Parrot's MiniDrone Jumping Sumo, which sells for $160 (AU$220, £140), is strictly for the ground and although you might not consider it a drone (or an unmanned ground vehicle), it is more than a simple radio-controlled vehicle you pilot with your smartphone or tablet.
Similar to WowWee's MiP robot, you can use your iOS or Android (and eventually Windows 8.1) mobile device to steer the two-wheeled Jumping Sumo through its environment. It can also be programmed to follow a Road Plan or complete pre-programmed tricks.
And then there's the jumping. Though you can have the Sumo balance on its wheels like a Segway when driving it around, it will spend most of its time resting on its rear leg. With a tap on your screen that leg will retract, compressing its two springs and then releasing them, launching itself either forward or straight up 80cm (2.6 feet). You can also have the Sumo flip itself over and use the leg to kick a ball or irritate friends and family by kicking their feet.
Like Parrot's larger AR.Drone quadcopters and MiniDrone Rolling Spider , the Jumping Sumo is completely controlled with an app on your smartphone or tablet. The FreeFlight 3.0 app is available for iOS, Android, and, in October, Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone 8.1 devices; I did all my testing with a Galaxy S4 and an iPhone 5S .
The Jumping Sumo connects to your mobile device via Wi-Fi. Turn on the Sumo and it will appear as a network in your Wi-Fi settings. Select it and launch the FreeFlight app. Once the app is open, it should automatically connect to the Sumo.
However, in my testing the connection wouldn't always happen immediately and occasionally would never happen at all, forcing me to shut down both the Sumo and the app and start the process over again. To be fair, it happened mainly when I was using it in areas with a ton of wireless networks. In the app you can change to Manual mode and choose a less-crowded channel, as well as connect over 5GHz or 2.4GHz.
Once you are connected, you'll see a first-person view streamed from the Sumo's camera. Slide the virtual stick on the left forward and back to move those directions and tilt your device left or right to turn. On the right is another pad to do quick 90- and 180-degree turns by swiping up, down, left, or right.
For navigating in tight areas, the wheels can be pushed in. If stability and speed is your priority, pull the wheels out for a wider base. You can drive the Sumo indoors or outside, but the tires are made from a spongy foam, so too much riding on rough terrain will shred them. A new set will set you back $15.
Down the right side are buttons for vertical and horizontal jumps and flipping the Sumo upside down to perform kicks. You can come to full stop before you jump, but you can also compress the springs while you're still rolling so you can jump forward without delay or upward with less delay.
In the middle at the top of the controls is an Animation button. Tap it and you'll get a list of preprogrammed moves such as different spins, an S-curve, and tapping its back leg on the ground.
Not all of this is explained in the quick-start guide that comes with the Sumo, but there is a full manual in the app, or you can download it from Parrot's support page. There's a whole playlist of tutorials on YouTube as well.
At the top right are buttons for snapping 640x480-pixel photos and recording video at the same resolution. Parrot says hundreds of photos can be stored to the Sumo's internal memory. Video, on the other hand, requires a thumb drive with a Micro-USB adapter or a one that has a female Micro-USB connector built in. I tested with an 8GB Silicon Power Mobile X10, but whatever you choose, the width has to be less than 1.5cm and the height less than 2.5cm.
Once inserted, you can start recording video. As you might expect, video quality isn't anything special, but it is fun to watch regardless. And as shown in the clips below, I had a bit of fun chasing my kids around and driving it around the office. (You can also see how the Sumo rights itself when it takes a tumble.) The more light you have, the less artifacts you'll see, so if you record outside in daylight, the quality is better than what you see here.
Through the app you can transfer photos and videos to your phone or tablet while you're wirelessly connected to the Sumo. Though pictures transferred quickly, videos longer than a few seconds took awhile, so you're better off taking the drive out and transferring to a computer or mobile device (if supported). Also, the Silicon Power drive has a metal enclosure and got very hot while recording and transferring, something to keep in mind when selecting a drive.
The Micro-USB port is also used for charging the Sumo's little battery pack. It's the same one used for Parrot's Rolling Spider and takes about 90 minutes to charge.
If all you're doing is driving around and doing the occasional jump the battery will last up to 20 minutes. Recording video, doing a lot jumps, or basically doing anything more demanding than driving will cut into that time. Just one battery is included, too, and an additional one will run you $20 (AU$22, £14).
Like Parrot's other MiniDrone, the Rolling Spider , the Jumping Sumo is a lot of fun for killing some time with your smartphone or tablet. It might actually be more fun than the Spider for some, since you don't have to worry nearly as much about crashing the Sumo and its battery life is longer even if it isn't necessarily long. The only thing that's kind of a deterrent is its price. It's not necessarily expensive, but its price is probably just above impulse-purchase territory.