Parrot Hydrofoil drone review: Nice toy, but watch out for ponds

Price when reviewed

I hoped I’d never have to start a tech review this way, but here we go. This review contains mild nudity. Parental guidance is advised.

How I ended up wading into a freezing cold London pond to retrieve a drone, you’ll just have to wait and see. Suffice it to say, I count it in the top five lowlights of my life to date, which is no mean feat.

That isn’t to say that living with the Parrot Hydrofoil has been, for the most part, anything other than utterly fun. A smartphone drone that can be flown independently or attached to a boat shell for water-based adventures was always going to be great.

In the boxparrot_hydrofoil_2

And that’s what the Parrot Hydrofoil is. Upon opening the box, you’re greeted with the palm-sized minidrone itself, as well as a polystyrene hull and various bits to make it shipshape. Both the screws and a bespoke screwdriver are provided, and the whole thing can be up and running in five minutes.

There’s no remote control, with Parrot taking the sensible decision of allowing you to use your smartphone to take control of the action with an app: FreeFlight 3, available free on iOS, Android and Windows Phone. There’s no BlackBerry support, as Parrot has presumably deduced that its dwindling userbase doesn’t like fun.

“Once you create an account, you’ll be regaled with stats about your flights, the number of crashes, world maps and a profile.”

It’s a good app too, when I tested it on Android. You need to create an account with Parrot to get the most out of it, though, and once you do you’ll be regaled with stats about your flights, the number of crashes (Parrot clearly sees this as inevitable), world maps and a profile. Unfortunately, the stats don’t seem to be terribly accurate (no crashes is definitely not true), and the instruction manual pointed through to a page in French. Needless to say, my limited GCSE language skills weren’t sufficient to decode the intricacies of drone flight.parrot_hydrofoil_4

However, it’s fairly simple to work out, with or without advanced French, so you’ll be up and running in no time. The onscreen controls are largely self-explanatory, with the app giving you the choice between boat or drone mode, so there’s no confusion involved. The controls have some pre-set manoeuvres in place, allowing you to look effortlessly talented as you pull off full 90- and 180-degree turns at the press of a button. You can even perform a full 360-degree flip. There’s also a VGA camera on board, allowing you to capture 640 x 480 photos and videos. These are stored on the device’s internal 1GB flash storage and can be exported from the drone via the USB cable or – if you have a lot of patience – via a painfully slow Bluetooth transfer.

Flying the Parrot Hydrofoil

This is very much an outdoor drone, if the hull attachment didn’t give it away. You can fly it indoors, but it’s extremely noisy in confined spaces and really benefits from more space, although it manages to stay impressively stable thanks to a downward-facing camera. Outside though, it really comes into its own, and the simple pleasure of flying it makes the pricetag feel a total bargain. It’s innocent, charming and carefree fun.parrot_hydrofoil_1

So far, so good, and since I was keen to take the drone to the water to really test its hydrofoil credentials, I did exactly that. That’s where it all went wrong. Attaching the drone to the boat section was easy enough, and before long my drone was skidding round a pond in South London – although the support section didn’t kick up for some reason, meaning it fell some way short of its promised top speed of 10kmph. Still, it was zipping around entertainingly enough.

“Due to a common or garden Bluetooth error, I couldn’t reconnect, and my drone was officially lost at sea.”

And then it stopped.

My phone disconnected from the drone, not because it was out of battery or too far away (I’d been controlling it further away seconds before and there was no warning), but due to a common or garden Bluetooth error. I couldn’t reconnect, and my drone was officially lost at sea.

You can probably tell where this is going: I couldn’t leave a £140 drone floating in a lake, especially when it wasn’t mine to abandon. So I had to wait an hour for the friendly local drunks to move along, take off my jeans and head 20ft into the lake to retrieve it, much to the bafflement of the not-so-friendly neighbourhood swans. It was waist height, and extremely cold.parrot_hydrofoil_5

And this is an issue that actually makes drones somewhat unsuited for water-based adventures. The app is very good at warning you when the battery is running short, but nobody can control Bluetooth disconnections. If that happens in the air, it’s no problem – it just falls to Earth. However, on a lake, you’ll just have to copy me: risk hypothermia and flash a bunch of traumatised swans.

“On a lake, if bluetooth fails, you’ll just have to copy me: risk hypothermia and flash a bunch of traumatised swans.”

The battery, by the way, is something else you’ll need to keep a careful eye on. It lasts between seven and nine minutes, depending on the mode you’re in, which is a touch slight for the size. On the plus side, the battery is replaceable, so you could buy a few on eBay and pocket them for an extended session, should you wish. It charges over USB, and reaches 100% capacity in under half an hour if you have a 2.6A USB charger to hand (not included), although you’re looking at much longer than that if you charge via a laptop-based USB socket.


For £140, the Parrot Hydrofoil drone is a fun package. It’s far from a professional drone, but you’ll likely have a lot of fun with it, and even for beginners it offers an experience that won’t leave you flailing like my previous experience with a budget model.

Just watch out for ponds, Bluetooth disconnections and grumpy swans.

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