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Purchasing a new handheld Radio, what features are best?

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  • Purchasing a new handheld Radio, what features are best?

    Let us assume, as a HAM you were ready to buy a new handheld radio.

    What features would you look for in a new radio and how would you prioritize them?

    Some example features I've seen as desired include:

    * Support for external battery packs that use AA Carbon/Alkaline 1.5V or NiCad 1.2V batteries
    * Two band is better, tri-band is better, quad-band is better, etc. (wavelength/frequency ranges/bands supported)
    * Dual Band AF Dual Monitor to monitor 2 different bands at the same time
    * Water resistant
    * Can key-in from unit and edit data entered instead of starting over
    * BlueTooth device support
    * GPS and/or APRS
    * Support for cord for mic and speaker or headset without losing water resistance
    * Support for replacing antenna or connecting to other antenna with plugs/adapters if necessary.
    * Programmable from a computer (desktop) with cable using serial or USB
    * Software to program
    * Good battery life and/or support for larger capacity mAh batteries (how long per battery is "good enough" for you?)
    * "Mod"-able
    * Trunk-capable
    * 5 watts
    * rugged/durable

    Some of the vendors I hear more people talking about include:
    * Yaesu
    * Icom

    Some specific units I've seen mentioned:
    * Yaesu [VX-7R[B], VX-3R, VX-6R, VX-8DR, FT-30] in order of comment. VX-7R is mentioned by many people.
    * Icom [IC-T90A]

    Much of this is personal preference, but I would be interested in what you consider your top "10" features that you want in hand-held radio, feeling free to choose from the above as well as things I did not mention.

    Is there any model out there that you would buy to meet your needs now?

    As a second, or backup radio, would you choose to buy the same model for interchangability for accessory sharing, or a different model for diversity?

    Are there any "killer features" that have not been available but you wish they were?

  • #2
    Re: Purchasing a new handheld Radio, what features are best?

    Most of the features you list can be found on the Yaesu VX-8DR with some optional equipment:

    BU-2 Bluetooth adapter,
    CT-136 GPS "Hot Shoe"
    FGPS-2 GPS Unit.

    These accessories would add about $200 to the cost of the radio.

    The VX-8DR is advertised as a Tri-bander covering 50, 144 and 440 MHz but actually is Quad-band as it puts out 1.5W on 220 MHz. Those are the pretty much bands you'd want in a hand held. Icom sometimes offers radios with 1200 MHz transmit, but this band doesn't work too well for handhelds, it is dominated by ATV and the FM repeaters are scarce. Receive is also pretty much 0-999 MHz with analog cellular still blocked even though it died 5 years ago.

    "AA" cell packs are available for $30 and Li-ion batteries are $60-$70 depending on capacity.

    As for Trunk capable, as far as I am aware there are currently no amateur radios on the market that do trunking. To my knowledge there has never been an analog trunking system on ham. Also you run in to the problem of which format of trunking to use. I played around with the idea of putting up a EDACS system because our club had enough surplus GE equipment to do it, but our repeater doesn't have enough traffic to justify the cost of the crystals to try.

    There are TRBO and P25 systems on ham however, but the users have to use ham banded commercial type radios which are generally all single band as well. For digital radio Icom is pioneering the D-star system and Yaseu is working on something completely different.

    My personal complaints about the VX-8DR:
    The radio will not decode SSB or CW like the Kenwood TH-F6A does. However it will decode AM and even transmits AM on 6m.
    3x5 keypad matrix instead of 4x4. *, 0, # and ABCD are in weird locations. An extra 1/2"to the bottom would of eliminated this problem.
    220 power output could use a little more cowbell, its better then the VX-7 was though.
    Not sure if it got solved on the 8DR, but the original 8R had a pressurization problem because it was too waterproof. Speaker audio would be muffled until you reseated the battery and equalized the case pressure.

    Also check out the Baofeng UV-5, not quite this durable and GPS capable, but at $55 they are practically expendable. Has all the features one would want in a beginners dual band and 5W/4W output.


    • #3
      Re: Purchasing a new handheld Radio, what features are best?

      I'm a man of simple needs. The criteria I use to select a radio are:

      * Ruggedness
      * Intermod rejection
      * Battery life

      At the moment I carry either a Motorola XTS 5000 (UHF) P25 or a VHF XTS2500, depending on what band I'm likely to need, because they satisfy these three criteria nicely.

      Having owned many ham handhelds over the years, I found that I never really used any of the bells and whistles, and Motorola's FPP user interface is vastly more intuitive than any of the memory programming procedures on ham rigs.

      Speaking of P25, does this mode get much use at the con? I'm keen to hook up with some P25 enthusiasts this year if I find any.