When you’re far out in nature taking photos or video with your drone, you’ll want to keep your phone handy for emergencies, but your drone probably uses your phone as a screen. Buying a controller with a dedicated display that is compatible with your drone will give you one big thing less to worry about.
Personally, I like to be prepared, to minimize unwelcome surprises. I charge everything before heading out: my controller, my drone’s battery, one or two spare batteries, my phone and a power bank for my phone.
My problem is I have a phone that stops charging all of a sudden at the slightest movement of the phone charger connector, so I’m much better off with a drone with a screen remote. If I’m far away in the countryside or the mountains I want to keep my phone free for navigation or emergency communication.
It’s an advantage that a screen on a drone remote controller is designed from scratch for flying drones and nothing else. They perform better than mobiles in bright direct sunlight for example.
What are drones with screens on the remote controller?
There are three ways to pilot a drone:
- Fly it by watching it (‘fly-by-sight’)
- Wear goggles to see what the camera sees
- Pilot by using the screen on the controller.
The screen on the controller is either built into the controller or is a smartphone that is connected to the controller.
Differences between drones with screen remotes and other drones
Most of the time, drones with a screen remote are also drones with remotes that use smartphones as their screen.
If the drone is compatible with different flight options, it’s simply a question of which accessories you have.
Best Drones with Screens on the Controller
DroneSourced is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more
DJI Smart Controller + DJI Drone
- Price: Check on Amazon here
You can buy the DJI Smart Controller separately and use it with eight different DJI drones that use OcuSync 2.0 to transmit both video and navigation instructions between the remote controller and your drone.
Compatible DJI drones include:
- DJI Mini 2
- DJI Air 2S
- Mavic Air 2
- Mavic 2 Zoom
- Mavic 2 Pro
- Mavic 2 Enterprise Series
- Mavic 2 Enterprise Advanced
- Phantom 4 Pro V2.0
OcuSync 2.0 automatically switches frequency between 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz, to provide the most stable connection.
It keeps your video streaming latency very small (130 milliseconds) so what your drone remote is showing you is close to real-time. It can also separate the video transmission and navigation transmission onto different frequencies for more efficient performance.
The DJI Smart Controller has a 5.5 inch 1080p screen. Together with a screen brightness of 1000 cd/m2, you will be able to see what your drone sees in sharp detail, even in sunlight. For comparison, mobile phones usually emit brightness of 400 – 600 cd/m2.
Best drones with a camera and a screen on the remote
Mavic 3 Cine (Premium Combo) – Best drone with a screen on the remote
- Price: Check on Amazon here
- Compatible DJI RC Pro controller comes with the responsive, precise control sticks from the DJI FPV (first-person-view)
- The live feed provides a 1080p@60fps image from up to 15 km
- Supports Apple ProRes 422 HQ video recording and has 1TB SSD storage built-in
- It is expensive. Even more so because the DJI RC Pro is sold separately and is also expensive
- Non-professional videographers can find a good drone with an LCD screen cheaper
DJI is the best drone manufacturer in the world right now and the Mavic 3 is their flagship drone which is as strong a guarantee of quality as you can get in consumer drones. The Mavic 3 Cine in particular is optimized for professional aerial photography, although it lacks in fancy features.
Be careful to get the Mavic 3 Cine Premium Combo and not just the standard Mavic 3 as only the Mavic 3 Cine comes with a controller with a remote control screen: the DJI RC Pro. The DJI RC Pro is an accessory though, so nothing is stopping you from buying a Mavic 3 and a DJI RC Pro separately and making your own cheaper package.
However, the Mavic 3 Cine alone supports the Apple ProRes 422 HQ file format, compatible with Final Cut Pro, Premiere Pro and DaVinci Resolve, drastically reducing your file size. It also has 1TB SSD storage built-in.
Regardless of the package you pick, the controls for first-person-view (FPV) drones are more responsive than photography drones. The DJI RC Pro control sticks are taken from the DJI FPV controller, giving you the best of both worlds: FPV controls on a photography drone for smooth controls and smoother video.
The screen shows a 1080p@60fps live feed from up to 15 km away with latency as low as 120 ms on a 5.5-inch screen. Here we’re pushing up against current performance limits.
Outdoor mode keeps all the detail of your shot visible, even under direct sunlight. Some hacks can get a mobile to match the DJI RC Pro’s 1000 cd/m2 brightness, but most phones cannot keep this up and these hacks may not be compatible with being used as a drone remote control screen replacement.
Conveniently, the DJI RC Pro can also run third-party apps from browsers like Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox, to social media apps like Twitter, Wechat, Instagram and Facebook. You can edit your videos in the DJI Fly app and post them directly through the remote control screen display.
Charging time is only 90 minutes for a full charge for three hours of operating time, which is incredibly convenient, given that the Mavic 3 Cine flies for 46 minutes max. One full charge can cover four of the aircraft’s charged batteries’ worth of flight time.
The Mavic 3 Cine is so well-put-together, I would even suggest taking it as your default purchase and looking for reasons not to buy it, although Autel offers a cheaper and in some ways better alternative.
DJI Mini 2 – Best portable drone with remote control screen
- Price: Check on Amazon here
- Compatible with the DJI Smart Controller
- Great price and value for an entry-level serious drone
- Does not need to be registered with the FAA to fly it
- Great for hobbyists and beginners but not enough features for professionals
The DJI Mini 2 is not only DJI’s best portable drone, it is also compatible with the DJI Smart Controller (see above) making it both the best portable drone with a built-in screen as well as the portable drone with the best built-in screen.
The DJI Smart Controller will help you capture great memories. It charges in two hours and the charge lasts 2.5 hours, for an aircraft battery life of 31 minutes max, so will last about 4 – 5 batteries worth of use. This is all time you can be using your phone too, unlike if your phone was tied up as a drone controller screen.
The DJI Mini 2 is convenient in other ways as well. In contrast to most other drones of its quality, at 249g the DJI Mini 2 conveniently does not need to be registered in the US to fly. Its weight makes it an ideal travel drone.
This drone is a great entry-level machine, so you do not need the same expertise as the Mavic 3 Cine to get the most out of it. Select from increasingly wide shots – wide-angle, 180° and sphere – for incredible panoramas that will give you a new perspective of even familiar territory.
The DJI Fly app gives you access to a fun toolkit of tracking enabled shots that would be impossible to pull off on your own. ‘Boomerang’, for example, is like a selfie where the drone flies away from you and returns in a boomerang motion. ‘Rocket’ focuses on you as it flies directly upwards. They’re not all technically difficult but if you performed them manually you would be filming yourself looking at your controller.
All this for a very attractive price. If this is your first drone, it would be hard to find a better drone with a controller and camera.
Autel EVO II – Best drone remote screen
- Price: Check on Amazon here
- Autel Smart Controller has the best screen size and brightness for a drone with a screen remote
- The controller has incredible battery life: 3 – 4.5 hrs
- Controls are not as smooth as Mavic 3 controls which can show up in filming
The Autel EVO II is compatible with one of the best controllers you can find on the market, even compared to DJI, and that’s saying something. The Autel Smart Controller is twice as bright as DJI’s Smart Controller (seriously, who is naming these things?) on its best day.
The Autel Smart Controller outputs 2000 cd/m2 (compared to DJI’s Smart Controller’s 1000 cd/m2), giving you even better visibility of the screen in direct sunlight. But the screen also adjusts its own white balance to show the clearest screen in any lighting environment, so you can use it anywhere. Couple this with an uncommonly large 7.9-inch screen and you have a great viewing experience for both navigation and photography.
The Autel Smart Controller holds its charge for 3 hours, whereas DJI’s Smart Controller lasts just 2.5 hours. However, if you switch the Autel Smart Controller down to 50% brightness (matching DJI’s Smart Controller at 1000 cd/m2) it will do 4.5 hours of work for you. You would need 6 – 7 batteries, each offering 40 minutes of flight time, to wear out a single charge on your controller which provides you peerless reliability and peace of mind that your controller won’t let you down.
The Autel EVO II is itself a brilliant 8K drone, which is 4x more pixels than 4K, allowing you much leeway to zoom in without losing quality. The transmission between controller and drone is 1080P over 8.08 miles, giving you silky smooth footage.
Incredibly, it can also do hyperlapse in 8K directly in the drone with no need for post-production so you’ll have space to grow as an aerial photographer even if you don’t have the skills right now.
Hubsan H501S – Best cheap drone with built-in display
- Price: Check on Amazon here
- It is a cheap option for your first drone with a controller screen and camera
- It has similar beginner-friendly features to toy drones plus more
- Very short range. Flying by sight would be just as effective in much of its range
If you are on a budget, the Hubsan H501S will get you on the first rung of the ladder for a drone with a video remote controller. It is much cheaper than even the DJI Mini 2.
The Hubsan H501S has many of the features that you’ll find in toy drones, but it has far better build quality. It has similar beginner-friendly features including headless mode (where left and right are determined by the way the controller is facing, not the way the drone is facing), an automatic return to home feature, altitude hold and a ‘follow me’ feature to top it all off.
In addition, the drone has a 1080P HD camera and a separately sold drone controller with a 4.3-inch screen. The H901A controller has a range of only 300m, so it can’t be flown far or your drone might lose contact with the controller and fly away. The H906A Pro controller has only a slightly better range at 400m, but a smaller screen at 3.7 inches.
Although among drones with remote control screens the Hubsan H501S is close to a toy drone, it is categorically not an indoor drone and lacks the propeller guards that make drones safer for children so take care not to fly it around kids.
If you have money to spend, have a look at the DJI Mini 2. If not, the Hubsan H501S is a good alternative cheap drone with a controller.
Buyer’s guide — Things to Consider When Buying a Drone With Screen in Controller
Built-in displays vs smartphones
Many drones come packaged with controllers that use a smartphone as a screen. The remote controller with a built-in LCD display must be bought separately. This is a luxury but is worth it if you want the peace of mind of having access to your phone at all times. If you’re in the mountains, for example, this may be critical.
Fly without a phone
Phones are expensive pieces of kit. Controllers with screens too, but you can simplify your equipment by getting a screen in your controller.
Flying without a phone will either be by sight (‘fly-by-sight’), through FPV goggles or through the built-in screen on the remote control.
Not needing a spare phone to do the bare minimum with your drone is one thing less you need to remember to bring and one less piece of equipment that might fail.
The more pixels your screen can handle, the more detailed the image you will see. Screen size and brightness will also play into how useful the image you see is for aerial photography and navigation.
Brightness is important for being able to see your screen in direct sunlight. If you fly in the mountains this can prove its value.
Your overall flying experience
Your flying experience is determined by your drone, your camera drone controller, and how the two connect.
In general, the manufacturer can optimize the combined performance better with their own equipment than with compatible third-party equipment.
When you are lining up a rock feature for a photo, the smoother controls and better screen will give you a better final product.
Better app compatibility
App compatibility increases the versatility of your drone, but only if these apps are relevant to what you want to use your drone for.
You may not need any apps at all. If you want to produce content for social media you will want at least the popular social media apps.
Again, if you need powerful video editors first, like Final Cut Pro, Premiere Pro and DaVinci Resolve then you’ll be uploading from your computer. For light editing, the DJI Fly app, for example, will be sufficient and convenient.
Less equipment required
All things being equal, we’d prefer to need less equipment. The further you go, the more true this tends to be, especially if you’re trekking or traveling and have to pay for luggage. If you forget your phone at the hotel, you don’t want to be grounded when you finally reach the mountain top.