Parrot Bebop Drone 2 review: Better than the original, but still shy of greatness

Maybe it’s the design, or its size and weight, or chances are you will find it sold as a phone accessory like you would find it in a toy store or the camera department of a large retailer, but Bebop 2 by Parrot is one of the least intimidating drones you will find. Even less than most toy drones, as it takes off and lands on its own and has no problem hovering in place indoors or out.

The fact that it is controlled with a phone or tablet definitely helps. Flying with the touchscreen isn’t the best experience, but honestly handing someone a regular remote for the first time probably isn’t better. Instead of toggles, switches and buttons, you’re tapping a screen and sliding your thumbs or simply tilting your phone in the direction you want it to fly. The mobile app is free, but you can make an in-app purchase of $ 20 to unlock more advanced flight plan features, which allow you to set waypoints to follow for the Bebop 2 among other things.

The quadcopter is small enough to fit in a medium backpack and at just over a kilo (500 grams) it is easy to carry. Apart from the propellers there are no moving parts, which increases his chances of surviving an accident. The ABS body is reinforced with fiberglass to make it even more resistant. It’s also one of the safest drones you’ll find with flexible plastic propellers that stop the moment something hits them.

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The Bebop 2 is mainly piloted with a smartphone or tablet.

Parrot

Because of these things, the Bebop 2 is perhaps more of a toy and less of a serious photo drone like the DJI Phantom 3 Standard, which currently shares the $ 500 price tag of the Bebop 2. (The Bebop sells for AU $ 900 in Australia and £ 440 in the UK, while the DJI is AU $ 859 and £ 449.) And frankly, if the aerial photos and High quality videos are the most important thing, you look better with the Ghost 3 Standard. (Flight plan capabilities similar to the Bebop’s also don’t cost more with the Standard.)

Consider the Bebop 2 if you want something more family-friendly. One you won’t worry too much about when you pass the checks on to a friend for the first time flying. A camera drone that can get decent videos and photos to share, but also survive accidents and jump through hoops with a couple of taps on the screen.

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The Bebop 2 is piloted with a smartphone or tablet, but the distance depends on the conditions.

Joshua Goldman / CNET

I actually tested two different Bebop 2. The first was a preproduction unit that, like the original Bebop I reviewed, occasionally lost its wireless signal in flight. Not really something you would like to happen when there are hundreds of feet in the air or on a body of water. Parrot said this was a defect of the early models and not a typical experience.

To confirm this, I tested a second unit and, in fact, did not encounter any interruptions during the test. This could be due to its newer firmware, or there was something wrong with the first drone, or maybe both. All I know is that the second Bebop 2 I tested worked fine.

Parrot claims that it is possible to fly the Bebop 2 up to 300 meters away (about 985 feet) using a mobile device. This is also an average, so it can potentially go even further or not reach that mark. The distance will vary depending on everything from trees and buildings to other wireless signal traffic to the device you are using. How you hold the device can also determine the quality of the signal.

In mind, I tested using the latest installed firmware (version 3.2.0) with a iPad Air 2 in an open field surrounded by trees in a densely populated area (i.e. with a lot of wireless signals) and was able to get it out more than 200 meters before the video stopped. Could he have flown farther? Probably, and I may even have received the video feed. But I played it safe and called it back using the Auto Return Home option. The point is how far you will be able to fly with the Bebop 2 depends on your environment and your device.

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Parrot’s Skycontroller increases the Bebop’s flight range, but also empties your wallet.

Joshua Goldman / CNET

For the best range and physical controls, you can spend a couple of hundred dollars more for Parrot’s huge and awkward Skycontroller. It has full controls for the drone and an amplified Wi-Fi radio at the top that lets you fly up to 1.2 miles (2 kilometers), assuming conditions are absolutely perfect. However, the FreeFlight mobile app is installed on it, 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 that allows you to connect an external display to see what the camera sees, and also supports headphones to fully immerse yourself in first-person flight (FPV).

However, the Skycontroller isn’t your only option for physical controls. You can take a Bluetooth game controller and use it to pilot via your tablet or phone. Parrot has a tutorial on how to set it up and some suggested controllers.

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