In some ways, choosing a remote will be the most important decision a pilot can and will make. It defines so much of what you can and cannot do with your quad, as well as how you do it. While there are cheap options out there, in many cases I don’t recommend them.
Skimming some basics
This topic can get complicated. First you’ll need to decided on remote. While this is an entirely different rant I need to work on, I’ll give the a quick overview here. I will mention different protocols through this section – DSMX, DSM2, FrSky, and FlySky (which AFHDS, and AFHDS 2A) – but the thing you really need to remember that if the radio and the whoop don’t speak the same language, they won’t communicate.
Another concern is the number of channels a radio has too. You want at minimum 6 (technically four, but flight mode and arming switches are good things), but I would say 8 to 12 is a good target number just in case you need more in the future.
The last concern is the “mode” of the remote. A lot of pilots, espescially in the Americas, fly using Mode 2. We Are Champion Magazine has a great write-up, with some helpful graphics I’ve stolen here.
The short version is that while in both modes, sticks the left will make you turn left or right and the right stick will make you fly in a straight line in that direction, in Mode 2 the left stick will determine your speed and elevation, while the right stick will tilt you forward or backwards so you can fly in that direction. In Mode 1, it’ll flip.
Spektrum is probably the corporate juggernaut when it comes to remotes, and they’ve been in the hobby space for ever. Their entry remote is the Spektrum DXe. It’s DSMX only, which can be problematic as a lot of boards for the whoop use DSM2. While it retails for about $90, you can find it for about $60.
The bare minimum product I’d recommend here is the Spektrum DX6. Clocking in at around $230, it’s a 6-channel radio that will definitely get the job done. It’s also worth noting that for whatever reason, DSM2 is banned in the European Union so that can also be a limiting factor.
I would also be remiss if I didn’t point out that Spektrum also offers a cheap 4-channel DSMX remote that they bundle with their Ready-to-Fly Inductrix kits. However, the feel of it and “hobby grade” remotes are entirely different, and it isn’t as usable with other drones.
FrSky has two solid options. The first is the the Taranis Q X7. MSRP is about $105, and doesn’t include a battery, charger, or MicroSD card – so all total, when everything is in stock, expect about $150. Still from all I’ve seen it’s a solid entry remote with good sticks and a good price. The best part is it is based off its older brother, the Taranis X9D+.
In some ways, the Taranis X9 is what built up the sport and is very much the standard for a lot of pilots. MSRP is about $185, or for a bit more you can get some very nice upgrades for the sticks with it. While Spektrum remotes have a solid corporate backing, the Taranis has an online community backing of pilots, makers, and hackers working to put this thing through its paces. Almost every problem you will run into is in a forum post or Youtube video.
It’s also worth noting that both Taranis radios here are 16 channel radios, although very few quad pilots will use all 16 channels. This is why a lot of FrSky advocates will say you can get “twice the radio at half the price.”
The other think I like about FrSky radios is they all include a JR Module port. This port allows you to buy and attach separate modules and add them to your remote.
I honestly don’t know enough here to advise people on radios using the FlySky protocol. I will say that the latest entry here is the Turnigy Evolution at under $70. It’s got a good form-factor that a lot of gamers can appreciate. My only complaint about it is that it has the same flaw as the Spektrum DXe – it’s locked on just ONE protocol, AFHDS 2A, and is not backwards compatible with other FlySky protocols. While this isn’t as much of a problem for bigger quads, it is problematic for Tiny Whoops as there is not at the moment any third party boards that support AFHDS 2A.
Third Parties & Hacks
First off, I want to call out the Team Blacksheep Tango. This is a 10 channel radio that doesn’t, by default, include a transmitter. What it DOES include, however, is a built in 40 channel FPV receiver and screen. For it to control a quad, you’ll need a JR module to go in the back. The radio itself is about $250 and a FrSky module will run you about another $40. But for $300 you get a solid racing radio with a good form factor and a built in screen.
Deviation Firmware Hack
This entry is best described as by default a budget DSM2/DSMX radio. If you have a Walkera Devo 6, 6S, &E, 8, 8S, 10, 12, 12S, F7, or F12E you can modify the software that runs the radio to run the Devitation firmware. This firmware allows access to not only the stock protocols but adds automatically DSM2 and DSMX, and an impressive list of other protocols.
Making the Decision
Ultimately, the balance of cost, utility, and support is one you and you alone can make. I’ve listed several solid options for the novice pilot here, and all of them should serve you well. My honest advice though ultimately is buy the best radio you can afford. It will be the center of your life in the hobby for a while.