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DJI drones have long dominated the skies, but there are plenty of other options out there. Parrot, which made its name with some very fun toy-like quadcopters, stepped up its game earlier this year with the Anafi, which was capable of shooting 4K video. Read our Anafi review to learn more about its strengths and limitations.
The company is back with a new take on that drone, with the Anafi FPV (first-person view). It adds FPV virtual reality goggles, a convenient backpack, and still manages to keep the price at $800. Compare that with DJI’s Mavic Pro with dedicated VR goggles, which would set you back at least $1,300.
DJI’s Mavic and goggles combo does offer a laundry list of features you won’t find in the Anafi, and Parrot’s headset requires your phone while DJI’s does not, but the savings are substantial. Parrot is betting there’s a class of pilots out there who want the FPV experience, but don’t want to shell out the big bucks to get it.
It’s the Same But Different
The Anafi copter itself is largely unchanged in this release. It just comes with more stuff, like those VR goggles. The design is compact and lightweight with arms that fold in, making it easy to fit in its included backpack, which neatly squares away all the components and is firm enough to double as a launch pad if there’s no flat ground around.
The camera still offers 4K, high-resolution video at up to 30 fps and takes 21-megapixel still images (including RAW), but it doesn’t produce as good of an image as I wish, given its tech specs. The RAW files are fine, but the JPGs straight out of the camera look a little flat to my eye.
The Anafi also has an impressive top speed of 34 mph and manages a range of over two miles, though out of the box it’s much more tightly geo-fenced, so it won’t go far. You’ll need to go into the settings and tweak the geo fence to extend the range to its full potential. Parrot now claims 26 minutes flying time from on a single charge; that’s up one minute from the last version.
Goggle Me Goose
Small tweaks to the Anafi aside, the first-person view VR goggles are the star of this bundle.
Like a good pair of mobile VR goggles, the headset has a relatively comfortable harness that straps to your head and holds a smartphone in front of your eyes. It’s simple to set up, just lock your phone in place, adjust the straps, and you’re ready to go. Parrot has a list of supported devices, though in my testing, so long as you can run the app and your phone fits, you’ll be fine.
Relying on your smartphone as your screen helps Parrot to keep costs down, but it’s not without trade-offs. There’s less hardware to access controls and navigating your way through menus is definitely more difficult than a dedicated headset. There are two hardware buttons, one of which calls up a menu which you then navigate with the joysticks while the Anafi hovers in place. The other button toggles your phone display between the app and your rear camera (so you can see ahead of you), which is useful if you want to take a quick look around without removing the headset.
The buttons in the headset are actually just levers which tap a spot on the phone’s screen. There’s something wonderfully low tech about this approach that I really like, and it eliminates the need for batteries in the headset, which keeps things lightweight.
It’s not the most comfortable thing to wear, though. The lack of focusing options (there are zero) made it difficult for my aging eyes to focus well on the screen for long periods of time. Most every successful VR headset has focusing options, so this is a sad omission. I was still able to fly without any trouble, but I never wanted to keep it on for too long.
I should probably also confess that I have more fun using my drones as flying cameras, rather than racing copters. I understand the appeal of FPV for racing and other scenarios, but it’s not my control method of choice. That said, I did have a lot of fun flying the Anafi in Arcade mode, which makes the flight path follow the camera. This felt the most natural way to use the goggle headset. Pan the camera and the drone follows.
The other main flight mode I enjoyed in FPV was Cinematic mode, which locks the camera’s horizon to the drone’s horizon. More than anything this felt like an easier version of the old PC flight simulator games I played (or tried to play) as a kid.
There’s also a racing preset, which is what anyone with any experience and love of pure drone flying will want to use. I found the responsiveness of the Anafi in this mode to be impressive and on par with DJI’s equivalent settings.
The faster, more responsive modes highlight why I don’t find FPV all that useful—outside of closely controlled situations. You just cannot see anything happening outside the camera’s limited field of view. That’s fine for racing on a controlled course, or flying in an area with no obstructions like trees or buildings, but if you’re flying at your local park, you can accidentally bank into a tree if you’re not careful.
Parrot has wisely defaulted the Anafi to what it calls “film” mode, which gives beginners a nice slow, gentle place to start flying. I’d also like to see Parrot include some object detection and collision avoidance features. These have been standard issue for DJI drones for years now, but the Anafi offers nothing of the sort.
The Parrot Anafi was not our favorite quadcopter. This new version, with a backpack and first-person headset does cost considerably less than a similar drone and first-person goggle bundle from DJI. The trade-off is, you’ll lose a lot of features—including some collision-avoidance features—found in DJI’s offering. That may not be a trade-off you’re willing to make.