The Drone Controller: Here’s The Rundown

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Drones have become massively popular for both recreational and commercial uses, and many people have shown keen interest in them. Some of us buy them just for some casual fun, like simply enjoying the flight experience or taking selfies, pictures, and videos. Others use drones for professional reasons, like making vlogs and movies, aerial surveying, rooftop inspections, and so on. Even companies use drones for different purposes, such as surveillance and aerial inspections.

While there is a lot of interest in drones, we usually don’t put a lot of thought into drone controllers. After all, most drones come with their own controllers, so it’s not something people have to think about. But if you’re a serious drone enthusiast, or at least aspire to become one, then you need to have a solid understanding of the most critical aspect that controls the flight of the drone, which is the drone controller.

So we want to bring your attention to different aspects of drone controllers and how they work. We will also explain when you would need to buy a drone controller separately and discover some of the best controllers you can find in the market.

When Do You Need To Buy Drone Controllers?

For the most part, you won’t have to go shopping for drone controllers separately because you will already get a controller when you buy a drone. But there are some instances where you might need to buy a standalone controller.

Before you proceed with this guide, you must consider the circumstances you should buy a drone controller.

If Your Original Controller Is Broken Or Damaged

Obviously if the controller you got with the drone gets broken or damaged, you’ll have to get a new one. In that case, you have two options – either buy a controller from the same manufacturer as the drone or buy a universal, standalone remote controller that is compatible with different drones.

If You’re Building Your Own Drone

Some of you might be technical enthusiasts who prefer to build your own drones instead of buying them. If you’re into engineering, then creating a drone is an excellent project to put your skills to use. It’s incredibly satisfying to see your creation take flight, literally! And when you’re making your own drone, you will also need to get a remote controller. Sure, you can try and make the controller yourself from scratch too. But if you don’t want to go that route, you’ll have to buy a remote controller separately.

If You Want A Better Controller

In case you’re not fully satisfied with the flight capabilities of the remote controller that came with your drone, you might want to explore more options. And it’s very possible that you could find more powerful controllers or controllers with more features than the one you got with your drone itself. So even if you already have a controller but want something better, you’ll have to check out other standalone controllers in the market.

These are cases where you would need to purchase a drone controller just because you want one. That’s why there’s an entire market specializing in individual controllers that are not meant to work with a specific drone but are compatible with different drones from different manufacturers.

How Do Drone Controllers Work?

If you fall under any of the cases mentioned above and want to buy a drone controller, first, you’ll need to know how they work. After all, if you don’t know much about how controllers function, you won’t know what features and specifications you must look for. So, knowing the mechanism and components of drone controllers will help you find the best product. However, to keep this guide fairly understandable for all our readers, we will explain how drone controllers work without extreme technical details.

The basic principle behind drone controllers is the connection and communication between transmitters and receivers. You’ll find a toned-down version of the same technology in TV remotes as well. Your television remote has a small transmitter at the front that can send signals, and the television has a receiver that can respond to that signal.

Similarly, the drone controller also has a transmitter that can send radio signals, and the drone is equipped with a receiver that can receive and respond to those signals. That’s how the drone reacts to the buttons and functions of the controller. As for the primary flight movements of the drones, there are four types of motion that can be controlled with the remote:
  • Pitch is the motion that makes the drone raise its nose to go higher or lower its nose to go lower.
  • Roll is the motion that makes the drone tilt one wing up to turn left or right.
  • Throttle (not pictured above) is the motion that controls the power of the propellers to make the drone go faster and/or higher, or slower and/or lower.
  • Yaw is the motion that rotates the drone along a vertical axis and aids in turning the drone in place, which can help you to take wide panoramic shots if you are a drone photographer.

For a more thorough treatment of pitch, roll and yaw, check out this article at 3DInsider.

Standard drone controllers assign the roll and pitch controls to the right stick and the throttle and yaw controls to the left stick. Some other buttons on drone controllers are the power button and the trim button. Beginners may not be familiar with the trim button, but just know that its purpose is to adjust the four basic motions of the drone.

Things to Consider when Buying a Drone Controller

Here are a few features and specifications you must consider when buying drone controllers:

FPV Screens

It’s handy to have a First Person View (FPV) screen built into the controller, but not all drone controllers have this feature. If you plan to fly the drone for long ranges where it can go out of your sight, an FPV screen is needed to control the drone. For short-distance flights, you can do fine without a screen. So choose accordingly based on how you intend to fly the drone.

Transmission Range

One of the essential specifications of drone controllers is their transmission range, which determines the distance the remote can control the drone. While having a longer transmission range is generally better, it still depends on how you plan to use the drone. Since you know best how far off you want to control the drone, pay attention to the controller’s transmission range accordingly. If you need a long range drone, we have a separate article which you can read all about them right here.


Of course, you must ensure that the controller you want to buy is compatible with your drone. You should be able to find the list of devices compatible with the controller in the product specifications. But if it’s not mentioned in the specifications on the product page or on the box if you’re in the store, you’ll have to confirm it by contacting the manufacturer. Either way, never purchase a controller without getting guaranteed confirmation that it’s compatible with the model of your drone.

Our Picks for Top 3 Best Drone Controllers

DJI Smart Controller

If you want a controller that works with multiple DJI drones, why not get one from the manufacturers themselves? DJI has their own standalone controller, which they have named the Smart Controller. It comes with a built-in FPV screen with OcySync 2.0 Video Transmission, battery life of 2.5 hours, a sleek design, and more cool features. The Smart Controller is compatible with Mavic Air 2, Mavic 2 Zoom, Mavic 2 Pro, Mavic 2 Enterprise, and Phantom Pro V2.0.

BETAFPV LiteRadio Transmitter

If you’re looking for a more budget-friendly and straightforward controller that can get your drone in the sky nicely and quickly, then BETAFPV LiteRadio is the most suitable product. Powered by a 1000 mAh battery, it’s a lightweight controller that has a minimalist design and just the essential functions. While it’s nothing fancy, it’s perfect for people who don’t want too many features but need a simple flight controller at best.

DJI FPV Remote Controller

Another product from DJI, the FPV remote controller, is small and compact with very smooth and intuitive controls. It has an excellent transmission distance of up to 4 km and a powerful 4920 mAh battery. One of the main highlights of this controller is that it maintains a strong connection with the drone with ultra-low latency, so you can maintain better control when flying the drone. And it’s also easy to use because it has simple controls with basic buttons.

Final Thoughts

Since drones come with their own controllers, indeed, you won’t find yourself looking for separate controllers all too often. But if you are building your own drone or your existing controller is damaged, or if you just want a better controller than what you have, you need to have enough information to look for the best controllers in the market.

And we hope that this guide has helped you know all about drone controllers, how they work, and things to consider when buying one. If you don’t want to spend time searching for different controllers on your own, you can simply pick one from our top three recommendations.

Jeremiah Burnett

What started as a gift for my two sons turned into a major hobby for me! After playing with my sons' quadcopter one winter afternoon, I quickly became obsessed with all things drone. I enjoy precision flying, creating stunning and smooth aerial videos, and taking beautiful photos of my hometown.

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