Parrot Mambo Fly quadcopter

My latest toy is a Parrot Mambo Fly mini-drone. I found it in a Wirecutter article about best inexpensive drones, and ordered it from Amazon (via the Wirecutter affiliate link).

And I love it.

I’m a near-total beginner; my only previous drone experience consisted of (1) a tiny drone I bought in the UK years ago, which I never learned to control well enough to keep it flying for more than a few seconds, and (2) a drone about the size of the Mambo Fly that I tried last weekend, which was fun and a little easier to control than my old tiny one, but still hard to keep in sustained flight.

The Mambo Fly, on the other hand, does all sorts of automatic stabilization. I’m using the iPhone app controller (you can also buy a standalone controller device), and I can just tap a button that says “Take off,” and the drone automatically lifts off the ground and rises to a height of about 1 meter and just sits there in mid-air, hovering in place. Anytime you stop actively moving it with the controller, it hovers. (I haven’t yet tried it outdoors, so I don’t know how it reacts to wind.) There’s also a “Land” button that causes it to gently lower itself straight down until it lands, and there are buttons that cause it to flip over (360°) in midair—forward, backward, or to either side.

And unlike my old drone, this one needs no painstaking adjustments to stabilize it; I had it flying with no problems within about one minute of opening the box.

It has a low-resolution camera built into the underside (though the interface for retrieving photos is hard to figure out—you have to attach it to your computer via USB and treat its storage like a USB stick), and there are various accessories you can add to it, including a much better front-facing camera that lets you see from the drone’s point of view. (I didn’t get that yet; I’m not clear on whether it’s available yet.)

It’s small and portable, and the battery charges without about 30 minutes, and gives about 10 minutes of flight.

I’ve accidentally bumped it into several things while flying it around my living room, and it’s survived a bunch of falls without a problem. One of the propellers got a little stuck once when the drone landed upside down, but I tugged on it slightly and it came unstuck.

My one complaint about this drone is that it’s quite loud. But for my purposes, that’s not much of a problem.

My favorite feature is the throw-to-launch feature. You hold the drone (from the bottom) in one hand and tap a button on the phone with your other hand, and the propellers start spinning gently; then you lightly toss the drone up into the air, and it detects that it’s been launched and immediately spins up the propellers all the way, and stabilizes itself to hover in the air. It feels like magic to me.

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