The Parrot Bebop is an excellent drone for beginners and is the perfect model for demonstrating why has drones have become so popular. The touchscreen controls, easy media sharing, data logging mechanics, and the technological finesse add up to a platform that marks an integral step in consumer drones. That being said, it carries a serious price tag, especially if you include the Skycontroller, and its camera, while respectable, will quickly become obsolete with no way to upgrade it.
The Bebop is still a hell of a lot of fun and the best option for beginners who want a complete drone/camera combo but don’t want to spend $1,000.
What’s in the Box?
- 1 Skycontroller
- 1 Bebop drone
- 3 1200mAh/20C 3 cells Li-Po batteries
- 1 battery charger
- 1 micro USB cable
- 2 propeller guards
- 4 extra propellers
- 1 propeller mounting tool
- 1 Skycontroller neck strap
- 1 sunshade cover for tablets (with adapter for iPad mini)
- 1 dock adapter for 7″ tablets
It’s extremely convenient that the Skycontroller uses the same batteries as the Bebop itself. Unsurprisingly, the battery I used on the drone died much faster than the one on the Skycontroller, so the third battery was used to replace the one on board when I was flying.
The extra propellers are basically an industry standard at this point, but I never had to replace a single one despite some impressive crashes.
Obviously, if you opt for the package that does not include the Skycontroller, you won’t get the tablet accessories or the third battery.
Camera – The Fisheye in the Sky
The Bebop has a 14 megapixel, 180 degree, fisheye lens camera and takes 1080p video at 30 fps. Because the camera is fixed to the nose of the drone, I was initially skeptical about the stability of the image capture but the fisheye lens and digital stabilization algorithm compensates for the camera’s fixed position and makes for a remarkably stable picture. Color me impressed.
The fixed camera also threw me off when I went to control it. I could move the camera to the right without repositioning the drone, thanks again to that stabilization algorithm. It’s incredibly cool tech but it was a little disorienting sometimes – you can lose track of which way the camera is pointing because the drone doesn’t necessarily move when you move the camera left and right.
The resolution does leave something to be desired and there is a slight, but not unexpected, delay in the video feed.
At the end of the day, the pictures and video I collected weren’t bad but, when compared to footage from a GoPro Hero 4 or any custom drone HD camera, it doesn’t quite hold up.
Minor gripe: I was disappointed to discover I couldn’t transfer media between the Bebop and my MacBook without installing Android File Transfer. This meant I had to connect to a Windows PC in order to clear out older pictures after I filled the Bebop’s 8 GB of memory.
Parrot’s signature feature has always been the ability to pilot its drones with an app on your smartphone or tablet. For the release of the Bebop (as well as Parrot’s micro-drones) a brand new Free Flight app was launched and it is by far the sleekest and most feature-rich drone piloting app on the market.
The app is easily navigated, includes links for user tutorials, an automatic flight log, and a map of your local area that shows you where others have flown Parrot drones.
It’s pretty cool to see other drone flyers in your area but, at the same time, its a little creepy that the app lets you see flight data and the exact coordinates of other user’s flights… which usually means you can find out exactly where they live.
In any case, the main function of the app is the control interface for the drone and, as it turns out, the controls work pretty well. There is a very clear button for auto-takeoff and auto-land. Like the AR 2.0 before it, you can use the touch screen controls like virtual joysticks or your device’s gyroscope to control the roll of the Bebop. And, like the AR 2.0, the gyroscope isn’t quite as precise as the touch screen UI.
These options are controlled by the flight and piloting settings which are kind of tricky to find. There is a gear that indicates settings in the top left corner of the control screen and, once you tap it, you have to swipe right to find the rest of the settings. (There is very little indication you have to swipe right… but maybe I’m just not that observant.)
When you are flying indoors, you definitely want to change your flight setting to Hull Mode. This will stop the Bebop from trying to get a GPS lock. Without GPS lock, the Bebop relies more heavily on its downward facing camera for position hold and this results in much more stability when hovering indoors.
There are three piloting settings; Joypad which allows you to control roll, pitch, and yaw with two virtual thumb sticks, Normal which allows you to control roll with the gyroscope and Ace which is reserved for experts looking to perform some aerial stunts like flips (more on that in a minute).
I found I was most comfortable using the Joypad setting in Hull Mode when flying indoors, but it really comes down to personal preference.
Of course none of this matters if you have…
Parrot’s first forray into physical controllers (versus digital) is, in my opinion, the best control scheme they have ever developed. Instead of the traditional black or white rectangular controller that has become pretty standard for consumer drones, Parrot opted for a two handed behemoth. It is larger and heavier than expected, but all the flight and camera controls are all built into the controller – you never have to move your hand away from the control sticks to fiddle with you phone or tablet.
What’s more, the battery life of both the Bebop and the Skycontroller, as well as the strength of the WiFi signal and the status of the camera, are all clearly displayed with little LEDs along the bottom of the controller.
Speaking of WiFi, the Skycontroller includes four additional dedicated WiFi chips (the drone itself is equipped with two) that extend the range of the video transmission to roughly 2km.
The main body of the Skycontroller easily adjusts to house your tablet or smartphone and has an HDMI, USB, and micro-USB port in the back for easy image download/display.
Finally, the Skycontroller is compatible with most FPV goggles and has several buttons and a stand alone joystick (on the left shoulder of the controller) specifically for navigating an FPV heads-up display. You must have a Skycontroller to fly the Bebop with FPV goggles.
How does it fly?
Getting a feel for the flight and piloting settings is crucial because because the Bebop is fast (it supposedly maxes out at 29 mph). So, when you are indoors, you’re going to want to use the prop guards and take it slow at first.
As I said above, I found I was most comfortable flying in Hull mode with the full Joypad activated. I liked the simulated traditional thumbsticks, but maybe I’m just old-fashioned.
Once I figured out my preferred settings, I was at a level of comfort with the Bebop that I had never really had when flying a drone indoors. I would have no concerns letting even my most technologically stunted friends give it a try.
I did notice the Bebop tends to get pretty hot (there is a warning right on the hull) after a long flight. I usually waited a minute or two before I popped in a fresh battery and never ran into a problem but I would still be careful if I was putting the Bebop through a particularly acrobatic flight.
And it is acrobatic. The first time I flew the Bebop outside with an iPad I was still getting used to it and unintentionally made the drone do some backflips which I later found out was a function only possible if the Bebop is in Ace mode.
I was a little nervous the first time this happened because it looked like the Bebop was going to fall out of the air, but it flips very gracefully and returns to its position quite smoothly.
Even if it did fall, it probably would have been ok. I accidentally hit the emergency landing button more than one time… this kills the motors and the Bebop drops like a bag of hammers. Despite the noise it makes hitting pavement, it never sustained any real damage.
Aside from the mediocre camera, the Bebop is a pretty impressive drone.
The downward facing camera keeps it extremely stable and the touch screen controls are very smooth once you get used to them.
The Bebop is agile, sturdy, and has a control scheme even the newest drone enthusiast will find intuitive. If you are looking to get into drones and understand the mechanics of aerial photography or you just want to try your hand at it before dropping thousands of dollars on a high end rig, the Bebop is the perfect place to start.
The Skycontroller is an excellent periphery and works as advertised but, unless you really want to extend the range or fly with FPV goggles, it’s hard to justify the hefty $400 price jump.
The Bebop alone, on the other hand, offer plenty of features (and hours of fun) that absolutely justify its $499 price tag.
Alan is serial entrepreneur, active angel investor, and a drone enthusiast. He co-founded DRONELIFE.com to address the emerging commercial market for drones and drone technology. Prior to DRONELIFE.com, Alan co-founded Where.com, ThinkingScreen Media, and Nurse.com. Recently, Alan has co-founded Crowditz.com, a leader in Equity Crowdfunding Data, Analytics, and Insights. Alan can be reached at alan(at)dronelife.com