THE GOOD The Parrot MiniDrone Rolling Spider is an easy-to-pilot mini-quadcopter you control with your smartphone or tablet. Thanks to its many sensors flight is very stable — indoors or outside — and its attachable wheels protect its propellers and add some functionality.
THE BAD Flight time maxes out at 8 minutes, with a 90-minute recharge time. Only one battery is included, and there are no extra propellers or an external charger in the box. Its vertical camera only captures VGA-resolution photos. Requires a smartphone or tablet to control.
THE BOTTOM LINE If you can live with its short flight times, the affordable, smartphone-controlled Parrot MiniDrone Rolling Spider is a great quadcopter for beginners and hobbyists.
Despite appearances, the Rolling Spider isn’t an ordinary mini-quadcopter. For starters, it’s controlled entirely with your smartphone or tablet and not a typical two-stick radio controller. And it’s generally a lot of fun, except for its biggest problem: flight times of 8 minutes or less (which is the lifespan of the single included rechargeable battery).
Inside, Parrot used an ultrasonic sensor, a 3-axis gyroscope and 3-axis accelerometer, a vertical camera, and a pressure sensor, which combine to make flight very stable — indoors and outside.
Then there are the wheels that give this MiniDrone the “Rolling” part of its name. Attach the wheels to the top of the Spider and you can drive it around on the ground or even drive it up a wall and across the ceiling. While that’s fun, it’s probably more important that they give the propellers some protection while you’re flying around indoors, since those are typically the first thing you’ll need to replace.
And you will need to buy more propellers because you only get one set with the Rolling Spider. In the box along with with the MiniDrone and wheels you get one battery, a Micro-USB cable, and some stickers so you can dress up your MiniDrone. Accessories coming in September include batteries at $20 each (AU$22, £14), replacement propellers for $6 a set, and replacement wheels for $10.
Like Parrot’s larger AR.Drone quadcopters, the Rolling Spider is completely controlled with an app on your smartphone or tablet. The FreeFlight 3.0 app is available for iOS, Android, and, in October,Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone 8.1 devices; I did all my testing with a Galaxy S4 and an iPhone 5S.
The Spider connects to your phone or tablet via Bluetooth. The whole process is pretty automatic: Turn on the Spider, turn on Bluetooth on your device, and open the app. It should automatically connect to your device and once it does you launch the controller and you’re off.
For flying, which can be done with or without the wheels attached, you tap the Take Off button and it will start the propellers and send the Spider straight up and start hovering. And it does this out of the box unlike other mini-quadcopters. There’s no need to adjust trim or anything else: It will just hover in place, which is a big reason why it’s so easy to fly.
In its default Normal mode, the joystick on the right lets you raise and lower the Spider as well as rotate it left and right. To move it forward, back, left, and right, you keep your thumb pressed down on the right joystick and tilt your device the direction you want it to go. If it starts to travel somewhere you don’t want it to, don’t panic, just lift your thumbs off the controls and it will stop and hover.