RC controller or not RC controller, that is the question!
When it comes to upgrading anything on a drone system, such as the controller you choose, there’s always one big factor that affects your decision. That is the added cost versus the practical value that added cost brings.
When we look at drone systems in general, going with the pro version over the standard version, well, it’s often a good bet to get the pro version, as the pro version usually seems to be of slightly better build quality and usually has other added benefits.
When it comes to the controllers, though, there never used to be an upgrade option available, not really. You sort of just got what you got, and that was whatever came with the drone. Meaning the system you bought already had a controller assigned to it, and that was pretty much it.
We are now starting to see that change, though, with most drones today working with a few controller options, giving you, the consumer, some tough choices to make.
The controller is also an area that can hurt what otherwise is a great drone.
A cheap, toy-like controller lacks the ability to give the pilot faith that the equipment is long-lasting and of good quality, and they tend to just feel funny and are not comfortable to hold for long periods.
It’s this type of controller that has hurt many good quality drones out there, such as the Parrot Anafi lineup; it’s a great drone at a good cost-to-value ratio and the darned thing flies well, but the controller is just junk.
A controller, mind you, that is shared with another popular drone system, the Skydio 2. Yes, both systems share the same lousy controller, just rebranded.
This is an area where DJI has always been aware of needing to show their best quality, something other companies have lagged behind on to their own detriment.
DJI has always presented a quality, good-feeling controller for its product lineup ever since the beginning.
It is, after all, not just a control station for the aircraft but the one item that the drone operator/owner/you will have contact with the most. So having top-notch quality here can either sell a drone system or see that it stays on the shelf for eternity.
Here we’re looking at the DJI RC, and its less glitzy but equally functional counterpart, the DJI RC-N1.
As with any DJI controller, I don’t have much, if any, issue really with the quality. DJI tends to always put focus on the controller quality in all of their systems.
There are several things though, that we can look at when comparing the two.
Beyond the most obvious of differences, that built-in screen, what else is different between the two? Could it be that the RC-N1 is actually the better controller, and possibly not even for the reason you may think?
Guess we’ll find out together. Let’s get into it.
The DJI RC-N1
Looking at the naming of this controller may lead one to believe that it is of a later generation than its counterpart, the DJI RC. It does after all contain the RC moniker with a continued designation. That would be the wrong assumption.
Based off of the release dates of the two controllers, the RC-N1 came out first. That’s not to say that DJI wasn’t working on them both at the same time and one completed the design and manufacturing process first.
What we do know is the DJI RC-N1 came out before the DJI RC and that it has become the standard controller for multiple new DJI drone systems that run the 03+ transmission system.
It is able to be paired with the DJI Mavic Air 2 and 2S, the Mini 2 and 3, and the Mavic 3 systems.
This controller crosses the spectrum from beginner to professional with the systems it’s able to work with.
Now, like I said, when we look beyond the obvious built-in screen that makes the DJI RC so different from the DJI RC-N1, there is an advantage that the DJI RC-N1 has that the DJI RC does not.
3rd Party App Compatibility
The very nature of having to use an external device such as your phone or your tablet with the DJI RC-N1 means that you also have the ability to run 3rd party flight apps, whether Android or iOS.
At this time, this cannot be done with the DJI RC as it runs the fly app exclusively. It is very questionable if the DJI RC will ever have the ability to run anything else.
So, if you wanted to fly with something other than the DJIs Fly App, the DJI RC just wouldn’t be able to do it.
Although this doesn’t affect a hobbyist as much, it has huge ramifications for semiprofessional to professional drone pilots, as they very often need to fly with apps such as Drone Deploy, Pix4D, and Litchi, and the list really does go on.
Now there could be a good reason for that and that is they want you to purchase the much more costly variation of the DJI RC and that is the DJI RC Pro, which does run 3rd party apps.
For many out there, this is a deal breaker for the DJI RC, as they have no choice but to be able to run and use 3rd party apps.
Nits nits nits!
Whenever we talk about drones and the view screen you use, we have to talk about nits, or screen brightness. With the DJI RC-N1, it’s very possible that the device you are using, say a smartphone, could exceed the 700-nit limit of the DJI RC.
Most smartphones, for example can have a range of brightness from 300 nits to 1500 nits. Whereas the tablet you may be using may only have a range of 300 nits to 800 or 1000 nits, allowing you to adjust the screen brightness to suit the flying conditions you find yourself in.
Being limited to a maximum of 700 nits can make flying on those sunny days difficult and leave you still needing to find a shady spot to fly from just so you are able to view the screen.
Let’s be frank here. Having anything break in your assortment of gear is bad. Dropping and breaking your tablet or phone makes for a bad day.
Many, though, have some sort of coverage for such bad days, so the frustration is minimized at least.
Dropping and damaging an all-in-one component has always been an issue with those types of items. Dropping the DJI RC and breaking anything like the screen makes the controller useless.
Whereas if those units are separated and compartmentalized, they can be replaced without having to go without or replace parts that aren’t broken.
Keeping you out of the air.
With a controller like the DJI RC-N1, the viewer is whatever device you decide to use, be it a smartphone or a tablet, what have you. If you break the one you’re using, you can switch to a different device and keep going.
Now granted, these are extreme examples, but it’s an extreme world, and things happen all the time. It’s very possible to damage the screen on the DJI RC and in turn, make it nonfunctional as a controller.
The only option after all would be a complete controller replacement either way, even if the controller portion still functions. As an all-in-one unit, they can’t fix one part without the whole.
Cost can easily be the factor that leads you to choosing this controller over any other. Cost is important, more so to the budget-conscious than to a Scrooge McDuck type sure, but still.
Then there are those who feel that what comes with it is simply good enough. It doesn’t really matter the reasoning; cost is always a factor.
When it comes to the DJI RC-N1, you cannot even purchase this controller directly from DJI or any of their vendors new. They are only available in the secondary marketplace or as a part of your drone bundle purchase.
So, we don’t have the actual price of this controller anymore. Well not really, anyway. We’re left with approximating the price, which should be somewhere around $159.
For a brief while, DJI did have this controller listed for purchase and this was the price at that time.
We’ve already discussed some of the advantages the DJI RC-N1 may have over the DJI RC, dependent on your needs. Now though, let’s look at some of the advantages the DJI RC may have over the RC-N1.
Just looking at the two controllers, it stands out that the DJI RC has a built-in screen and is slightly larger than the DJI RC-N1.
Just looking at the two, we’ll also notice that the function and CS button are missing. They’re not really. They have just been repositioned.
For all intents and purposes, the two controllers look and feel very different. That really comes into play when we turn the two controllers over.
Where the DJI RC-N1 feels brickish and clunky, but not bad in the hands, the DJI RC feels light and more ergonomically fitting, more streamlined to your hands. Although both weigh nearly the same, the DJI RC just feels lighter.
There are many advantages to having the screen built into the controller. So many, in fact, it’s really surprising we didn’t see the integration of the two much sooner.
The DJI RC offers a built-in 5.5″ touchscreen display with a maximum brightness of 700 nits. For what it is and the pricing, it’s not bad.
Although many smartphones and tablets you may use could potentially have higher brightness, there is the fact that the screen is built in, and there are no longer any extra cords needed or a secondary device and a holder for that device to operate the aircraft.
This can cut down on setup time by quite a bit.
The DJI RC allows for an SD card to be used within the controller to a limit of 512 GB and expand from its onboard memory. One of the best somewhat hidden features within this controller, though, is the ability to screen record.
To screen record your flight (this recording keeps the flight data visible in the final rendered recording, for example) simply swipe down from the top of the screen to bring up the controller’s Quick Settings menu.
One of the available options is screen record. Tap that button and the controller will start screen recording.
The other way to use the onboard controller storage could be a lifesaver if you were to lose your data onboard the aircraft. The controller can record a backup file of what the craft is recording.
Although it would be in 1080hd format, this would be a secondary backup file as opposed to the original onboard the aircraft.
This can be set up through the DJI Fly Apps camera settings. It may not be the best format like onboard the aircraft but if it’s the only way you can get that lost footage, it’s something at least.
Two Control Wheels
This one that’s always shocked me – that more controllers just don’t have them: two control wheels for the gimbal and zooming.
Granted, most drones, till recently, didn’t even offer a zoom function. This is the bias of being an Enterprise operator and, as such, spoiled to this feature.
Having the ability to control both of these functions as well as change the aircraft’s position can lead to some very dynamic video sequences that a lack of that control just cannot recreate.
The DJI RC-N1 does offer a form of zoom control through the use of the function button and gimbal control wheel but you’re still losing gimbal control to use it.
Having two control wheels makes an immense difference and can easily lead to you getting more interesting and cinematic footage.
Now, those are some nice features not found in the other controller. Like I said, the two control wheel thing, oh my gosh!
What does it cost though? What would you or I have to pay for those extra conveniences?
That’s just what the DJI RC offers, extra conveniences. From a purely technical aspect, the two are nearly identical broadcast and reception-wise. There’s that screen, though, and that’s pretty dang cool.
Well, the answer is about twice the cost of the DJI RC-N1. Most places offer this DJI RC controller, wait for it… Waiting… $309.
That’s not a bad markup for what changes you get, not really. The built-in screen does really make a difference, after all, for ease of use and setup and pack-up time.
Both! Neither controller, not the DJI RC nor DJI RC-N1, are very different on a technical level. When we look at the specs for the two of them, other than a bit more output from the DJI RC, these two controllers are the same.
Other than the screen, the hardware appears to be the same, looking at the specs. You might think that the DJI RC would be a power sucker, with the built-in screen and all. It’s not, since the DJI RC-N1 charges while connected to the viewing device, both controllers drain out about equally.
You might think one would have a better range over the other since so much power is devoted to the screen lighting. I didn’t find that to be true. Both, after testing, seemed to get right about the same, and that was with using different aircraft.
As a matter of fact, other than the reasons listed above and, of course, personal preferences, the typical give-and-take of Droneland plays out again.
Both offer benefits and drawbacks.
The DJI RC at its current pricing is just a phenomenal price for having the option of a built-in screen as it would be three times that to put oneself into the DJI RC Pro.
As far as the screen brightness, well, 700 nits actually seems ok, or I haven’t noticed any need to seek shade just to see the screen any more or less than the 1000 nits I’m used to.
Yes, the answer is both. As the DJI RC-N1 comes with the aircraft of interest and gets you flying, that cost is already figured into the purchase price.
The DJI RC is more of a wish item. You don’t really have to have it, and it only really brings convenience to the table, albeit the convivence it offers is nice. Very nice indeed!
It still remains something you can always get down the road. The fact remains, if you want to use anything other than the DJI Fly App, and many of you out there have too, you will need the DJI RC-N1 controller, there is just no way around that. For now.
Knowing how DJI feels about 3rd party apps, I don’t foresee that option coming anytime soon. This, of course, means that you really need to have both. Even if the DJI RC is your most used, it has some insurmountable drawbacks.
What I will add from a personal perspective
DJI RC – I like it! The screen is a bit small when compared to the tablet I usually use. It seems to connect and load up at a decent speed.
It fits the hands nicely. Having the backside center portion narrow as it is, it does fit the hands quite well.
When in use, it does drain quicker than the 4hrs DJI lists, but well within reason. It’s a very nice controller, especially at its price.
DJI RC-N1 – it is a tank of a controller. As with all DJI controllers, it feels solid and well-built. I used brickish above as a descriptor and that is true. It’s sort of like an ergonomically designed brick, sure.
I didn’t purchase the DJI RC right away. There wasn’t a need to, as I fly with the DJI Air 2s and the Mavic 3 currently. So, when the DJI RC came out it didn’t at the time work with anything else but the Mini 3.
Anyway, what it means is I have put quite a bit of flight time in with my RC-N1. It’s a good controller with a nice lengthy battery in it. A bit temperamental with its interior antennae. That’s true of all of them, though.
It runs 3rd party apps without any issues, at least no more than usual with such apps. In the end, the best choice is probably the one I made, and that is to just have both.
The DJI RC is a primary controller, and the DJI RC-N1 is a backup for use with 3rd party apps, and of course, if anything were to happen to the DJI RC controller.
“So, alas, my fair DJI RC, you are beloved and are gladly given in betrothment by any Drone Pilot suiter you may seek, for you have much to offer such a prince of the air. If not for those minor blemishes, I fear that you may be banished by some, for they may not recognize thy inner beauty.”
Fly Safe, Fly Always, Always Fly Safe!