Parrot Bebop Drone 2 review
THE GOOD The Parrot Bebop Drone 2 is small enough to stick in your average backpack, but sturdier than the original with about twice the battery life. Its propellers stop the instant they're obstructed, easy barrel rolls and flips and new banked turns capability makes it more fun to fly, and it's stable indoors or outside. It can be piloted with third-party Bluetooth controllers.
THE BAD It's pricey when bundled with the massive Skycontroller remote control, and its video quality hasn't improved much from the first-gen Bebop. In-app purchases are required for features other drone makers include. Its control range is dependent on your mobile device and flight conditions. It's limited to 8GB of internal storage for photos and video.
THE BOTTOM LINE The Parrot Bebop 2 definitely improves on the original and remains a good choice for its portability and safer design, but stiffer competition and merely good image quality limit its overall appeal.
Maybe it's the design, or its size and weight, or that you're just as likely to find it sold as a phone accessory as you are in a toy store or camera department of a big-box retailer, but Parrot's Bebop 2 is one of the least intimidating camera drones you'll find. Even less so than most, since it takes off and lands on its own and has no trouble hovering in place indoors or outside.
The fact that it's controlled with a phone or tablet certainly helps. Flying by touchscreen isn't the best experience, but honestly handing someone a regular remote control for the first time arguably isn't any better. Instead of sticks and switches and buttons, you're tapping on a screen and sliding your thumbs around or simply tilting your phone in the direction you want it to fly. The mobile app is free, but you can make a $20 in-app purchase to unlock more advanced flight-plan capabilities, letting you set waypoints for the Bebop 2 to follow among other things.
The quadcopter is small enough to slide into an average backpack and at just over a pound (500 grams), it's easy to travel with. Aside from the propellers there are no moving parts, which helps its chances of surviving a crash. The ABS body is reinforced with glass fiber to toughen it up even more. It's also one of the safest drones you'll find with flexible plastic propellers that stop the second something hits them.
Because of these things, the Bebop 2 perhaps comes off as more of a toy and less of a serious camera drone like the, which currently shares the Bebop 2's $500 price tag. (The Bebop sells for AU$900 in Australia and £440 in the UK, while the DJI is AU$859 and £449.) And frankly, if high-quality aerial photos and video are what's most important, you're better off with the Phantom 3 Standard. (Similar flight plan capabilities to the Bebop's don't cost more with the Standard, either.)
Consider the Bebop 2 if you want something more family-friendly. One that you won't panic as much about when you turn over the controls to a friend for their first time flying. A camera drone that can get decent video and photos for sharing, but also survive crashes and do flips with a couple taps on screen.
I actually tested two different Bebop 2s. The first was a preproduction unit that, like the original Bebop I reviewed, occasionally dropped its wireless signal in flight. Not really something you want to have happen when it's hundreds of feet in the air or out over a body of water. Parrot said this was a fault in the early models and not a typical experience.
To confirm this, I tested a second unit and, in fact, did not experience any dropouts while testing it. That may have been because of its newer firmware, or there was something actually wrong with the first drone, or maybe both. All I know is the second Bebop 2 I tested performed just fine.
Parrot claims it's possible to fly the Bebop 2 up to 300 meters away (about 985 feet) using a mobile device. That's an average, too, so it can potentially go even further or fall short of that mark. The distance is going to vary depending on everything from trees and buildings to other wireless signal traffic to the device you're using. Even how you hold the device can determine signal quality.
That in mind, I tested using the latest firmware installed (version 3.2.0) with anin an open field surrounded by trees in a heavily populated area (i.e. with a lot of wireless signals) and was able to get it out to more than 200 meters before the video cut out. Could it have flown farther? Probably, and I might have even gotten the video feed back. But I played it safe and called it back using the automatic Return to Home option. The point is, how far you'll be able to fly the Bebop 2 is dependent on your environment and your device.
For the best range and physical controls, you can spend a couple hundred dollars more for Parrot's huge and awkward Skycontroller. It has full controls for the drone and an amplified Wi-Fi radio on top allowing you to fly up to 1.2 miles (2 kilometers), assuming conditions are absolutely perfect. The FreeFlight mobile app is installed on it though, so you don't need to pair it with a mobile device to fly. It also has a full-size HDMI output on the side lets you connect an external display to see what the camera sees and also supports headsets for completely immersing you for first-person-view (FPV) flight.
The Skycontroller isn't your only option for physical controls, though. You can pick up a Bluetooth gaming controller and use that to pilot via your tablet or phone. Parrot has a tutorial on how to set it up and some suggested controllers.
Though its camera has a new design for its lens covering making it dust-proof and a wider aperture, it is otherwise unchanged, featuring a 14-megapixel sensor with a wide-angle lens that covers a 180-degree field of view. That is, for me, what's most disappointing about the Bebop 2.
For capturing cool video from the sky for sharing online or viewing at small sizes on a phone or tablet, you'll probably be pretty happy with what you get from the Bebop 2, especially if you're flying in full daylight. Compared to the DJI Phantom 3 Standard, though, it misses the mark.
Instead of the motorized gimbals found on many other camera drones, the Bebop 2 uses three-axis digital stabilization for smooth video results. It works really well, all things considered, eliminating shake. Parrot also handles panning and tilting digitally allowing you to "move" the camera without it actually moving. It's clever, but it's done by using only certain areas of the sensor and lens, so you can end up with a black area from the fish-eye lens as well as rolling shutter artifacts. If you stick to using the center of the lens and avoiding the extreme corners, this isn't an issue.
In the sample video above, you can see some of the tearing from the digital tilting, in addition to a lack of fine detail such as the mushy trees, and buildings and other structures just look painterly. There's edge crawl and aliasing artifacts, too.
Basically, while the video quality isn't fantastic, it's fine for casual use, which at the end of the day is what this quadcopter is for.
Everything gets stored to 8GB of internal flash storage and there's no microSD card slot for expansion. Getting photos and movie clips off the drone can be done either by slow wireless transfer to your mobile device, or by running a Micro-USB cable from the Bebop to a computer. It's a bit of a pain especially since you have to have the drone turned on the entire time.
What did get fixed from the original is battery life, mainly because the body supports a larger pack. Gone is the flimsy connector and Velcro strap. Instead you get a 2,700 mAh battery that slides on back and locks into place. Parrot says it can get up to 25 minutes, but you can expect more like 20 minutes -- less if you're moving fast or doing flips. (By the way, the app lets you set maximum tilt for faster flying as well as maximum vertical speed and other flight parameters with simple sliders.)
Extra batteries (about $70 each) are available and should you damage a component, Parrot has made replacement parts available -- from props to the camera to the GPS module -- for you to buy and install yourself. Even if you don't crash, you'll probably want to buy another battery or two and some extra propellers.
The Parrot Bebop 2 definitely improves on the original and remains a good choice for its portability and safer design, but stiffer competition and merely good image quality limit its overall appeal.
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