Out of the box and you can tell immediately that this is a high quality radio and what you would expect given a Recommended Retail Price of £169. This is not one you let the kids get their hands on.
As standard the radio comes with three interchangeable front covers (black, yellow and grey) useful for business users operating in groups, a 1500 mAh Ni-Mh battery pack (4 AA cells tagged and soldered together in a shrink-wrapped case) and appropriate charger. There's also a very high quality "holster" style belt clip which latches to the radio very securely.
At this price, the XTN is very squarely aimed at the business user who needs high build quality. Whilst on the subject of business users, first thing I noticed when I switched on the radio was the audio output volume which is *very* loud. If you need to use 446 in an environment with a high level of background noise (a building site for example) I have no doubt this radio will cut through.
Let's have a look at what Motorola have to say about it:-
IP54 / 5 Years ALT**
8 / 121
129 x 64 x 35 mm
2. Very good battery life
3. VOX without Accessory
5. Voice Scrambling
Not so much "plug-and-play" with this radio as "program-before-use" and that's understandable given the market it's aimed at. So how does that affect the "power hobby user" who would also be interested in a radio of this calibre?
Well for a start, if you like hopping around CTCSS tones or DCS tones (this has both and a total of 121 - 38 CTCSS and 83 DCS) this radio is possibly not for you as each channel must be individually programmed with the CTCSS or DCS tone and Voice scrambling code if required.
However, if you usually only change CTCSS following hearing someone else on a particular CTCSS tone this is quite easy in scan mode - more on that later.
Entering programming mode is straightforward but does require the radio to be switched off and back on again (with PTT and the monitor button held down).
Once programmed, your settings remain in the radio even if you remove the batteries so I assume either some kind of non-volitile memory is being used or there's a small button cell or capacitor memory power inside.
Two "preset" buttons which can be programmed to your two most used channels, three call tones with a dedicated call button, rotary "pot" on/off/volume control on the top of the case (I like that) and a durable and flexible antenna round up the basic specification. There is a VOX mode with three levels of user-programmed sensitivity and this mode can be used with either the internal speaker/mic or an external accessory. The internal wiring of the accessory socket allows for an external PTT control but does use a propriety moulded Motorola plug which consists of a 2.5mm jack and a 3.5mm jack.
I couldn't get two standard jacks to fit due to the close spacing of the pair, although possibly with a little bit of imagination and a stanley knife (taken to the standard plastic jack covers, not the radio!) could have got something to work. As a result of this however, and in the absence of a plug from Motorola, I was not able to test this radio as a gateway. In any event I'm not sure that it's suitable for a gateway radio due to the presence of a 60 second time-out on transmit (more on this later)
I like the way this is implemented. A single press on the monitor button sends the radio into scan mode. If you start scanning from a channel that you have programmed with a CTCSS or DCS sub-tone, then it scans all channels as you have programmed them complete with your preset CTCSS or DCS of choice.
If you start the scan from a channel with CTCSS and DCS off, then it scans all channels ignoring sub-tones, and if activity is detected on a channel with CTCSS or DCS it locks to the channel, decodes the CTCSS/DCS tone and locks both when you hit PTT. The fast way of changing CTCSS on this radio - scan to it, let it auto lock and then hit PTT.
If the scan stops on a channel you are not interested in, hit the "+" button and it carries on. You can temporarily remove a channel from the scan-list by pressing the "-" button. Any removed channels are put back into the scan list when you exit scan mode.
You can also manually and permanently edit the scan-list via the main menu to remove channels that you know will be in use and you do not wish the scan to monitor.
There's a user-switchable end-of-transmission tone, cloning facility (using an optional multi-unit charger) and a subtle red backlight to the LCD when the radio is switched on or any of the programming buttons are pressed. There's also a signal strength meter represented in 6 steps of received strength.
I'm going to make this point once more and then move on:-
This radio has a 60 second time-out on transmit.
There's a discussion on this in the manufacturers forum so I will do no more other than mention here that it is not a user-selectable option.
RF performance tests in this review are based on actual performance in use. To this end, what I tend to do is start off with a chat through my gateway to other users A/B comparing several radios to check audio, and then go out moving away from the gateway to test range and audio performance at distance. The same is then repeated simplex by me grabbing a neighbour and going out and about.
As is now standard with Motorola, these radios feature a form of compression/expansion on transmitted/received audio. This works a little like the Dolby and DBX noise reduction systems on cassette players with the exception that the Motorola compression is, unlike DBX or Dolby, not frequency conscious (do an internet search for "DBX" or "Dolby noise reduction if you want to know more as it's too complex to go into here).
It's a type of automatic audio gain control, with the objective of getting the strongest possible signal to noise ratio onto the RF carrier.
On the transmit side, quiet signals at the microphone get boosted in real-time and loud signals get attenuated if they exceed a certain level to avoid over-modulation/distortion. In effect the dynamic range of the audio gets "compressed" so that (in theory) the resulting audio signal being transmitted at RF is at an optimum level no matter what the dynamic range of the audio signal entering the microphone is.
On receive the reverse happens - the "compressed" quiet signals are reduced in level back to their original volume and the original dynamic range restored.
What this means in practice is signals transmitted on a Motorola radio but received on a non-Motorola radio sound loud and punchy, but the other way around, non-Motorola to Motorola, signals are expanded where they shouldn't be and very quiet signals will be reduced slightly in volume further. In practice it does actually work quite well and it will be interesting to see if other brands start implementing a similar system. Even better if a standard could be adopted first, then it is something I'd actually like to see, as long as it's user selectable.
In the field test this radio performed extremely well, as was fully expected. There is no user-adjustable squelch (at least I couldn't find one, and it's not mentioned in the manual) and this made me raise my eyebrows a little but I have to say, at no time did I feel that I couldn't trust the factory preset level and when I got so far away from the test gateway that signals were not breaking squelch, pressing the monitor button and disabling squelch revealed a signal so weak that I couldn't really make out what was being said anyway. So although squelch is always a feature that I like to see with maximum level of adjustment I can't honestly say that I object to the factory set level and at no time did I really find myself longing to give it a "tweek".
RF performance is excellent. This has a lively and sensitive front end and was still picking out audible signals 1/2 km after my trusty Goodmans Mark II was out of range (tested in a "semi" built-up area - mixed combination of housing and open fields).
Transmit power was similarly excellent and I have no doubt that this radio is putting out the full legal limit of 500mW.
If you're prepared to spend £169 on one radio, want flawless performance and high build quality and, most importantly, are not concerned by a 60 second transmit time-out, then this is a radio that requires careful consideration. It's aimed squarely at the business market and in that field I can see that Motorola will sell many of these.
As a hobby user, it's a harder choice. There are other radios around which offer similar specification for less money but not with this build quality and business-like ergonomics. This radio feels good. It handles like a quality ham hand-held, the PTT button makes a reassuring click when you press it (as do the other buttons) and it leaves you thinking that it will survive a lot of abuse and last for many years.
I'll give it 10/10 for ergonomics, build quality and RF performance. It loses two points for having a non-user adjustable Tx time-out for an overall 8. I'm not knocking off any points for the non-adjustable squelch simply because, even at factory preset level, it still outperformed everything else we tested it alongside.
Whether or not it represents good value for money really depends on what you want; this performance can be had for less, but quality of design and construction cannot as far as I have seen so far.
Many thanks to Motorola UK for the loan of the radio for review.
PS Since writing this I have seen the XTN446 on offer for as low as £130. So shop around to get the best "street" price.