Earlier in the month, we took a look at the first Parrot Mini-Drone, the Jumping Sumo. While neat in execution, I was still left scratching my head at the end of it while I tried to figure out what its best application was. There’s no such line of questioning with its sister product: The Rolling Spider. The Spider is versatile enough to play with indoors and outdoors, and if you get stuck somewhere, you can just fly out of it.
The Rolling Spider is definitely an outdoor vehicle, unless your home has high vault ceilings, or nothing in danger of breaking. The device is a miniature version of its other drone devices, and one that is far more affordable and easier to take with you. The “Rolling” element of the Spider are the giant plastic wheels that come with the device. However, it is completely optional, and you can fly the drone as though it’s a stand alone mini-quad copter if you don’t want to strap the wheels on. The four propellers at the top of the device have it take flight very easily.
Setting up the device is far easier than the Jumping Sumo was. Since there is no transmission of localized video (the only camera on the device is just a sensor to help it determine how close/far it is from the ground,) it doesn’t take up your Wifi signal. You simply download the FreeFlight 3 app from the applicable App Store for your Smartphone, and open it while the device is on. That’s basically it. The device will configure and set itself up, and you’re pretty well ready to go.
Unlike the other crazy flying contraptions I’ve played with and reviewed here, this one is so ridiculously simple that it doesn’t even come with an instruction manual. Just place it down on the ground, and then tap the “Take Off” button to have it take liftoff. Seriously, that’s it. This specific app relies on your finger impressions on the virtual controllers on the app, and it responds accordingly. Unlike the Jumping Sumo’s control scheme through motion sensing which way you were tilting your smartphone for turns, this one is solely flight controlled by your fingertips.
The learning curve on this one is mere seconds. As long as you aren’t facing a strong headwind (it can falter a bit in wind because it’s so light,) the Rolling Spider is so responsive that there isn’t any lead time or latency, so you are basically controlling on a dime, and don’t have to worry about accidentally steering it into the bushes because it kept going after you let up on the controls. You can even have it automatically land with the push of a button, or if you find it veering too far off course, you can hit the “emergency” button and it cuts the power that second. That’s probably something I would do with only the wheels on. The wheels are large enough that it will cushion the impact, whereas you’re basically asking the drone to just fall out of the sky on itself without. Just be a bit careful where you land the device. Since there is power source or brakes to stop the wheels (which just clip onto a plastic bar,) landing it on a downhill slant means you’re going to have to go running for it once it lands and takes off. You won’t be able to apply opposite pressure on some downhill scenarios either since the Spider won’t be able to gather enough accelerating momentum to oppose the downhill velocity. I felt quite silly chasing after the Spider the first time I did this, let alone the second and third.
Despite its name, I’d say the Spider is more “flying” than “rolling.” With the wheels on, it CAN drive along the ground if you land it and and power it on by pressing “down” on the virtual control pad. You can then steer it and drive it along the ground. Likewise, if you get adventurous enough to fly it inside the house, you can drive it along the ceiling that way. Your ceiling’s really in no danger since the wheels are huge.
The Rolling Spider is capable of doing some flips too, and while it doesn’t do as many stunts as the Sumo does, it’s still pretty darn cool to watch it flip from side to side, and with just a quick action on the app.
Putting this side by side against the Jumping Sumo, I admit I quite enjoyed the diversity of the Rolling Spider more than its sister device. I’m a little bit disappointed that they couldn’t somehow put a camera on this one too, though I suppose it would have been a bit of a safety or privacy issue. The Rolling Spider is capable of flying approximately 65 feet away from you, and fairly high too, so you can sort of put 2 and 2 together there in terms of what you could/shouldn’t be filming.
I suspect this is going to be a sticking point for reviewers and purchasers alike, but the battery life on this is non-existent. It doesn’t take very long to charge (around 25-30 minutes total through a USB to mini USB connection,) but in return, it doesn’t last very long. Part of the charm of the Rolling Spider is how light it is (even with the battery in,) but in turn, you only get around 10 minutes of battery life. In my time with the device, this was all too familiar a message.
It’s my hope that Parrot perhaps looks at selling a longer lasting battery in the future. Even something with battery life similar to the Jumping Sumo (20 minutes) would be an improvement. I also didn’t notice a power button on this anywhere. I never really realized what a convenient feature a power switch or button could be until I realized this didn’t have one, and I’d have to either remove the battery, or it would just stay on and run itself down to dead. That was kind of annoying and took away from the portability factor a bit if you just wanted to take the quad-copter with you on the go. Otherwise, all looked good. I’d recommend this device to anybody looking for a cool little gadget to kick back with. It’s simple, lightweight, and responsive enough that you don’t have to get out of your chair and run after it when it veers offcourse. Best of all, it’s a lot cheaper than the larger Parrot models, so you won’t be breaking the bank with this one at all.
The Parrot Rolling Spider is available now at Best Buy and online at BestBuy.ca