The Gadgets Page

January 25, 2004

Review: Zip Zaps Special Edition Remote-Controlled Cars

Filed under: Reviews,Toys and Games — Michael Moncur @ 1:52 pm

zip zap

A couple of years ago, when the first pocket-sized radio controlled cars were introduced, Radio Shack’s Zip Zaps models were flying off the shelves, and often hard to find in stock. Having finally caught up with the demand, Radio Shack has introduced the new “SE” line of cars with additional features like proportional controls and working headlights.


Radio Shack’s previous ZipZaps were always one of the better-made micro RC cars, performing far better than the $8.00 imports you find in supermarket endcases. The new SE models continue this tradition and add some new features:

  • Digital proportional steering and acceleration
  • Working LED headlights and taillights
  • Selectable frequencies – you can race up to 6 cars at once
  • A nice ergonomic controller
  • The car has an on-off switch, so you won’t be surprised while you’re using a different car
First Impressions

The controller on the SE models is nicer than the simple dual-stick controller of previous ZipZaps. There is a steering wheel for left/right control and a trigger-style throttle that controls forward and reverse. Both are proportional controls and require a light touch until you’re used to them.

The cars look similar to previous models except that a black plastic coating now protects the mysterious electronics inside and red and white LED lights are attached to the inside of the body. The lights can be unplugged to save the battery. The car now has an on/off switch on the underside, which must be in the “ON” position to charge or drive.


As with all pocket-sized models, and considering the price, you can’t expect perfect performance–but Radio Shack has made another quality product.


Like previous ZipZaps and some competing models, you have to assemble the car after purchase. This involves placing tires and hubcaps on the two axles, installing the rear axle, and installing the tiny motor and drive gear. The only tool required is a small flat-blade screwdriver, which Radio Shack has thoughtfully included nested inside a hole in the controller.

I have to assume that Radio Shack is aware that otherwise mature adults like myself are buying these cars, since I have trouble imagining the “Age 8+” target audience enjoying this assembly process. For those who actually are 8 years old, an adult’s assistance may be needed.

Batteries and Charging

The controller/charger requires four AAA batteries, giving it a bit more stamina than the previous models’ double-AA controller. The package states that the car takes about 45 seconds to charge. In our tests, 60 seconds was more typical. The car lasts several minutes on a charge.

Radio Range

The SE has a good range for a micro RC car. You can keep a comfortable distance of about 10 feet from controller to car without losing communication, and in the right conditions greater distances are possible.

Proportional Controls

The digital proportional controller on this car offers at least 3 degrees of left/right steering, using a steering motor, and 3 forward and reverse speeds. The controls are nice and fluid, making this the first car I’ve been able to maneuver around the clutter on my desk without an unintentional daredevil leap to the floor.

Don’t expect the performance of a full-sized proportionally-controlled vehicle, but this is the best controller and steering I’ve seen on a micro RC car.

Each car can be set to one of six channels by flipping the channel switch while the LED flashes when the car is charging. The cars are still offered in separate 27 MHz and 49 MHz models, so the six channels must be some kind of digital coding. In theory, you could race 12 cars at once–six of each frequency.


The controller has a steering trim control, which you can adjust if the car tends to steer without the control being touched. If the car “leans” in one direction or other while driving straight forward, you can adjust the trim control on the car. The controller also has a neutral adjustment screw for the throttle, although I haven’t found it necessary to adjust this yet.

Despite adjustments, the car I tested tends to steer more strongly to the right than to the left, and there is an occasional “jitter” (random movement) in the steering motor. Others have reported similar problems. Neither was a serious issue, and this is still the most drivable micro RC car I’ve seen.

Road Hazards

When your car has quarter-inch tires, a surprising number of ordinary household objects become deadly road hazards. In my tests, the SE performed best on hardwood floors. A tile floor provides less traction and reminds me of Winter driving in Utah.

Very tight carpet is also an acceptable road for these cars. As with other micro RC cars, carpet fibers, lint, and cat hair will eventually gather around the axle and cripple the car, leading to hours of entertainment if you enjoy working with tweezers.


The ZipZaps SE comes in several different models including a Ford Mustang GT, Audi TT, and a Mazda RX-7. Considering the small form factor, let’s face it–they all look almost exactly the same. Hopefully Radio Shack will offer some cars with personality, like the Jeep and Camaro in the previous ZipZaps series.

Once again, Radio Shack has made a toy that would make a great gift for the geeks or gadget nuts in your life. Or for children, I suppose, but keep an eye on them before that tiny motor goes down a heat vent.

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