We've been excited for the Parrot AR.Drone since we first heard about it early this year. After a few different hands-on opportunities at various conventions, it was hard to not see the amazing potential the device had once you got it outside of the little 10 foot by 10 foot tent that was home to its demonstrations. After spending an entire week with the Parrot AR.Drone, it does have some down sides, but is still the coolest RC toy I've had a chance to play with.

The Parrot AR.Drone is a quadricopter that is piloted using an iPhone, iPod touch, or even an iPad. When the device is powered up, it starts broadcasting its own WiFi network. Using the companion Free Flight [Free] app, you connect to this wireless network and begin controlling the unit. The network it creates isn't encrypted at all, but the AR.Drone does bind itself to the first device that connects to it to prevent other people from hijacking your flight session. Unpairing your phone is as simple as pressing a small button on the underside of the device.

Once you're connected to the AR.Drone via the Free Flight app, you're immediately shown whatever the front facing camera sees. The top left button cycles through what is displayed on the screen between the front facing camera, the bottom facing camera, or a mixture of both. With both displayed you can continue pressing the button to swap whether the front facing or bottom facing camera is shown in the corner or filling the screen.

Just below the camera cycling button is a button that allows you to edit the settings of the device. From here you can tweak nearly everything such as how quickly it will climb, how much it will bank on turns, how sensitive the iPhone controls are, and even the SSID the AR.Drone broadcasts. Also in the settings is what kind of shell you're currently using and whether or not you're flying outdoors.

Included with the Parrot AR.Drone is the large indoor shell which protects the propellers from bumping in to things as you fly it around your house as well as the much sleeker outdoor shell. Swapping these is easy, they fit over the front facing camera and are secured on the back with a magnet. Outdoor hulls are available in three different colors for $20 each, and a replacement indoor hull will run you $30.

The first thing you notice with the AR.Drone when you pull it out of the box is just how incredibly light and fragile the whole unit feels. The two different hulls and the body of the unit itself are made of EPP, or Expanded Polypropylene, a material that is widely used in most RC aircraft. It's able to bounce back and retain its shape, but just like other RC aircraft, I don't see the AR.Drone being able to handle much abuse. Thankfully, Parrot has an entire online store with every part you'd need to completely rebuilt your AR.Drone if you had to.

Flying the device itself is very easy, although doing anything more than just basic maneuvers requires a bit of getting used to. In the Free Flight app, tapping the button at the bottom of the screen causes the AR.Drone to either take off or land. From there, holding your thumb on a button on the bottom left side of the screen allows you to move the unit forward, back, or side to side by tilting the device you're running Free Flight on. Turning side to side and adjusting your altitude is accomplished using a virtual joystick of sorts on the right. If you get in trouble, an emergency button on the top of the screen immediately kills power to the propellers.

It's amazing just how much the AR.Drone does for you. It comes packed with some fairly advanced circuitry that will do everything it can to keep the device level. If you ever lose your connection to the AR.Drone WiFi, it just stops itself then slowly lands. Using sensor data from the bottom of the device, it can keep itself hover in place, even outside in a light breeze. Aside from actually running into something, the AR.Drone is also very difficult to crash, even when you're intentionally trying to get it to lose control. If it senses that it's about to tilt too far to one direction or otherwise lose control, it will abruptly correct itself.

It's really cool to see all these systems working in tandem, and if you've ever fiddled with other RC helicopters before, how idiot proof the AR.Drone is in comparison will amaze you. Unfortunately, because flying the device is such a cool experience, the first thing you immediately come to grips with is just how short the battery life is. On a full charge, I was able to fly the unit outside for around a half hour (or less depending on wind conditions) and indoors I was able to juice an additional 15 minutes or so out of the battery for a total flight time of about 45 minutes. Charging the battery back up takes an hour and a half.

Another unfortunate drawback to the AR.Drone is just how mediocre the cameras on the device are. The forward facing camera sports a resolution of 640x480, and Parrot claims it delivers this video feed at 15 FPS, but in my testing the frame rate was rarely anywhere near that, or very constant for that matter. The bottom camera is a much lower 176x144, but can display 60 FPS according to Parrot. In my testing, video from the bottom camera is a lot smoother, but it is very difficult to fly the unit using only the bottom facing camera. Because of this, more often than not I just flew the AR.Drone like I would any other RC toy in that I just watched it in the air and used my iPhone as an incredibly elaborate controller.

Without a shell on, the AR.Drone can lift very light loads, allowing for things like high definition helmet cams to be strapped to it for some better video. For instance, I found this video on YouTube of an AR.Drone with a Contour HD 1080p camera onboard:

Once you spend more time with the AR.Drone, other limitations begin to become increasingly noticeable. For instance, with the height limiter enabled in the options, the AR.Drone will only climb to around 20 feet off the ground which is as far as the sensors under the craft can detect. With the height limiter disabled, you can climb much higher, but flying the unit becomes incredibly difficult as it's no longer capable of hovering in place once you exceed the capabilities of its bottom-fancing sensors.

Testing the vertical capabilities of the device was the only time I had to use the emergency button. Once you take away the AR.Drone's ability to figure out where it is in relation to the ground, it loses its ability to correct its location. Flying the device on what I'd call a fairly calm day resulted in it almost being blown into some trees when a small breeze picked up. In comparison, in similar conditions closer to the ground the AR.Drone barely moved at all.

Also, since the whole device operates on WiFi, you're constrained by the range limitations of both the AR.Drone and the iPhone. Parrot is claiming you can operate the device from 150 feet away, which seemed a little optimistic in my testing. Thankfully, all the cool auto-pilolting stuff I mentioned earlier comes in to play when you lose your connection to the AR.Drone and it just flies in place waiting for you to get back in range and resume flight.

Overall the Parrot AR.Drone seems like a very 1.0 device with loads of potential both in future hardware revisions and in future development with the AR.Drone API. Improved battery technology, higher resolution cameras, and more powerful sensors to allow for higher flights are all things I would love to see in future models. Currently the only companion app available for the AR.Drone is the Free Flight app, but Parrot has promised other apps such as augmented reality games where two players with their own AR.Drones can have virtual dog fights, and other similar things. None of these were available at the time of this review, but I definitely can see the amazing potential for future software development.

Parrot is boasting a completely open API for developers to program their own apps to interface with the AR.Drone. While I'd love to think that there are going to be all kinds of different third party apps for the device, I really can't imagine many developers devoting resources to projects that not only require you to own an iPhone or iPod touch, but also a Parrot AR.Drone-- Especially considering the mediocre uptake that iPad-only games have seen, and the iPad's market is likely exponentially larger than that of the Parrot AR.Drone.

However, if you're interested in RC aircraft and have dabbled in iPhone development, I really can't think of a much better toy to own than the AR.Drone. Throughout all my testing, I kept thinking "The AR.Drone would be cool if it did _______." If you're capable of utilizing the API to build an app that fills in the blank for whatever awesome functionality you come up with, $300 for the AR.Drone seems like a worthy investment for hobbyists.

While the Parrot AR.Drone is the coolest RC Toy I've ever played with, it's hard to give it a strong general recommendation given the current lack of software. It also would have been nice to see Parrot bundle a second battery in with the unit since additional batteries are pretty much required if you're serious about flying the device. If you're OK with waiting to see what additional apps get released, and you're patient enough to deal with 90 minute recharge cycles, flying the AR.Drone will likely be one of the most awesome things you'll ever do with your iPhone.

The Parrot AR.Drone is currently available at Brookstone for $299.99. They offer a number of accessories with it, including extra batteries for $29.95 and both two- and three-year service plans-- although it's not entirely clear if crashing the device in to a tree constitutes as "normal wear and tear" in the eyes of Brookstone's warranty department.

TouchArcade Rating

  • AIM-R8

    Seriously cool and would have bought it at a drop of a hat, but 300 a bit too steep for me. They should give a discount for buying 2 choppers at once, and include some sort of 'dogfighting' game app to go with it.

    • Adams Immersive

      Good idea.

      I’m resisting for now, but I know I’ll buy one in the end :)

      • AIM-R8

        Haha me too! Resistance is futile, I just know I'll get it eventually.

    • Julian

      are u joking what kind of stupid person would want a dog fighting apppp

  • AIM-R8

    Seriously cool and would have bought it at a drop of a hat, but 300 a bit too steep for me. They should give a discount for buying 2 choppers at once, and include some sort of 'dogfighting' game app to go with it.

    • Adams Immersive

      Good idea.

      I’m resisting for now, but I know I’ll buy one in the end :)

      • AIM-R8

        Haha me too! Resistance is futile, I just know I'll get it eventually.

  • yachris

    Oddly enough, the 45 minute flight time seems AWESOME compared to the $30 ultra-cheapo helicopters that were so popular a few years ago; those did (maybe) 10-15 minutes on a charge. But for 10x the price it'd better last longer :-)

  • yachris

    Oddly enough, the 45 minute flight time seems AWESOME compared to the $30 ultra-cheapo helicopters that were so popular a few years ago; those did (maybe) 10-15 minutes on a charge. But for 10x the price it'd better last longer :-)

  • http://www.silentrocco.com Silent Rocco

    30/45 min IS long in the RC world. Wow. Was expecting less.

  • http://www.silentrocco.com Silent Rocco

    30/45 min IS long in the RC world. Wow. Was expecting less.

  • MidianGTX

    Way, way too expensive for a geek toy which probably loses it's appeal within a week. Games might add some replay value but at 15fps (or less) it doesn't seem worth the effort.

  • MidianGTX

    Way, way too expensive for a geek toy which probably loses it's appeal within a week. Games might add some replay value but at 15fps (or less) it doesn't seem worth the effort.

  • Jeff M

    I'm wondering if there is any way to have it use a WiFi network instead of just the iPhone Wi-Fi. For example, my school network covers the campus well, so in theory using the camera would make it possible to take it anyplace on campus the network exists. Would be cool to have the next version able to use a WiFi network and also have a signal strength indicator on the iPhone app window so one can see when the signal is about to go.

    • Svieira

      Strangely enough, I got one for my office and we can just squeeze max 15 minutes out of it. Otherwise I agree with the review. Very cool toy... If just the battery would last longer :-(

    • ori

      it has that already

    • Snowflakeklein

      it makes its own wifi

  • Jeff M

    I'm wondering if there is any way to have it use a WiFi network instead of just the iPhone Wi-Fi. For example, my school network covers the campus well, so in theory using the camera would make it possible to take it anyplace on campus the network exists. Would be cool to have the next version able to use a WiFi network and also have a signal strength indicator on the iPhone app window so one can see when the signal is about to go.

    • Svieira

      Strangely enough, I got one for my office and we can just squeeze max 15 minutes out of it. Otherwise I agree with the review. Very cool toy... If just the battery would last longer :-(

    • ori

      it has that already

  • Phosphorus

    Actually you're all mistaken.
    1. This has a 15 minute battery life *or less if you fly high the entire time*
    2. This device has it's own built in wifi router. It broadcasts only 1 signal to your iPhone so if you are within 50 meters of it in an open space, you can connect to the device and fly it. This means that if you're in range of the device, even if you are walking a long distance, you won't lose control of it since it depends on it's own wifi connection to your iPhone.

  • Phosphorus

    Actually you're all mistaken.
    1. This has a 15 minute battery life *or less if you fly high the entire time*
    2. This device has it's own built in wifi router. It broadcasts only 1 signal to your iPhone so if you are within 50 meters of it in an open space, you can connect to the device and fly it. This means that if you're in range of the device, even if you are walking a long distance, you won't lose control of it since it depends on it's own wifi connection to your iPhone.

  • JediMaster

    The video is just choppy...a 3D rc heli is so much more fun...but you get bored really quick...all that charging and short flight time will just turn you off. I think I will wait for gameloft gangstar 2 and fly a heli there...haha

  • JediMaster

    The video is just choppy...a 3D rc heli is so much more fun...but you get bored really quick...all that charging and short flight time will just turn you off. I think I will wait for gameloft gangstar 2 and fly a heli there...haha

  • JCat

    Not my cup of tea, the video teaser is really well done.

  • JCat

    Not my cup of tea, the video teaser is really well done.

  • http://www.megacheapphones.com Todd

    That is really cool! I want one for sure!

  • http://www.megacheapphones.com Todd

    That is really cool! I want one for sure!

  • http://www.wilhelm-andreas.com the spirit

    hi.
    i own the ar.drone since about a week now and it is worth every penny.
    it is a great device to fly and completely different to a rc heli.
    if you want to see some videos from the onboard camera, take a look at my youtube channel.
    http://www.youtube.com/user/TheSp1r17#p/u/3/EZznHp0GOEk

  • http://www.wilhelm-andreas.com the spirit

    hi.
    i own the ar.drone since about a week now and it is worth every penny.
    it is a great device to fly and completely different to a rc heli.
    if you want to see some videos from the onboard camera, take a look at my youtube channel.
    http://www.youtube.com/user/TheSp1r17#p/u/3/EZznHp0GOEk

  • Bender

    Make the video run at at constant 30 FPS and make the drone able to fly into a winter storm and they'll sell thousands for winter rescue teams.

    • newbatthis

      lol. THIS.

  • Bender

    Make the video run at at constant 30 FPS and make the drone able to fly into a winter storm and they'll sell thousands for winter rescue teams.

    • newbatthis

      lol. THIS.

  • http://tech.thepete.com thepete

    Yeah, solve that battery problem and this would be ideal for citizen journalists who want to cover big rallies and protests. What a great way to see the entire crowd! Though, what are the laws against these things in urban areas? I imagine here in Manhattan I'd get in trouble for using this anywhere but a park.

  • http://tech.thepete.com thepete

    Yeah, solve that battery problem and this would be ideal for citizen journalists who want to cover big rallies and protests. What a great way to see the entire crowd! Though, what are the laws against these things in urban areas? I imagine here in Manhattan I'd get in trouble for using this anywhere but a park.

  • Lee K

    R/C guys, like myself, will address the shortcomings of this ultracool toy. It is as scary as it is cool. And I don't mean the way it looks...

  • Lee K

    R/C guys, like myself, will address the shortcomings of this ultracool toy. It is as scary as it is cool. And I don't mean the way it looks...

  • Pastime

    Just flew mine for the first time-outdoor flight gave me around 22 min before the battery ran out. It is a blast to fly. Some people are saying that 300 is a little much for this. I can spend 300 on replacement parts for some of my nitro toys. If you have ever crashed a nitro helicopter then you know what I mean. Not to mention it turns my iPad into one of the most hi tech controllers I have ever used. The only issue I had was the lack of altitude. It seems a little unpredictable over a hundred feet in just a very light breeze.
    Well worth the money! I did try it with both the iPhone and an iPad. The iPad felt more like the traditional remote control.

  • Pastime

    Just flew mine for the first time-outdoor flight gave me around 22 min before the battery ran out. It is a blast to fly. Some people are saying that 300 is a little much for this. I can spend 300 on replacement parts for some of my nitro toys. If you have ever crashed a nitro helicopter then you know what I mean. Not to mention it turns my iPad into one of the most hi tech controllers I have ever used. The only issue I had was the lack of altitude. It seems a little unpredictable over a hundred feet in just a very light breeze.
    Well worth the money! I did try it with both the iPhone and an iPad. The iPad felt more like the traditional remote control.

  • Laura Morgans

    I bought an ar drone few days ago, great 2 watch taking off, looks like something from outter space, however, 11 min flight time just causes frustration. Difficult to control too, it seems to have a mind of its own so im swopping it 4 a PL3.

  • Laura Morgans

    opps! PS3 rather.

  • Ilvtfly2

    30 min outdoor and 45 min indoor battery life is a long time in the world of RC, especially given the fact that you are in a constant hover.

  • John Halbig

    @unhappy mike: I had the same experience. My wife heard me chortling about this when the first videos hit the 'Net months ago. Sweetie that she is, she remembered and managed to score me one for the holidays.

    Unfortunately, there's a problem where one motor decides to just stop dead -- LED stays green, and there's nothing binding the gears. I suspect the main board is flakey.

    Parrot wanted to send me a new motor first before I could have the privilege to send it in for repairs. No thank you... looking around the net I see a lot of people are having the same issues, and that this is more of a full time hobby. On top of that, the battery charger is also apparently faulty based on the light patterns I keep getting -- apparently some of the power supplies are below spec in voltage.

    This product is not for the non-geeks or technically inclined, regardless of what else is said here. I would not trust Parrot and their rude, obnoxious "customer service" drones -- think "service" as the late George Carlin described it -- with another dime of my money.

    As it is we now have to battle on a second front to dispute the charge, as apparently the idea of a holiday gift in completely pristine packaging (little chance it was damaged during shipment!) is alien to the credit card company. After all, to test this my non-technical wife would have had to:

    - Charge the battery.
    - Find an iPhone or iPad to test with (loading the app on mine would have been a bit of a giveaway. :P)
    - Update the firmware.
    - Attempt to fly the darn thing.

    I'm sorry, but when a product comes out of the box DOA, it should be returnable. At the Apple store if a product dies during the first 5 days, it's considered DOA, and you get a new unit -- not a repair, refurb, or a litany of excuses that add up to one big fat fraud.

    And yes, that is exactly what parrot is perpetrating here. I just hope that I've kept at least one well-meaning parent, spouse, or friend from getting one of those as a gift.

    • Bgates

      @John Halbig - Thx m8, I was going to drop the 300 for it until I read that, no thanks! When I hear of that type of service, I run!

  • John Halbig

    @unhappy mike: I had the same experience. My wife heard me chortling about this when the first videos hit the 'Net months ago. Sweetie that she is, she remembered and managed to score me one for the holidays.

    Unfortunately, there's a problem where one motor decides to just stop dead -- LED stays green, and there's nothing binding the gears. I suspect the main board is flakey.

    Parrot wanted to send me a new motor first before I could have the privilege to send it in for repairs. No thank you... looking around the net I see a lot of people are having the same issues, and that this is more of a full time hobby. On top of that, the battery charger is also apparently faulty based on the light patterns I keep getting -- apparently some of the power supplies are below spec in voltage.

    This product is not for the non-geeks or technically inclined, regardless of what else is said here. I would not trust Parrot and their rude, obnoxious "customer service" drones -- think "service" as the late George Carlin described it -- with another dime of my money.

    As it is we now have to battle on a second front to dispute the charge, as apparently the idea of a holiday gift in completely pristine packaging (little chance it was damaged during shipment!) is alien to the credit card company. After all, to test this my non-technical wife would have had to:

    - Charge the battery.
    - Find an iPhone or iPad to test with (loading the app on mine would have been a bit of a giveaway. :P)
    - Update the firmware.
    - Attempt to fly the darn thing.

    I'm sorry, but when a product comes out of the box DOA, it should be returnable. At the Apple store if a product dies during the first 5 days, it's considered DOA, and you get a new unit -- not a repair, refurb, or a litany of excuses that add up to one big fat fraud.

    And yes, that is exactly what parrot is perpetrating here. I just hope that I've kept at least one well-meaning parent, spouse, or friend from getting one of those as a gift.

  • John Halbig

    @unhappy mike: I had the same experience. My wife heard me chortling about this when the first videos hit the 'Net months ago. Sweetie that she is, she remembered and managed to score me one for the holidays.

    Unfortunately, there's a problem where one motor decides to just stop dead -- LED stays green, and there's nothing binding the gears. I suspect the main board is flakey.

    Parrot wanted to send me a new motor first before I could have the privilege to send it in for repairs. No thank you... looking around the net I see a lot of people are having the same issues, and that this is more of a full time hobby. On top of that, the battery charger is also apparently faulty based on the light patterns I keep getting -- apparently some of the power supplies are below spec in voltage.

    This product is not for the non-geeks or technically inclined, regardless of what else is said here. I would not trust Parrot and their rude, obnoxious "customer service" drones -- think "service" as the late George Carlin described it -- with another dime of my money.

    As it is we now have to battle on a second front to dispute the charge, as apparently the idea of a holiday gift in completely pristine packaging (little chance it was damaged during shipment!) is alien to the credit card company. After all, to test this my non-technical wife would have had to:

    - Charge the battery.
    - Find an iPhone or iPad to test with (loading the app on mine would have been a bit of a giveaway. :P)
    - Update the firmware.
    - Attempt to fly the darn thing.

    I'm sorry, but when a product comes out of the box DOA, it should be returnable. At the Apple store if a product dies during the first 5 days, it's considered DOA, and you get a new unit -- not a repair, refurb, or a litany of excuses that add up to one big fat fraud.

    And yes, that is exactly what parrot is perpetrating here. I just hope that I've kept at least one well-meaning parent, spouse, or friend from getting one of those as a gift.

  • Vcvhcvh

    to the guy above - have a fuking cry.. this is a company doing something new, interesting and exciting .. its going to have teething problems...

  • http://phill.co Phill

    Coolest Toy / Spy Gadget ever!

  • damo

    TO Vcvhcvh i rckon it looks so frigin fun and im s gettin one no matter wat bitches

  • everyday reviews

    This is my review:
    http://everydayreviews.net/index.php?topic=42.0
    If you got $300 to blow, it might be worth it

  • Kelley Fager

    Wow, very cool toy. I'd love to buy one of these spy crafts once they develop a little more, especially with a live hd camera on it.

  • Fleming2484

    This seems like it would be a good hobby tow for people with the money to do it. I want  to and could but i realy want to wait and see if they can make one with a better camera.

    I really like the idea of making it to were its not only able to make its own wifi but read a wifi network as well. This could become a great icon of security for some major public areas such as hospitals, schools, and even banks if it were able to pick up on the campus wifi and operate from a computer or an Ipad in the security office's of the areas it would be revolutionary.
    I work in a hospital and if we had these drones with the ability to run off the campus wifi the police on campus could send a drone out into the parking lots and be scanning for missing persons children or even speeders. The only thing it would require is to be able to read the wifi signal and record the video it relays. but the only negative is it would needto be able to resist the stronger winds at higher altitudes and harsher weather conditions.

    I would really love to see them get some funding for an operation like that.

  • Dubsb

    I have had experience with parrot's tech support and "customer service" for their Bluetooth products, and just because of that I won't buy a drone. It looks cool, fun and I think I would have a lot of fun with it, but I won't spend a dime of my money with a company that knows so little about customer service.

    • Tris

       If your serious into tuning & modifying or if you want to get your
      hands on what is to be the biggest gadget in 2011, please come and look
      around our website. We have tutorials for repair, modifying and also a
      forum where you can talk drone! http://www.dronetuner.com is the no.1
      specialist for tuning & modifying the AR.Drone

  • Jeremy

    great toy just bought it from here : http://geekophone.net/p/24795/parrot-ardrone-quadricopter-controlled-by-iphoneipod-touchipad-orangeblue and i'm glad i did it :)

  • Anonymous

    Mobile-gear.co.uk Parrot Ar Drone Free UK and Europe Delivery
    http://mobile-gear.co.uk/parrot/parrott-ar-drone

  • http://twitter.com/ggGifts James D. Roberts

    I've been having a blast with my AR Drone.  When I got it I justified the purchace by saying I'd do some "serious" payloads (I'm a computer engineer).  But the only thing I've really wanted to add is a better camera.  I haven't found one I like (that's cheap), so I'll look into helmet cams -- thanks for the tip!
    JD
    http://ar-drone.net

  • Anonymous

    Some of the best apps for flying the ar.drone http://drone-apps.com/
    They weren't included in the original article. Most members of the community think Drone Ace is the way to go now. I like Drone Master cause I get confused.

  • http://twitter.com/ClickRealty ClickRealty

    I just bought the AR Drone for my son for Christmas.  When I opened the box I found an incomplete and damaged unit.  When I bought the unit in a Seattle location of Brookstone I made it clear I was taking it to Vancouver, B.C..  Seems like they used the opportunity to put an old demo model in the box.  It is also missing the battery, charger and plugs.

    If you buy this toy (which does look amazing) check the box before you leave the store. Brookstone is saying that they have no responsibility for the product once the customer leaves the store.  I was directed to the company who manufactures the product who are also claiming zero responsibility.  $300 even worse when the product doesn't even work.

  • http://twitter.com/johnsin John Drefahl

    First flight and already had to climb a roof!.. haha, actually this thing is really cool and as an Android App developer.. I would love to get this running with Google Maps and waypoints.. and so on.  One problem.. The battery life is ridiculous.. I mean really, how can we possibly do much with this other then dev on it.  In all honesty, those of us who are serious might just end up building our own SUPER model for our needs.  We want drones that can stay in the air for an hour at least, stream HD back over HD to hotspot or 4G.. we need much more.. but this is a great start.

  • Anthony Orr

    45 min is ages in RC world, dont see what people are complaining about, people always have some bad expirences with customer care, this is probably only a small percentage of people.