- Very easy to fly thanks to well made app and unbeatable Skycontroller
- Flight Plan makes flying completely autonomous and allows for flights over huge distance
- Battery life dramatically improved over original Bebop – now around 25 minutes
- Stunning footage (if lacking a little clarity) and impressive image stabilisation
- Flying experience less fun without Skycontroller with less range
- Flight Plan add-on costs £15
- On-board memory not expandable
I’m by no means new to the drone or quadcopter scene. In fact, I’ve owned several in the last few years and have experimented to various degrees and with varying levels of success. Most of the quadcopters I’ve tested in the past have been relatively basic – simple manually controlled quads with no ‘aritifical intelligence’ or automotive behaviour. The problem with the more basic quadcopters – such as the Syma X8C – is that they’re notoriously difficult to fly, borderline impossible to hover with and don’t take very good footage whatsoever! Their low price justifies them as they’re a very good starting point and basis for learning to fly – but they’re relatively useless if you want to want to take your quadcopter flying any further.
With that – bring in the Parrot Bebop 2! The Bebop 2 focuses on improving some of the drawbacks in the original Bebop. I was lucky enough to get to try the original Bebop last year, but unfortunately was let down by it’s poor build quality and terribly unstable connectivity with the app and Skycontroller. Not only that – but it really felt like a half-arsed effort, with a battery connector that had a cable hanging out and had to be tied in with velcro and a styrofoam type body kit! It was so poor that I even decided it wasn’t worth reviewing here – as I felt that most of the views I had were already online from some very frustrated customers!
Moving on from that though, Parrot went back to the drawing and gave it a facelift ready for MK2! Not only that, but they re-thought many of the key aspects of the device, including power, bodywork and functionality. I’m happy to say that, in my view, the new Bebop 2 is a huge improvement on the original and deserves a warm round of applause to Parrot. I’ve managed to get my hands on the full kit – the Bebop 2 itself, together with the professional Skycontroller and the Freeflight 3 app with Flight Plan functionality. You can guess what the rest of this post will be about – right?
Much of the Bebop 2’s technical specs are the same or very similar to the original Bebop. The 1080p 14MP fish-eye lens on the Bebop 2 is almost identical to the original with the main adjustment here being the angling of the lens. The Bebop 2 has the same 8GB of onboard memory – which is sadly still non-expendable (come on Parrot – a microSD card weighs nothing at all!) – and the same wireless N 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz capable antenna which promises up to 2km of flying distance (if you shell out for the Skycontroller).
However, this is where the similarities largely come to an end. The battery on the Bebop 2 has been completely redesigned – now carrying an impressive 2700mAh capacity promising around 25 minutes of flying time. Additionally, the Bebop 2 now shifts really quickly with a very speedy 18m/s maximum horizontal speed (40mph!!) and 6m/s climbing speed. Finally, you’ve got a brand new chassis and body built onto the reinforced frame, promising more durability in the event of an emergency landing or accidental collision.
Flying the drone
Enough of the techie information, though – the question everyone’s asking is what is it actually like to fly? Well, if you’re not wanting to shell out for the Skycontroller, then you’re limited to Parrot’s FreeFlight app which is available on both Android and iOS (I believe the Windows store too!). Thankfully, the app is very impressive if a little tedious to use.
Take off and landing is a one-touch affair as the Bebop 2 handles that completely on it’s own. It will take off at your request and then simply hover until you feed it another command. Once in the air, you use touch gestures on your device to move the drone. These can be a little fiddly and take a short while to master, but once you have got a feel for it you’ll begin to appreciate the unbelievable level of stability. The drone is almost impossible to down (short of a collision or emergency stop) as it has a huge array of sensors present to keep it in the sky. Onboard you’ve got full GPS capabilities as well as height and distance to pilot measurement. You don’t even need to worry about wind speed as the drone automatically alters it’s angle of attack to counter any gusts.
The app still gives you all of the controls that the Skycontroller has – just without the physical buttons. You can still use the device’s raison d’etre – the return-to-home function – even without anything other than the app. The return-to-home feature is a spectacle to watch and essentially means that even if you lose the drone while in flight, it should find it’s way back to you after a short period of lost connection. When flying normally, you just tap a single button and the drone sets it’s course for home – to the point it’s hovering exactly where it started.
With the app alone, you can fly the Bebop 2 up to around 300m from your phone or tablet. If you want to extend that, you can either use the Flight Plan functionality (which I’ll come onto later) or purchase a Skycontroller to go with the drone.
Add the Skycontroller for the ultimate piloting experience
So, at this point you might be wondering – what’s the point of the Skycontroller? Given it’s £200 premium on the standalone device, you could be tempted into believing it adds little to the device other than a couple of joysticks. Don’t be fooled!
The Skycontroller gives you much quicker access to all in-flight functions. Not only that, though – thanks to the massive antenna planted on the top of it, you now get an impressive 2km of range within which you can control the drone and see a live video feed. How realistic was this? Well, in my experience it was largely down to the local area. In open fields with few or no trees surrounding, you’d fairly easily achieve between 1.0 and 1.5km – 2km was probably a little optimistic on Parrot’s part but that’s not to say nobody has achieved it! If you’ve got buildings or trees within your path between the drone and Skycontroller, in some instances you’d be lucky to get 500m range. However, do bear in mind that if you use Flight Plan, the drone can fly without you being in range at all – and even if you’re flying manually, the Bebop 2 is configured to fly home automatically if it is out of range and receives no further commands after a pre-determined period of time (30 seconds by default).
The controls on the Skycontroller are nothing short out outstanding – it’s a well designed piece of kit. All of the buttons are in the right places and the ability to move the drone both up and down and from side to side with physical joysticks does make the experience a little more fun and fulfilling in my view.
The Skycontroller also gives a greater level of control over the onboard camera thanks to the dedicated analogue stick in the top right corner. This allows you to alter the camera angle of the Bebop 2 while in flight – something that is slightly more difficult on the app but not necessarily impossible.
Flight Plan provides autonomous flight – flawlessly
The final core add-on, as such, for the Bebop 2 is the Flight Plan. This is a software add-on (in-app purchase) for both the iOS and Android versions of FreeFlight 3. What this does is allow you to preconfigure a point-to-point flight on your device before the drone even takes off.
The functionality is very extensive. At each point that you determine satellite map, you can set preferences such as the height of the drone at each point, the speed that the drone travels between each point and any extra commands you’d like the drone to undertake while at each point (such as rotating the drone, altering the camera angle and taking a picture).
If you’re looking to get really professional footage or a first-class birds eye view, you will want to invest in the Flight Plan in-app purchase. At £14.99, it’s pretty expensive for a software add-on, but it adds so much to the drone and allows you to fly it far further without worrying about whether the drone will go out of WiFi range.
The Parrot Bebop 2 alone is a massive improvement and, in my opinion, by the far the easiest drone to fly on the market. Top it off with the fun and feel of the Skycontroller and the epic intelligence of the Flight Plan and you’ve got yourself an amazing flying experience that never gets old!
It isn’t the most advanced drone you can buy and there are better cameras on the market – but as a toy or semi-professional filming drone, it does an outstanding job!