01 May 2020

So A Guy Walks Into A Store To Buy An HT...

and walks out with an HF rig.

To put it another way, I fell into another Yaesu FT-817. Another 817?  Well, yeah. I bought my first one back in early 2017 and used it hard for a while, then sold it to help cover my purchase of the new CommRadio CTX-10. At the time I wasn't actually sorry to see the 817 go. I sold it for a good price and got the CTX-10, and wasn't really looking specifically for another 817. This one just fell into my lap.

Oops, wait. It's not an 817. It's an 818. But really, the 818 is just a warmed over 817. You see, not long after I sold my 817 Yaesu released a 'new and improved' version of the little radio, called the FT-818ND. All this 'new' radio offered over the old 817 is "more power!" - a whopping 6 watts instead of the original 5 watts - a built-in TXCO module, and a slightly larger capacity battery pack. But Yaesu opted to keep everything else the same, including the old power management circuitry that slowly sucks the battery dry even if the radio is turned off. Way to go Yaesu!

My new FT-818. Or is it my old FT-817? Hell, even I can't tell the difference

Yup, Yeasu dropped the ball on this one. I guess the fact that the FT-817 was still a strong seller, and since they didn't really break anything with the 'upgrade', we'll just call the FT-818ND the Radio of Missed Opportunities.

When folks got wind of an upgrade to the FT-817 about 2 years ago the ham radio world went into a high hover. But the fact that Yaesu didn't make any prior announcements about the new radio - it took a sleuth digging around in the FCC database to stumble on the type acceptance submission - should have been an indicator. Unfortunately, for the past half decade Yaesu's had its head shoved so deep into the System Fusion hole that they can't see daylight. So, when parts availability became an issue with the 817 (a 17 year old design at the time), they took the cheap and easy path and just stuck in some new components, provided a marginally better battery pack, a TXCO module, and patted themselves on the back. Then they proceded to lecture us about how the FT-818 represented a 'new era in QRP capabilities'.

"Oh, and pay no attention to what those Chinese guys at Xiegu are up to, or what Icom is rumored to be working on."

For the most part the ham radio world didn't buy into Yaesu's marketing bullshit about 'more transmit power', or the 'improved' battery pack, or the 'free' TXCO. The joke in the radio community quickly became that the ND in the radio's name - FT-818ND - stands for 'no difference', as in there's really no difference between the FT-817 and the 818. The list of things that Yaesu didn't address with the FT-818 includes things the user community has been griping about for years:
  • an absurdly archaic power management system
  • no effective RX audio filtering, unless you want to shell out an additioal $170 for a 2.3 khz SSB filter, or an equal amount for a 300 hz CW filter
  • no digital signal processing (not even fairly simple AF stage processing like Yaesu's had on some of its rigs since before the original FT-817 was released)

But like I said at the outset, at least Yaesu didn't do any damage to an already solid radio with this 'update'. No real improvements, but at least no damage.

Some would say, "why mess with success?" There is an argument there - the FT-817 has been a phenomenal world-wide success for Yaesu, and they've sold them by the truckload. There's even evidence of the FT-817 having been adopted by some pretty odd non-governmental organizations, like the Columbian FARC. Hell, if third world narco-terrorists depend on your product, why change things up?

By this point you're probably saying to yourself, "If you dislike the radio so much why did you buy another one?"  Valid question. I actually have a specific use case for the radio - as a portable 6 meter rig to help test military VHF radios. I've been looking for one of Yaesu's discontinued HTs that offered 6 meters - a VX-5, 7 or 8. But good used examples don't hang around long on the on-line sales sites like eHam or QRZ.com. This like-new 818 popped up and I figured, aw heck, why not. (Hence the title of this post.)

Since Yaesu released the original FT-817 the little radio has seen a lot of strong competitors enter the market. Elecraft released their KX line, the Chinese manufacturer Xiegu has come on strong with a whole slew of low cost but capable QRP rigs and CommRadio has released its CTX-10. But the real threat is just over the horizon. Icom is about to release their IC-705 QRP rig. Regardless, FT-818 sales seem to be strong, and there are still compelling reasons to pick the little radio over all the current competition:
  • The 818 is still the only QRP currently for sale that offers HF plus VHF/UHF and all modes on all bands - SSB, AM, FM
  • The 818 has a very robust accessory market. There are cottage industries out there selling replacement battery packs, digital interfaces, protective cases, filters, speech compressors, antenna tuners, etc; you can pimp this radio out to your heart's content
  • The radio has very strong third party rig control and digital mode software support
  • Yaesu did a great job with the overall format of the radio. From the front/rear antenna port arrangement to the placement of the controls, Yaesu did a good job laying out this little rig
  • At it's current street price of $550 US (as of April 2020), it's actually fairly reasonably priced for what you get

But at the end of the day, here in the year 2020, the FT-817 818 is an achingly outdated design that is crying out for a major makeover. Yaesu knows how to do it. They just need to get it done

... or Icom will eat their lunch.

W8BYH out

No comments:

Post a Comment