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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Wouxun KG-UV2D 2m/220 HT review

As I mentioned last week I got the Wouxun (pronounced "Oh-shing", close to the word "ocean") KG-UV2D handheld at the Morristown Hamfest last weekend. The radio is seeing a little bit of action, and needs some getting used to in order to properly operate it. After a week's worth of tinkering with it, here's my evaluation.

The KG-UV2D comes in 3 different versions, all using the same model number. On the 2 meter side, they all go from 136 MHz to 170 MHz. For the other band, there are three different frequency ranges. The one I have goes from 216-280 MHz covering the 1.25 (often referred to as "220") meter band. The others operate on the 70cm (often referred to as "440") band in 2 different ranges, one from 350-470 MHz, the other from 420-520 MHz. This review should cover most of what the 2m/440 radios have to offer as well concerning the functions of the radio.

Back to Basics!

First off, the relative simplicity of the radio is probably what will attract many hams (once they go past the super low price). Remember the Radio Shack HTX-202? That was a simple radio! Easy to use, clean keypad, not a lot of bells & whistles that some of today's HT's are overloaded with. It was a great first radio for may hams like myself, cutting their teeth in the post-apocalyptic no-code fallout back in the early 90's.

Don't get me wrong, it doesn't hurt to have too many gadgets on a radio to tinker with, but mess with the wrong setting, and you might have to do a hard reset of everything and start all over...

Wouxun was smart to not throw too much into these little radios. Put the essentials in (CTCSS/DCS tones, DTMF, Time-out timer, VOX) and throw in a few extras just to keep it interesting (FM radio, LED light, stopwatch, and alphanumeric memories).

RTFM (if you can)

One thing will be noticeable when you peruse the box and that is the owner's manual is not exactly, shall we say, proper use of the Queen's English...in fact, the "Engrish" is quite choppy at times. For example, the TOT function, what we call the "Time Out Timer", they dub it as the "Transmit Over Timer". There's quite a few others, but one thing I want to encourage is that, despite the rough translations, do not throw the manual away! It helped me figure out a few things I was doing wrong with the radio before getting on here shouting "this thing sucks" or something else...

I've talked with a few who went to the hamfest and got the radios (the 2/440 variety mainly) and a few were less than enthused with the radio. My first question to them was "did you read the manual?" and when they got done laughing, I reiterated "Seriously, read it!"

If you can overlook the grade-school-level translations of the Owner's Manual, reading the manual is not a large hurdle and you can get a better feel for this radio by reading it front-to-back. Right out of the box, you can figure out much of the functions with little confusion, but to get the full range of features, the manual is a must.

What happens in memory stays in memory

In one instance, I couldn't choose between high and low power via the keypad menu (more on that below). So if I wanted to shift from high to low, or vice versa, if I went through the menu options, and chose one or the other, the radio would beep three times, then reset back to the power setting it was on. As it turns out, I had to go to Menu 21 (the so-called "working mode") and set it to "FREQ" (a.k.a. VFO) before it would accept a change in power settings. If you are in the mode for the memories (CHFREQ, CH, or NAME) the power setting will not change. Whatever's plugged into the memory stays there.

Get your FREQ on

In "FREQ" mode you can direct-dial the frequency you want to listen to. You can scan to locate active frequencies if you are traveling. One of the things that is almost a must will be the need for the programming cable to quickly plug in frequencies that you plan to use. The cost will be around $20 give or take. I picked one up with the radio at the hamfest. You can program the radio manually, but the cable makes it easier by far.


While at the hamfest, I got a ham to go ahead and program my radio with whatever frequencies he had defaulted on his saved file. The software was easy to install (it runs off the executable, so no "install" necessary, just make sure you use the correct software for your operating system) and programming was not that complicated. It did not automatically shift the repeater inputs on the "TX Frequency[MHz]" column, so a knowledge of the repeater inputs (if applicable) is required.

Also note, if you program a frequency outside the transmitting range (such as NOAA weather radio on 162 MHz) leave the "TX Frequency[MHz]" column blank, otherwise you will get an error when trying to write to the radio. The error "Channel Message ## Out of range" appears, the "##" is the line number indicating which memory channel contains the invalid frequency.

The software also lets you program the TOT, frequency shift and offsets, the message you want to see when the radio is powered on, and several other features.

Selecting the COM port should be easy. On my computer, "COM3" was the only COM port available to choose. If your computer asks for more than one port, select the first one, and if the radio does not write, simply choose the "Communications Port" option and choose another COM port, then repeat until the radio upload commences. A progress bar across the bottom will move from left to right indication information is being written to the radio, and an LED light will blink on the radio.

The Good

I must say the light weight of the radio out of the box is nice. At just over 8 ounces you can almost forget you have it in your hand while walking.

I did have low audio on one repeater on 220MHz, but I determined it to be my location in the house, because when I moved to a different area (outside the house) my audio significantly increased.

I recorded myself using a local a couple of local repeaters here in Knoxville, one of which has 2 meters and 220 Mhz linked together, the other was a separate 2m repeater. The recording (which can be downloaded here, 39 seconds, 116kB MP3 file) is me first testing on the 2 meter repeater, then the 220 machine. I recorded off another radio plugged into the computer, so you will hear a buzzing noise which is NOT from my transmission, but from the radio with the carrier causing the noise. My 2m audio seems somewhat muffled on 2 meters as opposed to 220, which is why I tried it out on two different 2 meter machines.

I was told by a local ham about a mod on YouTube to increase the overall audio. I may give it a whirl soon with an update.

Voice prompts are a bonus as well. I like the feature of the voice telling me the battery voltage is low. It can also be fun to put it in Chinese to see what the different functions and channel numbers sound like.

The use of DCS and CTCSS is a good feature to have. Although I personally have not used DCS, some repeaters are employing this encode/decode method.

The dual receive on the same band is very helpful. You can monitor two 2m frequencies, two 220MHz frequencies, or one of each, or turn off the dual-receive and just monitor/use one channel. The FM radio feature also allows you to monitor your favorite repeater while listening to the local radio station of choice. Once the repeater keys up, it mutes the FM radio until the traffic has concluded.

The ability to store the FM broadcast radio frequencies into separate memory banks is also a bonus. I spent a majority of time listening to local radio stations while writing this article.

I've also programmed NOAA Weather radio into the memory so that I can take the HT with me to work and listen in if the weather gets bad.

The Bad

Just a personal preference for me, but I like a knob for adjusting the squelch. Having the radio determine the squelch via a menu setting can often lead to the radio becoming "deaf" when in the fringe areas of a repeater, or when trying to work a station on simplex. Perhaps an outside knob shielding the volume/power knob would be nice in a later version. You can temporarily kill the squelch by pressing and holding side key 2 (the lower button) but for me, I like to be able to use a physical knob to control the sensitivity of the receiver.

Next, the options for choosing high/low power, reverse (input), and repeater shift are options I would have preferred to be on the keypad or the side buttons. The menu process can be complicated just to change power level or choose a repeater shift. The lower side button (side key 2) only has two options, one for the monitoring (dropping squelch) of a frequency, or the built-in flashlight.

Side key 1 has four options to select from when programming the radio (FM radio, SOS help, scan, or lamp), so perhaps the side key 2 menu in a later model should be programmed to have the option of high/low power, reverse (input), and repeater shift. Better yet, I've always been keen on having the power button be it's own button, or a push-button switch like on the HTX-202's case. The important features (power, reverse, and repeater shift) should be a one-button function, or two steps using the "MENU" button first.

The VFO knob across the top got sticky on part of the turn when spinning it. It starts smooth (notching as you turn) and then it becomes increasingly harder to turn, as if it were tightening against something. Then as you continue to turn, the friction will ease up. I got some info (thanks, Rusty!) regarding the sticking tuning knob and was told that the plastic in the knob's base may have residue that makes turning the knob inconsistent with regards to the friction. I'm hesitant to crack the radio open right after I get it (and void that warranty!) so for now I'll live with it.

The stickers that ID the antennas (one for 216-239 MHz for the ham bands, the other antenna for 240-280MHz which is allocated for mobile, mobile satellite and fixed) are not held on very well. I simply took some scotch tape, cut it to the necessary width and length, and wrapped it around the labels to help keep them in place. See image to the left to see the scotch tape on the antenna's label.

Also, the "Wouxun" label on the front of the radio kept trying to peel off. A tiny swipe of super glue has resolved that problem.

The Ugly

The one thing I'm stumped on is why the need for a "Roger beep", and more importantly, why put it on the keypad and not something more useful such as repeater shift, MEM/VFO, or high/low power? Unless roger beeps are big in China, it's not useful here.

The owner's manual also needs to be "translated". After all we get these radios from a US distributor, so perhaps one should take the time to go through and clean it up?

The Rest

The KG-UV2D also features an "SOS" transmit for use in an emergency where it will sound an alarm for about 10 seconds and repeat this alarm approximately every 5 minutes. The SOS feature might be useful for foxhunting.

Here is a demo of the SOS feature I recorded:

It's best to use a programming cable when entering the memories you want for the radio. Using the keypad can take hours as opposed to just a few moments of programming the software, and just a few seconds of upload time to the radio.

The audio on the 2m side seems to need a tad more improvement, but, as shown by the audio recording, I was perfectly readable. Still, better audio quality makes for a better overall experience with any radio.

The Bottom Line

I do like this radio. On a scale of 1 to 10, I will give this radio somewhere between a 7 or 8. You will get your money's worth and then some with this radio. You can't beat the price of this radio, that's for sure! It's lightweight design will make it nice to carry around at a hamfest. When compared to other HT's, it's got enough features to compete, yet at the same time has a level of simplicity that makes it attractive to hams who might be intimidated by those HTs that have everything but the kitchen sink tossed in to the radio. It's not perfect, but then again, is there such as thing as a perfect radio? Some of the features a ham like myself would use more often should be easier to access, but once you get used to the radio, it should not be an obstacle. If you are looking for a good quality radio that will get you on the 1.25 meter band, this will suit your needs perfectly. If 220 is not active in your area, go with the 2m/440 version.

Wouxun is getting noticed with these radios, judging by the interest at the hamfest I attended. Perhaps this will open the market up for more 220 radios by the heavyweights like ICOM, Yaesu/Vertex and Kenwood, whose 220 product lines are all rather thin or even non-existent. It might get the competition to lower their prices on their current models (and/or future ones) in order to compete, not just the 220 market, but the 440 MHz dual-band radios as well. There are things that could be better on the radio overall, but this is certainly not a "knockoff" by any stretch, and does the job for those who may want a cost-effective means of getting on 220 or 440.