When I first started flying RC helicopters, I was always jealous of the guys with FPV setups. Even having an onboard camera was a massive (and expensive) luxury, but having one that transmits video in real time to a screen or headset was by far the coolest thing I’d seen.
Fast forward to the present day and even cheap $50 drones come equipped with WiFi FPV abilities. The ubiquity of smartphones and cheap VR headsets has certainly had something to do with it. This makes it cheap and easy to get into FPV without spending additional money on specialist FPB gear.
There hasn’t been a lot of middle ground though. You have the high-end FPV flight experiences and then these low-end, grainy, “just for fun” products. There’s really been a quality choice of FPV drone that straddles the line between toy and more serious photographic models. That is, perhaps, until now with the release of the Parrot Mambo FPV.
Parrot entered the drone business seven years ago, with the launch of the original Parrot AR Drone. It’s actually pretty mind-blowing that Parrot put out a machine that not only flew via smartphone WiFi and had elements of augmented reality.
Compared to the typical camera drone from the like of DJI these days, the original Parrot AR drone seems woefully primitive. Since then I can’t honestly say that Parrot have set the world of drones one fire.
The company has however released a series of affordable and creative drones. Drones like the Rolling Spider and Jumping Sumo are unique, well-made and loads of fun. So although they aren’t a mainstream drone darling, I have a real appreciation for the company’s products and philosophy.
Which is why I’m happy to discover that their latest off-beat drone may actually be of interest to FPV enthusiasts and people who have a more casual interest in it.
Doing the Mambo
The Mambo FPV drone is based on the standard Mambo Fly drone.
The Mambo is a minidrone that’s built around the idea of flight ease. You can take full manual control, but it has an ever-vigilant autopilot system that ensures that as soon as you let go of the sticks the drone stays put.
It also has other intelligent features, such as a crash-detection system that will cut our the motors. Possibly saving your drone from serious damage.
The base model does not come with a dedicated controller, but rather is meant for smartphone control from the get go. Still the hundred-ish dollars that you spend on the Mambo Fly just needs half-again as much to turn it into a precision traditional quadcopter.
For a beginner multirotor it’s very modular.
The Smart Block System
Which brings us to the Mambo’s most interesting feature: smart blocks. Parrot have given the Mambo a quick connection mount on the hull. You can buy various accessories that give the drone extra abilities.
These are mostly just fun and not really useful. One accessory let’s the Mambo fire soft projectiles, another gives it a (bottom-mounted) grabber claw so that it can transport small objections. Fun and cool, but not actually useful.
Thanks to this modular mount point, Parrot have given themselves two marketing options for the Mambo. For one, they can keep making more smart block accessories, so owners of this drone can get more and more mileage out of it. It also means that the company can sell various bundles that include different mixes of parts.
The main one we’re interested here is the FPV camera smart block, sold as part of the Mambo FPV bundle.
The Mambo FPV Bundle
The Mambo FPV bundle includes a heap of stuff in the box. You get the base Mambo itself of course. You also get the FPV camera smart block, which is the star of the show. Parrot have also included their controller, known as the “Flypad”, which also has a smartphone holder.
While that’s cool, for it to be true FPV fling you need to strap your phone to your face. So the bundle also includes the Parrot Cockpitglasses 2. These are basically like the mobile VR cases you see everywhere these days and let you get right into the action.
Unfortunately there’s only one battery, plus the USB cable you need to charge it.
For the money, it would be unfair to expect the FPV module to be a cinematic unit. It is however a 720p camera and there’s plenty of test footage on YouTube that shows the quality is just fine for FPV use.
It’s also not bad for sharing in a non-professional setting. Obviously there’s no gimbal or anything, this is meant to put you in the cockpit. Still, I think the picture quality is pretty darn good in context.
In terms of latency, I note that testers estimate the latency at somewhere between 70-150 milliseconds. For the average person on a fun little FPV cruise that’s barely noticeable if at all. FPV racers might turn up their nose at that sort of number, but this is not a product aimed at them
The Flypad is a decent enough controller and is entirely necessary for FPV, since you can’t do it without tactile controls. It also increases the control range to 60 meters compared to the 40 of a phone.It works with the app to show you live info, such as battery level and is compatible with all the mindrones, in case you want to collect them.
What’s there to say? Parrot says you get 8 minutes of flight with the camera on. It’s a 660mAh, 3.7V LiPo. It takes 90 minutes (30 minutes on fast charge) to charge and you probably want a few. Although they can be pricey. Once again, cross-compatible across the minidrone range.
Size and Weight
The Mambo Fly is a dinky 73g with the camera onboard. It’s 18x18cm though, which is not that small.
I think whether you just want to try FPV or are an FPV fan looking for a fun drone you can tool around without having to worry about a second mortgage, the Mambo FPV is a great little machine. Also, you can always get that cannon and shoot things with it. Which is awesome.
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