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Posted by on Jul 24, 2015

Parrot’s Bebop: here’s a drone with first-person video that costs less than $500

Parrot’s Bebop: here’s a drone with first-person video that costs less than $500

The Parrot Bebop drone flying around the UC Berkeley campus

The Parrot Bebop drone flying around the UC Berkeley campus. Sally French/The Drone Coalition

“I want a drone! Which one should I buy? Also it needs to include a camera — and cost under $500.”

This is the dreaded question — and drone enthusiasts have probably heard it all too often from family of friends. Quite simply, until recently there was nothing I would have recommended that would fit that bill.

Well, it was a dreaded question, until I took the new Parrot Bebop drone for a spin.

01

Taking the Bebop out for a test flight.

For $499, the Parrot Bebop  is an impossibly cute little drone that’s ready to fly out of the box. It has a surprisingly powerful 14-megapixel camera mounted in the drone’s nose that shoots 1080p video.

02

Batteries are uncomplicated and connect to the drone, tucked in with a velcro strap.

Batteries easily connect by way of Velcro strap and a machine that turns on and off with the tap of a power button, (rather than disconnecting the battery). Each battery lasts 11 minutes and you’ll receive two — for more than 20 minutes of flight time in one go.

It’s lightweight and quite small — ideal for packing along during a hiking trip to take that video flying up the side of a cliff or waterfall, or great for throwing in your car for the road trip to the beach.

The Bebop is highly durable — and predominantly foam (with optional foam bumpers), so the Bebop is (mostly) safe for the kids to use — and for you to not fear crashing.

The $499 version of the Bebop is controlled through an app made for your mobile device that functions similarly to a traditional RC transmitter.

03

The drone syncs with your mobile device through its own wifi.

But like all things in life, you get what you pay for with the Bebop.

It’s unfair to compare the Bebop (and its problems) with other drones like the Phantom or the Typhoon, because you’re paying less than half the price for the Bebop. And for someone coming from a history of flying more powerful drones, there are problems with the Bebop.

Not using the $900 package with Skycontroller? You’ll be using your mobile phone (like my friend Curtis, pictured here).

The $499 model doesn’t come with an RC transmitter, so you have to use the mobile app. With that, you risk losing battery on your phone, the signal cutting out, and not being able to Snapchat and/or Periscope your flight (kidding on the Snapchat one, sort of) since your phone is in use. The phone also doesn’t allow as precise a control as you would with a typical controller.

Your phone shows you the view from the Parrot's camera in a first-person-view.

Your phone shows you the view from the Parrot’s camera in a first-person-view.

If you want the Skycontroller, you’ll have to pay $900 for the whole bundle (while still using your phone as a way of viewing the live video feed). The controller is large and clunky, defeating the Bebop’s charm of being lightweight and affordable.

The Parrot drone doesn’t seem to have any apparent, broad practical applications that make it worth the time for someone looking to use their drone commercially.

But for someone looking for a hobby drone and who doesn’t want to drop $1,000+ on a flying camera to tote around just for family vacations, the Parrot Bebop is a no-brainer. It’s pleasant to fly. It’s light, small and sold at a low price.

07

The RC transmitter is quite large, like holding a laptop. There is a strap to hold the transmitter (not pictured).

Parrot is a unique company with an interesting backstory. Five years ago, they were the first to introduce a “real, ready-to-fly” drone to the consumer market with its $299 AR.Drone. Some say the French drone maker has been eclipsed by behemoth DJI, maker of the “Phantom” drone which is now used for search and rescue missions, crop monitoring, advertising and more.

But Parrot has found a niche — low-cost drones that are clearly toys. In June, the company even announced a lineup of $100 mini-drones for users who enjoy flying but aren’t interested in the 1080p video. Unlike its competitors, which often state that their products are not intended for people under the age of 18 or for use indoors, Parrot admits they’re creating a drone that is intended to be a toy — and market to families, hobbyists and even kids.

And a fine toy  the Bebop is. If you want to get into drones as a hobby and want to spend less than $500, the Bebop is the one for you. Buy the $499 Parrot, skip the Skycontroller (and stick to your mobile device to control it) and happy flying!