Personal drones are nearly ubiquitous now, and the Parrot AR was among the first to resonate with consumers. The quadcopter made its debut at CES in 2010, and made flying dead-simple. Anyone could fly it easily, no experience required, using a smartphone app. People loved it, and they loved version 2.0 when it arrived two years later. But defining the market for easy-to-fly quadcopters did not bring Parrot great fortune or fame. The French company has long since relinquished the crown to companies like DJI, Yuneec, and 3DR, all of which make more powerful and versatile flying machines. Still, the company continues turning out sleek consumer drones that, while flawed, are fun to fly.
Parrot Bebop 2
A fun drone you can fly using just your phone. Small form factor and lightweight design makes it easy to carry. Software controller cuts down on bulk. Flight times have been improved over its predecessor, a welcome development.
Software controller is difficult to use. Wi-Fi drops consistently. Storage maxes out at a paltry 8GB. The $400 SkyController, while nice, ruins the light-and-simple thing.
The Parrot Bebop 2 is the $550 sequel to last year’s original Bebop drone. Like its predecessor, the Bebop 2 features a slender design, no moving parts besides the propellers, and the same 180-degree fisheye camera.
In fact, the Bebop 2 mirrors the Bebop 1 in every meaningful way. The camera is still 14 megapixels and still attempts to compensate for its lack of a gimbal with three-axis video stabilization software. The drone still has 8GB of internal storage, and you still control it with an iOS/Android app or a $400 “Skycontroller” remote sold separately. The flight control app now offers a “flight plan” feature if you’d like to plot your route ahead of time, but it sets you back another $20 as an in-app purchase.
The primary difference between the Parrot Bebop 2 and its predecessor is flight time. The first generation could spend about 11 minutes aloft. The second-gen drone does significantly better. Parrot says it’s good for 25 minutes of flight time, though I should note that is only achieved under ideal conditions. I consistently saw around 20 minutes when filming continuously, which is more or less on par with competitors like DJI’s Phantom 3 Pro or Yuneec’s Typhoon.
A larger 2,700 mAh battery makes the Bebop a bit heavier (100 grams heavier to be precise), but the body remains very compact and lightweight. One of its more appealing aspects is the fact that it easily fits into a backpack—especially if you’re flying with just a phone and can skip the bulk of the controller.
I wanted to love the Bebop 2. What’s not to love about a quadcopter that is small enough to fit in a backpack and doesn’t require a dedicated controller? Indeed, on paper the Bebop 2 is amazing. Out in the field, it’s another story.
Flying the Bebop is … well, it depends. Like corporate rock, the software-based controller still sucks. Sure, the touchscreen app works, but it lacks the tactile feedback and potential for muscle memory that comes with physical joysticks. It’s also nearly impossible to maintain situational awareness and keep your eyes on the Bebop when you’re continually glancing at your thumbs to make sure they’re where they should be. (And trust me, they never will be.) Suffice to say that using the digital controller is not fun. And that is massively disappointing.
Worse, the app is incredibly ill-conceived. The layout on both Android and iOS is reminiscent of Windows 8, with big colorful squares as menu items. The design looks out of place on, well, every major mobile platform (and it doesn’t run on Windows mobiles). A minor complaint, perhaps, but there are more serious problems. For example, you must connect your mobile device to the Bebop’s ad-hoc Wi-Fi network, which creates the direct data connection required to control it. But then you decide to look for something in the help menu, but nope, sorry, that’s only available online, and you’re currently connected to a private network that isn’t connected to the Internet. And why is the largest item in the menu a space-hogging video preview of a drone you already own? It’s a feature that leads me to believe the app was designed by Parrot’s marketing department, none of whom have used it to fly the thing.
The Bebop 2’s range also is pathetic. The Bebop’s network routinely dropped me, forcing me to chase after the drone to keep the auto-return feature from triggering (a feature that, it’s worth noting, works very well). The Bebop proudly claims a 37 mph top speed. In my experience, you’ll lose contact with the drone long before it gets anywhere near that speed.
However, this is where the real potential of the Bebop lies: a lightweight vehicle with a controller that’s already in your pocket. As it stands, the implementation is well behind the concept, but if Parrot can bring reality closer to its ideal, then the software controller for a future Bebop drone (the Bebop 3, perhaps?) might return the company to the forefront of drone innovation.
In the meantime, there’s the other means of flying the new Bebop; the $400 Skycontroller. Here things get considerably better. The dedicated controller is big and awkward, but its antenna dramatically increases range, and its comfortable joysticks provide all the advantages of tactile feedback. I liked it far more than controllers I’ve used with aircraft from DJI or Yuneec. But big and awkward ruin much of the appeal of the Bebop. The controller is considerably larger than the drone, and while the two devices will fit into a backpack, you won’t get much else in there. Still, the Skycontroller does eliminate all of the annoying flight problems I experienced using the software controller.
Finally there’s Bebop’s biggest disappointment: the camera. It’s the same camera found in the first Bebop, providing 14 megapixel stills and 1080p video. There’s no 4K video, but I can live with that. What’s really disappointing is the quality of video: colors are washed out, there’s very obvious tearing, and artifacts. Parrot still doesn’t offer an option for removable storage, so you’re stuck with 8 gigs of memory, which fills quickly when shooting 1080 video. You can download footage from the Bebop to your phone via Wi-Fi, but that will cost you in battery life and phone storage.
In the end the Bebop fails to live up to its aspirations. It barely distinguishes itself from its predecessor. In fact, there’s so little here that’s new or different that I am not sure why Parrot didn’t simply release a bigger battery pack for the first one. The Bebop 2 feels rushed, like Parrot was trying to hit a deadline at any cost.
It’s frustrating, because if the Bebop 2 performed the way Parrot clearly wants it to, it would be fantastic. As it stands, however, this is not the drone you’re looking for.
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