It has only been 3 months and BetaFPV has a new radio in the pipelines - the Lite Radio 3. It comes in two options: Integrated ELRS or integrated FrSky D8/D16 RF module. One thing is for sure, with a price point of $59.99 it is one of the cheapest, if not the cheapest option for an integrated ExpressLRS radio, but did they fix any issues that were raised with the BetaFPV Lite Radio 2 SE? Lets have a look.
This radio is available with internal ExpressLRS or FrskyD8/16 module. I got the ExpressLRS version which will be subject of this review.
A big shout out to BetaFPV who sent me this transmitter for the purpose of review.
It was hard for me to decide where to start with this one, I think it would make the most sense to compare it to the Lite Radio 2 SE (ELRS edition) since I am pretty sure that they share the same internals.
First of all - and something I appreciate a lot - is that they increased the size of the controller ever so slightly making it a better fit for bigger hands. They also dropped the toggle switches and replaced them with two push in buttons on the bottom and 3 position rocker switches on the top.
Initially I thought I will miss the toggle switches, but I actually really like this solution. I guess that is inspired by the TBS Tango 2.
The gimbals - although not being hall sensor gimbals - have also been updated. I have personally not had any problems with the previous versions, but I have seen a lot of people complaining about the durability of the gimbals. The new gimbals really feel nice and I am happy that BetaFPV at least addressed this issue that quite a number of people seemed to have had.
A mount for a neck-strap is present this time - also something a couple of users have been asking for. I personally don’t use neck-straps, but it does not bother me that it is there for those users who do like to use them.
The radio (including the battery) weighs in at 240g - which is quite a bit heavier than its predecessor.
The Lite Radio 3 is definitely the best feeling one of the budget, compact game controller styled radio transmitters.
Custom radio firmware
BetaFPV developed their own radio firmware, which they unfortunately did not open source. I honestly do not understand their decision. Although I know that it might be cumbersome to work with the OpenTX devs at times, I don’t understand why they did not go with EdgeTX. The EdgeTX devs are easy going and very open for new ideas, I am sure they would have been more than happy to make the needed adaptations to support a radio without a display.
Although I am not really excited by them running their own firmware, I would still like to see them open source the firmware. The configurator itself is published on github. There is also a Lite Radio Plus repository, but since it has no documentation at all, I could not be bothered to look at it. According to one of the devs it is also the code for the Lite Radio 3, but a third party - proprietary - tool-chain is needed to get everything going, so that’s a hard pass from me - although there is a couple of things that I would really like to change like the annoying startup sounds.
Since the ExpressLRS TX implementation is done on the main MCU, there is no way of easily upgrading ELRS and you are at BetaFPVs mercy when it comes to those kind of updates. The latest Version of ExpressLRS in the BetaFPV configurator is Version 1.0.1 - at the time of writing Version 2.0.0 of ExpressLRS is the most recent stable release. This might be the worst part of the radio - at least it is for me.
When using a bleeding edge, rapidly developing firmware it is important to actually be able to easily update this firmware. BetaFPV told me they were working on integrating the ELRS v2.0.0 version but after almost two weeks, nothing has happened, so I decided to move forward with publishing my review anyway. One dev stated that he is working on it though, so it might be available soon.
Binding can either be done via the bind button on the radio, or you can set a binding passphrase from within the BetaFPV configurator - most ExpressLRS users will probably prefer this way.
The radio can be used as an input device for simulators, but does not support the wireless mode that other ExpressLRS transmitters with the ESP32 module do, simply because this hardware is missing on the Lite Radio 3.
I also noticed strange behavior on Linux where the radio needs to be plugged in multiple times in order for all of the channels to be available. I only have this issue with the Lite Radio 3 and Lite Radio 2 SE, so I am pretty positive that this is not an issue with my system but rather an issue with the radio. When plugging it in to a different Linux machine, it does even more random stuff: it keeps flipping my screen - again something I have only seen with the Lite Radio 2 SE and the Lite Radio 3.
BetaFPV told me that they know about this issue, but that there are no plans as of yet of this issues being fixed. They state that this functionality simply does not work well on Linux (which sounds really strange to me, since literally every other radio works without issues).
Unfortunately the radio comes with an internal 1S, 2000mAh LiPo battery. Although I am sure that this will be enough for most people, I still prefer the battery to be exchangeable.
According to specs the radio can be used for 15 hours. This is obviously only true when using the internal module on its lowest power setting.
External module bay
I like the idea of the external module bay. But the functionality is obviously very limited without a display. You will basically have to fly everything as the “same” model - not that you could have any settings anyway. This also means you need to be able to configure the external module some other way then from the radio.
Another thing to notice is that the external module bay only supports modules using the Crossfire protocol, so you are basically limited to ELRS transmitters and the Crossfire modules.
I think the main idea behind the external module bay is to run an ELRS module that supports the 915MHz band instead of the internal 2.4GHz band.
Switching between internal and external module
To switch between the internal and external module you need to press the bind button while powering on:
|One red flash||Internal module|
|Three purple flashes||External module|
I have tried to run the Crossfire Nano module which works fine, but you will have to configure the module in some other way, like for example the TBS Agent M, since you will not be able to use LUA scripts on the radio. You will also need the adapter for the deeper slots - this was included when I bought my Crossfire Nano module, I am not sure though if it was included with all the Nano modules from the beginning.
According to BetaFPV you can set the output power of the Crossfire nano module to 500mW, above they recommend to use external power for the module. I have personally tested it with a fixed 500mW and had no issues.
There are a couple of different accessories for the Lite Radio 3. You can get a nice carrying case and different lanyards/neck-straps. I especially like the carrying case - the radio itself comes with gimbal protectors, so I am not entirely sure if it is needed, but for all neat freaks it’s definitely a great option.
Although the form factor ist absolutely perfect for me and I love that it does not have a display and it has integrated ExpressLRS I can still not recommend this radio. I really feel strongly about ExpressLRS needing to be easily updatable and BetaFPVs track record does not show the ambitions needed to be up to the task. I am pretty positive that this could be easily done once the radio firmware is properly handed of to the public - including documentation.
The price point of $59.99 is also really great, but yeah - what is a low price radio good for if you can’t run the latest firmware? I am especially sad, since this is feedback that I (and lots of other people) gave them with the Lite Radio 2.
If there was a way to easily upgrade ExpressLRS, I would definitely recommend this radio to people who are mainly flying ExpressLRS based whoops and are looking for a minimalist design.
I would really love to see them sit down with the ExpressLRS developers (which according to BetaFPV they do?) and work something out together. The ExpressLRS devs always seem a bit surprised when they see a new BetaFPV product being released. They are there and they listen. Please BetaFPV - go talk to them and work something out. Same thing goes for EdgeTX. They have already done the Software part, no need for you to re-invent the wheel, use what is their, save yourself some time and listen to what the community wants.
I am a bit salty here, since this could have been my perfect radio: ExpressLRS and optionally Crossfire in one radio without a display, super compact, super cheap…