Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Which HT Should I Buy?

This is a commonly asked question. I also here "which mobile should I buy" or "which base should I buy" and so on. These thoughts apply to those as well.

The trouble is...we can't answer that for you. Well, not with just that information.

If you're hunting a new radio, you have to ask yourself 2 questions - what is my budget, and what is my mission?

Budget is an easy one to figure out. You can't spend more than you have available to spend.

The mission may be a bit harder, and maybe not the proper term. What do you need the radio for? What features are must have? There are new hams that want to come in and buy the fanciest radio available. They want all of the bells and whistles. Money is no object. Then they get the radio and, well, it ends up that they just spent $800 on a radio that doesn't do what they need it to do. Similarly, there are hams that are thinking of buying a basic radio, but see some just out of their budget that have some gee-whiz fancy features. Should they save a bit more so that they can afford it?

The answer is not simple, especially for a new ham who doesn't actually know what they need.

There is not one single HT that can do it all. Need digital modes? Which one? D-STAR? DMR? P25? Fusion? NXDN? Do you need it to be waterproof? What about HF or airband reception? Do you need 1.25m, or 23cm? Monoband or dual band? A built in GPS? All of those sound neat? Well you can't have it. It doesn't exist.

Don't pick the radio and features, and then figure out what to do with it. Pick what you want to do with the radio, and then figure out what features are the ones that fulfill that mission.

For instance, you want an HT that is good for talking on analog repeaters. Great! A dual band, analog HT like the FT-60R will be great here. But, what if you want to work the FM satellites? Well - now you're looking at a full duplex HT, and the TH-D72A is your main choice. Your ARES group uses D-STAR, so perhaps look at the TH-D74A or ID-51Plus2. You've got a DMR hot spot and want to use that? Well the MD-380 may be the option for you.

A lot of times, the features you need won't be apparent until you've been using the radios for a bit. For example, for the past 2 years I've worked communications at the Boston Marathon. For both of these events, I used an FT-60R. I love that Yaesu. It's a solid radio, inexpensive, easy to use. It's still my number one recommendation for a basic analog dual band HT. This year's Marathon made me wish I had something else, though. We got soaked, it dumped several inches of rain on us during the event. As much as I love that radio, it has drawbacks. The accessory connector isn't terribly positive, and the hand mic kept popping out. The fact that it stuck out of the side added a complication when the radio was shoved under coats and rain gear, as I kept putting pressure on it. The radio itself is not waterproof, though it is slightly water resistant. These started adding up to a list of features I'd want in a radio that replaced it for events such as this. A more positive connector - preferably one that pointed up and not to the side. Waterproof, or at least rain proof. Tough. Only 2m was required. High quality accessories. This landed me on the Motorola XPR7550. These are not cheap radios, nor are the accessories. For all of the money I spent on that radio, it still doesn't do everything. It's monoband, and requires software to program it (unless you spend more money). It'll do DMR and FM, but no other digital modes. It's obviously not full duplex. It was the radio for my mission though, met my requirements.

If you're working with groups, or have friends, or are in other situations where there's a group of people using the same radio, it may be worth investigating that radio to have some people to help you figure out all of the features, and for interoperability.

I have several HTs. More than I need probably. They each have a place, or at least the ones I'm not debating selling. The thing is, buy a radio. Something simple. Use it. Find where it's strong and where it falls short. Figure out what you need, then buy the more expensive radio.

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