Radio Control Transmitters are one of the most costly pieces of gear you’ll need to buy up-front when getting into the hobby. As such, we’re always on the lookout for a good entry-level radio. RadioLink recently reached out to us to offer us a review sample of their RadioLink AT10 II TX and we jumped at the opportunity.
RadioLink has been a player in the RC transmitter market for a long time now. In the US, it has always competed as a budget alternative to the “big dogs” like JR/Spektrum, Futaba, and lately FrSky. The RadioLink AT10 II is their current top of the line model, with the following features:
- Support for up to 12 radio control channels over a modern FHSS 2.4GHz link.
- Fully computerized mixer configuration for fine control over most basic model aircraft functions.
- Full array of 2 and 3-position switches, as well as momentary switches, knobs and sliders.
- Diversity receivers with S.Bus support and telemetry.
- Beautiful color LCD screen for configuration and telemetry monitoring.
One low point of the AT10 is it’s manual. The English is frankly not great so you can expect to be Googling around quite a bit to learn how to use your transmitter for the first time. I hope to help out with that a bit in the next section.
Receiver Wiring & Installation
The RadioLink AT10 II comes with a RadioLink R12DS receiver. This receiver has an SBus connection but is quite bulky. For miniquad use, I recommend you purchase a Radiolink R12DSM receiver, which is microscopic by comparison and only supports SBus. A good option for micros is the RadioLink R6DSM, which is even smaller & cheaper but does not have diversity Please note that we used the provided R10DS for this review.
The RadioLink AT10 update v1.3.7 has been out for over a year now. Despite this, my radio came installed with version 1.2.9. I guess RadioLink has a big inventory of these radios? Otherwise, I can’t tell you why this radio came with such an old version on it. Nevertheless I spent some time with the radio pre-update and post-update and it is significantly better after the update. You should definitely update your radio after you receive it. Fortunately, the process is really easy and can be completed on any computer with a USB port. Here are the steps:
- Download the latest .bin file from this website (the second link for each update): http://www.radiolink.com.cn/doce/at10upgraded.html
- Plug your radio into your computer with a micro USB cable. Turn it on.
- The radio should show up on your computer as a mass storage drive. Format it with the FAT filesystem. This is the default in Windows.
- Copy the bin file update to the newly formatted drive:
- The update will start immediately on the radio after the file copy is completed. The red light in the center of transmitter will flash while it is in progress. It takes about 30 seconds. After done, both the red light and green light will flash.
- Remove the USB cable from the transmitter and it should boot up automatically. Press and hold the MODE button and enter the “PARAMETER” menu. The radio version shows up on the bottom of the screen. Your version number should be identical to the one you updated to.
I was a bit confused at first since this radio has no buttons or options in the menu for binding. I was pleased to find out, however, that the procedure is perhaps the easiest of any radio I have ever used. To bind a receiver to your RadioLink, simply turn on your transmitter, select the correct model, and then power on the receiver you want to pair with that transmitter while holding down the bind button on the receiver. The RX and TX will automatically find each other and pair.
I’m not clear about what happens if you turn on an RX with two RadioLink AT10 transmitters on nearby, but I assume that the one with the strongest signal (e.g. closest) is selected. I doubt this scenario will come up much in reality, though.
Last, but certainly not least – if you are using one of the “dual mode” receivers like the R12DS in your quadcopter, you’ll need to put the receiver in “SBUS mode”. On these receivers, there is a light on the top of the receiver that is either red or blue. Red is “PWM mode”, while blue is “SBUS mode”. To switch between the modes, simply press the bind button twice while the receiver is powered up. Once you do this, your flight controller should start receiving SBUS signals through the SBUS channel.
I was happy to find that the RadioLink comes pretty much ready to go for quadcopters if you create a “HELICOPTER” model. By this I mean that all of the sticks are centered, and the top left switches A-F are pre-bound to AUX channels (A=AUX6, B=AUX5, C=AUX3, D=AUX7, F=AUX1). Similarly, failsafe is already set-up. Turning off the radio will set the throttle to the lowest value – 885 – which should trigger failsafe mode on your flight controller. You really don’t need to mess with the radio at all for the purposes of flying quadcopters – just do all your configuration in Betaflight.
For new pilots, we think it is very important to spend some serious quality time in a simulator. It is best if you can use the radio you will actually fly with on the simulator. Unfortunately, you will need to purchase a separate USB dongle to enable this on the AT10. An RCGroups thread explaining the process for the AT9 will also work for the AT10. Given that the AT10 has a USB port on it, I hope that Radiolink figures out how to enable a joystick feature like FrSky radios have in the future.
Build Quality & Aesthetics
The RadioLink AT10 is a very nice looking radio. It is nice and chunky and feels substantial, unlike the FlySky FS-i6. It is about the same size as the FrSky Taranis or high-end Spektrum radios. The plastic face plate in the front of the radio comes in two colors, orange and silver. I’m particularly fond of the looks of the orange version that I received.
Most of the control switches, knobs and the sticks have a pleasant feel to them. The same can’t be said for the buttons used to access the settings menu – they all feel flimsy and cheap. This carries over into the menu itself, where the wheel used to make actual adjustments makes it difficult to make large changes. Rotating the wheel quickly causes the values to adjust up and down seemingly at random, so you need to take it slow. Note that this behavior was substantially improved when I performed a software update on the radio.
Another gripe I have is the power switch. It has a ton of play and feels like it could break at any time. It’s feels really lame to pick up this nice looking radio and the first thing you do is try to switch it on, only to have the power switch shift around under your thumb.
The antenna will be one of the first things to break on any often-used radio. Like most budget radios, the RadioLink AT10 has a fixed antenna that swivels. It is not replaceable, so you’ll be cracking the radio open to make repairs if you damage it. The antenna does have a metallic hinge pin, which should help against minor abuse. We definitely prefer replaceable antennas – this has the added benefit of allowing pilots to customize their radio with higher gain antennas should they desire longer range.
The radio comes with a battery receptacle that accepts 8 AA batteries for power. It uses a JST-style power plug which gives you the possibility to replace the battery with a 3S LiPo or 12V NiCD. The plug inside the radio isn’t very well labeled and is easy to reverse, but RadioLink has included a circuit which prevents damage if you plug it in the wrong way. The bay is the same size as the FrSky Taranis battery bay so anything that works in the Taranis will work in this radio.
The color LCD is a nice touch and is the main selling point of this radio over it’s competitors, in my opinion. In bright sunlight, it can get a bit washed out, but the pixel density allows the menus to be descriptive and easy to navigate. It also allows RadioLink to display a lot of information on screen at all times – particularly important for telemetry.
Functionality & Performance
Evaluating the performance of this radio starts with the binding process outlined above – and I am a huge fan. Unlike FrSky systems, you won’t be looking up YouTube videos every time you want to bind a receiver with this radio. I loved how everything hooked up and started working by simply turning the radio on. This includes a fantastic telemetry system.
The two most important performance measurements of any radio are latency and range. I’m happy to say that the latency on this radio seems great — on par with my CrossFire system or Spektrum (which beats out FrSky, by the way), both of which I spend most of my time with. This is likely due to the “dual spectrum” DSSS+FHSS technology that RadioLink uses. FrSky uses FHSS, which provides better noise resistance at the cost of higher latency. RadioLink should theoretically be able to fall back to FHSS if the DSSS link fails. The other side of latency is the receiver link to your flight controller. Happily, most modern RadioLink receivers support SBus, which offers great latency figures. See the “Receiver Wiring & Installation” section above for information on receiver options.
The range of the transmitter seems perfectly fine to me. I did not fly with this radio at any crowded events, but was able to fly about a mile out and back with two bars still showing on the telemetry RSSI readout. At this distance I was feeling pretty edgy – I definitely didn’t want to walk all that way to recover the quad! Given this, I think this range is perfectly acceptable for the average drone pilot. If your goal is extremely long range, you should get a radio with a module which will allow you to “upgrade” to CrossFire or a similar long range system.
I found the RadioLink AT10 to be a good mid-level radio. It is a clearly superior radio to the FlySky FS-i6, but costs more than twice as much at $140 at the time of this review. It’s competition is realistically the FrSky QX7 and X-lite. Compared to those, it fares well by having better features and a better radio link. I would say build quality is about the same. The problem is that our hobby is still largely dominated by FrSky. Need a spare receiver? Chances are your friends have an X4R-SB, not a R12DSM. For this reason, I recommend the AT10 to folks who:
- Want to use something unique (and in some ways better than FrSky).
- Fly airplanes, helicopters, or some other craft that can benefit from the RadioLink AT10’s features – a big plus for those flying a multitude of aircraft!
- Really care about latency.
That being said, if you need a radio and see an AT10 II on sale, or can get one used for cheap – I’d say go for it! It’s a great way to get a fully functional radio for cheap, and a better alternative to most of the really “budget” radios.
You can pick up a RadioLink AT10 II at RadioLink’s Amazon store. Thanks again RadioLink for providing us a review unit!