The Best RC Transmitter for Drones in 2021
A drone is only as good as its pilot. In a way, this is true. How your drone performs depends much on your skill and performance.
But one piece of equipment that can influence that more than anything else is the drone transmitter. This is your main communications link with your drone, so you need it to be working as flawlessly as possible.
Those looking for an RC transmitter for a drone are usually doing so because they are serious about their flight performance — whether this is for commercial or recreational use, it doesn’t really matter.
Your potential is only limited by the quality of your drone and the quality of the transmitter.
We’ll start by giving you recommendations for the best transmitter out there, and then we’ll guide you through the key things you need to be looking for when you’re on the hunt for the perfect controller for you.
When Should You Get A Drone Transmitter?
The majority of drones available in the market today would already have a drone transmitter included. These Ready To Fly (RTF) drones save you the money and effort from having to buy a separate one.
Even if it doesn’t have a transmitter included, most would support using your smartphone as the drone remote controller.
But these included transmitters are very much focused at beginner flyers — usually, at least — keeping them very simple and focusing on fun and phone support.
Most people who buy separate drone transmitters are tinkerers building their own drones, either from scratch or via a kit, or are more serious flyers.
Nevertheless, there are still advantages of buying a drone transmitter even if you have an RTF drone. A lot of the transmitters that are bundled with them are “stock units” with very basic functions. At best, they’re inferior in quality.
Because third-party RC transmitters are usually of higher quality, getting one of them is a solid investment.
You’d want to buy one for the added channels and model memory.
The former allows you to control more functions on your drone. At the same time, the latter enables you to manage multiple drones with a single transmitter (no, not at the same time!).
They’re also commonly paired with FPV goggles in order to retain FPV functionalities of your crafts.
The Best RC Transmitters 2021
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The Spektrum DX8 is a powerful 2.4 GHz transmitter that has all the features a pilot could ever want in a controller.
- Channels: 8
- Model Memory: 250
- Battery: NiMH battery included
- Weight: 1.8 kg
- Dimensions: 12 x 9.3 x 5.5 inches
Despite it only having 8 channels, you’ll get a lot of value out of the DX8.
Like other Spektrum transmitters, this is a hobby-grade controller that can be used at competition levels. You get an ultra-responsive radio transmitter, that does a fantastic job at maneuvering anything from a drone to an RC car. You get a rapid response rates of just 11ms.
But that’s just the basics – most transmitters can do that. The bonus you get with the DX8 is in the added functionality it brings to the table.
One highlight is the programmable voice prompts, which you can program alerts, warnings, and other reporting of your drone. It’s completely customizable, such that you can tell it to verbally inform you if battery levels or altitude reach threshold limits, for example.
The programmable voice prompt is so useful that you can pretty much rely on this feature alone to tell you all the vital info you need to know while piloting. If you’re a racer who wants to keep an eye on the track at all times, this is just perfect.
The DX8 is also a highly programmable transmitter, which you can use to control a plethora of RC vehicles and drones. This is coupled with the massive 250 model memory of the DX8. Plus, you can share profiles onto other Spektrum transmitters via the AirWare software.
The Wireless Trainer Link feature also allows you to link and use another DSM2/DSMX transmitter simultaneously with the DX8. With this setup, you can, for example, control the camera gimbal with the DX8 while another transmitter pilots the drone. It enables two-person piloting for more focused control.
The only limitation of the DX8 is that it only has 8 channels. But as we mentioned, 8 is already plenty for most users.
Despite this, the Spektrum DX8 is still an excellent transmitter to get. It has a robust voice prompt system, expanded model memory, and trainer link that most pro users will appreciate.
The FrSky Taranis X9D PLUS SE is a revamp of the original X9D. If you’re not familiar with the X9D, it’s only the most popular FPV transmitter ever made.
- Channels: 24
- Model Memory: 60 models (expandable with an SD card)
- Battery: 2S Li-Battery (not included)
- LCD Screen: 212 x 64, monochromatic
- Operating System: OpenTX
- RF Module: ISRM-S-X9
- Receiver Compatibility: ACCST D16 and ACCESS
- Weight: 700g (with no battery)
- Dimensions: 7.8 x 7.6 x 4.3 inches
Dubbed as a “hobbyist transmitter made by hobbyists,” it is an advanced unit chock full of powerful features.
First, the controller shape itself has been modified to make it more ergonomic. There are momentary buttons added on either shoulder, making it easier to access during flight. There’s also a scroll wheel to make navigating the on-screen menu easier.
The X9D PLUS SE uses the new ACCESS protocol, which governs how the transmitter and receiver communicate with each other. This gives several benefits.
First, this expands the X9D+ 2019 SE’s channel count to a whopping 24, giving you much more freedom than ever before. Although we couldn’t imagine how this won’t be enough for some!
It also gives you lower latency and higher baud rate, reducing lags, and improving overall performance and responsiveness. It also makes binding the receiver to the X9D+ SE directly through the transmitter, which is convenient.
The Hall Sensor gimbals used in the X9D+ SE are also noticeably smoother to use than other transmitters. There’s no “click” or resistance throughout the entire range of motion, with even tension all throughout.
The model memory on the X9D+ SE is also generous, allowing you to store up to 60 different profiles. This is even expandable with an SD card. For power users with a bay full of drones, this is the last thing you’ll ever need.
Overall, the Taranis X9D+ SE 2019 is one of the more advanced transmitters out there. But that doesn’t mean a complete newbie will not appreciate it. This is actually a beginner-friendly controller, but with enough advanced features to satisfy any pro.
If you’re looking for a nice balance between features and price, the Radiolink AT10-II is your best bet. The mid-range transmitter offers support for 12 channels and telemetry data at an attractive price point.
- Channels: 12
- Range: 4 km (open with no obstacles)
- Battery Life: up to 12 hours with 3s 1800 mAh LiPo battery (not included)
- Dimensions: 7.1 x 3.7 x 8.7 inches
- Weight: 907g
The package includes an R12DS 12CH SBUS/PWM receiver to be installed on your drone. You can also equip it on any RC vehicle or even an RC robot. The receiver also has DSSS and FHSS protocol, which acts as an excellent anti-interference measure. Binding the AT10-II to the receiver is also effortless.
One of the highlights of this drone is its support for telemetry data. The LCD screen display is capable of showing relevant information like voltage, signal strength, battery life, distance, and more. For the price, we find the data range to be excellent.
The control range of this transmitter extends up to 4 km. However, this is considerably less when there are obstacles (like walls) along the way. Still, it’s substantial, and I personally never got to maximizing it to that distance.
Performance-wise, the AT10-II is very responsive. All 12 channels have a response time of 3ms, even when all used simultaneously. In practice, our drone reacted almost instantly to our commands.
We also found the shape of the AT10-II to be ergonomic, which conformed perfectly to our hand. The layout of the button makes everything easily reachable without straining. Oh, and you can specify whether you prefer Mode 1 or 2 when you buy this controller.
The battery life is also something noteworthy with the AT10-II. The underlying power-saving technology of this transmitter allows it to consume only less than 105 mA of power, giving 12 hours of operating time with a modest 1,800 mAh LiPO battery. That’s 50% consumption compared to other transmitters.
With that being said, this isn’t a beginner transmitter. It needs a lot of avionic knowledge to be able to set it up properly. But for DIY drone creators, the Radiolink AT10-II is a fantastic transmitter with a price that’s hard to beat.
The FlySky FS-16S is one of the best budget RC transmitters out there. This is because, despite the price, it actually performs pretty well.
- Channels: 10
- Range: 1 km
- Frequency Range: 2.4 GHz
- Weight: 410g
- Dimensions: 7 x 3.1 x 6.3 inches
To be able to use this cheap RC transmitter, you need to install the included FS-iA6B receiver onto your quadcopter. This might pose a problem with beginners, since doing this requires a fair amount of DIY work. If you’re iffy about it, you can just get someone to do it for you.
The first impression is that the radio quality of the FS-16S is superb, which is comparable to that of a higher-end model. The omnidirectional antenna gave a stable connection and resulted in very responsive flying.
We encountered little to no interference with it (we used it in a reasonably densely populated urban area). This is thanks to FlySky’s patented channel-hopping technology, AFHDS 2A. It allows automatic switching between 140 channels, to get the best possible signal between the receiver and transmitter.
The FS-16S also supports both transmitting and receiving signals from the drone. This allows you to access telemetry data and see crucial drone information mid-flight.
Ergonomics wise, the controller doesn’t have any parts jutting out that can interfere with your grip, which is nice. The gimbals are standard issue and fall somewhere in the middle in terms of smoothness. Unfortunately, this unit offers no easy way to adjust the tension on the gimbals.
The FS-16S also has a fantastic battery life, as this transmitter employs energy-saving features and low power consumption components. In fact, tests show it consumes 90% less power than standard transmitters.
Overall, for a starter transmitter, the FlySky FS-16S delivers. It produces fantastic performance, all while costing less than $60. You might need to tinker a bit with it to install the receiver, but once you do, you’ll be rewarded with a controller that works.
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Not yet ready to invest in a full-blown FrSky model? You can opt to get the Q X7 instead to get a feel for what the Taranis series is capable of.
- Channels: 16
- Model Memory: 60
- Operating System: Open TX
- Weight: 997g
- Dimensions: 11 x 9.8 x 4.5 inches
This is a powerful yet lightweight RC transmitter from FrSky. Luckily, it inherits some of the quality and function of its older brothers in the Taranis lineup.
The Q X7 is a 2.4 GHz transmitter that uses FrSky’s proprietary ACCST communication protocol. It gives you 16 channels to play with to handle all of your drone’s flight features. If that’s not enough, the Q X7 also supports up to 32 channels with a FrSky XJT module (sold separately).
The Q X7 shares the same ergonomic design and layout as other Taranis transmitters. The gimbals use a spring mechanism that effortlessly returns to their default position. You can opt to remove this if you prefer a more stationary throttle.
The backlit LCD screen is where the main menu can be accessed. Navigating requires the use of the wheel and center buttons, which is easy enough to use.
One of the highlights of the Q X7 is the amount of data you can extract from your drone using the transmitter. It gives you lots of telemetry data, which is both displayed and logged in real-time.
If you’re going to use an FPV goggle together with this, then you’ll appreciate the audio speech outputs of the Q X7. Voice prompts let you know of any critical alert or setting while flying. Alternatively, you can also utilize the transmitter’s Haptic Vibration Feedback System to alert you of any warnings.
The only downside of the Q X7 (and the one frequently complained by users) is the lack of a built-in battery or battery tray. In fact, there isn’t much info regarding what batteries you need to use with the unit.
Nevertheless, the Taranis Q X7 is a fantastic pick. You’ll get a glimpse of the legendary quality of FrSky transmitters at a fraction of the price. Top-notch performance all in all.
Taking cues from console controllers, the familiar shape of this FlySky Nirvana NV14 transmitter will be instantly recognizable to any gamer.
- Channels: 14
- Frequency Range: 2.408 – 2.475 GHz
- Screen: 320 x 480 3.5 inch LED
- Weight: 598g
- Batteries: Two 18650
- Dimensions: 10.1 x 9.2 x 4.5 inches
There’s a reason why game controllers look the way they do – they’re designed to be used for hours without wearing the user down. Adopting this shape makes the NV14 instantly ergonomic and a joy to hold.
Fortunately, the comfort and ease of use go beyond just the shape. The hall gimbals also feel very smooth throughout their range of motion. It doesn’t lock or have any resistance, which makes navigating your drone around effortless. The size of the gimbals also offers a nice balance that’s suitable whether you’re a pincher or a thumber.
The other thing that stands out with the NV14 is the enlarged color touchscreen in the middle of the transmitter. Yup, no need for cumbersome menu wheels or buttons to navigate – just intuitive tapping.
This screen also makes FPV (First Person View) possible with this transmitter. No need to whip out your smartphone and mount it on the controller. Everything is kept compact and seamless.
Powering its features and video transmission is a 32-bit M4 processing system with a 166 MHz SDRAM. This is like having a mini computer at the palm of your hand.
This also makes certain features possible, like a USB HID connection for using it in drone simulations. An optional Bluetooth module is also present for future use.
Overall, the FlySky Nirvana NV14 won us over with its ergonomic shape that is extremely comfortable to use. The LCD touchscreen is also an excellent addition. Most of all, the layout and design of this transmitter are not intimidating at all.
If you’re looking for a transmitter to use with your racing drone, we highly recommend this.
The Radiolink T8S is the perfect RC transmitter for children. It is a good reason to swap if your toy drone doesn’t have a quality controller bundled with it.
- Channels: 8
- Range: 2 km (with no obstacles)
- Weight: 141g
- Battery Life: 5 hours from built-in 900 mAh 1S Lithium battery
- Compatibility: Radiolink R8EF, R8FM, R8F, R6FG, R7FG, and R4FGM receivers
- Dimensions: 6.37 x 3.76 x 2.24 inches
The T8S is shaped like a console game controller, but without the finger grip. The small form factor makes it suitable for a child’s hand, as everything is easily reachable without straining. It also makes the T8S very portable, even when stowed in your kid’s pockets.
The control layout is also simplified, so as not to make it too overwhelming for a kid. The gimbals glide smoothly without much effort. The gimbals are even removable.
With that being said, most users would find the channels (at just 8) and buttons available on this transmitter to be lacking.
Talking about the performance of the T8S, it’s a pretty responsive transmitter despite it being an entry-level model. FHSS technology lends it some anti-interference, as our own personal tests show.
Another good thing about the T8S is that it already has a rechargeable battery built-in, unlike most transmitters you’ll encounter. This gives you 5 hours of operating time, which is plenty enough for multiple runs with your drone. Charging can be done conveniently via the USB port.
Since it doesn’t come with its own receiver, it relies on an existing one on your drone. On the plus side, this makes pairing the T8S to the receiver rather easy. On the other hand, you’ll be limited by the drones that you can use with this transmitter.
Adjusting settings and parameters on the T8S is done using a smartphone app. You simply connect it via the USB port on the transmitter. Software upgrades can also be done through this procedure.
All in all, the Radiolink T8S is an excellent upgrade to supplement your toy or hobby drone. It’s easy to use, and setup, plus the ergonomic design will be appreciated by your kids.