(Pocket-lint) - Parrot has been building quadcopters for years, hence it long been regarded as one of the go-to drone makers in the market. That's especially true for consumers on smaller budgets.
Recently, the company announced its first huge fixed-wing drone. But it is also focused on the opposite end of the market and has also updated its range of smaller, indoor friendly drones. One of which is the X-Wing-esque Parrot Swing.
Parrot Swing review: Design
- 160 x 78 x 9.8mm, 295g
- Polystyrene wings
- Plastic centre shell
Parrot tried something a bit different with its latest small drone. Rather than go with a standard four-arm quadcopter that can only face one way, the Swing can fly with its propellers pointing upwards or forward. In other words, it can either look like a regular quad-copter, or more like an X-Wing Fighter.
To keep it light, the Swing's arms are built from a type of polystyrene. These big blade-like wings are slim but wide in order to maximise surface area. This design means they can act as wings when the Swing flips 90 degrees to fly in its plane mode.
It goes without saying that these slanting arms (or wings) make up the most of the drone's surface area. They're attached by a slim plastic skeleton to the brain of the drone, which sits inside a small, shuttle-like chassis to the centre.
The front of this plastic shuttle has a face, or rather, two eye-like LED lights. These flash different colours to notify you of the drone's status. For instance, they're solid green when connected to the controller, or red when the battery can't keep it flying any longer.
There's a camera, micro USB and pressure sensor on the opposite end to the shuttle, while the underside is a mostly hollow rounded plastic case.
Parrot Swing review: The tech
- Ultrasound sensor to measure altitude
- 550mAh removable battery
- 0.3-megapixel camera
For what is essentially a Christmas gift kind of toy, there's some impressive tech inside Parrot's mini drone. A collection of sensors can measure altitude and ensure the Swing stays in the air.
Inside, there's a 3-axis accelerometer and 3-axis gyroscope to measure its speed, tilt, and how hard it's hit an obstacle. There's also an ultrasound sensor underneath which can measure how far away the ground is, as long as you don't fly it above four metres.
As you'd expect, you don't get the same high-tech obstacle avoidance or wind resistance you'd find in a more professional drone, which limits where and how you can fly the Swing.
Parrot Swing review: Control
- Included flypad controller
- Up to 60m range
- Android or iPhone app (20m range)
There are two ways to control the Swing. You can either use your smartphone by downloading the control app, or use the included Parrot Flypad controller. The advantage of the Flypad is that you get up to 60 metres range, whereas your smartphone's connection will likely max out at 20 metres.
Using the included control pad is about as easy as you could hope for. There's a dedicated physical take-off and landing button, which takes the Swing drone up a couple of feet from the ground where it hovers steadily.
Once airborne, the pad's left joystick controls the height and rotation of the drone. The right joystick controls the directional movements.
There are other buttons too. The 1, 2, B and A buttons are all pre-programmed patterns that take the drone on a preset path. R1 takes a photo, while L1 performs a U-turn. Pressing-and-holding R2 or L2 will switch the drone to its plane mode, with its propellers and nose facing forwards for fly speeds up to 18.4mph.
While you only get one third of the potential range using your phone, the downloadable app is very easy to use, with a setup that's almost as easy as using the included controller. Launch the app then pair automatically via Bluetooth - as long as the drone is on, your phone should pick it up for pairing.
In addition to the two huge virtual joysticks on screen, there's an automatic take-off and landing button, alongside a number of settings for changing elements like maximum height and speed.
Parrot Swing: Easy flying
- Automatic take-off and landing
- Battery lasts a few minutes
- Second battery included
- 30-minute recharge time
While the Swing is not explicitly designed for exclusive indoor use, its size and weight mean it's much easier to fly indoors than a "proper" drone. It's also so small and light that any wind outdoors will easily send it off course, into a tree, shed, or person.
Being so small and light means it's very responsive though. For the most part, that's what you want in a drone. You want to know that your joystick control results in a swift, fast movement. But in a confined space, that's not always a good thing: we crashed into a few windows, door frames and ceilings by generally trying to be a bit too clever.
When the Swing drone detects impact it tends to shut off the propellers and go in to freefall, which sounds a lot worse than it is. Its size and weight mean that when it does fall, there's no real damage upon impact with the ground. It's not really heavy enough to break; it generally just falls like a feather and lands on its side.
The biggest negative about flying the drone is that while you're getting to grips with the controller and drone response, the battery dies. Fortunately there's a second spare one in the box, but it's still not quite enough.
Parrot claims the battery can last up to seven minutes in regular quad-copter flight mode, or eight and a half minutes in plane mode. But we found it didn't come close. Indeed, most of the time, five minutes was the average, if not less. And with a 30-minute recharge per battery there's some waiting around to be done after just 10 minutes of fun!
On the whole, the Parrot Swing is a fun toy. At its £120 asking price it's not hideously expensive as drones go - certainly a fraction of what you'd pay for a high-end model.
For that money there are plenty of features: it can take (really bad) photos, it can take off and land on its own, it's very easy to fly, and the plane mode is a hoot.
If you're looking at drones as a serious investment and want to get to grips with something small and light before ponying up the cash for a DJI Phantom Pro or Mavic Pro, it's a sensible starter option.
Or if you just want something to fly around your house or back yard, it's a fun option. Just get used to the idea that you'll be swapping the battery out every few minutes and waiting for recharges and you'll be fine.