Okay, got it programmed and ready for testing. The programming was a bit of a PITA due to the very poor quality of the manufacturer's programming software. Part of the problem there is you cannot resize the program window. Well, you can, but it doesn't help. Let me illustrate...
This is how the program opens:
, on Flickr
This is what happens if you try to make it full screen on a widescreen monitor:
, on Flickr
And no, you cannot resize or drag the data entry area to make it fit the screen. Hell, if you try and expand the column headers so you can read what they say the last column gets lost off screen, with no scroll bar at the bottom, so you have no way to get to it. Really poorly designed user interface there.
This gets even more ludicrous on the Configuration Settings and VFO Settings screens:
, on Flickr
, on Flickr
On the Configuration Settings screen the left box has just two more lines that you have to scroll down to see or access, then the configuration settings continue in the right hand box, which also scrolls down two more lines, even though there's no data down there. Why they didn't just eliminate the scrolls by moving two items from the left box to the right is beyond me, but it obviously made some kind of sense to someone at the factory in China.
Anyway, I had about 35 frequencies I needed to enter, some were repeaters, some were simplex, and that lead to the next problem... the software does not automatically do repeater offsets. Okay, not a huge problem maybe, but still a PITA to anyone who's used to radios that do automatic offsets, or RT Systems software (more on RT Systems software a little later). Instead you have to enter the receive frequency and the transmit frequency in two different boxes. (Interesting note, in the menu settings there is
an offset frequency setting, from 0 to 599.995mHz
but no clue as to how it is used in the manual). One feature that I do like about this rig though is how easy it makes it to do odd splits, and different input/output tones. There's one repeater that's local to me which requires a certain tone to get into, and which transmits a different tone. This was done due to another repeater, using the same tone on the same frequency which sometimes comes through if the gods of propagation feel like fwonking with us that day. This makes programming for that repeater a little easier than some others I've used.
So, all the frequencies got programmed finally and the data transferred to the radio. Now it was time to see how it works.
One problem that immediately came up was that if you enter an Alpha name for a channel, only the name seemed to show up. A fast read through the manual shows that pressing the 6 key (VFO/MR) should
shift between displaying the channel number + name and channel number + frequency and that indeed does happen, but there's no way to show name and frequency at the same time. I prefer name & freq (the way it's displayed on my Icom IC-706MKIIG) but this is still workable. The next problem to crop up, and one which I still haven't gotten a good handle on, is how the cross band repeat functions work. Remember, my sole purpose in buying this rig was to use it as a dedicated cross band repeater in my truck so this is kinda important to me. From my reading of the manual it seems there are four different cross band modes on the rig. Two of them seem
to involve connecting two of these radios together with a data cable and then one would work for receive and the other for transmit (essentially full duplex) so I'm not looking at those. The remaining two are called directional cross band repeat and two way cross band repeat. I think
two way is the one I want for what I use a cross band repeater for (use the truck radio to extend the range of an HT during public service events) but I'm not 100% sure since I can't seem to get it to work. And directional cross band repeat simply makes no sense to me at this point. I'm just not grasping the concept they used and that's frustrating for now.
So, back to two way cross band repeating... If I set the unit up to two way cross band between a local VHF repeater and a simplex UHF frequency it looks
like it's working on the display but a test transmission on my UHF HT failed to bring up the repeater. No doubt this is simply user error and I'll eventually figure it out, but I really wish there were clearer instructions for this rig online. Oh well, by the time I get it all figured out and posted in this review I guess there will be, just I'll be the one writing them.
Other thoughts and notes:
The rig has a compander audio setting that, while nice, is of really limited use. Companded audio makes it possible to transmit a wider dynamic range of sound through a narrower bandwidth than could normally accommodate it. Amateurs won't find too much use for this I suspect, though it's a nice thing to have on commercial narrow band FM.
It's important to remember that this rig isn't really manufactured as an amateur radio rig. It is, first and foremost, a low price commercial rig, and as such has a wider frequency range than just the amateur bands and features (stun, kill, remote control, compander, etc.) usually only found on commercial radios. It would be easy to get yourself into hot water by transmitting out of band with it, and due care should be exercised so that doesn't happen. One way I could see this happening is if you programmed in the ten NOAA weather radio channel frequencies so you could listen to weather alerts. If you were to hit the PTT (such as accidentally sitting on the mike) while doing that these rigs will then transmit on that frequency, a major no-no. For that reason alone I strongly suggest that the rig not be used to monitor out of band frequencies, despite how convenient it might be.
While it's nice to have a choice of backlight illumination colors, especially colors that can be assigned to TX, RX, and standby, having only three colors (white, blue, green) and no brightness control really limits the usability of this. Wouxun should really have allowed for more color choices and a screen brightness control.
There are three speakers on the rig, and they're weird! There's two on the case, one for each VFO it seems, but one is bigger than the other, which makes no sense to me. The third speaker is on the back of the microphone, and I like that feature a lot. The speaker mike means they didn't need a speaker in the control head, and allows you to both mount the control head in more places and also to really bury the radio body somewhere (remember it still needs cooling though). I'm already making plans to get an extra control head mount or two and running extra control cables to different points on the truck. The radio is getting mounted inside the back compartment of the truck, riveted (the bracket) directly to one of the steel shelves. That puts it in the perfect spot for the rear operators position, but I'm also considering a mount for the control head in the cab of the truck, another closer to the rear doors, and possibly a third one mounted in a waterproof box on the outside of the truck. Heck, for that matter I could just stick a waterproof RJ-45 jack out there and carry a network cable to connect the control head while sitting outside at a table under a canopy. Lots of possibilities there.
RT Systems does
sell programming software for this radio, but there's a couple of issues that concern me. First, maybe it's just my imagination but the RT System software looks a lot
like the factory software, with maybe just a little tweaking and formatting here and there. Second, as with all their software, RT Systems tells you that only their own data cables ($30 each) will work with their software. Now, while I completely "buy" their story that they started doing this when a bunch of counterfeit Prolific chips were used in some cheap Chinese cables sold on eBay (and other places) caused them real tech support headaches what I don't "buy" is why they are doing that with this particular radio, considering that it comes standard with a manufacturer supplied and approved programming cable. In my mind this just sounds like greed on their part. Their software should be able to work just fine with the genuine factory cable, and if it does not then the only reason I can see for it is to make more money by selling you an overpriced cable. In my humble opinion there's no way in hell they aren't making at least $15-$25 profit on the cables they sell for $30, so this really smacks of price gouging to me, but hey, that's just my opinion.