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Review: AR.Drone - The iPhone Controlled Quadricopter

Review: AR.Drone - The iPhone Controlled Quadricopter

September 22, 2010


You've heard about the AR.Drone, the deluxe quadricopter controlled by the iPhone, and now it's time for the full review. We were lucky enough to get a test device to push to the limits flying it around everywhere to see what it truly can do. You get to fly a device that self stabilizes, is effortless to control, and has two cameras all from the iDevice you already own.


The Drone comes with an indoor and outdoor shell, and the app in the App Store is called Free Flight. The app lets you customize the controls with beginner mode allowing tilt controls, and advanced mode letting you control the whole thing with a virtual joystick. You can adjust the various sensors, and change what camera appears on screen. Through the testing of only one device there isn't any augmented reality game for a single drone, and it's unknown how it works with two Drones.

The Good

The AR.Drone is an advanced piece of technology that is astonishing to control simply with your iDevice. Once you connect your iDevice to the Drone it takes off with a tap, and then can spin and adjust height with a virtual joystick on the right. Then you hold the left button, and can control the Drone via tilt which is an amazing experience. It's so effortless to move through trees directly controlling the device by your movements. You can also use advanced mode for all controls via the joystick, but it's not near as much fun. The Drone is great to see in action, and when flying around it looks like something straight out of Terminator. If you ever lose control when flying the Drone just take your hands of your iDevice and it will stabilize itself, and you can start controlling it again. It's made extremely well so almost anyone can pick it up, start flying it around, and enjoying it. The Drone doesn't have the most capabilities, and is the most fun in short bursts which helps the fact that it can only last for short bursts with the included battery life. Once you connect the Drone you will be connected for a considerable distance since its over WiFi. I flew the Drone on a baseball field, and it was responsive 250 feet away. Even when it's far away you can maneuver it through tight squeezes, and fly all around. With the viewable onboard camera you can see what the Drone sees close up when you're at a great distances, and this allows for spying on people. You can send this up over a wall or fence a long way off, and take screenshots of the live camera feed. On a more serious note though, you can check out all kinds of things from a completely different perspective using the Drone.

The Bad

The biggest downfall is the battery life which prevents you from really enjoying the AR.Drone. At full charge it only lasts for a maximum of 15 minutes so you won't want to travel to a location that takes you too long to get to just to fly the Drone around. Extra batteries cost $30 each on top of your $300 purchase, and you'll need four just to get a measly hour of fly time. Battery life isn't the greatest for these remote controlled flying devices, and the Drone is one of the better ones, but with that said you expect more. With all the onboard technology it drains the large battery, and it's quite a feat to get as much fly time as it does, but it still is lacking from a consumer standpoint. The intrigue of the AR.Drone is the ease of use for non-hobbyists who just want to keep playing with their new $300 toy, and not charging it every 15 minutes. As neat as the AR.Drone is, it wears on you pretty quickly so soon you've seen everything it can do. With any remote controlled device you know there are limits to what it can do, but the AR.Drone seems to have too many limits. You can fly it around in all kinds of maneuvers, but it will always stay on a horizontal plane, meaning no types of flips, loops, etc. This means you'll be left only able to fly on a horizontal plane at different heights, and you can only do so much. Once you've flown it around for awhile you'll never see anything new, and any ideas of it being neat, or interesting have flown out the window. For $300 you really wish there was more you could do with it. Connecting to the Drone is a little bit on the tedious side, and the app is a little finicky with connecting, but after a minute or two the iDevice will finally find the AR.Drone. If you crash a few times your iDevice can become disconnected from the toy, so it's best to fly in open environments. The styrofoam shell breaks relatively easily especially if you bump into something hard enough to tilt the device so it lands on it's side. The device itself has so much technology on it you try to be extra careful not to crash it. After a few crashes the stabilization stops working even after resetting the trim of the device, and only recharging the device will fix the stabilization. Sometimes one of the wings won't work which needs a restart of the device. The Drone isn't built to last long, and trying to be super careful with the device takes away some of the fun that can be had. After only a few days testing one thing or another was going wrong, and with even longer use I don't know how long it would have lasted. The Drone doesn't pick up the gyroscope of fourth generation devices which is a little disappointing keeping you from being in full control with tilt, as you still need the joystick to spin.

The Verdict

The AR.Drone is an amazingly advanced device in terms of technology on board, and controllability. The drone doesn't offer much in terms of what you can do with it so it gets relatively stale only after short use. The battery life is par for the industry which is pitiful, and you have to be very careful with the device which overall means it's not built to last, and will require multiple additional purchases. For $300 it's just too steep for what the Drone can do. If you really want a remote controlled device get something that actually can do more than fly on a horizontal plane even if the controls are a little bit more complex. The device has a lot of on board technology that warrants the cost, and is reason for the rapid battery drain, but that doesn't help the consumer. Be sure to check out our hands on video below of the AR.Drone in action.

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