There doesn't seem to be any 446 radio yet that would suit this fussy cheapskate radio amateur, so I decided to just go for it and buy a pair of relatively cheap radios that would be quite adequate for the intended use, for experimenting with and having a go at long-distance working. The Vivancos are a non-attention-seeking black version (although available in yellow too I believe) of the blue Ross DA007 Callfree radios. The Alecto FR-8 is the same, in black. The radios have been available in silver and blue from Goodmans, and also in yellow or black from Maas, Jopix, Busch and Binatone - but these three versions have a different shaped display panel, slightly differing speaker grille styling, a slight bar each side of the casing, and a round PTT instead of oval (and also I've just read that the buttons are more recessed and harder to operate). A USA FRS version is the Unwired Technology UFR-308.
These radios are "GEE-4M3" (approved by ERO on 11-10-99) made by Golden Eagle Electronics in Hong Kong (no website). The FCC approved a GEE-413 (FCC ID 'BFV4M-3-6-8') which is identical save for a manual channel switch rather than LCD display etc. The FCC testing reveals a maximum ERP of 140mW!
Having previously seen the Goodmans radios for £100 a pair with batteries and charger, I thought the Vivancos were worth a try for £77 - only to find that the batteries were not included and a charger would be an optional extra as well. D'oh! Plus, if I'd make the trip to Argos I could have had Binatones for 50 quid *sigh*
Initial impressions were favourable, the packaging was good but the part that held the radios was cardboard that looked like it had been recycled five times and stank like hospital disinfectant. The manual looked promisingly just the right size, but it turned out that each language only got a page or two to itself. No pictures, no easy to follow instructions, no spec.s, no table of CTCSS tones... quite poor in all. In fact, once you know how to use the radios there is nothing of value in the leaflet to ever consult it again - apart from maybe that if you ever get hold of a suitable docking charger, it recommends a 12 hour change but it doesn't hurt to continue longer.
If you haven't got a manual, trust me you don't really need to worry about getting one, just this paragraph will do. To change anything on the radio, press Mode and something will flash, and the relevant settting can be changed by pressing the Up and Down buttons. Press Mode again for the next thing you can change. This includes Channel, CTCSS tone (or -- for none), range checking OFF/Long Range/Short Range (stumbling child symbol), VOX ON/OFF (symbol is two Os interlinked), key lock ON/OFF (key symbol). To get out of 'setting mode' and return to normal operation, either press Talk once (will briefly transmit but so what) or keep pressing Mode until there's nothing flashing. That's all there is to it!
So on to the radios then. First impression was : quite big and chunky compared to the most radio equipment like Icom R2, but reasonable compared to radios from not all that long ago. The antennas must have been designed by a frusrated woman - the most phallic I've seen yet, bendy too, and worryingly loose fitting to the radio. Place your bets as to what will break first, the antenna, the volume control or the flimsy tab that keeps the battery holder lid in place. How many will end up with a rubber band holding them together? (Delboy reports no problems after a year with his Goodmans)
Rather than separate on/off and volume controls, you'll need to adjust the volume every time you switch on, tedious and prone to wear on the track of the variable resistor. Switch on and an annoying bleep is followed by a pause of a second (which can seem like an age in a hurry) before the display settles and operation is possible.
Using the radios on a given channel/tone is fine, with good audio and fair range. If I may nitpick, it takes half a second to open up the receiver with CTCSS, so the first word or two that someone else says may be lost. If you don't believe me, transmit on one radio with a tone selected, and listen on two other radios, one with CTCSS, the other without. When sending, you may notice that the transmission continues for a half a second after you release the button. Odd behaviour, but bearable.
The headset sockets are designed to be used
with VOX. I eagerly tried a speaker mic that
I usually use with my amateur radios, with 3.5mm
mono plug for speaker, moulded next to a 2.5mm
mono plug for mic. The
speaker part worked, so far so good. I tried
to transmit and nothing happened. D'oh!
Only by selecting VOX mode did it work, and
then only if and when I talked quite loudly.
The radio only transmits when the mic is connected
(the mic PTT is pressed) AND there is audio to
trigger the VOX.
The mic I used was obviously too quiet, but
otherwise this would be just about feasible to use,
if a little unconventional.
UPDATE : Quite some time later, and thanks to someone's experimenting we now know that these radios can be switched between VOX and PTT. Switching on while holding the Up button toggles the PTT mode (via the socket). Now my speaker mic works perfectly - keying the mic brings instant transmit regardless of any audio or not. Just the keying (introducing the 2k2 resistance between the connections) is enough to make the radio TX at once. Try it and see! This setting is remembered no matter how many times you switch off and on again, until you toggle it back to the default again. Excellent, it's great to use two-way radio with a fist mic again, after so many years away from CB!
I've seen a review page where over 15 miles were covered from one good location to another with these radios. Back to more realistic use around ground level, another page reckons that some of the really expensive professional 446 radios will make the distance to up to 1 mile when these are making it to but half a mile. I'm sure this is subjective and not especially scientific, but if this really is the case it would mean that the Effective Radiated Power of these would be just 125mW - a 6dB reduction that equals one S-point on a radio signal meter (to double a range needs FOUR times the power due to an square in the formula - and four times power gain is expressed as 6dB). Bear in mind that at the half a mile point where one radio is breaking up, the other radio only really has one S-point advantage, which is gradually lost towards the full mile. Moving a radio around slightly for better reception (and better transmit back too) can have far more effect. It's not as if a better 446 would have perfect signals up to the complete mile!
(If radio A has four times the effective output than radio B, then at any distance from them both you'd get four times more signal from radio A (one S-point better). The only time this really helps is when the signal from radio B is JUST too noisy, at which time the signal from radio A can still JUST be heard)
They probably tested the radios in pairs, so if a radio was better due to a more efficient antenna you'd get the benefit of the gain advantage not only on transmit but on the reception at the other end too. It's all way too dependant on the terrain anyway. Your mileage may vary, as they say.
I've no concerns about range. I called in my friend with the good ham radio handheld with extended receive and we put a quarterwave antenna on it. With the ham radio and the Vivanco side by side we walked about while tuned to some other 446 activity. It was hard to tell if there was any difference in performance, which is good.
I wouldn't like to talk a non-radio-orientated person through changing channels though, it's a bit tricky for the kind of people who can't program their videos to record. There are no memories to make it easy to avoid other users on the same channel. Thankfully the radio remembers the previous settings when it's switched on.
The most irritating thing about these radios, at first, is the loud bleeping when you try and change anything. Change channels, or tone and it'll bleep. Once per press. Change from tone 1 to tone 20 and it'll drive you mad (I've since found that bleeps can be defeated). By the way, pressing down from tone '1' takes you to tone '--' which means no CTCSS, then down again puts you at tone '38'. There is no monitor button to temporarily remove CTCSS, so it's not simple to keep an ear on whether the channel is in use.
There is no scanning, apart from holding down the key in channel-change-mode, but it will bleep like mad. Ugh! Likewise, there is no automatic way to lock onto a CTCSS tone in use on a channel without manually leaning on the button (which isn't as bad as it sounds however).
Since writing the first version of this, somebody very kindly let me in on a secret. The designers must have found the bleeping as annoying as I do, because pressing the 'Down' button while switching on the radio defeats the bleep. Excellent! Why couldn't they mention this in the manual? Only a minor hassle to get rid of those bleeps although you can end up wondering if you've pressed a button or not for a moment, due to the display not changing completely instantly when it's flashing. However, pressing 'mode' and an 'up' or 'down' button changes channel instantly without the flashing 'set' mode. The bleep defeat continues to work after switching off and on again, by the way. Getting the bleeps back again will make you think for a few moments... try switching on with other buttons held.
Happily there is no annoying 'roger bleep' on these radios either (so the inexperienced may need to say "over"). Also, pressing the 'Up' and 'Down' buttons at the same time (either when switching on or when already on) takes the radio to channel 01 with tone 01 - a handy shortcut down to the low numbers which you could use as a standby rendezvous channel.
I like the way these sets take ordinary AA batteries if you're away from home and run out of power. I don't like AAA cells, horrible thin things that go flat in no time having less than half the capacity of AA cells. I've no gear that uses them and don't wish to start now! For close range working, it's a shame there is no low power setting to save the demand on the batteries. Rechargeables work, and you can get a drop-in charger to save scooping out your NiMH cells all the time.
The central Push-To-Talk is nowhere near as bad as I thought it might be, it felt fairly natural to use these radios. The antenna actually is on the correct side, when holding the radio naturally the antenna is away from your face. The 4-segment signal meter was a nice touch for an amateur like me.
Some 446 radios are styled with a rounded lower section and look as if they won't stand up unassisted (even though they do). The Vivanco does stay put, but any knock forwards will tumble it over. It's more resilient to a backwards push, but then as it rocks forwards again it'll fall flat on its face. A minor matter for the careful, but the display could end up scratched easily.
What would I change, if I could? These radios are very good value for money compared to the way more expensive 'pro' sets. Ideally I'd like a slightly smaller size, but a longer antenna would be fine if it could possibly help the range in any way. The only real let-down is the lack of scanning - but the kind of radios I'd really like are nearly a hundred quid or more EACH. You get what you pay for!
Without scanning, these aren't ideal for listening out for other 446 activity, but it has to be said you'd pretty soon tire of all that noisy, choppy reception anyway. In most areas you have to be quite close to 446 users to get consistent signals without it breaking up all the time. 446 is not ideally suited to mobile use unless you're keeping in touch with another vehicle heading the same way - it could work well to base stations having rooftop antennas if that was allowed, but handheld-to-handheld is always much more limited on any frequencies. If you're not particularly bothered about listening in on other 446 owners, but want radios for your own communications, these really are a winner at the price.
Summary of 'Things They Didn't Tell You' :-
Multilingual manual http://www.alecto.info/int/FR8.PDF
German manuals at http://www.pmr446.de/katalog/maas/multitalk446.pdf
+27dBm writes :
"I just tested the power output of the Yellow Binatone :
At 3.3VDC +24dBm
At 4.5VDC +27dBm
At 5.5VDC +28dBm
At 6.0VDC +29.2dBm - that's hot, keep it short
Yes the antenna on this radio is rubbish" - it must be if the FCC measured ERP at 21.5dBm - that's a -5.5dBi antenna
Multicomm review : "having previously struggled somewhat to hear me on my Goodmans Tracker he wanted to know what I was using." ... "Their signals remained clear and unbroken as they moved around the large 3 floor building (the reception on my Goodmans Tracker and Telcom TE200 usually breaks up as they move from room to room)."
T6222 review : "The distance from my Dad to myself being approximately 2 miles over a built-up area. I had also taken my Goodmans Tracker to compare the two radios and all I can say is WOW. The Goodmans was having problems maintaining contact with my Dad (the squelch being set much higher on the Goodmans meant that there was a lot of breakup) but I found it impossible to lose my Dad's signal on the Motorola even when the radio was held at ground level. The combination of a more sensitive receiver and a lower squelch level makes this radio a real winner. There were many times when the T6222 received a load clear signal and my Goodmans Tracker remained silent!
It should be noted that for some time I've been wondering if it was worth spending a little extra cash on a more professional radio instead of going for the cheaper, more toy-like radios. Well I can now confirm that if you are thinking of buying a PMR I would say that you'd be much better off buying one T6222 than going for a pair of cheaper radios such as the Binatones or Telcoms. It is true what they say - You only get what you pay for"