The Parrot Mambo FPV is a lot like the Parrot Mambos that have come before it. It’s a small plastic drone that’s intuitive to fly and lots of fun. It can be flown using your smartphone, it’s small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, and it supports modular accessories – and it’s those accessories that set this latest Mambo apart from similar drones.
The previous iteration came with a pellet gun and a grabbing arm, which, while amusing, felt a little gimmicky. This new model’s bolt-on attachment, however, is a HD camera that can shoot 720p resolution video, and stream the footage to Parrot’s first person view (FPV) headset, so you see what the drone sees as it flies.
This minor addition is a major shift for the little drone, as it effectively turns the Mambo into an entry-level racing drone.
At £159 ($179.99 – we’re waiting on pricing for Australia) it isn’t the cheapest entry-level racing drone on the market, but the world of racing drones can be intimidating and overly technical, especially if you’re a parent whose youngster is demanding one for Christmas.
And Parrot is one of the big names in drones, so you can rest assured that you’re getting a quality product – and that when the blades break because the Mambo’s been flown at full speed into a wall (which will happen), you’ll know you can easily replace the parts.
That said, Parrot isn’t marketing the Mambo as a children’s toy. Yes, it looks like a toy, with its cute little green LED eyes that sit on the front of its ‘face’, and the games console-like controller, and plastic Transformer-y design; however Parrot recommends that users should be aged 14 or above.
The Parrot Mambo is tiny. Seriously tiny. It sits lightly in the hand and will remind those old enough to remember of the cute little robots from the 1987 masterpiece Batteries Not Included.
Two little green LED ‘eyes’ poke out at you from under the white plastic chassis, which is shaped at the front to almost look like eyebrows. This white plastic panel continues down the body, with four plastic limbs branching out, to which the rotor blades are attached.
The blades are also plastic, and we experienced first hand that if you crash the Mambo into a metal pillar and the blade gets bent, you can bend them back into shape by hand and get your flying friend into the air once again.
Spare blades are also included in the box, and if you’re expecting to have a few crashes you can purchase additional blade protectors to protect the most fragile piece of the drone from impact.
And the Mambo does feel fragile, and it is made of plastic, which adds to the toy-like impression and may cause you to look twice at the price tag. However, it’s the technology that you’re really paying for, and the inclusion of the controller and FPV headset helps to allay any sense that the Mambo is overpriced.
The controller looks and feels like a simplified Xbox controller, with two multi-direction sticks that control rotation, elevation and motion. There are a couple of buttons that activate special acrobatic moves (which you may want to avoid performing with the headset on, unless you have a barf bag to hand) and a button for take-off and landing.
The Parrot Cockpit 2 headset, meanwhile, is like a rudimentary Gear VR headset. You strap your smartphone to the front of it, and the lenses within convert the footage on your phone’s screen into an immersive image.
The headset is collapsible, making it easily transportable; the team demonstrating it said you could toss it in your backpack, although given that the lenses are exposed, we would worry about them getting scratched or dirty.
It’s comfortable to wear, can sit over prescription glasses, and even has sliders that allow you to change the lens position for pupillary distance, making for a more comfortable viewing experience.
The drone is a pleasure to use, and you can go from complete novice to some really satisfying flying in a matter of minutes. This is all thanks to the software under the hood.
As an industry leader in drone technology, Parrot has spent many years working on both hardware and software for higher-end models that have clearly worked their way down to the cheaper models.
There are three different flying modes. In Easy mode, the drone is stabilized horizontally and vertically, and all moves are assisted by machine learning to prevent you from losing control. In Drift mode horizontal stabilization is disabled, giving you greater control over the Mambo FPV, while in Racing mode the autopilot is completely off, putting you in complete control.
During our time with the Mambo we only used the new controller, not the smartphone controls, and we found the controls well laid out and responsive.
As we’ve mentioned, though, the real selling point of the Mambo is flying with FPV. As you’d imagine with a camera small enough to fit on this tiny drone, the image quality isn’t going to win any Oscars; if you’re looking for a drone to take stunning HD photos and video, this isn’t it.
There’s also about a second’s lag between the drone moving and the image getting to the headset. If you get to the stage where you’re wanting to do speed trials through a homemade obstacle course, this lag could become an issue.
The battery life is 10 minutes without the camera attached and eight with, so you’re definitely going to be playing in short sharp bursts – although to be honest, after eight minutes in a VR headset living life as a drone you’ll probably need a rest.
With its FPV functionality, the Parrot Mambo has gained a feature that takes it from ‘novelty drone’ to worthwhile addition to the drone world. At the price it does feel like an expensive toy, although when you look at the price of some of the other electronic gizmos that are going to be available this Christmas, it’s actually pretty reasonable.
While it may look quite cheap, as soon as you start flying the Parrot Mambo you can see where your money has been spent. We reckon this is a great way to test the waters of drone racing without buying a dedicated device that isn’t good for much else; if you get the Mambo home and decide that drone racing isn’t for you, you can take the camera off and you’ve still got a fun drone.