Many amateur radio vendors now offer hand held radios with digital voice capability such as DMR, Fusion or D-Star modulation modes, but still lack easy to use data only functions that work across different vendors equipment.
AX.25 based APRS is the only current protocol that will let users of some Yaesu, Kenwood and certain Icom equipment "talk data" to each other over non-voice means for point to point communications or through some type of infrastructure like a digipeater or the Brandmeister DMR network, Icom's D-Star and other API avenues that lead to websites like APRS.fi
Let us now explore the current crop of APRS capable hand held radios and introduce a low price alternative which offers this stalwart universal packet based data communication mode.
This review will talk about the $169.95 USD Lanch HG-UV98. This analog dual band (2m/70cm) with APRS radio has some tricks that make it unique in a world full of digital voice radios not found elsewhere.
What does the Lanch HG-UV98 compete with?
Lets start out by sharing a list of what current production model radios support both receive and/or transmit capability of 1200 baud AX.25 based APRS communications.
As we can see in the above table, the Lanch HG-UV98 is drastically less expensive than much of the competition when it comes to full featured APRS functionality.
While this early 2019 release radio does not offer digital voice modes like the majority compared in the above table, there are many things that make the HG-UV98 interesting more than the price.
|The $500+ USD Kenwood TH-D74 is roughly the same |
size as the $169.95 USD Lanch HG-UV98
Lanch HG-UV98 Basic Review
Nothing seems all too extraordinary, unless you are looking for a radio with data communication capability for under $200 USD. The Lanch HG-UV98 will also appeal to users interested in asset tracking, experimentation, hacking, telemetry, programming and casual analog voice communication. Basic specifications include:
- Receive: 136-174 MHz and 400-470 MHz
- Transmit: 136-174 MHz and 400-470 MHz
- Transmit Output: VHF = 5W High, 1W Low , UHF 4W High, 1W Low
- Memory Channels: 128
- Battery: 7.4 V 2500 mAH polymer Li-Ion
The more exciting features are:
- 1200 baud APRS RX & TX
- Location with GPS, BeiDou, GLONASS selection
- Temperature sensor
- Barometric Pressure sensor
- Battery voltage telemetry
- One additional external I/O
- Bluetooth for PC/Phone pairing for APRS/GPS
- VHF & UHF simultaneous reception
- 5 V USB charging (Standard USB Micro connector)
- Color display with day/night option
- Plus more...
Detail on HG-UV98 Non-APRS features
All the usual features found in every modern handheld analog FM radio for voice communication are included such as PL/CTCSS, DCS encode or decode, channel naming, etc.
The HG-UV98 is also dual watch in the same band, but not dual receive at the same time in the same band. Dual band receive at the same time is supported, which means a signal at 145.880 and 435.350 MHz can be heard through the speaker at the same time.
This may be of interest those interested in duplex operation via SO-50, AO-92, AO-91 and a few other satellites.
While you can dual watch 144.390 and 146.520 at the same time, you can only receive one of those signals at the same time and not both. You can set a TX or RX priority though to offer additional priority flexibility.
|Lanch HG-UV98 CPS program is simple to use|
The HG-UV98 lacks an audio mixer function such as the one found on the Kenwood and Yaesu radios. You can however enable mute on the "A" or "B" side of the HG-UV98 which is helpful if you want to use APRS on "A" but not hear the packet data bursts while listening to voice communication on the "B" side. This can also be flipped depending on user preference.
While strange at first thought, you can mute both sides of the radio at the same time, which may be interesting if you want to set APRS for both UHF and VHF at the same time as some sort of tracking device and not have any RX audio come out of the speaker, regardless of how you set the master volume knob. With APRS, you could even set side "A" as TX and "B" as RX or both. This is sort of a nice set of features offered in this radio which others lack.
Detail on HG-UV98 APRS Features
When it comes to APRS or other AX.25 packet communication, you are limited to 1200 baud compared to the faster but underutilized 9600 baud speed highlighted in the comparison chart.
This is not a shortcoming however, as the TNC in the HG-UV98 is hardware based which means more reliable decoding or encoding of packets. Based on testing, the overall experience RX or TX is on par with the Kenwood TH-D74 and has not missed a packet while field testing this radio during a recent travel excursion.
This is worth mentioning because the most economical "new purchase" entry route to APRS prior to the Lanch HG-UV98 was to use a simple $10 cable that would connect a low priced analog FM radio such as a $25 USD Baofeng UV-82 to a smartphone.
This approach uses a emulated software modem in software running on a smartphone or tablet and the use of "voice activation" to handle switching from transmit to receive which is not very reliable.
If your first taste of APRS was through this "Baofeng" method, the HG-UV98 should be your upgrade path unless you really want digital voice as found in other radios. The Lanch is going to be a truly night and day difference from the Baofeng UV82 or UV5R type of radio when used with the aforementioned cable. The HG-UV98 is 100% self contained for APRS much like more expensive radios.
Here are some highlighted HG-UV98 features for APRS not found on other radios:
- Setting a different channel for RX or TX for APRS at the same time
- Setting a different channel or two channels or one over Bluetooth for APRS
- Setting different UNPROTO paths on different schedules (WIDE1-1, ARISS, etc)
- Setting APRS TX at timed intervals, after every PTT or smart options based on speed, etc
- Ability to toggle on/off the TX of in built atmospheric telemetry or voltage sensor data
Critical Compatibility Notes
Only the listed Kenwood and Yaesu radios can actually receive and transmit 1200 baud APRS, thus making them 100% compatible for two way data communications with the HG-UV98.
The Anytone AT-D878UV can only transmit APRS, so while those can be received on the HG-UV98, you can not transmit APRS back to the Anytone expecting the user will receive the message.
The only way for full two way communication via APRS with the HG-UV98 and radios such as the Icom ID-51, Anytone D878 and Alinco DJ-MD5TGP are via internet routing involving a hot spot or repeater plus looking at the APRS.fi website. This is NOT the same as legitimate APRS communication, so do not be fooled.
HG-UV98 Hardware Review
So far this article may be giving you a lot to think about, so lets switch to talking about the hardware to give your APRS section of your cranium a brief rest.
The included battery of the HG-UV98 has 2500 mAh capacity at 7.4 V. Built in voltage measurement function reads is just as accurate compared to an external meter. This is no big difference compared to other radios which have a similar battery specification like a TYT MD-UV380 and many other recent radios. The battery will not fit any other model radios though.
The really unique thing however is that the battery has a USB micro connector that allows you to charge the battery from either the included 12V to 5V USB "cigar/accessory" adapter or the 120 VAC to 5V USB power cube along with the included USB "A" to USB "Micro Male" cable. A charge cradle is an optional accessory.
Simply put, this power flexibility should not to be overlooked for almost near universal charging capability. All but the newest smartphones other than Apple or USB-C based devices made in the last 10 years have the USB micro connector.
The outside structure of the radio is very, very sturdy and feels solid in the hand. The battery has a special clasp that allows it to dock into the radio for an almost seamless fit. The bottom of the HG-UV98 is stable to not tip over on flat surfaces even with the nice LED light built in to the bottom which can be controlled by different programmable buttons in the radio menu.
The default setting for the top mounted "orange" button at the top between the channel selector and SMA-J antenna connector is for controlling the LED flashlight and alarm functions. The SMA-J connector is the same one found on most other radios excluding the Kenwood, Icom, TYT and Yaesu radios which all use a standard SMA. The Alinco. Anytone and most other Chinese based low cost radios use the same antenna connector. The way to understand what an SMA-J connector is if it has a center pin instead of a socket at the center of the antenna connector on the radio itself.
The top of the radio also features a master volume and power switch plus a LED to indicate status of the radio during reception (green), transmit (red) or scan (orange). Blue flashes indicate APRS data packet reception and can be turned on or off.
While facing the front of the radio, the left side has a pair of programmable buttons and the PTT, which is angled for a feel sort of like the one on the Yaesu FT-70DR and some of the other "commercial inspired" radios they also offer for sale currently under the Vertex brand.
On the right side of the radio is a very nice gasket seal that can rotate which hides the standard "Kenwood/Baofeng" 2 pin connections for a speaker microphone. This same port is what is used to program the radio or APRS modem. The USB micro on the battery is only for charging, not computer interfacing. The HG-UV98 can also be programmed over bluetooth as well as to stream APRS, GPS or both. More on that later.
The front of the radio has back-lit keypad and soft functions that are well thought out and allows much easier toggling of GPS and APRS functions compared to some other radios. The only complaint with the keypad is that each key press has a loud click sound, but this may be considered a benefit to some users unless you are a covert operative on a special mission requiring absolute quiet.
Finally, the rear of the radio has connections for an optional drop in cradle charger and a rather nice belt clip.
Bluetooth and the HG-UV98
The HG-UV98 includes Bluetooth connectivity and the ability to pair the radio to any device that expects to receive KISS, UI, GPWPL or KISS Acs. This all means that the GPS and APRS data can seamlessly pass through to devices like a laptop, smartphone or tablet when using applications like Pinpoint, APRSdroid or most other popular APRS or terminal programs like TeraTerm, Putty and more. For those interested in Winlink, the HG-UV98 will work perfectly with that and will not require a wire connected to your computer. This may appeal to someone involved in "emergency amateur radio communications". If all you have is a computer and HG-UV98, you can probably put the radio in a tall tree to extend your APRS range since it will then communicate back to your computer via short range bluetooth.
Having bluetooth creates some nice user application scenarios for full two way keyboard to keyboard communication when the HG-UV98 is wireless paired to other devices. Compared to the Kenwood and Icom radios, pairing bluetooth and being able to connect with minimal fuss at a later time is much easier.
The computer programming software or CPS for short is pretty basic. It is only used to program the channels and basic features of the radio which are mostly not related to APRS. It is possible with very little work that the widely adopted C.H.I.R.P software could be made to work with the HG-UV98. There is also an Android application available for the HG-UV98 but is in early release stages at the date of this article.
There is a separate software package for programming the APRS features for the HG-UV98. This software is based on the APRS51 based tracker and modem devices found on E-Bay or elsewhere which offers some commonality with other equipment.
The only quirk with the APRS software is that you can only read settings from the radio. In order to write new settings to the HG-UV98, you need to put the radio into upgrade mode by holding down PF1 side button while turning the radio on.
After you do this, its easy to write APRS settings to the radio. You will know this is done correctly when the "write" button is clickable as in the above photo.
This same procedure is also used when updating the firmware for the radio also. Everything can be written to the radio via bluetooth for APRS but not for programming the memory channels which is sort of curious. The default bluetooth pairing code for the HG-UV98 is "1234"
HG-UV98 Bottom Line
For the price, this is an interesting piece of equipment. It is a higher transmit power upgrade from the 1 Watt PicoAPRS devices as well as the APRS51 based devices found on E-Bay like the $90 USD AVRT5 which are only for data communication.
Compared to basic voice only communication radios for roughly the same price, this is a nice upgrade if you are not looking for digital voice capability or wanting to spend over $400 USD for some form of digital voice, analog voice and full featured APRS.
There is certainly room for improvement on some small menu names such as sub-menu #3 for frequency step size found under main menu #1 Local Setup. This is spelled as "SETP" instead of "STEP" .
Menu #6 for setting repeater shift direction is abbreviated as "SFT_D" but its clear there is more room to spell this out.
Having the ability to even switch between black on white or white on black text like most other radios also shows this is a well thought out user interface aside translation quirks between Chinese and English. For those with poor vision, the HG-UV98 also has a voice menu option that is implemented well.
Other menus have random ALL CAPITAL LETTERS while others are Partially Capitalized. Under the "Meteorological" setting, changing from Celsius to Fahrenheit or metric to standard does not seem to work.
The APRS software also has some related issues, but overall this is a good start for a new company that can be fixed with a later software upgrade.
Below shows the HG-UV98 paired to an Android smartphone via bluetooth running APRSdroid software. The telemetry shows that the temperature, barometric pressure, voltage and altitude along with speed and location are easily viewed.
One final comment in closing, is that there appears to be an unsigned Android application for programming the radio from a smartphone over bluetooth or through a USB OTG connection, but I can not seem to get this to work.
While not sure, there could be inspiration from the Xiaomi Mijia Walkie Talkie we have reviewed before and it is known that the HVDN blog does have many Chinese readers who follow our feedback which may have influenced some product decisions that led to the creation of the HG-UV98.
If you are willing to experiment a little, this product is great but for those looking for 100% polished software elements, there will be reduced expectations. On the bright side, the hardware is certainly best of class in my opinion and would make a great purchase to anyone looking for a reasonable investment in APRS communication equipment.
Expect an update on this radio at a later date.
- The Lanch HG-UV98 was independently reviewed by HVDN and was purchased from Venus I-Tech in 2Q2019
- The corporate website for Lanch is found at http://yw.qzlcdz.com
- The firmware in the HG-UV98, serial number AO9A00378 in this review was v1.0.1_190416 and is hardware v1.0.1
- The computer programming software, firmware, instruction manual and APRS configuration program can be found on the Venus, Lanch or HVDN websites.
UPDATE 4/21/2020: Please note the above hosted files are on the HVDN server and not the manufacturer website which appears to be down