The ultimate guide to drone controllers and top 5 drone transmitters.

The popularity of consumer drones is on a rise. The hobbyists drone pilots are becoming drone professionals as their flying skills improve with time. One of the most important piece of equipment, after the drone itself, is the drone controller.  The technical name of a drone radio controller is drone transmitter or radio transmitter.  All these terms essentially refer to the same equipment. In this article, I present a list of top 5 drone transmitters in the market which you can buy for your drone.  Also, we would discuss some of the features of these radio controllers such as frequency, range, look, compatibility and durability.

How a Drone Controller Works:

A transmitter transmits a radio frequency (RF) signal of a proper frequency and protocol as dictated by its manufacturer.  The transmitter communicates with its compatible receivers (which is another small piece of radio equipment and we place it on the quadcopter) using any of the communication protocols called radio protocols. These radio protocols can be divided into two major types are RX, TX means Receivers and Transmitters protocols respectively.

Some RX protocols are universal but some are different for various brands. For example, PWM(Univesal) SBUS (Futaba, FrSky), IBUS(Flysky), , FPort (FrSky) etc

TX protocols mostly vary between different brands of radio equipment. Some brands also offer multiple protocols.  Some TX protocols are FASST (Futaba), DSMX (Spektrum), AFHDS (Flysky).

What to look for in a radio transmitter.

Following are some of the things you should be looking for when selecting a model aircraft radio controller to buy:

  1. Smooth movements of the sticks with a good amount of throw.
  2. Optimized distance between the sticks, not too far or too close. Check this by holding the controller in your hand.
  3. A large screen.
  4. How many channels it has. Normally you should be looking for at least 8 channels.
  5. How many switches are available and how many total positions are available to program. You need switch positions to program functions.
  6. What telemetry protocol it works on. It is a communication protocol between quadcopter and the transmitter.
  7. Whether it is a mode 1 or mode 2 radio. Various countries have different pre-dominant radio mode either 1 or 2.
  8. Weather it has a telemetry module included or you have to buy it separately. Telemetry modules are small radio devices. One of this stay onboard your drone and the other attaches to the drone transmitter (if required).
  9. What kind of battery it has, is there an option for recharging.
  10. For flying quadcopters and FPV drones, having two sliders (one on each side) near your thumbs is highly desirable. You can program these for some tasks you want to get quickly such as camera or gimbal movements.
  11. The ability to connect with a computer using a USB port.
  12. If you are not into making quadcopter models using the transmitter, you can search to find a drone controller with the built-in model for your aircraft.

5 Most Popular Drone Controllers in the Market:

1.Taranis X9D plus drone transmitter

aranis-X9d-transmitter-new

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As the company says, Taranis is developed by hobbyists for hobbyists. This is without doubt the most popular and probably the best drone controller at the moment when we consider both price and functionality. It works at 2.4 GHz frequency and has 16 channels. The radio is good-looking with a reasonably large screen with a back light. It has three position switches which has names on them which is helpful while programming. The three positions of switches mean you have a lot of options to program the flight controls you want to have such as various flops. It runs on OpenTX which is an opensource firmware for RC radio transmitters.  The benefit of OpenTX is that it is more configurable.  The radio operates in two modes, an “operation” mode and a “bootloader” mode which is a utility mode. The calibration procedures are simple. Knobs are nice and smooth with good spring tension. The throw of the sticks (span of movement) is quite good. In the case of a problem, it gives you a vibration in addition to a sound warning. This additional feature is helpful for racing FPV drone situation where you are not looking at the screen of the drone controller. The voice in sound warning can be changed with any custom voice package. Taranis X9d comes with a SD card which is good if you want to store models and change the settings.  It has a micro USB port at the back and a headphone port. With this USB port, you can connect it with any of the drone simulators or computer if you want to get a big screen interface. So, a lot of nice features are available in Taranis X9D plus radio controller and it does tick all the boxes.

2.Spektrum DX9 Drone controller

Spektrum-dx9

Spektrum DX9 is a 9-channel radio transmitter. It also has 3 position switches and a backlit LCD screen. Extremely smooth sticks and you are able to adjust the tension in both sticks. Elegant look and feel.  It is a mode 2 radio and has a SD card port, headphone and trainer ports and a charging port. This UAV transmitter can store 250 models of planes and quadcopters. It also has voice alerts. The battery is of 7.4V, two cell Lithium Ion type and comes with a charger. It has two rotary switches at the back which you can use with your index fingers. In addition to that there are two rotary switches in front and also two dialing knobs on top.

Also, a big rotary switch is adjacent to the screen which you can use to navigate the menus and quickly type model names etc. In some radio controllers such as Taranis, the typing of model name is quite a tedious job but with this big rotary switch which is also rubbery, it is quick and easy. These are handy for certain tasks. The manual which comes inside the box is quite thick and this is the way a radio transmitter manual should look like because there are many things you have to learn if you are an absolute beginner. Most other transmitter don’t have such detailed manuals.  Another nice feature is a good rubbery grip. In fact, both sides where you put your hands and finger are rubbery, so chances of slip are almost zero.

3 Flysky FS-I6S 10ch 2.4G AFHDS 2A RC Transmitter

flysky-fsi6s-radio-transmitter

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Flysky FS-i6S is a 10 channel 2.4 GHz radio and one of the top selling drone controller on Amazon due to its affordability and amazing features. Would you expect a touch screen in a 55-dollar radio transmitter? It looks somewhat like DJI’s radio controllers!  Flysky FS-i6S is a telemetric radio so has a bidirectional communication.  It is designed with low power consumption capability. The transmitter is powered by 4 double A batteries. It comes with a smartphone holder. Both of the antennas are built-in, and you will not see them which is cool feature. It is very light weight and weighs only 410 grams. It has a USB and a trainer mode.

You can use it with any of the drone simulators.  Another safety feature is that it has two on/off buttons and you have to press both simultaneously to turn it on. This prevents the accidental start of the controller.  The sticks are very smooth and of high quality.  It has two 3-position and two 2-position switches. Also, two rotary switches and two buttons are ready to be assigned to any channel. The rubbery anti-slip grips are provided on this sleek radio controller.  The binding of this radio transmitter with its receiver is extremely fast.

4.Futaba 16SZ FASST drone controller:

Futaba-T16sz-Drone-radio-Controller

This is also a 16-channel transmitter which has a 4.3 inches color LCD touch screen. The transmitter feels good in hands. It is one of the recent versions from Futaba. Futaba radio controller use FASST system to talk with the receivers. This radio controller comes with a 7-channel receiver.  It is compatible with many protocols such as FASSTest, FASST, S-FHSS and T-FHSS.  You can update the firmware of this radio controller. All switches are marked. The instruction manual is quite detailed like Spektrum DX9. The battery is 5 cell 1800 mAH, Ni MH type.

5.Taranis X7S Drone Transmitter

Taranis-x7s-transmitter-for-uav

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This is also a 16 channel 2.4 GHz transmitter and one of the best drone transmitter for people who like modern look. It is an upgraded version of X7 and have some improvements such as mode 2M7 gimbal, rechargeable battery and battery charger. It comes with at least two different skins, one is carbon fiber skin for this transmitter which some people like. The knobs are a bit smoother than Taranis X9D transmitter. It has three ports, a micro SD card port, a port to flash the firmware if transmitter becomes unresponsive and a micro USB port to connect it with the computer. The cons are that there are no sliders available on this one.