I do a lot of traveling in my job. So you would think I'd have a Amateur Radio in my work vehicle. Apart from a small hand held VHF/UHF radio I haven't got around to getting one.
Recently released from Leixen in China, the VV-898 is their latest Dual Band VHF/UHF mobile rig. While it has a lowish output power of 10 Watts or 4 Watts it has some nice features least of all its tiny size (120x90x40mm) and low price.
From what I could find, the RRP on most websites is about $150. I found an Ebay dealer advertising a buy-now of $112 Au and $18 Au expedited postage. I ordered and paid for it on Sunday, its Wednesday and its in Melbourne. Fingers crossed it arrives by Friday as I'm doing a road trip this weekend.
If I get time between packing the car and mounting the radio I'll do a write-up on it. Stay tuned.
Well that was quick. The Leixen radio arrived Thursday morning. I guess some sort of review is now in order.
I'm avoiding doing one of those 'unboxing' things where the reviewer goes through the box announcing the obvious. Sure, there's a radio and a microphone with a 4x4 keypad (backlit no less). A mounting bracket surprisingly strong for being rather thin but made of steel. A power cable with one of those T type power connectors and about a meter long. Also an operating manual with cryptic clues on how to use it and a microphone clip.
My radio arrived with a SO239 RF connector on the back. Some have BNC connectors so it seems optional as to what they ship with. Also on the back is a 3.5mm audio socket for an external speaker although the built in speaker on the top of the radio seems to do a nice job belying its small size.
The insides of the radio are remarkably unremarkable. Removing the plastic lid shows not much at all. It appears to be the back of the board which is screwed down onto the heatsink with all the surface mount parts sandwiched in between. A coin battery is visible as well which I would guess provides battery backup to the memory etc. The front panel module has an LCD display driver and rubber switches with a flat ribbon cable connected to the mail board. The RJ45 microphone/data connector juts out from the main board and through the front panel housing.
Operating the radio takes a bit of time to get used to. Holding the power button in for a few seconds results in a pleasant three tone sound. On the left of the LCD display are CHA and CHA- buttons which step the frequency up or down when in VFO mode. They also step through memory channels when in MEMORY mode. On the right side of the display are the VOL and VOL- buttons for increasing or decreasing the audio volume. When in MENU mode they also allow for stepping through menu items as does the CHA and CHA- buttons.
Under the LCD display are three soft buttons marked P1, P2 and P3 as well as the power button. Now, I'm not a big fan of soft buttons. You tend to forget what function they are set to do. In my case I've set P1 to switch between VFO and MEM functions and P2 to switch between Band A and Band B. I've also set P3 to start the scan function.
The Menu settings are quite straightforward. Many of them I ignored for now and just concentrated on the ones I needed. I programmed the repeater offsets and started adding memory channels that I'll be needing on my trip away in a few days. One annoying thing that had me tricked was how to get out of Menu mode. There was no mention on how to do this in the manual. Eventually I discovered that a press on the power button would change it back to normal operating mode.
All up its a nice little rig and seems to transmit and receive well even with only 10 watts on high power. I find the whole operation of the radio a bit of a let down. If you've ever bought a cheap Chinese designed radio you'll understand. I guess its a Western-Eastern thing maybe. Or their programmers that write the software just don't get it. Or they've never used a radio before.
After some trial and error I've got the memory programming worked out. Strangely I had to toggle the REVERSE setting in the Menu in order to get the repeater offset working. I can now select a receive frequency in VFO B, hit 'M' to go to Menu mode, Menu 05 is for writing to Memory, Hit 'M' again and it shows CHASave To 000 and I select the Memory channel to save to and press 'M' again to write it to memory. A quick press of the power button and we're back to VFO mode ready to select the next frequency. Not a painless process but it works nonetheless.
The microphone seems substantial and the audio is mostly reported as satisfactory. I'll get a better idea once I hear someone else talk with it. The rubber 4x4 keypad allows direct entry of a frequency and also up/down stepping of the frequency as well as access to the three soft keys P1, P2 and P3. On the top and side of the mic are Volume Up and Down buttons. The mic plug is an 8 way RJ45 and while I don't like them used as a microphone connector it does the job. In my experience the connectors just will not last and wires tend to pull out of the crimp plug. For some reason they added a little rubber boot over the mic plug which does absolutely nothing to help the situation.
So thats it. Small, cheap, usable and for a second or even third rig for mobile use it seems to tick the boxes. Remember to remove the protective plastic film over the LCD. This improves the display contrast greatly.