Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 Lightning Review: A Private Spy Drone For Filming Your Neighbours With

By Sam Gibbs on at

Drones are awesome; there's no two ways about it. However, the military drones we hear about on the news are just a tad out our price range... While the Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 is hardly "cheap," at least you can actually buy one -- for £279, that is. Do you want your own personal spy drone? Silly question -- of course you do! But is the Drone 2.0 the one for you?


What Is It?

The second iteration of Parrot's remote-control flying drone quadrocopter, equipped with a wide-angle HD cam for personal "surveillance" activities.


Who's It For?

Anyone who wants the best flying toy available, period. Or anyone who wants to spy on their neighbours through their bedroom window (I won't judge).



It's a quadrocopter that looks like a flying water boatman. Bright orange and blue, it's about the size of four iPads or 0.5m squared -- not exactly subtle, but a lick of black paint should sort that out.


Using It

Simply awesome. This thing is incredibly easy to control. Press a button and boom -- it takes off and hovers there, right in front of you. It comes with more control modes and options than you can shake a stick at. Don't want it to go above 3m? No problem. Want to send it up 100m? Now that's where it gets interesting, as don't forget it streams video and photos direct to your phone or tablet, too...


The Best Part

The best bit about the Drone 2.0 is the non-directional "absolute" control; one of the big upgrades over the previous iteration. Just tilt your phone or tablet in the direction you want it to go, and it goes. No messing around with which direction its nose is pointing in, just incredibly easy and intuitive control -- you'll look like an absolute master in about three minutes.


Tragic Flaw

It's not really a flaw with the drone so much as it is our puny British houses. It's just too big to use indoors -- unless you're absolutely minted, I guess. It has an indoor shell that keeps the rotors from hitting the walls, but its downdraft blows stuff literally everywhere. Best used outside, when it's not raining, that is.


This Is Weird

The drone senses how high it is at low altitude using ultrasonic distance sensors on its belly. Sometimes, like when you've just flown over a tall object and back on level ground, if you don't set the max altitude high enough, the drone suddenly thinks it's too high up. It then drops, pronto, meaning I almost winged it into the side of my car on a couple of occasions -- set it above 3m when you're outside and you'll be fine.


Test Notes

- You can get the thing to do a really awesome mid-air flip, like you see in the video, but it jumps up quite a bit to do it, so don't try it under any low-hanging branches or anything.

- The Drone 2.0 does a lot better in the wind than you might expect, but still not great like any flying thing. Not to be taken out in a storm, then.

- Indoor flying is not for the faint of heart. One small twitch and it'll smash right into a wall and hit the deck with a really heavy-sounding thud. That's where your heart sinks. Luckily it's pretty damn hardy; I didn't manage to destroy it while I had it in for testing, and I'm pretty good at smashing stuff up.

- This thing puts out a lot of air, so lock down your mugs, paper, plates, glasses, whatever -- or you could end up with your pad looking like a bomb's just gone off.

- Absolute control worked better with my iPhone 4S than my iPad 2, probably because of the more sensitive gyroscope.

- There are a butt-load of customisable settings to limit horizontal and vertical speed; turning speed; maximum height as well as tilt -- all sorts of things.

- The Drone 2.0 has really good range thanks to Wi-Fi. I took it up to about 40m high and had no issues controlling it, well, apart from a stiff neck from constantly looking up.

- App-based control means Parrot can push out updates on-the-fly, like the ability to auto-flip a set number of times or automatically record video, both of which arrived while I was testing it.

- There are all sorts of game apps you can use with your Drone, like flying battles and AR-based games.

- You can hook up a flash drive to the on-board USB port within the hull for a slightly higher bitrate of recording, but the Wi-Fi video is pretty damn good, so I'm not sure you'd bother most of the time. There's also a camera on the bottom, but it's only really good enough to spot a landing site (as you can see in the video below).

- The battery lasts about 15 minutes, which is about the same as a lot of battery-powered toys these days. But, having just dropped £279 on this thing, I'd say buy a few spare batteries (at £30 each) while you're at it.


Should You Buy It?

If you've got £279 spare and want an absolutely awesome flying toy, or your very own personal spy drone, then absolutely, yes. It's great fun; it has surprisingly good quality video output from the front camera, and it's so easy to fly. It's leaps and bounds more advanced than most other toys on the market, but that's what it is -- a toy, and one on the expensive end of the scale too. It's not life changing, but if there's someone's major birthday coming up, say like a 30th or something, you know what you should club together and buy.


Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 Specs

Camera: 720p 30fps HD
Lens: 92-degree diagonal wide angle
Processor: 1 GHz 32-bit ARM Cortex A8
Weight: 380 grams with outdoor hull; 420 grams with Styrofoam indoor hull
Motors: 4 brushless 14.5-watt, 28,500 RPM inrunner motors
Battery: 3 elements 1,000 mA/hour LiPo rechargeable
Price: £279
Gizrank: 4