Review − The Anytone AT-D868UV DMR Handheld Radio

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Yet another DMR handheld? Tim Kirby G4VXE looks at a dual-band DMR that has some novel features.

 

 

 

Yet another DMR handheld? Tim Kirby G4VXE looks at a dual-band DMR that has some novel features.

 

If you read PW on a regular basis, you may be forgiven for thinking ‘not another DMR handheld’! Indeed, I was listening on the air this morning to a conversation about the seemingly never-ending stream of new DMR handheld radios emerging from the Chinese manufacturers.

The first iteration of DMR radios was generally single-band but since the middle of last year, there have been a number of dual-band radios coming onto the market at accessible prices. Initially, I couldn’t really see why we needed dual-band models, when, after all, 99% of DMR activity on either repeaters or hotspots is on the 70cm band. As I had the chance to use a dual-band model, though, I realised this was not the whole story and there was great value in having a rig that would do DMR and FM on both bands, 2m and 70cm, so that I could use the analogue simplex and repeater channels all from the same radio.

There’s been a series of these dual-band radios at a variety of price points. Although I have enjoyed using all of these, it’s fair to say that many of them have had their quirks, some more noticeable than others. However, both on air and online, I’d become aware of the reputation of the Anytone AT-D868UV as a DMR dual-bander that ‘just worked’. When Chris Taylor of Moonraker kindly offered us one to try, I was keen to see if it lived up to the billing.

 

What the Publicity Says

The Moonraker publicity says, “The AnyTone D868UV radio is a VHF and UHF radio with both Digital DMR (Tier I and II) and Analogue capabilities. Offering a total of 4,000 channels (Analogue and Digital), 10,000 Digital Talk Groups and up to 150,000 contacts, as well as multiple DMR ID numbers (Radio IDs) for a single radio. This enables Moonraker to supply it preprogrammed with all UK DMR and analogue VHF/UHF repeaters. Supplied with a 3100mAh battery the radio will give a good working day’s performance”.

 

First Impressions

The rig arrived, nicely boxed up. Included in the package are the antenna, battery, charger and AC adaptor, belt clip and a USB programming cable. There’s an instruction manual too but as ever with DMR type rigs, it’s of limited value because so much of the rig’s functionality is defined by the codeplug (the configuration of the rig, which is software driven or defined). Having said that, the manual is well put together and describes the basic (non-codeplug) functionality clearly and accurately.

I switched on the radio and it quickly came up and had already been programmed at Moonraker with my DMR ID. The feel of the rig, in terms of the display and menu items, is very similar to the Hytera models, which to me is a very positive thing. The screen is good and clear and is visible even in the bright sunshine that we have become accustomed to this summer. The keyboard has a good positive feel to it and the menu was easy to navigate without having to reach for any instruction manuals.

Physically, the rig is comfortable in the hand and has a positive weight to it, without being heavy. I suspect that this is mostly down to the large battery, which seemed to last for ever, particularly when using the rig with a hotspot or just for listening.

The codeplug supplied by Moonraker is comprehensive and easy to use. Both Analogue and Digital (DMR) repeaters are included, organised in regions. So, in my case, I was able to find all the analogue repeaters in the south-west region in one ‘Zone’ within the codeplug. With that Zone selected, I could scan across all those analogue repeaters for activity, which was quite interesting.

 

Testing

Actually, my first test was on DMR with my local hotspot, to check that I could receive a known DMR transmission. This was fine. The codeplug included a ‘Hotspot’ Zone, with entries for a hotspot on 436MHz with talkgroup 9 (and another entry for the same frequency for talkgroup 8). I connected the hotspot up to several DMR systems and was pleased to hear audio coming out of the loudspeaker, along with details of the stations’ callsigns, DMR IDs and names displaying on the screen. I had a quick QSO with Andy M1VIP in Manchester to check things out, on the CQ-UK Fusion Room, via the DMR link, as well as with Ivan N2XRV from Brooklyn, New York on the Brandmeister worldwide reflector.

The Swindon DMR repeater, GB7TC, is about 15 miles from here and although it’s not possible to get into it reliably with a handheld, the wonders of digital signals mean that a well-placed rig and antenna can provide very clear reception of the repeater. I found that the Anytone’s sensitivity was what I would hope for and similar to the other DMR rigs I have here. I listened to the GB3TD analogue repeater at Swindon over a similar distance. Perhaps it seemed a little noisier on the Anytone than with some of my other rigs but it was copiable.

 

VFO Mode

Unlike some of the early DMR rigs where all you could do was to program channels in the codeplug and navigate through them in Zones, the Anytone contains a ‘VFO’ mode. In the codeplug as supplied by Moonraker, this is accessed by hitting the lower of the two side buttons on the left-hand side of the rig. You can then enter whatever frequency you like, within the rig’s coverage. Use the numeric keypad to enter the frequency and note that you need to enter 145.650MHz as 145.65000, for example. Check whether you are in Analogue or Digital mode and if you are not in the correct mode, you can change this by going to Menu/Settings/Chan Set/Channel Type and selecting Analog or Digital as required. Note that you can do some clever stuff in there as well, transmitting on a different mode to what you are receiving. I’m not quite clear why you’d want to do that but you never know. Once you have programmed up the frequency, you can either listen on there or, if you wish, do a scan of the surrounding spectrum by hitting P1 (in the Moonraker codeplug) and it will scan up the band in whatever increments have been set in Frequency Step (this is set in settings under Menu/Settings/Radio Set), which contains a variety of useful settings, some which I haven’t seen on other radios (Maximum volume, for example, along with the option to set the programmable buttons to do different things).

 

Digital Monitor

There is a very useful Digital Monitor feature. This allows you to monitor all talkgroups on one or both DMR timeslots, which is excellent if you are not sure which talkgroups are active on a particular channel. I was particularly impressed with the ability to monitor both timeslots because most radios I have seen recently require that you can only look at one timeslot at a time.

I realised at this stage that I had been changing all sorts of things on the radio that on earlier models of DMR radio I would have had to resort to using a computer, programming software and the programming lead for. Of course, if you are into making major changes to the codeplug, then that’s what you will need to do but it was obvious with the Anytone that you could probably happily use it with the codeplug supplied without need for a computer unless, for example, a new repeater came on the scene, which you needed to program up. You might see this as an advantage if you are not an enthusiastic ‘tweaker’ of software.

I also noticed that the radio allows the user to set up multiple DMR IDs. This is useful when perhaps there are several amateurs in a house. With this feature, you could easily switch between different callsigns/DMR IDs.

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Interfacing with a Computer

Despite saying all this, I thought I’d better find out how easy or otherwise it was to install the programming software for the Anytone and get it talking to the rig. I run a Windows 10 Virtual Machine on my MacBook Air for these sorts of tests and generally figure that if I can get it working easily in a virtual environment, then anyone using a ‘real’ PC should have a pretty straightforward time.

Looking around the web, I found various places to download the programming software but chose a link on the Connect Systems website in the USA because they’re a company with a good reputation. I downloaded the software and ran it to install it. Everything went according to plan. I then plugged the supplied programming lead between the rig and the computer. I checked in the Windows Device Manager and the rig had been set up as a new COM port so it was a simple matter of going into the programming software and under the Set option, selecting the COM port that had been created (COM8 in my case) and then trying to ‘Read from the Radio’. To my delight it worked first time!

This is great because it means that you can take a backup of your codeplug before making changes, add new repeaters and channels and so on. Although the Anytone is very good ‘standalone’, I was happy to have tried the computer interface and verified that it worked easily. There’s a very comprehensive guide to using the programming software and setting up the rig from a software perspective, also from the Connect Systems website, at:

https://tinyurl.com/y8lptqdh

This excellent document also includes details of how to update the firmware should you decide to do that. There are various releases of new firmware for the Anytone, which means that new features and bug fixes can be installed. This sounds alarming but once you get used to the process, it’s pretty simple and is worth doing every once in a while to keep yourself up-to-date.

 

The GPS Receiver and Recording

The Anytone also contains a GPS receiver. As far as the rig itself is concerned, it doesn’t do terribly much other than display your latitude, longitude, altitude and speed in a fairly basic list format on the screen. However, on some DMR networks it is possible to pass the GPS information to the network and have it plot your position on the APRS.FI website.

I liked the Anytone’s ability to record digital audio. Note that this option doesn’t seem to be available when you are in analogue mode. You can record audio clips, play them back and even send them (I didn’t try that option because I’d a feeling it might not have been too popular). When you record digital audio, say a QSO, it will record each ‘over’ as a separate recording and you can easily see who made the transmission and at what time it was made.

 

Power Levels

The Anytone has four different RF power levels: low, medium, high and the rather nicely named ‘turbo’, which equate to 0.5/1/2.5/6W respectively. These are sensible power levels and it is useful to have a bit more granularity than I have seen on some other radios.

 

Battery Life and Charging

The rig comes with a drop-in charger and PSU. Actually, the PSU supplied with the review model was a two-pin one so I had to use an adapter to a UK mains plug, which was not a problem. I don’t know how long a full charge took because I didn’t manage to run the battery down completely! However, the top-up charges that I did do completed quickly. The 3300mAh battery seemed to last very well, particularly as most of my use was either through my digital hotspot or for listening.

 

Listening on other bands

The Moonraker codeplug as supplied provides receive coverage of the PMR (446MHz) band and the Marine VHF band as well as some NATS (Heathrow airport) channels. Please note that these airport channels are ground-based FM − the Anytone, sadly, does not receive Airband AM.

 

Conclusions

The Anytone AT-D868UV came with a good reputation as being a rig that ‘just works’ and that was very much my finding. It was easy to use, flexible and worked well. Unlike some of the other rigs I have used recently, albeit successfully, there were few if any quirks to work around. That was a refreshing change. If you are in the market for a dual-band, DMR/analogue handheld, the Anytone is a good value option at £139.99.

Very many thanks to Chris Taylor of Moonraker for his kind loan of the review rig.

www.moonraker.eu

 

This article was featured in the October 2018 issue of Practical Wireless