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A compact drone that’s blind as a bat – ANITH
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A compact drone that’s blind as a bat

A compact drone that’s blind as a bat

Foldable • lightweight design • Easy-to-use controls • Robust battery with 20-minute flight time • Great camera with a full gimbal

No obstacle avoidance • No internal storage • In-app purchases for traditional drone features • Hovering at low altitudes is tough

It’s disappointing that Parrot’s latest drone, the Anafi, lacks many features, including obstacle avoidance. But the camera and easy-to-use controls make up for a lot.

When you think of drones, chances are DJI comes to mind first. Among consumers and enthusiasts, it’s the biggest and most well-known brand.

However, you might also remember Parrot and the big splash it made with its original Bebop drone a few years back. Well, the company is still deep into the drone business, and it’s taking another step with the Anafi, which gets its name from a Greek island.

The Anafi’s design is similar to the DJI Spark or Mavic Pro, with foldable legs that make it compact. Despite the diminutive look, its eight blades give it impressive propulsion, and it includes a 4K HDR camera that can move to almost any angle.

However, considering the price, it’s missing some core features, the biggest being any sort of obstacle avoidance. On top of that, the Follow Me mode and Flight Plan tool are behind an in-app purchase. Both of these are typical out-of-the-box features for a drone at this price or lower.

So at $699, should you opt for a Parrot Anafi knowing it is blind and that core features require an in-app purchase?

Let’s unbox the Anafi

Parrot doesn’t include much in the box.

Image: jake krol/mashable

I normally skip over the box and what’s inside, but I think for a compact drone like this, the presentation is important. 

Included accessories are pretty bare-bones. You get the carrying case (which is like an extra-large glasses case), the controller, spare propellers, and a quick start guide. Anafi’s carrying case also includes a USB-A-to-USB-C charging cable and a microSD-card-to-SD-card adapter in a plastic case. A 16GB SanDisk microSD card is pre-installed inside the drone.

It’s pretty simple, and in a way it encourages the user to get out and start flying. The lack of complexity here (if not the price tag) should be appealing for those who have minimal experience flying a drone or are trying it for the first time. It will also appeal to photographers or videographers, thanks to the lens and gimbal setup.

A foldable design

The Anafi is impressively compact with the arms and legs folded in.

The Anafi is impressively compact with the arms and legs folded in.

Image: jake krol/mashable

DJI was first to go full throttle behind the portable and foldable drone model. The Mavic Pro, while larger, had arms and legs that could fold in, allowing it to fit in a smaller case and making it easier to transport.

The Anafi is similar in concept. The drone itself is just shy of 10 inches in length, and the size is surprisingly small. Especially when you compare it to previous Parrot drones that stuck blade guards around the propellers and weren’t collapsible.  When you think about a drone or the category more broadly, the initial thought is big, massive, and even possibly intimidating (looking at you, DJI Inspire). Parrot sticks with a more subdued approach but differs by positioning the Anafi more like a drone than a toy. It’s also super-light at just 11.3 ounces (0.7 pounds), which is helpful for bringing it with you but can also lead to some flight issues in the wind. 

The front and rear legs fold in and hug the main hull of the drone. Equally as important, the eight plastic propellers (two per motor) fold in on top of each other for easy storage. While plastic might not seem like an optimal material, it helps the drone move faster when gliding through the skies. While I didn’t test it, I’m sure the blades are plenty sharp, and I would advise keeping your hands away while they’re moving. 

Looking at the main body, the camera and gimbal are in the front. Moving backwards, you have the fan (for cooling), the drone’s processor (located under the Parrot logo), and the 2,700mAh battery is on the rear. The drone’s power button, four LED lights, and USB-C charging port can be found on the battery compartment, which easily slides out with the press of a button. The battery protects the microSD card slot, along with product information and wireless credentials.

It’s great to see a USB-C port as the connector slowly becomes more universal. It also allows for faster charging, but you can still expect it to take a few hours to reach a full charge.

The bottom of the drone has some sensors, a fan, and a blue LED light. There isn’t a full set of lights, so nighttime flights are at your own risk.

First flight and onward

The Anafi can easily glide through the air at low and high altitudes.

The Anafi can easily glide through the air at low and high altitudes.

Image: jake krol/mashable

Simply, the Anafi is a joy to fly. There isn’t much of a learning curve, and the controls are pretty self-explanatory. It’s also simple to set up. First, you’ll want to charge the battery. In my testing, I got about 20-23 minutes of flight time on a full charge while using the camera and the slower speed setting. Moving it up to the faster one (while still filming) brought that down to about 15 minutes.

You’ll want to have the Parrot FreeFlight app installed on your iOS or Android device before you start; you’ll need it to fly the Anafi. You can plug your device into the controller or connect to the drone over Wi-Fi. The hardwire connection is more reliable and acts as a fail-safe if the Wi-Fi goes out. With the app open and my phone docked into the controller, I was ready to go.

The hovering technology can be hit or miss, especially at lower altitudes.

I set the Anafi on the ground in front of me, hit the power button, and the drone calibrated itself. You’ll see the gimbal adjust and the propellers do a small twitch. From there, the app will connect to the drone, tap “FLY,” and then a live view of the camera is presented with some other fight metrics. 

Hit “Take Off,” and the Anafi will take to the air and hover above the ground. You’ll notice the hovering technology can be hit or miss, especially at lower altitudes. The sensors, along with the camera, look to single in on a point on the ground for reference. If you’re over a field of grass or a black asphalt driveway, the Anafi has a hard time picking up a point. At higher altitudes (above about 45 meters), the hovering experience becomes much more on-point. Because it’s lightweight, the Anafi also has a tough time dealing with strong gusts of wind, which cause it to sway at times.

On the controller, the right stick will let you ascend or descend, as well as turn the drone (which is helpful if you want to stay still but change the view) The left stick lets you pilot the drone left or right, as well as forward and backward. The two levers on the back control the camera. The right-hand one lets you move the camera up and down, while the left-hand side controls the digital zoom. 

The FreeFlight app is pretty straightforward and works in part with the physical controller. You can see height, speed, and a live feed from the camera. There are also some GPS features and a return-to-home function — be careful when you use this as there is no obstacle avoidance. (The drone will simply take the fastest route back to you, regardless of what’s in the way.) You can also access CineShots and other modes that use preprogrammed patterns for the drone to capture shots or follow an individual. 

You can also access a gallery of the footage you take, but the process of moving it over to your PC via the wireless connection is slow. It’s faster to remove the microSD card from the unit and slot it into a computer.

Controlling the Anafi becomes natural after just a few minutes of use.

The 21-megapixel camera on a three-axis gimbal is the star of the show.

The 21-megapixel camera on a three-axis gimbal is the star of the show.

Image: jake krol/mashable

Drone photography and videography can be quite tricky, but Anafi makes them easy. Besides the ease of use, my other favorite thing about the Anafi is the camera. Parrot chose a 21-megapixel camera with a 1/2.4-inch CMOS Sony sensor and wide-angle f/2.4 ASPH lens working in unison. It can handle 4K HDR video.

The ANAFI gave us a birds eye view of the front and back yards in New Jersey.

The ANAFI gave us a birds eye view of the front and back yards in New Jersey.

Image: jake krol/mashable

A view before sunset with a clear sky and tree tops.

A view before sunset with a clear sky and tree tops.

Image: jake krol/mashable

The lens setup on its own is nice, but you also have a three-axis gimbal for stabilization and the ability to vertically tilt up to 180 degrees. This makes it easy for even a novice user to get a good shot. While there is not a physical moveable lens, there is up to 2.8x digital zoom for video and 3X zoom for photos. With digital zoom, a certain amount of softness and graininess tends to appear. Without the zoom, though, photos are sharp, and video is stable with no noticeable hiccups.

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For those epic shots that you see professionals posting on Instagram or YouTube, Parrot has preprogrammed “CineShots” into the companion app. These live on the bottom left-hand corner and are easy to use. This feature is fun to play with and can help drone users of all experience levels get a good shot with minimal legwork. There’s also an option to shoot in hyperlapse, or slow motion, to get a neat visual effect. Epic mode will shoot the Anafi backward by 30 meters to get a wide-angle video.  

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Anafi is blind in the sky

The sensors on the Anafi don't provide obstacle avoidance.

The sensors on the Anafi don’t provide obstacle avoidance.

Image: jake krol/mashable

A significant missing feature is obstacle avoidance, which combines sensors and cameras to make sure you don’t crash the drone. This is a huge miss for the Anafi, especially considering its $700 price. The $399 DJI Spark has obstacle avoidance for a fraction of the price.

A representative from Parrot said the omission was to encourage safe line-of-sight flying. But while using the Anafi, we found the lack of obstacle avoidance to be a safety issue: At times it hovered dangerously close to tree branches, or, even worse, myself. Needless to say, you’ll want to be careful when flying the Anafi. I never had a full-on crash, but there were a few close calls.

Not adding obstacle avoidance was also meant to keep the price down, although DJI was able to add the feature to a $399 drone

In-app purchase required

Parrot's Free Flight app for iOS and Android pairs well with the Anafi's physical controller.

Parrot’s Free Flight app for iOS and Android pairs well with the Anafi’s physical controller.

When you’re spending $699 on a drone, there’s a certain hope that you won’t have to make any incremental purchases in order to use it. Parrot includes a lot for the price, but two key features —Follow Me and Flight Plan — don’t come with it. These two features can make a drone easier to use and show off. Follow Me allows you to lock onto yourself, another person, or a moving object and have the drone follow it. While it does keep a safe distance, the drone’s lack of obstacle avoidance makes following, say, a car in a town with power lines pretty hard. 

Flight Plan allows you to craft a map for the drone to fly and mark out actions, like an taking a photo, for it to perform along the way. While you still have the obstacle-avoidance issue, this is a really nice feature to have. More importantly, if you’re not the best pilot, flight map lets you watch your grand plan happen.

Each of the in-app purchases costs $19.99. The company does occasionally put them on sale, and until mid-September, you can get them for 99 cents. 

While Parrot does include Cameraman along with several CineShots for free, it feels a little cheap to charge for these two — especially because Follow Me is probably one of the most known and requested drone features.

Still a thoroughly enjoyable drone

In the end, a few missteps don't get in the way of a great drone.

In the end, a few missteps don’t get in the way of a great drone.

Image: jake krol/mashable

Parrot’s Anafi is not a perfect drone, but it’s fun to use and has an incredibly easy learning curve. 

At $699, it’s not cheap, plus if you factor in the in-app purchases and $99 for an extra battery (which we recommend picking up), it can get even more expensive. But it has an awesome camera for shooting both still images and video, along with a three-axis gimbal and 180-degree tilt. For a novice, I think the Anafi is worth a go if you want a great camera, even with missing features like obstacle avoidance. However, if camera quality isn’t important to you, go for the DJI Spark since it’s cheaper and has features the Anafi lacks.

Just be careful when you’re flying the Anafi. Keep it in sight at all times — and away from anyone and everyone (including yourself).

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Anith Gopal
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