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Parrot announces AR.Drone 2.0 with easier controls and 720p video (hands-on preview)

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We got a chance to play with Parrot's AR.Drone 2.0 today at CES, a new version of the remote control helicopter.

Parrot AR.Drone 2.0
Parrot AR.Drone 2.0

Today at CES Parrot showed off the AR.Drone 2.0, the new version of the company's remote-controlled quadricopter. We got to play with the iOS and Android-controlled flying machine, along with some of Parrot's other new gadgets, and we definitely liked what we saw from the new flyer. And that's only mostly because we could finally fly this one without endangering ourselves and innocent bystanders.

The original Drone required the skill of an expert, because there was a serious learning curve in order to get good at flying it, but version 2.0 is much easier to control. It uses the compasses in both your controller and the Drone to make sure "forward" is always the direction you think it is, unlike before when it was easy to confuse its orientation. I was able to basically pick up an iPad and immediately start flying the Drone — that's a far cry from my experience with the first model, which was really more "crashing" than "flying." The controls system on the app is otherwise pretty much the same as ever, and you can go back to the old way if you got used to how the original Drone flew. (Good on you if you did.) Thanks to a new sensor, the Drone 2.0 can also fly higher than ever before — reps wouldn't say exactly how high, only that your Wi-Fi range is now probably the limiting factor.

The other big changes in the new AR.Drone 2 are clearly responses to what people didn't like about the first version of the gadget. It's now better-built and much stronger (apparently a few users had some destructive learning experiences with the Drone), and Parrot also added an HD camera that records 720p footage. Parrot reps said that they were surprised at how much people liked recording and sharing video from their Drone, so the company beefed up the functionality — video from the camera looked pretty good, even in not-so-great lighting, though there's still not much image stabilization to be found so it's pretty shaky at times. The company also updated the apps that you use to fly the Drone, adding lots of video sharing features, plus a social network of sorts that lets you see who else is flying their Drone nearby. No word yet on availability for the Drone 2.0 (though we heard the second quarter of this year), but it will have the same $299 price tag as the original.