Thursday, 1 September 2016

Review - Icom RX7

This is my review of the Icom RX7 wideband handheld receiver which is Icom’s latest handheld receiver to hit the market.

When I first started reading about it a few months ago I was interested to read that Icom had finally fixed some of the issues that had bugged me with previous radios I had owned from them such as the R5, R20 and R1500 which were all good radios but lacked some of the basic features I felt a wideband receiver should have such as a decent scan / search speed, easy bank linking for scanning and searching, simple memory bank / channel management and an easy to understand user interface.

My reason for buying the RX7 was twofold, first I was looking for a good handheld radio that had a proper VFO, decent scan / search speed and was small in size; the second reason was that I just love new toys and after a less then happy time with the Yaesu VR500 I was hoping the RX7 would be a radio I would be happy with.

This review is not “technical” but simply some comments and other things I have noticed about it and how it works for me, I am not trying to sell it to you or tell you not to buy one but simply share what I have found and like / dislike about it.

The first thing you notice about the RX7 when you see it is that it is white on the front and grey on the back and sides, this makes it stand out from other scanners that are normally black or grey, the size of it is fairly small given it has a good size display and a full keypad, as it is so slim it can slip in to a pocket easily.

Using the radio in VFO mode has shown it to work very well, frequencies can be typed from the keypad or changed via the top VFO knob, things like turning steps, mode and other options are set from a menu which helps keep the keypad and display simple to use and understand, please take note that this radio is like most things these days and menu driven with many different options and levels depending what you are trying to do, even for somebody like me who works in IT technical support and has had a number of radios over years it took me some time to get used to this way of doing things, the manual explains it fairly well but the best way to learn is to play around with the radio and try new things.

The single biggest change from other Icom radios and most scanners in general is the way the memory is set out, think of it like the way the Uniden 396T/996T is done, add some extra steps / options and that is about the level this is at. Instead of banks you have Category’s Groups and Channels. Here is a quick rundown on how I have mine programmed which will help make it easier to understand.
First you have a Category (000 services in my case) which you setup, then you make a Group (TAS Fire) and inside this you add the frequencies (79.0375MHz as an example) with an alpha tag, CTCSS tone, Mode, Turning step, ATT, stop beep and VSC settings if you want.
Here is how I have mine setup:
-          TAS FIRE
-          AMBULANCE
-          SES

-          ATC

-          UHF CB

-          RADIO

As you can see above every category must have at least 1 group under it but you can have up to 26 categories each with 100 groups and each group can have 100 channels so that gives you lots of choices as far as how to have your memories setup.  Using my setup above I can scan all the categories, 1 category or a mix, I can even just scan the TAS FIRE group if I want to, for somebody like me who likes to listen to everything but also at times narrow down to a single group of users this setup works well.
The only issue I have found is that as you had to add the frequencies to the right category / group as you program them it slows down the process a bit but I think it is well worth it for the flexibility you get from having it setup like this.

After programming a couple of hundred frequencies in and scanning them for a few hours I can report I have found no issues with lock up or overload even from my location which is close to the West Launceston radio towers, line of sight to Mt Barrow and close to the CBD; I am planning on testing it at Freeland’s lookout soon which will see how it performs in a “dirty” RF location. The scan speed seems to be in excess of 50 channels per second which is a great improvement on previous Icom radios.

Searching of frequency ranges is well supported, Icom have programmed some common one’s for you but you can also edit your own and link these which has always been something I have had issues with on Icom radios, it is good to see this has now been fixed and works really well, the search speed seems to be around 50 steps a second for 25KHz steps in the UHF band which is also very nice.
Earlier today I did some testing of the search auto write which is a feature I have used quite a bit in the past on Uniden radios and I can report this also works well which is a first for me to get working on an Icom radio.

Battery life is good from the 1100mAh battery and as I purchased the optional battery case for 3 AA cells this has improved it even more.

Overall I am very happy with the RX7 and it is a very nice radio which Icom have made more like a normal “scanner” but also with the VFO and other “advanced” features.
I am very pleased with this radio and if you don’t need trunking or APCO25 digital then this is the radio to get.

Here are some good / bad points I have found with it:
+ Fast scan / search speed.
+ Very nice clear audio from both the speaker / ear phones even if it is a little quiet at times.
+ Good physical size and fits well in a pocket.
+ Memory / search linking that works.
+ Well designed memory layout if hard to understand at first.
+ It seems quite sensitive and does not overload / have many birdies like some other radios I have used.
+ Major fun factor and many options to play around with.

- Delay is set on a radio wide basis not per channel which is a pain.
- The CTCSS tone decode feature is painful to setup and VERY slow to decode the correct tone.
- The keypad does not have a backlight like the display so night time use is hard until you learn all the keys by touch.

 - Voice squelch seems to work well but does cut off the first bit of each over while it checks if the signal is voice and it should pass it to the speaker.

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