Monday, 14 September 2015

Should I keep my Flex 1500 and what about the IC-7300?

Edit - see later IC-7300 review for my views on that rig  ... http://gm4fvm.blogspot.co.uk/2016/04/icom-ic-7300-review.html

Well the solar storm seems to have quietened down after 5 days of raging and weakening, then raging again. However, tomorrow looks interesting ...

There has been a storm raging in my head about my Flex 1500.

Now let us get this straight. The Flex 1500 is a great rig. It has done everything I asked of it, and I have no problems with its operation.

The problem is that I bought it to act as a transverter driver, and now I find myself not using the transverter. So the Flex has become an HF rig, and I do not need another HF rig. I am finding that it is not switched on for days on end.

When it comes to HF performance, it out-performs my FT-817, but as I already set out in this blog, the FT-817 is a definite keeper. Although the 817 cannot match the Flex for either receive performance or transmit power, it has other benefits, such VHF and an internal battery.

So basically, now that I am not using the transverter, I have two similar rigs. One of them, the one which was bought for the transverter, is surplus to requirements. It is a pity in a way, as the Flex is a very good radio. I like the idea of keeping an SDR in operation and being able to benefit from that excellent panoramic display, but not if it is just sitting here turned off most of the time.

Looking further ahead, the concept of putting a dedicated SDR into a rig case seems to be gathering pace. When we first saw SDRs, they were do-anything rigs which you attached to your computer. That is a logical way to go as it allows you to configure the radio in many different ways, and use the computer display for panoramic monitors, control, and so forth. But there are situations where a rig contained in a box which works without a computer is what you want. The development which makes this work better is the touch screen display.

Touch screen displays have been developed for the tablet computer market. They were troublesome to start with, but are much more reliable now. My IC-7100 has a black and white touch screen display. I find it easy to use.

A lot of the cost of making a rig is the cost of putting buttons and knobs on them - causing manufacturers to try to reduce the number of buttons - and hence Yaesu's infamous function table. So rigs with lots of functions cost a lot of money because they have so many buttons and knobs, rather than the functions costing a lot in the first place. With the touch screen you can reduce the number of buttons to a minimum.

Also, with a touch screen display you can provide access to a lot of functions, and thanks to the ever-falling cost of processing power, include a lot of the features which otherwise you would control on a computer with an SDR. OK, you are duplicating the display in the rig which you already have on your computer, but maybe that is what you want.

Latest rig to develop these ideas is the Icom IC-7300. This has just been announced in Japan and there are not many details. It looks like it will be at least six months before it reaches the UK and the cost is predicted as about £1000. It looks more like a £1200 rig to me, so we shall see what the exchange rate means for the price when it arrives.

It looks like a pretty standard HF transceiver but it has an SDR at its heart and a panoramic display as part of the colour touch screen. This panoramic display is small and no doubt restricted in what it can do, but it is still a step forward in a rig at this price. The SDR construction should allow updates and improvements to the firmware over the Internet.


The display may not look terribly advanced but the point is that either such displays were only available on rigs at twice the price, or were even more limited by requiring "sweeps" of the band. This one claims to offer full real-time panoramic display. Which means a display like the Flex and other SDRs, but without the computer being needed to show it.

Apparently, Icom are saying that you can touch the screen and using your finger, pull the rig frequency across to reach some signal you have seen on the display. I can do that with the Flex, but of course needing a PC and a mouse to do it. That is a very useful feature. However, is the screen so small that it might be difficult for amateurs with 60 year old eyes and stubby fingers to make it work?

Personally, I would like an option to do both approaches - allow the display to be output to a computer screen and allow control from there. And I still want it to work without a PC as well, if using it portable! It is not clear if that can be done or not, but I suspect not. Still, never mind about that, it looks a good prospect.

In my mind I have been comparing the IC-7300 with my FT-450. It would solve the 450s odd filter quirks, I bet it has a better receiver than the 450. It is twice the price of the 450, offers a panoramic display and covers the 4m band too. I am comparing a previous generation rig here (FT-450) with the latest technology (IC-7300). Newer looks better, but it is more expensive.

Maybe one day I would rather have an IC-7300 in place of my FT-450. But, my IC-7100 has various "issues". Would that put me off the IC-7300? No. I need to see that screen in action. But the general idea of an SDR style-rig in a stand-alone box with a display on the front rather than using a computer as well, strikes me as a good approach.

Fortunately, I do not  need to think about it for a while and my present set-up is fine for now. Too good, as I have a Flex 1500 which I do not really l need. Still, it is something to think about, which always whiles away the winter evenings.

73

Jim
GM4FVM

4 comments:

  1. I use a Funcube Dongle with the IF of my K3 to give me the best of both worlds with panadaptor display and SDR type functionality. But I do like a real RIT knob. I also set myself a target a few years ago to have 1,000 QSOs each month across the various bands and modes and I find that doesn't leave me a lot of time to fret about the equipment and if I should change anything.

    That helps maintain the peace in the household too.

    73 Richard GI4DOH

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  2. Hi Richard. I have a FCD too and I have used it in the IF as you suggest.

    What looks interesting about the IC-7300 is that the screen would be interactive, using the touch screen to move the frequency when you see contacts on the band scope. Add in the idea that it might do that for £1000 and not need a PC, it sounds interesting, but we don't know the details yet. As it uses direct sampling, it is not a superhet, so no tapping into the IF on this one!

    As I never have rigs worth more than a certain mid-range device, I find that my investment is limited but I can juggle it about as new ideas come along. That leaves room to invest in the odd piece of latest technology.

    Not fretting? I would be lost without it.

    Good to hear from you. I hope all is well at your end.

    73 Jim

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  3. Hi, I got my IC-7300 just four days ago and it replaces my Flex 1500. First impressions, the Flex has better adjacent signal filtering as the response seems to have vertical sides where the IC-7300 has sloping sides and only three cusomizable widths. My Flex was giving me a few birdies and acting a bit odd after 12 months of use whereas the IC-7300 is clean. The Icom seems to be as sensitive as the Flex. It's strange for the first couple of hours to work with a small screen and those round knob things but it becomes second nature quite quickly. Using menus hidden behind knobs and buttons also is a bit odd after having everything available on screen at the touch of a mouse button. Overall though the IC-7300 is a lot of radio for a nice price.
    73
    VK2BOB

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  4. Bob - thanks those are very useful comments. I really appreciate the views of someone with both rigs to compare. There is no subsitute for a direct comparison. I think your comment is bang on. I did not cover the point you make prefectly - although the 7300 has better access to features than, say, other superhet rigs of a similar specification, it does not have the ease of access which the Flex has. But you get used to it. If anyone aksed me about the Flex 1500 I would say it is a great rig for many purposes, and those filters are superb. But on the 7300 I do not see reversed sideband signals going down the band in the opposite direction to the VFO.
    Hey, there must be some solution. I bet Icom have the 7300 well boxed in so I cannot hack it and run it on PowerSDR or some other software. Defeats the object of having all those knobs on the front. Nice to try though!
    Cheers Bob and thanks a lot for the thoughtful post.
    73
    Jim
    GM4FVM

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