Taranis X9D Telemetry Radio System Review

Tagged: FrSky / Taranis / Best in Class / radio / flight /

The best radio for your money?

Let the Revolution Begin!

Those are the word that appear on the homepage of Aloft Hobbies, the U.S. distributor for FrSky products. Just two years ago the Taranis was released at the Toledo Model Expo. The revolution did in fact begin. The Taranis was so popular that for months it was often sold out. Hobbyists were going nuts over it. The discussion thread on RCGroups.com currently has over 41,000 posts. That is nearly double the second most popular thread in the radios forum (one of the most active forums). What is the fuss all about? Does it live up to the hype? Can a $200 radio compete with those costing $500? $800? $1500?!

Initial Impressions

From the moment you pick it up, it says "quality". It does not have cheap looking/feeling plastic (Turing 9XR). The shape feels very natural in your hands. The switches all feel...well, like switches. The gimbals, oh, those gimbals. Thats when you really notice the quality. They are super smooth and accurate. On most radios in this price range, the gimbals feel sloppy. Over long term use the bearings and other parts wear out making the gimbal really sloppy. One way I evaluate this is by moving the right stick to the corner and releasing. Does it return to center after it bounces around? Chances are it doesn't. With the Taranis it does...and has continued to for the year I've used it.

The only obvious flaw were the side sliders. They were just too loose and didn't have a good feel to them. FrSky did acknowledge this and released a new part that was a drop in replacement. These new sliders are much better. You can definitely tell when it is centered, and the increased friction means smoother operation and fewer "oops, didn't mean to move that" moments.

The only other complaint I have with the physical design is it is not very stable when you stand it upright. There are some aftermarket 3D printed battery covers you can get that will fix this. They also allow for larger batteries or just less of a tight fit for the stock battery.

Ergonomics

Another area this radio wins high marks is with ergonomics. It just fits really well in your hands. The switches are all within reach. The edges are rounded so they feel comfortable when you hold it. I found that it was very easy to get a comfortable grip and keep my fingers on the switches at all times. I do have larger hands than average, but even those with smaller hands will probably agree since this radio is smaller than many others.

Software

This is where it really starts to pull ahead

We live in a world run by software. In this case it is the firmware. Firmware is the software that controls the hardware and makes it work. All radio systems these days have firmware. However radios from JR, Futaba, Spectrum, and others use their own proprietary firmware. That is good in some ways. It is very proven and reliable. However the feature set of the radios are often locked down by the firmware, even though the hardware is capable. More commonly the firmware simply doesn't have the features you want.

Not so with the Taranis. It is one of a new breed that uses open source Firmware. Take your pick. The firmware has been forked a few times as new developers want to go a different direction. This means we have options. It also means we have to make decisions. Some people get overwhelmed by the concept of open source firmware on their radio. It does mean you need to run firmware updates form time to time, and program the radio yourself. However once you get over the learning curve (or know someone who can help you) the options available are all worth it. OpenTX and other firmware deserve a post of their own, and I don't want to lose you with firmware talk if you are new to radios or open source firmware. Just take my word for it, its worth it!

Ultimately OpenTX and the others offer far more features than the competitions proprietary firmware. They allow you to maximize the radio to its fullest, unlike others who make you buy new hardware to get features that could be unlocked via firmware if they wanted.

Transmitter Technology

One radio to rule them all

The Taranis is a modular radio. That means you can use it with the built in FrSky transmitter, or buy a module for the receivers you use. For example, I have a Nano CPX and Nano QX that use Spektrum radio technology. I can use my Taranis with these models via a $30 DSMX module. If I needed JR then I could buy a module for that.

As you can see, this radio is really very flexible. One radio to fly all your models.

Longevity

I've had mine for over a year and its as good as new. If I did have a problem getting it taken care of is no problem. Wayne at Alof is a class act and will stand behind what he sells. If it is out of warranty then repairs can still be done for a fee and here in the US. No need to send it back to China. Ever price shipping TO China? You thought it was expensive to ship to you. Well China subsidizes outgoing shipping so its about 3x as much or more to send anything to China.

That said, you probably could fix it yourself. If you know what the problem is you can buy the parts from Alof. Opening the Taranis is very easy. Just a few screws and you are in. Most parts are simply plug-and-play. Some do require soldering, but if you are going to be in this hobby for long, you'll need to learn to solder. I was afraid of the soldering iron for a long time. I've since grown quite comportable and modded my Taranis in several ways. That too is a topic for another post.

It keeps getting better

FrSky has updated the Taranis to the Taranis Plus. The Plus model comes standard with the improved side sliders, an option of blue or orange screen, and a haptic module (vibration). All these are available as parts for you to add to your standard Taranis. I have done all of these, but the screen. I'll be posting tutorials on how to do these, and more mods, later.

Summary

What makes it great:

  • It only costs $200
  • Silky smooth gimbals that last
  • Great shape that fits in the hands and is comfortable to hold for long flights or simulator sessions
  • Lots of switches
  • 16 channel capability
  • easy to add module for your other receivers
  • Great support from Alof if you buy it there
  • Easy to modify or upgrade
  • You choose the firmware! OpenTX comes pre-installed.
  • Audio feedback system
  • Haptic feedback (with Taranis Plus or optional haptic mod)
  • Good array of switches, easy to change them out if you need something else

What could be better

  • Speaker has very little bass and low volume
  • It is a bit tipsy when standing upright (you can buy a 3D printed battery cover that fixes this and gives more space for the battery)
  • NiMH battery (I like it, but others prefer LiFe or even LiPo)
  • Stock sliders (Fixed in the Plus)
  • Availability is often very limited.

Conclusion - Buy it!!

For $200, you can't go wrong. The Taranis' gimbals are only available on Futaba radios that cost $800 and up! You get more features (via OpenTX firmware) and the same hardware as radios costing $800 or more. It offers amazing performance and an even better value. It outperforms radios costing much more. You will not regret your decision!

Now that you have decided to buy one, buy it from Wayne at Aloft. He is a great guy who will be there for you. Sure you can save some money from the 'other' guys (who I order from too) but Alof is one of those shops that I have no problem paying a bit more so they can continue to offer their great service to this hobby.

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