Sensor Digital Radio System Review

February 15th, 2006 - Brian
From: - Nomadio

A lot of people out there are afraid of change, but change in the RC community is usually a good thing. LiPo batteries, brushless motors, synthesized radios, spread spectrum and real-time telemetry are all great things that have been brought to the RC industry in the last year or two. Nomadio adds to that list their Sensor radio, and suddenly everyone flips out because it's 'different'. People say it looks funny, and even Nomadio's own ads say 'Yea, it looks funny.' Just because it looks funny is no reason to not check it out. I recently had a chance to use one for about a month, and all I have to say if you pass on this radio because 'it looks funny' you will really be missing out.

This first picture is a shot of all the items I received for testing. When I first got the system, they were still shipping with the 'first generation' version of their transceiver and did not have the tachometer ready yet. I was lucky enough to get both of these at a little later date, and they are also pictured. I believe the if you buy one now, it ships with the newer, smaller receiver.

The people at Nomadio are really not kidding around with this radio. It comes with a ton of stuff, it has more features then I could probably cover in a short book, and the ability to release upgrades at any time is really a whole different approach to the way radios have been presented. It comes with a temperature sensor, a voltage sensor, a tach/speed sensor, and all these report back to your transmitter screen with real-time telemetry! It also comes with PC software that lets you update both the transmitter and receiver, as well as change and manage your model settings. The only thing missing is a printed manual. Because they are constantly updating it, and the fact that it's over 100 pages, they want you to download the latest manual in PDF format. This is ok with me, but for some people who don't have regular access to a PC, this could cause a problem. Because I like to have manuals with me whenever I'm out bashing somewhere, I found a way to put the manual on my PDA incase I ever need to look something up.

It really hurts my head to think about all the amazing things you can do with this radio setup. I'm going to try not to ramble like I usually do to keep this review from being a novel. Wish me luck!

First up we have the PC software and the ability to upgrade. These features alone should change the standards of what you should demand in a RC radio. I loaded up the PC software, and it asked me to plug the transmitter into the PC with the USB cable. After doing this, the PC and the transmitter transferred some data back and forth, and then told me it was ready to setup whatever I wanted. I added my first model. The menus are easy to use, and everything you can do in the radio menu, you can do on the PC (and more).

I set up my first model to be the CEN Matrix. It let me name the model (many radios are starting to do this) and then I started changing some initial settings. Through the PC, I was able to reverse my servo's, turn on the fail safe, adjust my trims, set servo rates, set end points and do anything I wanted to do! The radio has a TON of settings. So many you could really loose track of what you have set. This is where the PC software really comes in handy! After I had setup the model just how I wanted, I was able to tell the software to copy these settings to model #2. So now I have a second model set up with ALL the same settings as the first. I then changed a few of the settings. I turned on the anti-lock brakes, and the AutoStart settings. These were options that I had no idea what they did or how they would work, but because I could take my setup that I knew I already liked, I could create a new setup and tweak some things that I could test. So when I'm out testing features, or at practice before a race, I just change my model to use one of the 'experimental' model setups that I have created, and test what these new features can do for me without screwing up my original settings! I know there are radios that let you have multiple model memory, but never has it been so easy to make changes and copy the settings!

While on the subject of models, the radio shipped with a 10 model memory. Shortly after I received it, Nomadio released a new software upgrade that added a TON of new features and upped the model memory to 40 models!! WOW! They also added forth channel functionality! The ability to update the Nomadio software and upgrade their transceivers without having to send them in for repair is one of the best features. I keep reading about other radios that say 'if you experience this problem or that problem, please contact us and send in your equipment.' Nomadio lets me download the latest software fixes for my transmitter and transceiver so I'm back up and running in no time! Awesome! And like I mentioned, they are not just giving you 'fixes'. They are giving you upgrades like the 40 model memory, the 4th channel ability, and tons more. Way to many to list here so check their web page for details!

Ok, lets talk hardware a little. The Sensor radio first shipped with the transceiver you see on the left. It's BIG! Not only was it big, it's got the antenna sticking out with this huge connector that made it just about impossible to fit in any decent sized radio box. To install it in my buggy, I had to lay it down, (like you normally would) but the antenna sticks out the side! I had to flip over my battery hump pack, and run the antenna UNDER the battery pack, and then cut a notch in the radio box to run the antenna up and out. Yikes.

Luckily Nomadio is doing things right, and listening to their customers! Shortly after release, they came out with version 2 (seen on the right). It's smaller, lighter, and the antenna is much easier to work with! I installed it into a second buggy, and everything went pretty smooth. While on the subject of the install, I want to mention all the sensors. They all have a lot of wires, and you really need to take your time and plan things out when you are installing them. The temperature sensor has 3 wires, and the tachometer has 4. That's 7 more wires sticking out of my radio box, and running all over my vehicle. You are going to want to lay everything out, get it sort of installed and make sure things are working. Then you are going to want to heat shrink or twist tie or just tape up the spaghetti mess you have just made so that you can still work on the vehicle easily, and so that the wires are not getting caught in the gears or any of the linkage. This could be a real trick, so take your time!

The radio itself feels pretty good in your hand, and it's surprisingly light! It runs off just 4 AA batteries! At first I was concerned about this, and made a mental note to watch out for this to be a problem. I'm glad to report that it's not a problem. Those 4 AA's lasted a good long time! The radio will display the voltage of the transmitter, and receiver, and give you a good warning if either are low. My only real problem with the radio in my hand is the 3rd channel buttons. There is one on each side of the radio as you can see in the pictures, this button sits right where your finger goes. In the heat of a race, or just outside bashing, it's a little too easy to accidentally hit this button. Yes you can shut it off in the menu, but maybe I want it on. Maybe I want to use my reverse in the parking lot. I really don't like the way it's so easy to hit. Shifting into reverse when you don't want to, especially when I'm doing 40+ mph, is not cool. I'm hoping that Nomadio comes up with an update that will let me assign one of the other buttons to be the third channel. There are more then enough buttons on this thing, it should not be a problem.

This radio almost looks like a Transformer! And in some ways it practilly is! You can angle the screen any way you like, but what's really cool is the ability to swap the steering wheel and the speaker on the other side! So for all you lefty's out there, your prayers have been answered! Some of you are thinking, 'Speaker?!', yes it has a speaker! It actually uses .wav files for the audio signals. You can set any of the warnings (there are about 20) to ANYTHING you want! So if you want to record 'Hey moron, you are over heating, pull over!' you can do that! Now you are thinking 'uhm.. I'm running Nitro, I can't hear anything!' Well, they thought of that too! It has a headphone jack! And a vibrate feature! So if it's a really important warning, the radio will actually vibrate (incase you didn't hear it) which tells you, something must be wrong, look at the screen! This radio just keeps getting better!

So ok, it does everything but make pancakes (honestly, it might actually do that, I just haven't found the button), is it good at everything else? Yep. I took it to the track several times, and stuck it in anyone's hand that was willing to hold it. Most people thought it felt just fine. A few said it would take some getting used to, and it does, but not very long. Having all these sensors is actually pretty useful. I used the radio to test a new vehicle, and I was able to monitor temperature and voltage without having to bring it in to be measured constantly. It actually gave me a temperature warning and when I looked down, I saw I was over 300 degrees and was able to shut it down quickly to figure out the problem before there was any damage done. Another time the fail safe kicked in, and when I looked down at the screen, I saw that my receiver pack voltage was very low. These two cases alone made me want the radio that much more!

I need to start to wrap this up before I need to add an index! Did I mention it uses spread spectrum? No more frequency clips! While testing at our new uber track here (4 tracks, 2 indoor, 2 outdoor) there are just tons of people making it almost impossible to get a frequency clip! No problem for me and the Sensor! I just turned it on, and I was ready to go. No worries about conflicts or anything. The radio also has a signal strength graph! I was always able to just turn on the radio, look at the graph to make sure I was all good, and never had to worry about a run away from lack of signal. That little graph really gives you peace of mind, and actually saved me once. One of my connections had come loose, and even though I could steer and use the throttle, the signal graph was showing that there was a problem and I was able to sort it all out before starting the vehicle. With any other radio I would of started it, and probably been slamming into a wall shortly after. Speaking of wall slamming, I like a lot of the features the fail safe has. You can set throttle AND steering with the fail safe. I did notice though that when you are 'rebinding' your receiver and transmitter it's very easy to loose the failsafe settings. It's not a huge deal, but you should always make sure they are set, and test them once in a while for good measure!

So it seems like it's all good? It is good, and I would probably even use 'Great!' in the same sentence. It might scare some folks because to really make good use of it all, it helps to be able to use a PC to manage models, and upgrade the software. I'd like to see the 3rd channel shift button be moved, or at least have the ability to map it to another button. The only other issue with the radio is the price. I'm not saying it's way over priced. It has a TON of features that NO other radio has, and all this amazing stuff costs money. $519.00 is the street price, and this is just a hard number for people to reach. Is it worth $519? Yes, probably. You have to remember that you are not just getting a radio. But you are getting an amazing radio with spectrum ability, a transceiver, and ALL the sensors! That's a lot of stuff that would add up to some serious cash if you were to try and get a similar set up with a different radio.

At that price, you really lose a lot of the bashers out there. The people that are saving up money for a new set of tires/rims or a set of aluminum a-arms just are not going to be able to come up with that kind of cash. Nomadio needs to find a way to get me 'into' this radio without breaking my bank. Give me an option to buy it without any sensors for now. Let me upgrade later to some stuff, and let me get just the transmitter and receiver in my vehicle. Then maybe with my next paycheck I can buy a new upgrade like the temperature sensor. Do I still want the radio? Absolutely! Am I saving my pennies? You bet I am. Hopefully as people realize how great the radio is, and they are selling and producing more of them, maybe their cost will drop, and they can pass some savings down to us bashers! I have faith that they will figure something out.

One last thing I want to mention. They have a very nice little community going over on the Nomadio forums. Everyone there is pretty nice, and because the radio can be a little complicated, everyone is sharing tips and tricks of all kinds. From installing the sensors, to the best ways to use some of the settings and menus! There's also a suggestion forum where you can suggest/request new features for future updates, and what's great is Nomadio listens! I may mention a few more things in our Review Forum about the radio that I just couldn't fit here, so make sure you check them out for more info, and feel free to ask any questions you may have.

 Time to Bash  7.9/10 Installing all the sensors can be a bit tricky, especially the tachometer!.
 Workability  10/10 The amount of stuff you can do with it is amazing!! The fact that Nomadio is constantly improving the software is just awesome!
 Car Show Rating  9/10 Yep, it looks funny, but it turns a lot of heads, and that's what you want at a car show!
 Bash-A-Bility  9.0/10 It feels pretty solid. I never worried about breaking it.
Big Squid Rating  9.5/10 Tentacles. It does have some minor issues, but most can be fixed with future updates. The price is a bit steep but I have never had a radio that does so many amazing things, and is so versatile! If you can afford it, you should really think about getting one! If you can't afford it, start saving your $$! If you order one, tell them you heard about it on Big Squid RC!