Posts Tagged ‘Gadgets’

The Baofeng Experience

Last week I cleared the dust out of my blog and podcast websites and briefly discussed ordering the Baofeng UV5RA HT from Amazon.  While this model was released several years ago, Amazon has them available brand new for $26.06.  This includes the HT, charging stand and hands-free kit.  Here’s the link to the Amazon product page for the Baofeng UV5RA HT.

I guess it’s been several years now since these cheaper (I guess less expensive might be the more PC way of describing these) Chinese made hand-held radios came onto the market here in the US.   Fellow hams began showing these off at local club meetings and I began reading reviews of these radios on various amateur radio blog sites from around the world. 

For the most part, the opinions expressed all seemed to have a common theme around pricing, ease of use and durability/reliability.  Many viewed the low cost of ownership to be favorable over any durability issues.  I guess the idea of use it, abuse it and toss it comes to mind.  I also seem to remember a strong sentiment of “steer clear” when discussing these units. 

I could see all sides of the argument.  But I also fully understand some folks just getting into the hobby may be on a limited budget and may not have the resources to afford the latest and greatest from ICOM, Kenwood or Yaesu.  As time went by, I really didn’t hear complaints regarding the durability/reliability of the radios.  But certainly most everyone I spoke to all said that the programming of the radio was often a challenge and the provided user manual was of little to no help.

As for me and my reasons for not entertaining the idea of these cheaper Chinese made radios all boiled down to the fact that I really didn’t need another HT.  I already own more HT’s than I have hands, so I just didn’t see the need.

So what changed?

Last week I was thinking about future topics to discuss on the Practical Amateur Radio Podcast and was researching just how many different HT models were available and the price range.  This research led me to all the usual amateur radio dealers as well as a quick check of Amazon.  I simply searched for Baofeng and that’s when the UV5RA popped up.   With my Amazon Prime membership and a $3.00 credit, I could actually get this HT home for less than $25.00.  Deal! 

I decided I would gain some first hand experience with at least one of these cheaper Chinese made HT’s and share my knowledge with all of you reading this blog and later on the podcast.

Reverse Bait and Switch???

So my package shipped from Amazon as expected and was delivered on Saturday.  I opened the package and inspected the contents.  Immediately I noticed something was different. 

If you look at the Amazon product page for the Baofeng UV5RA you’ll see the photo below.  This is the Baofeng UV5RA.  However, the HT shipped to me looked nothing like this.

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Instead of receiving the UV5RA (as shown above), I received the UV-82 (shown below). 

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Initially I was slightly upset.  We’ve ordered a lot of items from Amazon.  While this was my first amateur radio purchase, it was also the first time I didn’t receive exactly what I believed I ordered.  However, after doing a little more research I discovered the following:

First, while the Amazon store page for the Baofeng UV5RA doesn’t match what I actually received.  If you carefully read the product description, under the section “What’s in the Box?” you’ll see the Baofeng UV-82 listed.

Second, from what I understand…the UV-82 is an upgraded (newer) Baofeng hand-held.  If I read this Baofeng product comparison chart correctly, the UV-82 includes an updated PCB, commercial grade case and other enhancements as compared to the UV-5R models.

Third, the UV-5RA is a 4 watt model with the UV-82 offering 5 watts output.

Did I get what I paid for?  Well…not really….but advantage appears to be all mine.  I can’t guarantee what will happen if you order the same model I ordered…but from all appearances you’ll also receive the UV-82.  Just no guarantees.  Alternatively, you can purchase the UV-82 via Amazon (listed as UV-82) for $28.80.  It’s a few dollars more than what is listed on the UV5RA product page, but you’ll be guaranteed to receive the UV-82 if that is the model you desire.

How I plan to use the new radio

Before I go into my initial thoughts/review/feedback (what ever you want to call it), I think I should clarify exactly how I plan to use this new Baofeng UV-82 transceiver. 

This radio is not replacing anything I currently own.  My main go-to HT is the Yaesu VX-8 which I have the GPS module installed.  I also own an older Yaesu VX-6 (which I should probably sell) and also the ICOM IC-92 D-STAR HT which I also rarely use. 

I actually plan to program a few local repeaters, simplex and NOAA weather frequencies into the Baofeng and leave it at my office.  For less than $25.00 I am really just considering this a weather radio that will do a little bit more. 

Initial Thoughts

I’ve had the UV-82 now a few days and feel comfortable in sharing some of my initial thoughts on just what I think of this radio.   I’ll break my thoughts down under a few different categories.

Over all Design

The overall design of the radio (my opinion) is fine.  The radio fits nicely in my hand (not too small, not too big).  It sort of reminds me of an older Nokia cell phone from the time when cell phones weren’t smart.  

Channel Mode/Frequency Mode

If I’m honest, I really dislike having to power the radio off to switch from channel mode back to frequency mode.  While it’s simple enough, just hold down the Menu button while you switch on the radio.   All my other HT’s have a button which toggles between the two modes.  However, as previously stated…this radio will be programmed with a few local repeaters, simplex and NOAA weather frequencies.  For the most part, the radio will be used to listen to weather information from the national weather service. 

Case Quality

While I’ve not taken a hammer to the case (nor do I plan to) and I’ve not performed a drop comparison from the top of my building (I don’t plan to do that either).  The overall case quality appears to match that of my Yaesu rigs.  As I’ve previously stated, the radio fits nicely in my hand.  It’s easy to grip and the included belt clip has a nice firm spring.   While I don’t plan to use this HT as I use  my Yaesu, I also wouldn’t have an issue clipping this onto my belt or pack and heading down the trail. 

Stock Rubber Duck Antenna

What’s In Your Rubber Duck?  Well this was answered by Bob, KØNR and I would highly recommend reading his excellent review where he reveals the “inner workings” of several popular stock rubber duck antennas (including the Baofeng UV-5R). 

But what can really be said about ANY stock rubber duck antenna?  Regardless if the radio brand is Yaesu, ICOM or Baofeng, you will greatly improve the radio by installing an aftermarket antenna.  I use the Diamond SRH77CA on my Yaesu VX-8 and it works great.  But at the moment, I have no plans to replace or upgrade the Baofeng rubber duck. 

Screen

The LCD screen on the UV-82 is slightly smaller than what I’m used to on the Yaesu VX-8.  But to be honest, if I don’t have my reading glasses with me 24×7 these days…and the screen size doesn’t rival the Dallas Cowboys Jumbotron, I’m not able to see anything.  

Dual PTT functionality

The UV-82 features dual PTT switch functionality.  This is a bit odd (compared to my other HT’s).  I suppose in time I will get used to it. 

FM Broadcast Band

If this is something you care about, the UV-82 features a button on the side which switches the radio to the FM Broadcast band. 

Built in Flashlight

If you are in the need of a hand-held amateur radio transceiver WITH a built-in flashlight, then the UV-82 is the rig for you.  A conveniently placed button on the side will turn on/off the flashlight. 

User manual

This is the radios weakest link and is perhaps not worth the paper they used to print it.  It could be written in Chinese and even non-Chinese speakers would obtain as much knowledge by reading it. 

But seriously, the entire user manual is 29 pages long.  Not one page actually covers how to program the radio.  Thankfully YouTube exists and many others before me figured it all out and shared their knowledge.

Ease of Programming

The UV-82 offers 182 different channels which can be programmed (once you figure out how to program them).  Unfortunately, Baofeng (in their infinite wisdom) pre-programmed 20 channels (1-21).  As you can’t edit a pre-programmed channel, you’ll need to delete these which can be done one-by-one in the menu. 

While I believe it might be a daunting task for any brand new ham (or soon-to-be brand new ham) to sit down with an HT, User Manual and Repeater Directory and successfully program the radio.  The Baofeng (unfortunately) really makes it impossible.  This is part of what I was talking about during the Practical Amateur Radio Podcast (episode 70).  As I’ve always recommended the Nifty Ham Radio Guides for ALL radios, I think it is a must have for the Baofeng

Alternatively, if the UV-82 is going to be your primary hand-held and you’ll want/need to reprogram often.  I would highly recommend purchasing the programming software and cable from RT Systems.  While I don’t plan to purchase the the cable/software for the Baofeng, I do own the software and cables for all my other rigs. 

In Summary

While I’ve not discussed each and every feature/benefit of the Baofeng UV-82 in this blog article.  I’ve identified a few key areas which I’ve discovered and most importantly have feedback/opinions on regarding.  More importantly, as I’ve previously mentioned…I don’t plan to heavily use this radio.  But having said that, I also wouldn’t have an issue with clipping it to my belt and heading down the trail either. 

The opinions within our hobby of what makes a great first radio for a beginning ham are strong.  Some are pro the HT and some are against the HT.  If you are just starting out in our wonderful hobby, on a tight budget and looking to pickup a radio which won’t break the budget and allow you to enjoy the hobby…then I certainly recommend the Baofeng UV-82.  After all, the package contains everything (transceiver, antenna and power source) you’ll need to get on the air.  Get your ham radio license and join the fun of the worlds best hobby.

Until next time…

73 de KDØBIK (Jerry)

KX3 Heat Sink

If you operate your Elecraft KX3 in a portable environment (and perhaps even if you don’t) there are a few must-have add-ons which really help protect your KX3.  You are probably already aware of the popular KX3 KX Endplates and KX Cover available from Scott, AK6Q and his Gems Products website.  I received both as a Christmas present from my darling wife and love what they do for my KX3.

In addition to operating SSB phone via my KX3 on SOTA activations, I also enjoy grabbing my Buddipole a battery and heading outdoors for some picnic table portable operations in a park or really just about anywhere.  In this setting I typically bring along my laptop and operate PSK-31 or JT-65.  However, one thing I’ve noticed (and have been concerned about) is how the KX3 has the potential to heat up when running these digital modes (even at 5w or less).  This is especially evident in the warmer months of the year.

A few weeks ago I was browsing the KX3 Facebook page and learned about an add-on heat sink designed, built and sold by a fellow ham in Canada.  This OM’s name is Fred Meier, VE7fmn.  I contacted Fred via email and he quickly provided a detailed response on how he designed his KX3 heat sink and provided cost and availability information.  While I did find one other heat sink being marketed for the KX3, I believe Fred’s version is more effective at dissipating the heat from the KX3 and it looks great while doing it.

Here’s what Fred’s KX3 heat sink looks like installed on my KX3.

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2014-04-27 13.07.33

Fred’s KX3 heat sink is well built and designed to be durable.  The fins on the heat sink are not going to bend or break off and only adds an additional 8 ounces of weight to the KX3. 

I’ve conducted a few tests while in the shack and had the KX3 running PSK-31 and JT-65 at 10w and never received the overheat warning.  I couldn’t run above 5 watts inside or outside the shack without the heat sink installed.  I’ve yet to test the KX3 with heat sink installed outside in a portable setting, but I’m confident I will not have any issues.  If you would care to read another review of VE7fmn’s heat sink, please go here.

As I’ve stated, I love operating portable with my KX3 and I’m Happy, Happy, Happy to have this wonderful add-on to help keep my KX3 Cool, Cool, Cool.

Until next time…

73,

Jerry

Request for Information–Apps

If you own a smartphone and/or tablet device and use any of the amateur radio related apps designed for these devices, I would like to hear from you.  I’m conducting research for an upcoming episode of the Practical Amateur Radio Podcast (PARP) and would like to know what apps you are using, how you use them and how they work for you. 

Please contact me via the email address listed on my QRZ page.  Thank you!

73,
Jerry (KDØBIK)

DVAP + Pi

I’ve owned my Raspberry Pi for a while now.  I purchased it around the time they were first introduced (early 2012).  Not having a lot of knowledge in the Linux OS, the most I ever really did with it was set it up and play around with it.  However, my reason for purchasing the RPI was to some how use it for amateur radio purposes. 

As I have mentioned before on my blog, I also own a D-STAR Digital Access Point Dongle (DVAP).  I purchased it in 2011 and had been using it connected to an older Windows XP machine.  I wrote a “first look” post as well as one where I was experimenting on the DVAP range away from my QTH.   However, in following my own advice given in my podcast, The Practical Amateur Radio Podcast episode 64 about the Microsoft Windows XP End of Life, I decided it was time to explore how the DVAP might be used with the Raspberry Pi.

In most situations, Google truly is your friend.  Just doing a simple Google search for DVAP and Raspberry Pi led me to more information than I had time to read.  However, the very first search result happened to provide all the information I needed to setup my Raspberry Pi to work with my DVAP dongle.  Special thanks to Bill, AB4BJ who had blogged about his experience in setting up his Pi for DVAP purposes. 

If you have a Raspberry Pi, a DVAP Dongle and a D-STAR radio sitting around your ham shack, it’s very easy to set it all up just as I have done.  In the below picture, I have my ICOM ID92-AD, the DVAP Dongle and the Raspberry Pi setup.  Once configured, the Raspberry Pi will function stand-alone (without keyboard, mouse and monitor).  I can access the RPI via VNC from my iPad if needed. 

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Raspberry Pi running Debian Linux and the DVAPNODE and IRCDDB software.  DVAP is connected to REF001A in Aurora, Illinois.  Screenshot from iPad VNC session.

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For now, my setup will remain in my ham shack.  I know many build this setup for mobile/portable use.  At the present time I do not have wireless capabilities for the RPI.  I also want to see just how stable this setup is before making any additional changes.   I was pleased to wake up this morning and find the RPI was still running and the OS was stable.  Time will tell…

Until next time…

73 de KDØBIK

The KX3 Case – Decision Made

I’ve had in my possession my new Elecraft KX3 for over  a month.  I’ve watched and waited and watched some more.  I’ve seen many of our fellow hams post pictures and such on the various reflectors about things that worked and things that didn’t work.  Even I speculated on how an existing case would work using a short 2×4.  I later realized I hadn’t taken into account the knobs with my 2×4 prototype.  While the bag which works fine for my 817 does work, I wanted something a little more specific for the KX3. 

My primary selection criteria was maximum protection.  I really didn’t care how many other accessories I could cram into the case….I wanted something that was crush proof and water proof.  In most circumstances, the KX3 case would always be carried inside the backpack I use for SOTA activations.  I carry a smaller pouch which will hold the microphone, power cable etc. 

While I would have gladly spent the $$ for a Pelican case, the size wasn’t right for my application.  Again, I wanted something to protect the KX3…but I didn’t want the added bulk and weight.  I also found a few, what I’ll call Pelican like models, but in the end they simply didn’t make the cut.

What I finally decided to purchase was the SIGG Aluminum Survival Kit Box.  The large size measures 9.0” x 5.7” x 3.0”.  The SIGG Aluminum Box is both durable and leak proof, so my two basic requirements are fulfilled.  The lid locks in to place with two latches on each side and has a rubber gasket to keep moisture and dust out.  Thanks to both Steve, wGØAT and Guy, N7UN for the idea.

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While the inside of the box is just simply aluminum (no padding), working in the IT field does have its privileges.  I receive weekly shipments of computers, servers and other computer hardware gadgets.  I have a variety of different foam bits and pieces which will work perfectly to provide a nice comfortable nest for my KX3 to sit in. 

Right now I’m still in basement construction mode.  I start painting this weekend and there just is no time for SOTA activations.  But I’m staying busy with conducting presentations to both local clubs and via remote connections to clubs outside the area.  I’ll update once I have all the foam padding work completed in the new KX3 case.

Until then…

73 de KDØBIK

KX3 Delivery Day

On Tuesday afternoon, I received the email notification that many of my fellow amateurs are waiting for.  That email of course was from Elecraft and the subject line read “Package Shipped to You”. 

I ordered my Elecraft KX3 within 30 minutes of the email notification which was sent out on 27 December (or 28 December UTC time).  I can’t remember ever ordering anything in “pre-order” fashion prior to the KX3.  Although within a few weeks of ordering the KX3, I did submit another pre-order for the Raspberry Pi

Anyway, if you are familiar with the KX3 order and wait process, then you know initially it was expected to begin shipping in late February or early March.  This date slipped and slipped another time or two.  However, about three weeks ago, we began seeing the first of the factory build units shipping out. 

I have worked in the IT industry for over 20 years.  I’ve worked for both hardware and software vendors and I’ve personally seen products rushed out of the door and felt the impact as a result.  I’ve also been on the other side and purchased products which were not ready for prime time.

While no one wants to wait, I’m extremely impressed with what I have seen from the Elecraft company regarding the release of the KX3.  Certainly in the amateur radio transceiver category, you won’t see the kind of interaction between company and customer like we are experiencing with Elecraft.   The other element I’m impressed with is the way Elecraft listens to their Customers and as a result, we’ve seen many changes go into the KX3 and some have even been in the last 7-10 days.  WOW!

So as I write this, I just checked USPS tracking and my KX3 left San Jose on Tuesday evening and arrived and was processed through the Denver USPS sorting facility.  This should mean, Bob (my mailman) will have a box to deliver to my QTH on Thursday.  Again WOW!

I will take pictures and perhaps video.  I may not be as lucky as one ham yesterday who actually photographed his KX3 box while still in the hands of his mailman.  In any event, there has already been a few videos showing the unboxing and operation of the KX3.  I may not be able to do anything “original” but will at the very least try to get a little footage.

Finally, I’m sure everyone wants to know the burning question of when will my KX3 make her maiden SOTA voyage?  I would truly love to say it will be this weekend.  Perhaps it will be.  Also, next weekend is the QRPTTF Contest.  I blogged about the QRP To The Field contest earlier in the week and mentioned it was joining forces with SOTA.  While QRPTTF is a CW contest (I’m still struggling to gain altitude with this endeavor) I did feel it would still be worthwhile to activate a SOTA summit on SSB. 

Of course, some might say….Why not do both weekends?  I’d love that!  If you’ve been following my blog you also know I’m working most every weekend on the new ham shack.   With drywall now covering the walls and ceiling, we have reached the tape, mud and sanding phase.  As someone who suffers from dust allergies, I think I’d rather just push through this phase as quickly as possible.  This will also make the XYL happy as dust from the construction zone has reached just about every point in the house.  It will continue to get worse until this is completed.

Well that is about all the news I have for now.  Expect another blog posting in the next few days once I have my KX3 in hand. 

Until next time…

73 de KD0BIK

Dreaming of the KX3

Like so many of my fellow amateurs, I ordered the new Elecraft KX3 within minutes of the order form going active on the Elecraft website.  Like so many of my fellow amateurs, I also wait anxiously for word that the new KX3 is shipping.  Finally, like so many of my fellow amateurs, I also look forward to seeing my credit card has been charged as that will signal the end is near.  The end of the wait that is.

Back in late December, the hope was the new KX3 would begin shipping in late February.  Even with the extra day added to the calendar, the month of February expired and no KX3’s are shipping.  It is now Friday, 9 March and the latest shipping status as displayed on the Elecraft website states “KX3 shipments are estimated to begin Mid-March, between the 16th and 26th”. 

While the excitement and anticipation is certainly very high for those who are chiseling their marks in stone waiting for that package to arrive on their doorstep, the level of patience is also just as high.  There is a certain calm which proves amateur radio operators are a professional and respectable group of individuals.  There is an understanding that each and ever delay experienced will just simply make a better and more reliable product in the end.  I doubt we would see this same level of calm and respect in the iWhatever community.

I’m really writing this blog article in response to a few emails I’ve seen on the Elecraft Yahoo Groups reflector.  The subject of cases and bags suitable for protecting our beautiful investment has been mentioned several times over the past few weeks.  Wayne Burdick with the Elecraft company has suggested the LowePro Edit 140 camera bag.  He stated in an email to the Yahoo reflector that he owns this bag and uses it to protect his KX3.  Many other members and anxious hams have ordered this bag for their soon to be KX3.

Just like everyone else, I want a bag of some sort to protect my new KX3 but I just don’t like the look of the LowePro Edit 140.  It looks like it might be a bit on the bulky side and if it were just going in the back of the SUV it would be one thing.  But I want a multi-purpose bag that can go in the back of the SUV, in a carry own bag or in my backpack for SOTA activations. 

A few months ago I purchased the LowePro Apex 120aw camera bag after seeing it featured in a K0MOS Youtube video.  Like Matt, I currently own and use the Yaesu FT-817 for SOTA activations.  I wanted a bag of some sort to protect my 817 while inside my backpack.  I ordered the LowePro Apex 120aw and it works beautifully for the 817. 

 

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The LowePro Apex with my 817 and accessories protected inside.

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A view inside showing the Yaesu FT-817, Yaesu microphone, Buddipole 4S4P battery pack, Doc Watson meter and power cables.

While I’ve watched every video I can find of the KX3, it is hard to judge size until you can actually hold it in your hand.  Like everyone else, I also want to be ready for the day the KX3 arrives.  Having a bag suitable to protect it if scheduling could allow for a SOTA activation is important.  But like I said  the LowePro Edit 140 looks bulky.  In my mind, bulk equals weight and extra weight makes my back hurt. 

But how do I know if my new Elecraft KX3 will fit inside my current LowePro Apex bag.  I could measure…but how fun is that?  Now if I’m reading the KX3 manual which was released just last week correctly, the KX3 measurements are 3.5 x 7.4 x 1.6 inches.  If I just had something of those measurements to test with I would know for sure. 

Now it wasn’t until I walked into the unfinished portion of my basement which I’ve been working on the past few weekends.  You can read blog postings here about my progress along with pictures.  Anyway, I had failed to clean up my mess after working for about an hour last night and just nearly tripped over my KX3….huh I mean the block of wood that is the same size of my KX3. 

As we all know, a 2 x 4 is not actually 2 inches by 4 inches.  The exact measurements are roughly 3.5 inches by 1.5 inches.  Hmmmm, that is pretty darn close to what the KX3 manual states for the KX3 dimensions.     I picked up the block of wood I had kicked away and measured the length.  It was 7.5 inches.   But would it fit in my bag?  Perhaps another way to ask this, if it fits…will it zip?

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The KD0BIK KX3 prototype.  I sure hope my real KX3 receives better than this block of wood. 

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Yep…it zips.  It’s a nice fit and still room for the large battery pack and other accessories.

Of course there is a fundamental design difference between the Elecraft KX3 and the Yaesu FT-817.  The control buttons and knobs and that super large display of the KX3 is a not factored into my 2×4 KX3 prototype.  However, if you review the above picture (the inside view) I will still have room and these will be protected.  I will probably slip the KX3 into a felt bag just for extra protection.  Where’s that Crown Royal bag I’ve been hanging onto?

Now please don’t rush out and purchase the LowePro Apex 120aw bag just because my 2×4 fits and zips.  I’ll make certain to create a new blog posting once my KX3 arrives and I have a chance to model it with the bag.  But if you already own this bag, it might just work out for you with the KX3.

Well this blog post and trying out my KX3 block of wood has been fun.  I now must get back to work. 

Until next time…

73 de KD0BIK


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