Parrot Rolling Spider MiniDrone Review

Parrot Rolling Spider MiniDrone Review

The Parrot Rolling Spider MiniDrone  is an ultracompact drone, controlled by your smartphone, that builds off of the company’s successful Parrot AR.Drone series of quadcopters. Parrot released the Rolling Spider in early August 2014 in the U.S. along with the Jumping Sumo, a rolling bot that is part of its MiniDrone lineup. Our experience with the Rolling Spider has been great so far – it is easy to fly, well designed, and tons of fun! However, its battery leaves something to be desired and it certainly is not perfect… read on for our full Parrot Rolling Spider MiniDrone review! After you’ve had a chance to read our review and fly your own, let us know if we should add it to our Best Quadcopters page as well!

Straight out of the box and ready for the Parrot Rolling Spider Review!

Packaging

The Parrot Rolling Spider MiniDrone comes in a small, square box and includes everything that you need to start flying immediately, including:

  • Parrot Rolling Spider MiniDrone quadcopter (Available in Red, White, or Blue)
  • 1 battery pack (X.X Volts and XXX mAh battery)
  • Two wheels and one axle (to enable flying against walls and preventing hard crashes)
  • MicroUSB charging cable
  • 1 set of stickers
  • Quick start guide/instructions

The packaging is well designed and should be delivered securely without any issues. For those in retail settings, there is not a clear plastic window or any way to view the actual quadcopter without opening the box – though at most Brookstone and Apple stores there should be a demo model available for customers to see and play with. The box itself is quite light (as is the quadcopter and battery), though part of this is due to the fact that there is no remote controller included as is the case for many other quadcopter models. Parrot released a pretty good video showing the unboxing and a brief bit on the flying of the Rolling Spider MiniDrone:

Parrot Rolling Spider Design

The Rolling Spider Robot is a fairly small quadcopter – I would say it falls in the small-mid size range for most consumer level quadcopters. If you are familiar with other models, it is slightly larger than a Hubsan X4, but slightly smaller than a Syma X1 quadcopter. Its dimensions are roughly 5.5″ by 5.5″ (140mm) and about 1.5″ tall. The Rolling Spider weighs about 55 grams without the wheels, and 65 grams with them on. Parrot advertises the Rolling Spider as weighing just 1/6th of AR.Drone 2.0 which while technically true, is not as impressive when you consider that the two quadcopters are in very different size classes.

Petite, yet very capable

The frame of the Rolling Spider is a plastic composite and appears to be well designed and durable. Unlike many quadcopters, which use one solid piece of plastic to connect the four propellers to the frame, the Rolling Spider frame is hollowed out in areas with diagonal trusses for strength. The housing surrounding the main part of the quadcopter (with electronics inside) is plastic as well. On the bottom of the corners of the frame, right below the propeller motors, are four rubber feet – standard on quadcopters to absorb some of the shock when landing.

One very unique aspect of the Rolling Spider design is the addition of the rolling wheels. The wheels are connected to an axle which attaches to the top of the quadcopter, snapping in firmly. The wheels serve two purposes as I see them. First, they protect the quadcopter while flying indoors. Since they jut out farther than the propellers do, there is little chance of breaking a propeller while flying and hitting something inadvertently. Secondly, the wheels enable the Rolling Spider to roll across the floor, “climb” up the wall, and roll across a ceiling. Whereas other quadcopters’ protective rings or hulls (like in the Hubsan X4 or the Parrot AR.Drone) would protect the propellers from breaking most of the time, they would also oftentimes cause the craft to crash. With the Rolling Spider, you can just keep flying or skimming across whatever surface you encountered.

The wheels snap into the axle, and the axle clips into the frame. I only had it come off once in several flights after a crash.

The propellers look fairly standard, though it is a bit disappointing that Parrot did not include an extra set in the package. Even with the wheels (which you won’t always want to use), you will soon break or damage propellers so I would highly recommend pre-emptively purchasing an extra set or two. The motors in the Rolling Spider MiniDrone are standard as well and typical of what you would see in a fairly low cost quadcopter.

The Parrot's propellers are slightly larger and more angular than the Hubsan's

The Rolling Spider has two large LED lights on the front of the aicraft, which are the drone’s eyes! Parrot included a range of different mouth stickers so that the consumer can personalize or customize the quadcopter as they see fit. Personally I think that it is a little cheesy, but I’m sure for the younger crowd it will be a hit and I’m guessing that the company just wanted to make these “drones” appear to be more life-life and human as well.

Quadcopter off, no decals applied yet

The battery slides into the main housing of the quadcopter through the back, and clips firmly into place. There is no connector to attach like in the Hubsan X4, or loose wires to fold in, which is a nice feature. To charge the battery, you have to have the battery in the Rolling Spider itself, and then use a USB/micro-USB cable to provide power to it. When charging, the left eye (right, from your perspective) of the Rolling Spider MiniDrone will be a constant glowing red. I actually still haven’t figured out whether there is an indicator of when the battery is fully charged, which seems like a major oversight if the LEDs don’t correspond.

Size comparison with the Hubsan X4 H107C quadcopter

Overall, the Parrot MiniDrone Rolling Spider is a solidly designed aircraft. It is very light, appears to be strong, and packs in a few technological features that other quadcopters at this price point usually don’t have (more on that later).

Flying

The Parrot Rolling Spider is very easy to fly, once you acquaint yourself with the FreeFlight 3.0 app that controls the drone (note: don’t accidentally download the old 2.X app, which only works with the AR.Drone!). To begin, you insert the charged battery in the back of the quadcopter and the lights at the front of the craft will turn green and glow. Then, power up your smartphone (Parrot provides a list of compatible devices, which include all major iOS and Android devices) and open the FreeFlight app. Make sure that you have Bluetooth on, as this is the only way to connect with the Rolling Spider. If the stars are aligned, your device will automatically pair with the drone and you’re in action!

Very simple user interface

The FreeFlight system takes a few minutes to learn, especially if you’re used to just piloting standard R/C aircraft with the two joysticks. To begin, you hit the TakeOff button at the lower center of the screen, and the MiniDrone will automatically ascend a few feet and hover in place. This is the first indication that this is no Hubsan X4 or Syma X1 quadcopter, which require manual control at all times. The Parrot Rolling Spider incorporates some advanced technology that keeps it centered and at a stable elevation.

Once airborne, you control the height and horizontal orientation via the left thumb control – place your thumb on the center of the control, and slide it up to gain elevation, down to lower in elevation, left to make the quadcopter face left, and right to spin it to the right. The other thumb control, on the right, controls the actual horizontal movement though it does so with the help of the device’s internal gyroscope. To move the Rolling Spider forward, you place your thumb on the control and tilt your phone forward and away from you; for each direction, tilt your phone the applicable way. Parrot did a solid job of explaining this in an online video series on YouTube – check it out here:

I was surprised, however, that there was literally no information in the instructions or “Quick Start Guide” about how to pilot the aircraft. I first tried to figure it out without watching any videos, and while it worked out it took a bit to figure out the tilt control. I imagine there will be many owners who will try and play with their toy immediately and spend some time a bit frustrated before they look at the online videos; a simple description in the included instructions could have easily solved that problem.

But back to the actual flying – the Rolling Spider is a blast to fly. It is responsive and easy to maneuver once you figure out how to actually do it, and the controls work fairly well (at least with my iPhone 5s!). There are tons of settings in the FreeFlight 3.0 app, including setting height limits, increasing the speed of the quadcopter, adjusting sensitivity, compensating for having the wheels on or off, etc. You can also record video (shot from your smartphone’s camera) and take still, downward-facing, pictures from the Rolling Spider through the app.

Parrot Rolling Spider has an ultrasonic sensor on the bottom to assist in flying and maintaining elevation

The clip-on wheels look a bit out of place at first, but they prove their worth when flying indoors. They enable the drone to bump into walls without interrupting flight or inflicting damage, and allow for flying along ceilings and walls with relative ease. I’m not sure this is a great feature in and of itself (shouldn’t we be avoiding walls and just, flying the thing rather than having it crawl like a …spider?), but they do offer a good amount of protection for the propellers so that is a plus. I have to say, it is absurd that Parrot didn’t include an extra set of props with the Rolling Spider. Even with the wheels, they will break, twist, or become deformed relatively quickly and it is fairly standard for quadcopter manufacturers to include an extra set in the original packaging. They cost nearly nothing to manufacture, yet they always sell at a hefty markup – which leads me to believe that Parrot didn’t include an extra set just to help with their accessory sales.

Battery and Charging

As mentioned before, charging is done through the quadcopter itself, via a micro-USB cable. Parrot says that it takes approximately 1.5 hours to charge the battery, which lasts roughly 8 minutes in flying time. To be honest, this is one area with the biggest letdown for the Rolling Spider. Even at eight minutes, that is a fairly short flight time, but in my (albeit limited) testing so far, I’ve gotten flight times as low as 5 minutes, under fairly normal flying conditions (not excessively aggressive or quick, and all indoor).

Reminds me of a GoPro battery (or any camera battery, really)

The battery itself is a 3.7V 550mAh 2Wh Lithium Polymer (Li-Po) battery, which is pretty much the standard type for quadcopters. I am quite surprised as the low battery life though, especially when compared to a Hubsan X4 H107C – the Hubsan does weigh a few grams less (50 vs 55), but it comes with a significantly smaller battery (380mAh) yet provides essentially the same, or better, flight time (with video recording). I imaging the reason for the Parrot’s flight time and increased energy usage is due to its more advanced technology and integrated sensors.

Internals of the Rolling Spider MiniDrone - battery contacts are on the right; LED wires can also be seen

Remote Control and App

Since there is no actual remote, there isn’t much to say on this section – it is quite a change to pilot a quadcopter with a phone, but it is intuitive and works fairly well. I think that a traditional R/C controller could offer you more sensitivity and finesse for those more proficient in flying, but on the flip side it also takes much more skill to learn how to do that. The Rolling Spider is certainly designed for those with little to no familiarity with quadcopters or any aerial flying devices, and could easily be used by a young child or an older adult (looking at you, Martha).

The app seems polished and offers a lot of options, though I haven’t yet explored them all; more to come on FreeFlight in future posts and additional Parrot Rolling Spider reviews!

Final Verdict

The Parrot MiniDrone Rolling Spider is a well-constructed, easy-to-fly, and plain old fun quadcopter. Its “smart” technologies make it much more accessible for beginners, though they do take some of the skill out of flying (no need to learn how to take off or land anymore!). The wheels are innovative and useful, and the mobile device controls are intuitive and certainly make sense in our connected world.

Available in white too!

But is the Rolling Spider worth the current retail price of $100? That will ultimately be up to the consumer to decide, and I am very interested to see the results and initial sales forecasts. On one hand, you can buy a comparable sized quadcopter that could likely outperform the Parrot Rolling Spider for under $40, with plenty of inexpensive aftermarket accessories, spare batteries, etc. So on that measure, the Rolling Spider is overpriced and inferior! But, the other models lack the advanced features (and mobile device control) that make the drone so accessible and appealing to wide ranges of people – quadcopters have certainly gone far beyond the traditional techie/nerd realm that they have traditionally flown in.

$100 is still a lot though, for what amounts to a fun, but ultimately, unproductive toy. Unlike its larger cousin the AR.Drone, the Rolling Spider doesn’t really do photos or video – and even if it did, it would be nowhere near the level of the DJI Phantom. Parrot is planning on going after the aerial videography market more seriously this fall, with the Parrot Bebop Drone, so stay tuned on that – but that’s a whole different story.

What do you all think? Is the Rolling Spider a good value and a smart buy given the quadcopter options out right now? Will they sell many units and usher in a new era of consumer quadcopter frenzy? Let us know what you think in the comments, and we hope you enjoyed our Parrot Rolling Spider review!

Where to Buy

Parrot launched the Rolling Spider quadcopter online and in several retail outlets, including:

As of 8/7/14, only a few of these retailers were actually selling them (online), and at least in the United States they were not available at all in-stores. Parrot could have done a better job about communicating the product availability during the launch, as we tried unsuccessfully to locate one locally in person. Parrot customer support couldn’t tell us where they would be sold, or even if they were sold, just that it was “definitely available and launched” yet the majority of stores weren’t shipping them yet. In any event, Apple quickly shipped our Rolling Spider about a day after the order. I can’t tell if this was due to a limited supply, a bungled rollout, or just general issues with marketing and selling a new product.

Update: at the end of September 2014, the Parrot Rolling Spider is now much more widely available. We recommend purchasing through Amazon.com if you want it delivered quick and hassle free, or from one of the physical retail stores if you prefer to try it out or at least see it in person before buying. Hope you all have enjoyed the Parrot Rolling Spider Minidrone Review and please post any comments or questions!