With last year’s Jumping Sumo, Parrot broke new ground with its first rolling drone, providing a unique and fun iOS-controlled rover that provided the ability to zip around, capture photos and video, and perform jumping stunts. Now, Parrot has taken the single Jumping Sumo and branched it off into separate racing and night models, each with different color options. Both the Jumping Night and Jumping Race Drones operate in much the same way, other than a few specific key differentiating features, so we’re taking a look at both of them in a single review, noting the options that are specific to only one unit or the other.
Right off the bat, anybody familiar with the Jumping Sumo will find that the physical design here has not changed much from the original Jumping Sumo drone. The Jumping Race Drone retains an almost identical body design with only very subtle changes, but sports larger wheels with a smooth racing slick tread, while Jumping Night keeps Sumo’s wheel and general body design, but adds a different front profile, accompanied by two additional bright LED lights for rolling around in the dark. As with the Jumping Sumo, the wheels on either drone can be left extended or can be pushed in to create a narrower profile for navigating tighter spaces.
Each of the two models is available in three different color options, and this year Parrot has given cutesy names to each: the Jumping Race line consists of Jett (white), Max (red), and Tuk Tuk (yellow) and the Jumping Night lineup includes Marshall (red), Diesel (black), and Buzz (white). Other than the colors, the drones in each lineup are identical to each other, and as with Jumping Sumo, a set of decals is included in the box so you can customize your drone’s appearance even further. The box also includes a USB charging cable, a battery, and two additional rubber feet for the rear jumping bar.
While the new Jumping drones still don’t include an extra battery pack or a separate charger — one of our key disappointments with last year’s Sumo — Parrot has at least taken some steps to improve recharging performance, supporting higher-speed 2.4A charging that will let you juice up the drone in about 25 minutes. It’s a remarkable improvement over last year’s 90 minute recharge time. Considering that you’ll only get about 20 minutes of use out of a single battery, it’s definitely a step in the right direction, although you’ll need to supply your own 2.4A charger as only a USB cable is included in the box. The upside, however, is that you can just as easily charge from a computer’s USB port, which can also be used to transfer photos and videos and perform firmware updates much more quickly than using the iOS app, and most modern Macs now offer higher power output that should let you take advantage of the shorter charging time.
The Jumping Race and Jumping Night drones continue to use the same Free Flight 3 app that Parrot has put out for its entire drone family, and much like Jumping Sumo, communicate over a Wi-Fi connection; you connect your iPhone or iPad to the ad-hoc Wi-Fi network broadcast by the drone, and then fire up Free Flight 3, which will detect the drone and you’re good to go. One odd limitation we found in the app is that it only works in a single landscape orientation, so if you’re not already used to holding your iPhone with the home button to the left, you may find that disconcerting at first.
The controls continue to be pretty intuitive, with a slider on the left used to accelerate forward and backward, and a directional touchpad controller on the right used to make quick 90-degree and 180-degree turns, or perform the most recent “stunt” move. When moving forward or backward, the drone can be steered by using the accelerometer, tilting your device left or right as you would a steering wheel. Additional controls allow you to take pictures, record video, and initiate jumps, as well as perform other stunts such as slaloms, shaking, spinning, and even spinning jumps. A new “road plan” mode has been added as well, enabling you to program a course and actions to follow that can then be executed with a single tap.
Almost all of the app features are identical across both models, although Jumping Race adds the ability to perform a “boost” stunt which will make it zip off at up to 8 mph, and Jumping Night instead gets an additional button in the center of the screen to control the front LEDs, which can be set at various intensities, or to strobe or flash modes. Advanced settings let you choose thresholds for how fast the drone will go, the turning radius available when using the accelerometer controls when moving, and the sensitivity of both the acceleration and turning controls. By default, both drones also record video to their internal 4GB flash memory as soon as you connect the app, however this “auto record” mode can be disabled if you prefer. Free Flight 3 will offer to transfer any videos or photos captured in the app as soon as you exit, although for larger videos you may prefer to simply load them to your computer over a USB connection to save time. Videos are recorded at the same 640×480 resolution as before, although the frame rate has now been pushed up to a full 30 fps. Both drones have also now added a microphone mode that gives you the ability to listen and talk through the drone to whoever or whatever is in the room.
With Jumping Race and Jumping Night, Parrot has taken some positive steps in addressing many of our concerns with Jumping Sumo, particularly the time it took to recharge the prior model — 90 minutes of recharge time for every 20 minutes of use was a recipe for more frustration than enjoyment. Although even with the faster recharge time available now, serious users may still want to think about getting a second battery pack – Parrot now helpfully sells an additional battery and charger combo for $23. New “road trip” and walkie-talkie features also add some additional fun ways to use the drones, and the increased recording frame rate provides much smoother video performance. Although Jumping Race and Jumping Night have each seen a $30 price bump over last year’s model, the additional features they pack in still make either a worthwhile choice if you’re looking for a fun toy to motor around with.
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Compatible: iOS devices running iOS 7.0 or later