The Parrot Mambo is the smallest "real" drone we've had a chance to fly and is a lot of fun either indoor or out. This drone is so tiny it can easily fit in the palm of your hand, at about five-and-a-half inches square and a little over an inch-and-a-half tall. It weighs roughly two-and-a-quarter ounces, which is surprisingly light even for a drone of this size.
The Parrot Mambo a great entry-level drone, well suited for tricks and drone racing, and comes with several accessories that are a lot of fun—the Grabber and the Cannon. You can tell the Parrot Mambo is intended for indoor use, as the Grabber is suited only for picking up small items (with a weight limitation of about four grams), and the Cannon shoots small pellets that would easily get lost in grass or gravel. Those make the Parrot Mambo a great drone for older children as well as for the adults. It will surely test your piloting skills.
The Parrot Mambo: Fun In The Palm Of Your Hand
Image via Amazon
The camera isn't sufficient to record great video or capture excellent stills (720p in not very sharp detail), but for its low price and tiny size, it's still rather impressive. The Parrot Mambo is a quadcopter-style drone that comes complete with propeller guards that will protect it from all but the most catastrophic collisions.
Though it's a lot of fun, the battery life is pretty limited—about eight to ten minutes on a charge, and about twenty-five minutes to recharge to full. While we'd expect that in a drone of this size, we wouldn't expect it to be so fast. This little drone has a top speed of around eighteen miles per hour, which makes it quite zippy (and makes the bumper-style prop guards a good feature).
The Cannon can shoot its miniature pellets up to about six feet, and as we mentioned the grabber can pick up weights up to four grams—which isn't much, but is sufficient to test your motor reflexes and flight skills by swooping in on small objects and flying away with them (we found dollar bills, business cards, and pen caps work well).
It's a very stable drone despite its diminutive size and features sensors which will enable it to hold position well in light breezes (though we did find this cut down on its flight time). You can execute barrel rolls and flips at the tap of a finger, and it has a range of about 65.5 feet (20 meters), which can be expanded to a truly impressive (for a drone of this size) 213 foot (65 meter) range with the optional Parrot Flypad controller.
Sizing Up The Competition
While this tiny drone can't really compete in the same arena as larger drones by Rival DJI, we can judge them on the aspect of "how fun is it to fly?" We've chosen three DJI drones to compare it to, and those are:
- Ease Of Use
- Design Quality
At around $120, the Parrot Mambo is a reasonable and fun first drone, good for the drone pilot frustrated by inclement weather—because it's so small, it's the perfect indoor flyer—and it won't break the bank. As one would expect, it's the cheapest drone we reviewed.
The controls really are intuitive. The Parrot Mambo is responsive and zippy, and learning how to fly this tiny powerhouse takes about as long as a single charge for most (adult) operators.
It's hard to judge a drone this small on range but for its size and for indoor flight, it is more than sufficient. We deducted points for the Parrot Mambo's battery life, which is (while reasonable for a drone this size) ultimately a little disappointing.
Though small, the Parrot Mambo is tough, sleek and aerodynamic. What more can you ask for in a mini-drone?
- 32.0MP sphere panoramas - In addition to horizontal, vertical, and 180° panoramas, Mavic Air stitches 25 photos...
- Lightweight and compact foldable design - You can take it anywhere with you.
- Supports 4K video at 30 fps - The 12.0MP camera with Adobe DNG RAW support is ready to shoot. The three-axis gimbal is...
The Mavic Air could be called an improvement over the Mavic Pro model, which is a couple of years older than the Air. It features some of the same impressive technology as the Pro for a price that's about a hundred dollars less.
The Mavic Air is smaller than the pro, 4k video capable, and has impressive obstacle avoidance technology. The Intelligent Flight lithium battery will give you about twenty minutes of flight in ideal conditions, but you will see less than that in windy or cold weather.
It has a range of around two-and-a-half line-of-sight miles, but less than that with any obstruction. We saw some interference in our tests if there was a strong source of WiFi signals nearby, which limits this drone's use anywhere crowded by people—we found a smartphone hotspot was enough to get it to be nonresponsive for a few moments, though it did recover.
The obstacle avoidance sensors are impressive but are limited to the front, sides, and bottom of the craft. The gesture mode on this drone is a lot of fun and fairly intuitive.
Still image captures are triggered with an outstretched peace sign, and video recording can be started and stopped by making a box or frame with the thumb and forefingers of either hand. The gesture control was intuitive and a lot of fun, making us want longer flight time.
- Ease Of Use
- Design Quality
At around $680, the Mavic Air can be purchased via online retailers like Amazon.
Flight control is simple and fun, and even new drone operators can pick it up with about an hour of practice (and reasonable hand-eye coordination). The gesture control is intuitive, enjoyable, and very impressive.
Due to interference from WiFi signals, we've deducted a point from the otherwise acceptable range. 2.49 miles is sufficient, as it would be tricky to safely get the drone out to the maximum range and back with the somewhat limited flight time.
The Mavic Air feels solid without being blocky, and when folded in and stored in its case is a nice, compact package that can be tossed into a backpack for a day out.
- 2-Axis Stabilized Gimbal Camera
- 12MP Still Photos / 1080p/30 Video.Maximum Ascent Speed 9.8 ft/s / 3 m/s. Maximum Descent Speed 9.8 ft/s / 3 m/s
- Gesture and TapFly Control,Maximum Speed:31 mph (50 km/h) in Sport Mode without wind
The DJI Spark, which was released in early 2017, incorporated some of the technology of the much larger Mavic Air and Mavic Pro drones, but in a much smaller form factor.
There are tradeoffs, however, in terms of reduced performance, lower image quality, and limited range. It's still a fantastic drone for casual users who are more interested in an affordable, fun drone capable of taking snapshots and video of a slightly lower quality than the Pro or Air drones are capable of. And the drone is a lot of fun.
The same type of gesture control is present in this drone as in the Mavic Air. You can take it out of its case, unfold it, and with a literal wave of the hand have it airborne and recording in about fifteen seconds in "gesture control" mode.
Gesture control is fun, but the more complex gestures and maneuvers were a little tricky for this small drone and required repeating a hand gesture multiple times before it was recognized. That said, gesture control is an impressive feature for a drone this size—no pairing needed.
The Spark's range is quite small: about 260 feet, with a ceiling of about 160 feet. It has the battery life to match its small area of movement: about fifteen minutes of flight time under still conditions, but a drone this size is easily pushed around in windy conditions, so it will likely be much less in that environment. It takes forty to fifty minutes for a full charge, so plan for that kind of downtime.
The drone will charge with a micro USB cable, but so slowly that it isn't practical for field use. We also found that nearby WiFi signals will confuse this unit in much the same way they confuse the larger Mavic Air. Flying with the app is similar to playing a game on your smartphone—tap either thumb on the screen if you want it to turn, go higher or lower, etc.
It does respond quickly and correctly in an area free of intrusive WiFi signals and also features a "TapFly" mode, which allows you to tap the display on-screen to pilot the drone to the indicated location. It features obstacle avoidance sensors, similar to the Mavic Air, but it refused to fly through some obstacles despite ample clearance, which we thought might be due to the sensors being programmed with the same logic the larger Air makes use of to avoid a collision.
DJI offers a not-included remote control for right around $100, and the remote adds some oomph to the Spark, allowing it to attain speeds of around thirty miles per hour with a range of about a mile. Those considering purchasing the controller may want to invest in the "Fly More" bundle available for the Spark, which comes with a controller, an extra battery, a portable charging hub, and several additional rotors, all for around $500 (including the Spark).
- Ease Of Use
- Design Quality
At right around $340, the DJI Spark isn't as wallet-friendly as the Parrot Mambo, but it is a larger drone, not quite a mini, and intended for outdoor use.
Though the WiFi problems might call for a lower rating, the gesture control is a saving grace.
260 feet out and 160 feet up is not much room, and the maximum distance gets it out of "gesture control" range. We would like to have tested the drone with the Fly More bundle but wanted to give a review of the baseline model.
It seems quite durable for its small size, and honestly feels light and strong enough to not be damaged severely in most collisions.
- Auto takeoff and auto return home with GPS technology, makes controlling easy. App enables monitoring/camera operation...
- Capture 4K ultra HD video at 30 fps, supported resolutions include: 12.0MP (4000 x 3000) photos. The f/2.8 lens with a...
- Gimbal stabilization technology, along with a hover function allows you to capture smooth, clean footage while the...
First, the bad news. We had a lot of problems with this drone, and it wasn't operator error. The drone lost signal several times and went into a "standby" mode where it just hovered in midair, unresponsive to our attempts to get it to land. Luckily, it was low enough to grab, and after a power cycle, responded normally—for a few minutes.
This drone does have reasonably good reviews elsewhere, but every review we read mentioned similar problems, some as severe as a catastrophic failure (the drone in someone else's test crashed, snapping off two of the replaceable rotor blades). Unfortunately, until DJI amends this shortcoming, we can't in good faith recommend this drone to consumers. Now for the good news.
When DJI gets the problems straightened out, this will be a great drone. It comes with a 20 megapixel camera with a mechanical shutter which allows for aperture adjustment—just like that found in a DSLR, which makes more nuanced video and still images a possibility, as both are high quality.
It shoots 4k video, which can scale down to full 1080p HD for a faster frame rate, and high quality, crisp and clear stills. Thanks to the adjustable aperture, we found the Phantom 4's video to be almost cinematic in comparison with the other drones reviewed here.
The Phantom 4 comes with obstacle avoidance sensors, has a slightly more aerodynamic frame than the predecessor Phantom models, and features an improved controller. It has GPS controlled automatic take-off and landing, which also controls its Return to Home function (but not, as we saw in our tests, if it goes out of control). However, because of the problems, we can't recommend anyone buy this drone—at least not until DJI addresses the bugs.
- Ease Of Use
- Design Quality
At approximately $785, the Phantom 4 would be an expensive drone to lose in the treeline or into a body of water (though we have heard that DJI, at least in one instance, replaced a Phantom 4 that crashed into the ocean).
We were unable to explore its approximately three-mile range or top speed of forty-five miles per hour owing to the glitches, which kept us cautious with the hardware after we were able to regain control.
It's reported that this drone has a range of just over three miles, the largest range of any of the drones we reviewed. We've deducted points due to the bugs, as we didn't get the chance to fly this drone anywhere near its full advertised range.
The drone is built so solidly it would under other circumstance get a higher score, but the failures we experienced were due to either faults in the hardware or in the software, which we'd have to consider part of the design, so this rating seems more than fair to us.
We don't feel that including the DJI Phantom 4 in our final analysis would be fair to DJI, so we've refrained from passing judgment on how fun it is, which is our ultimate metric for the purposes of this review. While the gesture control of the DJI Spark and Mavic Air is a lot of fun, neither drone is really suitable for indoor flight (though you could get away with piloting the Spark indoors if you're an experienced and pretty good drone operator).
And there's the price consideration—you can get the Mambo for about a third of the price of the Spark, and the Parrot Mambo is the only drone we're aware of that features attachable accessories like the Grabber and the really quite fun Cannon. The real joy comes in piloting this thing at its top speed. The built-in barrel roll and flip function are also a lot of fun, so for the purposes of our review, the Parrot Mambo is a giant killer.