designed for playing in an open field or on a park.

As well, it is advised that you should not play this on a windy day, because of the light-weightiness of the AR.Drone or else you will have a field day trying to find where it is as the wind has picked up and thrown it off course.

Getting started is pretty simple. Remove the shell and you will see that there is an area for the battery to be put in, and install the application on your iOS device from the app store – it’s called Freeflight, and it is free. Recharging is also simple, just take the smaller port on the battery (because it has two ports – one for recharging and one for powering the AR.Drone) and connect it to the power adapter. As well, it is also simple to connect the iPhone/iPad/iPod touch to the device – connect to it via Wi-Fi. The device has its own Wi-Fi network, so the device should be able to connect to it.

However, using the AR.Drone is a whole different story.

It should be noted that this has a huge learning curve – and when I mean that, you will have to stop the urge of returning it because of the difficulty. The biggest reason is that it runs only on iOS devices, and with the application called Freeflight (free), means there isn’t any physical buttons and you will have to get used to using the on-screen controls to manoeuvre the flight. As well, the camera must be pointing away from you or else the controls will be reversed (i.e. tilting forward will not make it move forward, it will move it backwards).

However, after a few days of training yourself, you will get the hang of it.

You can also switch between two cameras, but there is pretty much nothing else on Freeflight. You can’t take any pictures, which is a shame, and you cannot record any video – despite the iOS SDK allows for such features. However, because of the fact that it relies on an application rather than the traditional joystick or remote, it can be added on at a later date – hopefully.

However, while it looks simply to be purely for just flying around, it extends its purpose by offering multiplayer games which you and one other AR.Drone can play. There are currently two games you can play – Pursuit and Flying Ace (at the time of writing, was not released but coming soon), both requiring their own iPhone application (which you have to pay for). Pursuit is where your objective is to chase the other AR.Drone without any weapons, while the other is simply a “dogfight” between the two. While we didn’t get the opportunity to play around with the multiplayer games, by looking at the video, you can get pretty competitive – then again, the video doesn’t really paint the real user experience, so we’re going to leave you in the dark with this one.

Other than that difficulty, it is a shame that you can only play it on iOS devices only – and because of that, the total cost for someone who doesn’t have an iOS device (such as an iPhone, iPod touch or iPad) is higher as they have to get the iOS device as well as the AR.Drone. However, because it’s targeted at a gadget-loving person, it is most likely expected that the person should own at least an iOS device.

Repairs are usually do-it-yourself. In some cases, you just need to wiggle some of the parts, but in other times you will need to acquire new parts (via its online store) to repair some of the faults. However, you don’t need to have a computer degree to do repairs, as there are videos released by Parrot in order to let you make your own repairs.

Getting past all that, it is really fun – especially trying to see your brothers and friends trying to use the AR.Drone and absolutely failing. It is an absolutely great stocking stuffer for those who call themselves unashamedly a geek.

The product retails for $349, and is on sale on Telstra and Fone Zone stores.