I have a bad habit of losing HTs. I've lost three since I got my ticket, with a combined value approaching $1000. Not good. Thankfully China has finally figured out how to make ham radios, which sell for the usual cut-rate price.
Of course I'm not interested in being an early adopter. But now QST has reviewed these and found them to be OK if not great. Also several members of my club (RANV) have purchased these or similar Chinese radios and have acceptable reports. So I decided to take the plunge.
I purchased mine at the RANV Winter Hamfest on Feb 28, 2012, for the show special price of $109. I also purchased a mini speaker-mic and USB programming cable for $19.99 each.
In the box was the radio, a drop in charger, both an AC adapter and a cigarette lighter adapter for the charger, a belt clip with lanyard, and the "manual". The belt clip attaches to the radio with screws, which is a bit unusual.
The radio user interface is pretty bad, although many Japanese HTs have terrible interfaces as well. It's obvious that this radio was intended primarily for commercial service where it would be programmed in the shop. Self programming is a bit of an afterthought. It's not that the interface is complex, actually it's rather spartan. Just not well thought out or implemented. But once you get the hang of navigating the menus it's usable. At the hamfest it only took me a few minutes to program in our local repeater and key it up.
They must have thrown darts at a wall to decide which features to assign hotkeys to. Two thirds of them could have been better assigned to other functions.
The manual is pretty bad too. It does an acceptable job of explaining the basic features albeit in very broken English. For $100 they could have hired somebody on Elance to proofread it. Whatever. Some of the feature descriptions are just indecipherable.
All that said the radio has some nice features. It operates on 2m and 70cm with dual watch. Note this is NOT dual-receive; it can only receive ONE signal at a time. Dual-watch works in essence by scanning between the two channels. It receives FM broadcast and has over 100 memories. The LCD is brightly lit and easily readable. The build quality seems good; it does not feel like a cheap radio, probably owing to it's commercial target market. It has alphanumeric memory names.
The two features most sorely missing from this rig are auto-repeater-offset, and memory to VFO copy. Automatic repeater offset, or ARO, automatically picks the direction and magnitude of the uplink frequency for a repeater based on the standard ARRL bandplan, which most repeaters follow. With ARO all you really need to know about a repeater is the downlink frequency and maybe the CTCSS code if it uses one. Without ARO you also need to know the direction and size of the offset. Size is fortunately standard, 600KHz on 2m and 1MHz on 70cm. Direction unfortunately varies randomly depending on band segment, so the only way to know is to look it up (or memorize the bandplan).
The lack of MR->VFO means that you must program a memory channel correctly on the first try. If you screw up, you have to start over from scratch. You can't copy the memory to the VFO, fix the one mistake you made, and save it back to memory as on other radios. You must re-set every setting you wish to store including frequency, offset, tone squelch, name, etc before saving to memory. This is pretty annoying. Most folks seem to work around this issue by buying the programming cable.
On air the radio works fine. I live out in the country so interference isn't a big issue; the ARRL lab gave the receiver pretty crappy marks so you might have a different experience if you live in a city. Rage seems good and my audio reports are a bit tinny but perfectly readable. Apparently there is a mic mod to cure the tinny-ness.
Despite it's shortcomings, this is a lot of radio for the price, and I think an excellent value. Hopefully the next generation of Chinese radios will be even better, or Japan radio prices will come down, or both. Either way it's a win for ham radio operators.
I have not been able to get the programming software to work on Linux. The Wine list suggests there is a bug in the kernel module for the particular USB serial chip. I tried applying the patch and rebuilding the module, to no avail.
I have been using the FM broadcast receive feature, and I discovered quite by accident that the radio keeps monitoring your ham channel, and automatically cuts over to it on activity. So you can listen to music and monitor the repeater at the same time! That's pretty cool.
I have been able to program the rig with my Linux box using the latest snapshot of CHIRP. As of this writing, the version of CHIRP bundled with Linux Mint is too old to support the TYT, so you need to build from sources. http://chirp.danplanet.com/projects/chirp/wiki/Home