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Review: Is the Parrot Rolling Spider the affordable drone you've been waiting for?

Drones as toys are growing in popularity, but is Parrot’s Mini Drone the one that will make you splash out on one?

Image: TheJournal.ie

DRONES ARE BIG business. It’s a growing industry and while the legalities around it are still being worked on, the popularity of drones as toys is quickly growing.

One company that is involved in this sector in this is Parrot, a French company that’s one of the bigger players in the industry. Alongside its collection of drones, it has a number of mini drones including the Parrot Rolling Spider, an affordable version of its collection.

Yet while it’s cheap (relative to other drones), what’s the quality like?

Build

The Parrot Rolling Spider is a small quadcopter, one that could just about fit in your hand without the wheels attached. It has a plastic build, but despite this, it’s actually rather sturdy. It would survive a fall or two, but you wouldn’t want to put it to the test too many times.

The front has two LED lights shaped like eyes (there are stickers included if you want to give it fangs or shark teeth and jazz it up a bit) to let you know it’s on, the right LED doubles up as a charging notification, turning red while you have it connected to your computer.

The drone is lightweight, meaning it’s easy to carry, but it also means that if there are moderate gusts outside, it’s going to be blown off-course slightly.

It’s not a big deal as it’s sturdy enough to survive a few crashes, but you wouldn’t want to be flying it in a small space in case a random gust directs it towards a wall.

[image alt="Parrot Drone & controls" src="http://cdn.thejournal.ie/media/2014/12/parrot-drone-controls-630x420.jpg" width="630" height="420" title="" class="alignnone" /end]

Controls

When you first start up, the controls may come across as a little confusing but are surprisingly intuitive.

The drone connects to your smartphone (iOS or Android) via Bluetooth meaning the max range you can fly it out would be roughly 15 to 20 metres. It can also reach an altitude of five metres for those wondering.

Lift-off only requires a button press and it zips into life straight away. Using both a D-pad and tilt controls, your left thumb controls altitude and rotates the drone while your right thumb moves it (while tilting). It works well in practice and unless you’re incredibly reckless, you should have no problem moving it around.

Pro controls are a little more advanced, giving you complete autonomy of the drone. It allows greater maneuverability but if you’re not used to the basic controls, you’ll likely crash it again and again. Thankfully it’s sturdy, but you want to give yourself a lot of space when testing it out.

[image alt="Parrot Drone Gif 1" src="http://cdn.thejournal.ie/media/2014/12/parrot-drone-gif-1-630x348.gif" width="630" height="348" credit-source="TheJournal.ie" class="alignnone" /end]

In-Flight

The first thing you will notice is the noise. It’s not deafening, but if you’re hoping for a subtle flight experience, you won’t find it here. The best way to describe it is it’s like a swarm of bees as the four rotors spin very quickly, and you’ll certainly feel it when you stand close to it.

However, you quickly forget about it as you zip around and take it in whatever direction you wish. It’s rather fast which may catch some people out if they’re being careless, but the inbuilt sensors make it rather difficult for the drone to spin out of control. On the off-chance it does, it still manages to keep itself stable, even if you let go of the controls.

The altitude of the drone does change a little bit randomly – sometimes it will rise or lower without warning as it adjusts itself – but overall it’s great at keeping its composure.

Landing it is also a button press away, which causes it to drop rather dramatically if you’re doing it from a height(which by the way, you shouldn’t do).

Parrot Gif short version Source: TheJournal.ie

Hardware

The spider wheels are really there if you want to drive it – or give it extra protection when flying – but to be honest, you probably won’t use them. They’re fun if you want to drive up a wall and stick to the ceiling (acting a little like suction cups), but it’s likely you’ll discard them in favour for the drone itself.

You wouldn’t notice it by looking but there’s a built-in camera located at the bottom of the drone, allowing you to capture anything underneath it. While it’s a fun idea, the quality is rather low and it’s difficult to aim, meaning you’ll likely forget about it while you’re flying around.

Considering how many features there are, there’s usually a drawback and it’s a pretty big one: the battery life. One fight will last roughly eight minutes before it does an emergency landing and it’s disappointing when you’re getting into the swing of things.

What’s even worse is charging the battery can only be done via your computer (there’s only a USB cable for it) and takes roughly an hour and a half to go from empty to full capacity.

[image alt="{ product_id: 0900, media_date: 2014-12-16T084539+0000 }" src="http://cdn.thejournal.ie/media/2014/12/product_id-0900-media_date-2014-12-16t0845390000-630x472.jpg" width="630" height="472" caption="A%20photo%20taken%20from%20the%20mini%20drone." class="alignnone" /end]

Summary

The Parrot Mini Drone Rolling Spider is enjoyable to fly, and one that you will get the hang of pretty quickly. However, the battery is a weak point – both when it’s in use and when it’s charging – and keeping an eye on battery levels does take away from the experience.

Still, the pros greatly outweigh the cons and it’s incredible fun to pilot, and kids will definitely get a kick out of it. It may only be for a few minutes, but they’ll be an enjoyable few minutes.

Pros
- Sturdy build.
- Powerful hardware.
- Easy to pilot. Different modes for beginner and advanced users.

Cons
- Only 8 mins of battery life per charge.
- You can only charge it via your computer.
- Bottom facing camera is tough to aim and image quality is grainy.

The Parrot Mini Drone Rolling Spider is available in Apple Store (€99), PC World (€99), Currys (€99) and Vodafone (€129).

Read: Here’s what Ireland searched for on Google in 2014 >

Read: These are the gadgets you want to have underneath your Christmas tree >

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About the author:

Quinton O'Reilly

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