Review: The Telo Systems M5 Mobile Network Radio
Read our full review as featured in RadioUser May 2019
Reviewed by Chris Rolinson
The Telo Systems M5 model is a newly-released network radio in a mobile form-factor - it appeared in the UK earlier this year. I came across it via Andrew Clark of G6 Global: www.network-radios.co.uk
A Group Effort
As the radio arrived for review, I noticed that my friends Karl Hobson G1YPQ and Filip Everaert NR001 had both already purchased one from the same batch! Not being one to miss an opportunity (as three brains are always better than one), I asked if they would contribute their thoughts to this review, so we could get a really well-rounded set of opinions. They readily agreed!
The Telo arrived professionally boxed with all accessories present and correct. It is designed, as so many of these devices are, for the professional market, using bespoke PTT software for business use. G6 Global supply many radios with such software.
This has a few implications for hobby use, as you will see, but they are easily dealt with.
The radio itself is very rugged, formed from what initially looks (and feels) like a really solid block of heavy-duty ABS plastic material. This is clearly a device built to withstand tough environments. I liked the fact that it was supplied with an excellent mobile bracket too.
Being a tinkerer, I was confused that I couldn’t find any way to get inside the radio. No screws here, just that heavy-duty moulded plastic. Telo clearly does not want users playing inside this radio – but this is fair enough, as this is a business device first and foremost.
Thankfully though, the FCC in the USA has already done the job for me. A quick glance at their site here supplies more than one needs, in the way of technical statistics, together with some excellent internal photos.
Like most network radio devices, this is a computer, running Android OS, with both cellular and Wi-Fi connectivity, but in a specific form-factor - in this case, the mobile transceiver format.
It is somewhat larger than some similar devices on the market, but the radio benefits from this, in that it provides a very clear, and sharp, 4-inch IPS capacitive touchscreen. This dominates the front of the device and is a delight to use at all times.
There is a 2W rated loudspeaker on the right-hand side, which provides plenty of volume, though, to me personally, sounds a little bass-light compared to some network radios I have come across. I am guessing that Telo thinks that, in a vehicle, a brighter sound would more likely cut through bassy road noise.
There is always the Bluetooth option to route audio into the in-vehicle system, if more ‘body’ to the sound is required.
The radio runs Android 7, which is not too bad, given that many network radio devices run earlier versions, even as far back as version 4. Sporting a quad-core 64-bit processor, it has 8GB of ROM and 1GB of RAM – good specs for a device like this, leaving plenty of headroom, especially as onboard storage is expandable by a MicroSD card, which fits in a moisture-proof protected compartment at the bottom edge of the radio, underneath the screen.
In this protected socket bank, you will also find a slot for the single SIM card, as well as a micro-USB socket for programming and connectivity uses. Unlike some other radios, you do not have to unscrew any tiny panels to insert SIM and memory cards – another positive!
On the Front
A very robust hand microphone with a modular connector plugs into the front left-hand side of the radio and sits underneath a large volume control. This rotary knob is particularly interesting because it is also a ‘proper’ on/off switch. Filip noted that it correctly shuts the OS down, as well booting it up.
Therefore, as with most such devices, do not expect ‘instant-on’ – it is a computer booting up after all.
I measured 56 seconds from power-on to home screen; turning off is just 14 seconds.
And, also on the plus side, the rotary knob arrangement allows proper DC isolation, obviating the need to put a switch in the DC power line, as some enthusiasts have felt the need to do with other devices.
On the right of the front panel, there are four programmable buttons (P1 - P4), an orange SOS button and another button marked ‘MAP’. As on most unprogrammed devices, these do nothing, unless you have software to program them for you! More about this shortly.
Finally, there is a camera at the bottom left of the screen. This is a unique feature on a mobile network radio and while the three of us were pleasantly surprised by this, the potential scenarios for its use, arguably, remain to still be discovered.
At the Rear
Multiple cellular bands, including the forthcoming 700MHz band, Wi-Fi and GPS are all available, and there are two antenna sockets on the rear. At first, it was difficult to know exactly what these were for. The manual is very sketchy on this, as it is in the increasingly popular ‘Quick Start Guide’ format.
Karl, being proactive, contacted Telo directly to find out. Telo assured him that both sockets were for cell usage; indeed, there are two identical, short, rubber-style, antennas supplied to fit – they need affixing firmly though; otherwise, they may move around a little.
Karl performed some tests on these antennas using signal-strength software; this seemed to confirm what Telo had said. On the upside, it also means that the possibility exists for building and using your own antennas for use with the M5. Magnetic aerial mount, anyone?
On the rear too, is the DC power connector, which is arguably the least ‘heavy-duty’ part of the radio. It feels a little flimsy to me, though it never let me down, so I cannot complain.
It’s accompanied by a fused DC power lead (good!); however, this has part of its outer sheath removed, in order to fit the fuse inline. This just feels slightly disappointing for what is otherwise a very professional device. The lead is, however, very generous in its length, so it would be really easy for any enterprising radio user to improve upon if you felt the need.
Next to the DC input, there is a USB A-type socket (Fig. 4), which Karl discovered allows charging of USB devices from the radio (useful!), but which Filip couldn’t seem to make do much more than that. Filip found that it didn’t accept accessories, including a mouse, which is sad, as that could have been quite useful!
The radio boots up and presents its bright, clear, display – one of the best I have seen on a network device to date. Icons are presented in a grid format and can be ‘swiped’ from both the left and the right. The radio is extremely fast & responsive, and everything feels ‘instant’ in operation.
There is audible feedback from screen-touches, apps load quickly, and the whole experience with the device is very positive indeed. You can even quite easily enter text using the screen, which cannot be said of all network radios.
The whole experience with the M5 seemed positive and professional to all three of us, as befits the radio’s origins. The ‘feel’ is of a device worthy of its price tag, minor niggles notwithstanding.
One Hiccup …
The radio as supplied came with ‘vanilla’ firmware – in other words, it was not supplied with any business PTT or Google applications. Android enthusiast, Filip, knew why: While Android is very much a Google-backed project, the use of Google services and apps has to be ‘agreed’ with hardware manufacturers - there are copyright and legal issues, which Google has been recently clamping down on. The result is that some Android-powered devices now have no access to the Google ecosystem.
However, this is not the end of the world for network radio users, as Zello works fine on such devices by downloading it directly from the Zello website, at this URL: http://www.zello.com/android
Nevertheless, some apps, such as TeamSpeak and Button Mapper cannot work properly without the presence of the Google Play Store.
This is partly because app developers collect their revenues via the Play Store. Furthermore, apps like Google Play Store are not designed to work standalone, so even if you tried to sideload it, it just wouldn’t work (I tried, much to Filip’s amusement).
… And a Solution
A quick phone call to G6 Global and it transpires that they have already addressed this – the company supplies an optional Google Apps ROM for the Telo.
I mention this as it is important to specifically request this version when you order your radio. While the radio works fine with vanilla firmware if you are using it only for Zello, it is a much more pleasant experience if you can use other apps too (even Zello performs better with the Google ROM, as it can then, for example, use Google’s back-end to deliver the messaging side of the app).
You Really need Button Mapper!
The indispensable ‘Button Mapper’ (BM) app transforms this unit further, by allowing pretty much any button to be programmed in almost any way you wish. We all think it really is worth getting the Google ROM and paying the minuscule amount for the ‘Pro’ version upgrade to BM, to be able to do this.
Using BM, Filip programmed his P1-P4 buttons directly to individual Zello NR channels, while Karl programmed his MAP button to open Google Maps – a brilliant idea, why did I not think of that?
On the Air
Having set up the radio for my personal use, I popped onto the Network Radios Suite and was pleased to come across Peter NR6400 near Manchester. Peter had only joined the network radio community a few days earlier, but we had a very productive chat, during which he confirmed what my earlier ‘echo test’ had indicated, namely that my audio was ‘BBC quality’, in best network radio tradition.
Peter’s received audio was likewise crystal-clear from the front-facing M5 loudspeaker. Karl and Filip reported similar results and had nothing but positive feelings about the radio, while in use.
The Telo Systems M5 is an excellent network radio for both mobile and base installations. My personal preference would be for home use, thanks to that wonderful screen and the fact that it would be easier to find it a home in a shack. You could also simply use it on your home Wi-Fi, ignoring the short 4G antennas completely, while retaining the option to connect an outside antenna for cell use.
However, if you have space to fit it into your vehicle, it will perform well there too. I suspect that, in a business environment, external antennas (rather than the two short whips) could always be connected to give the increase in signal strength (and the subsequent robustness of service) that business users would probably demand.
At the time of writing, the Telo M5 retails at £300 for the Vanilla version, and at £335, for the version with Google Apps included.
My thanks again to my ‘little helpers’ - and both Karl and Filip tell me they are keeping their M5s. That’s probably the best recommendation they could get! Thanks too to Andrew at G6 Global for the loan of the review radio.