There was a time when local, quality retailers like Airsail and RC Bandit were the only way to get hold of interesting radio control doohickeys. You still have that option, and if you’re looking for full-on RC gear, you’d be silly not to buy local.
But when you can hit up sites like BudgetGadgets.com and get hold of dinky little R/C subs and boats for all of US$15, why wouldn’t you? If you have a slightly more professional requirement, you can step up to somewhere like UnitedHobbies.com (but again, you won’t get the support and expertise that you’ll get locally).
The first time I bought stuff from one of these Chinese sites, I felt like I was buying a lottery ticket. I was anticipating that gear would never show up, and if it did, it would break down after one use. Since that first purchase (I think it was from DealExtreme.com), I’ve nabbed about seven or eight shipments from different cheap and cheerful Chinese websites with great results.
I’ve been disappointed only once. In that case it was a broken part on a NZ$50 R/C car from ToyEast.com (no link love for those guys!), that was no longer manufactured.
In all other cases, including a free sample from BudgetGadgets.com (full disclosure!), the shipping has been fast (around one week in most cases), arrived in good condition, and worked better than could be expected for such a tiny amount of money. Each time, with cars, boats, and helicopters, I’ve been expecting to be disappointed by performance, but have been pleasantly surprised. In one case I scared myself silly with a cat-sized RC helicopter that I could barely control. I sold it for a profit on Trademe.
Take that wee submarine from BudgetGadgets as an an example of the cheap fun you can have in a warm bath (get your mind out of the gutter!). It charges in about a minute, then you can pootle around in the bath for a good 4 or 5 minutes. It uses differential control (like a tank) to move and steer. My 5 year old can drive it, and he’ll happily drive and recharge it until he exhausts the AA batteries in the charger. Far more fun than should be legal for about NZ$25!
I’ve got a couple of little cars and a teeny helicopter on my desk at work, and so should any self-respecting geek. What are you waiting for? The guys at BudgetGadgets have even offered to discount 5% if you use the code BM5OFF5 when you check out.
Full disclosure: I hate hidden affiliate marketing. I don’t get anything if you use that code, it’s just a discount code.