Thursday, July 15, 2010

I read the product reviews in QST, talk with other hams and radio dealers, and I’m still very much confused about handhelds ...

Q Gary, KD4SRX, asks, “I read the product reviews in QST, talk with other hams and radio dealers, and I’m still very much confused about handhelds (H-Ts). I’m not sure what model would suit my needs. To be more specific, I like working various ham events, as well as taking my handheld on Amtrak train trips along the Northeast Corridor. With all these various models to choose from, which features are the most important?”

A I’d suggest that you look for an H-T with a large battery pack (you may have to purchase this separately). Choose a pack that has enough capacity to last through a daylong hamfest or public-service event. I would suggest looking for one that has at least 600-m/Ah capacity.

Also, although 5W output is not a must, having at least 21/2 to 3 W helps when trying to work someone (via simplex) who is on the other side of the hamfest grounds (for an outdoor hamfest). Higher output power will also be helpful when attempting to work stations from a moving train. Most modern handhelds will receive the 160-161 MHz Amtrak frequencies in the Northeast Corridor, but check the specs to be sure.

Concerning battery life, consult the QST Product Reviews and refer to the power requirements section. This will tell you the maximum receive and transmit current drawn for each handheld under consideration.

Ease of programming is another thing to consider, but there is a mitigating factor. If your H-T has a lot of features that you won’t use, it doesn’t matter if you can’t remember (or figure out) how to program them. I prefer H-Ts with the most frequently used functions marked on the buttons (like switching between memory and VFO mode, setting PL tones, etc.). Failing that, you can make up a small (2-inch square) “cheat sheet” with the most important functions written on it.

Unless you plan on carrying the manual with you everywhere, direct keypad frequency entry is practically a must. Also convenient is automatic repeater offset, although that is more of a luxury than a necessity (if “-” doesn’t bring up the repeater, just switch to “+” —assuming you don’t need to consult the manual to remember how).

Don’t forget audio quality. You want to be able to understand what is being said, even when you are in a noisy area. If a particular radio’s audio is poor, the Product Review will mention it.

Most H-Ts are pretty rugged. You don’t have to treat them as you would an expensive camera, but reasonable care is required (a 3-foot drop onto a hard surface is survivable if it only happens once in a great while).

from QST May 2000