By far the cheapest drone in this category (£100-£500), the Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 Elite has much to offer. The package we are reviewing here is supplied with a GPS Flight Recorder, although other suppliers may ship it without this extra feature. It does not come with a controller, it is controlled by a mobile app that you need to download to a smart phone or tablet in order to pilot it. It is a large drone (58.4cm x 58.4cm) with a fairly flat structure and a front mounted 1280x720 HD camera which streams footage directly to the screen of your smartphone or tablet. There is also a 320x240 camera on the bottom but the picture quality is quite poor as it is mainly used as a sensor for stabilisation. The lack of any proper landing gear means the two ultrasound altimeter sensors that measure the distance to the ground on the bottom of the drone can get wet or dirty, which may affect its flight. If it starts behaving erratically give these a wipe and all should be well.
The Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 Elite is supplied with two hulls (bodies), an indoor one with rotor guards so you don't damage your furniture, and an outdoor on which is a little more wind resistant but doesn't have rotor guards. At nearly 2 feet across however it could be said that it is a rather large drone to be flying indoors! It is controlled via WiFi by the free AR.Freeflight app which you download to your iOS or Android smartphone or Windows 8 tablet, you can do this while you charge up the battery (approx 30 mins). Once downloaded, you can adjust settings such as altitude and speed, and for your first flight it may be best to stick with the slowest options to begin with. Then you can connect your control device to the Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 Elite 's WiFi which should automatically appear in your settings menu.
When flying, you get the view from the drone's camera on your device's screen, with various touch controls around the outer edges of the screen. To control the drone, you can either tilt your device in the direction you want the drone to fly, or use the Analogue Sticks on screen (this is more difficult if you are flying by sight, but better for FPV). It is tricky to get the hang of flying the Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 Elite at first, it is not difficult but it does take practice, so take advantage of the automatic takeoff, hover and landing features until you know what you are doing. There is also an optional "Absolute Control" mode which is similar to Headless mode, whereby no matter which way the drone is facing it will orientate itself with you, and if you push the controls to the right it will go right, making the drone easier to fly. After a three of four sessions you should have the hang for flying the drone, and once mastered it, the Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 Elite is brilliant fun to fly, a very quick and agile drone for its size. You can also indulge in some aerobatics as there is a button that will make the drone do flips to either the left, right, front or back.
The drone has quite a disappointing flight time of 12 mins with the standard 1000 mAh battery it is shipped with, and the battery will drain even when on the ground if the drone is connected, however an upgraded Parrot AR Drone 2.0 Spare Battery is available which increases flight time to approximately 20 mins. The range is also limited by the WiFi to around 50 meters, however trees and other obstacles can reduce this. If the drone flies out of range it just hovers until you are able to catch up and regain control, which is great if you have flown it out of range horizontally, however if you have flown it up too high so that it is out of range you will have to wait for the battery to go flat, in which case it will land itself (a good reason to avoid flying over water if your battery is low!).
The build quality of the Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 Elite is excellent, with carbon fibre parts and brushless motors. An even bigger plus is that all parts are fully replaceable; original Parrot parts are quite pricey but necessary to maintain the warrenty, but if that isn't an issue then cheaper copy parts are available.
The 1280x720 HD camera mounted on the drone has a 93-degree field of view and produces a fairly decent picture quality, however the lack of a gimbal means that the footage is shakey. It does not record sound as it would just be drowned out by the noise of the rotors. There is the option record your footage onto either a plug in USB flash drive, or onto your mobile device, by hitting the "Rec" button at the top of the apps display. Hitting the camera icon on the control screen allows you to take a still picture.
The GPS Flight Recorder plugs into the USB port on the drone, and gives you 4Gb of storage and also adds GPS capabilities to the drone. This means that you can not only record video footage onto the recorder but you can pilot the drone automatically along a predetermined flight path input by tapping GPS points on a map on your control device.
Finally, the has the Augmented Reality feature, whereby you can download games such as AR.Rescue and Target Hunter and play augmented reality flying games either alone or with other AR drone users.
The Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 Elite has much to recommend it. It is robust, reliable and fun to fly and with AR and GPS capabilities. Spare parts and batteries are readily available, and it is controllable from your smartphone or tablet (although if you dont already own a such a device then this will be a huge negative point for you), all in all it is a good quality drone. However a few features do let it down. Firstly, the flight range is limited to 50m by its WiFi control method, and this is well below other much cheaper drones (eg. the Syma X8HG
or the Aviax F2C
). Also the short battery life is pretty limiting - if you buy this drone you should factor in another £35 to buy an upgraded battery as well. For the price, the camera is pretty good but if you require high quality aerial footage then you are better off putting the money towards a drone which has a gimbal and a better camera, such as the DJI Phantom 2 or the Walkera QR X350 Pro . But overall this drone is feature rich, great quality and fun, for the price its a great buy!