Reviews
Parrot
Rolling Spider

By Jorge Figueiredo - November 18th, 2014

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There is nothing quite like piloting a quadricopter. Parrot’s AR Drone 2.0 is a lot of fun to fly – but for a good number of people, it’s hard to justify the purchase, as it is a little expensive. It also makes some people nervous; even though it comes with a protective shell for indoor use, it’s relatively large, making it an intimidating prospect to play with inside one’s house – especially for beginners. Thankfully, Parrot has another option for those people who are jonesing for a chance to play with a remote-controlled helicopter without breaking the bank (or that vase you got as a gift from your aunt Betty): the Rolling Spider.

The Rolling Spider is a miniature quadricopter without a front-facing camera (unlike the AR Drone). Inside the box, alongside the quadricopter, you will find: a single rechargeable battery, a pair of plastic “wheels” with an axle to connect them together, a USB-to-microUSB charging cable, the quick-start guide, and decals with which to customize your Rolling Spider. Connecting to the device is a matter of turning on your smartphone’s Bluetooth and then engaging the iOS or Android app. Easy peasy.

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Hovering.

This smartphone-controlled toy (iOS and Android) is loaded with sensors (3-axis accelerometer and gyroscope, pressure sensor, ultrasonic sensor, ground-facing VGA camera), making it a lot easier to fly (inside and outside) than other cheaper options. The body is constructed out of plastic, and the whole unit is durable – including the propellers, which disengage if they sense any impact. This choice of materials minimizes the weight of the Rolling Spider, making it easier for the hard-working engines to keep it aloft. For its weight, I was surprised at how little the wind affected it. Even in strong winds, the Rolling Spider was relatively stable – more so than its larger cousin. I suspect that the surface area may have something to do with it – but I have no way of testing that theory.

The FreeFlight 3 app takes a lot of the guesswork out of piloting this vehicle. A take-off/land button makes either task a breeze – and, in fact, you can even perform a free-fall take-off where you can toss the copter into the air and it will engage the motors and hover. Flying the copter is a matter of managing angles (using the touch screen) and the speed (by tilting the smartphone). You can also engage “pro” controls with dual “sticks” on the touch-screen, but this is not as fun as using motion-detection. In either situation, you can abort any of your movements by lifting your thumbs off of the screen, causing the Rolling Spider to simply hover in place as best it can. Parrot has also built an emergency cut-off, which simply stops all rotors (rotors also disengage when they come into contact with anything – in an attempt to preserve their relatively delicate construction).

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FreeFlight 3 layout on Android.

A stunt button allows you to perform flips in almost any direction (at the cost of battery life), and a number of fine-tuning options allow you to tailor your experience to your liking. You can even take a photo of what lies below the vehicle by engaging the bottom-facing camera, although you cannot take pictures using this mode whilst the motion-detection of your phone is engaged. Also, don’t expect too much from the camera as it is a VGA unit, though having anything more intense might lower battery life.

The plastic wheels attach to an axle and clip onto the top of the Rolling Spider, locking into place thanks to a cleverly-constructed tab. These wheels are what gives the Rolling Spider its name, as they allow the MiniDrone to roll along the floor, walls (up and down), or the ceiling. Performing these tricks takes a little practice, and also takes some getting used to as the usual result of flying a copter into any surface is normally not so good (you still need to approach this trick with caution). Once you get the hang of it, though, it is a lot of fun. The wheels also have the added bonus of offering protection to the Spider, even on the sides, thanks to their large coverage area. And still, even with their wide radius, they don’t weigh down the unit enough to impact battery life too much.

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Flying safely inside with the wheels attached.

Of course, batteries and battery life are my biggest issues with the Rolling Spider. A single charged battery allows for between 8-12 minutes of flight time (I timed it), and to extend that flight time you have to land and replace the battery. This introduces a complication, though. The removable battery takes 80-90 minutes to charge; and because there is no external charger, it’s inconvenient since the unit will have to be taken out of commission to allow for charging. Even if you own more than one battery, this means that at some point you will need to charge them all. I would love it if Parrot could provide a way to charge these batteries without needing to interrupt play time (unless, of course, you own a Jumping Sumo, in which case you could treat that as your charger).

This remote-controlled toy is priced at around $100, and you can probably find a cheaper solution for getting off the ground; however, you might not have as much fun as you will with the Rolling Spider. From a pure flight perspective, the Rolling Spider is one of the most fun copters to fly – it’s easy to learn, and it’s durable enough to put up with accidents during that learning curve. Once you get the hang of it, you can mitigate the poor battery life with more effective flying – and for some extra bucks, you can grab yourself extra batteries to lengthen your playing time. The Rolling Spider comes in 3 colours and is available at a number of big box stores like Future Shop, Best Buy, and The Source.

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