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TTi 'FreeQuency' PMR-122TX
(sold in pairs with charger and batteries)
Appearance wise, these radios are vague stylistic copies of the Motorola T6222 - the antenna is on the opposite corner and the resemblance is only fairly suggestive, but certain physical characteristics of the older Motorola have been incorporated into this radio including two which would have been better left unimitated. The bulbous, ribbed, rounded bottom makes the sets reluctant to stay upright on a hard surface and the slightest bump of knee against table leg will put one of these flat on its back. On the Motorola, it was only the concept of the plug-in belt clip which was dubious - materially speaking, it was quite robust. The PMR-122TX's belt clip is made from rather thinner, more flexible plastic and I would have preferred the more usual strong, simple tongue shaped integral belt clip as used on the other FreeQuency models.
However, TTi have done a much better job with the battery cover here on the PMR-122TX, a more conventional cover which slides on and clicks firmly home. Motorola's trademark front centre PTT button has not insinuated itself into this design - the PTT button is mounted on the side, although a little too high up for comfort. The buttons are much easier to press and have a nicer feel to them. The antenna is a reassuringly solid, unyielding affair and will not flip (or flop) like some of the ones on other models. The display lens is slightly recessed into the face of the set giving it some protection against being scuffed if the set falls over. The review sets are mainly black with a large silver panel over the speaker grille and on-off switch. My choice would always be to lose the silver and make the radio all black, but that's just a personal view. Having said that, they do look and feel quite refined, smart and not at all toy-like. No mature adult would feel self-conscious about carrying these sets around.
Ultimately, the mild resemblance between the Motorola and these sets begins and ends on the purely physical level. The T6222 was a high-end leisure model / low end business model and as such was quite expensive and feature-rich. The PMR-122TX seems to be aimed more at the lower cost market, users who want fuss-free communications in a convenient and very stylish, modern looking charge and go package. You get everything you really need in the vandal-resistant bubble pack.
What you get
Two radios, belt clips, two sets of four 650mAh Ni-MH batteries (quite a good battery spec at this price point) and a single twin desktop charger, which is the neatest solution for a single location user/buyer, but makes the package slightly less attractive to individual users who might have bought one pair to split between them. Charging time is stated as typically 12-15 hours. The manual comes in the form of a multilingual folded sheet - the instructions for any given language occupy a space about the size of one A4 side, but then, these are relatively straightforward sets and don't need much explaining. The English section of the manual is well written, with just one or two typing errors.
What you don't get
Wrist loops, ear/mic leads or speaker/microphones.
The button count (excluding PTT) comes to just five, they are: Power on/OFF, MODE, UP, DOWN and MONITOR.
I found these sets extremely easy to use - Menu features are as follows:
CHANNEL (1 to 8)
CODE (1 to 38 and OFF) i.e, CTCSS can be turned off.
ROGER BEEP (On or Off). A single tone bleep, a little on the long side.
And that's it for the menu parameters.
The other major features aren't accessed from the menu, but are more conveniently available from normal operating mode.
In normal operating mode, the UP and DOWN keys jog the volume up and down in seven steps. Maximum volume is fine, but minimum doesn't seem low enough to be safely used with an in-ear speaker. The radio emits a short beep each time you press the button to alter the volume. As the volume setting gets higher, so does the pitch. It's a quaint touch which will allow you to know what the volume is set to without having to unlock the set from the belt clip to look at it - however, I think it would have been better if the key beeps varied in volume with the main volume setting, once again because the uncontrolled volume of the beep might present a hazard if the radio is used with an in-ear speaker. The Keybeep is always on, so it's just as well that it is a relatively inoffensive 'bip'. The internal speaker sounds quite treble-heavy. While this can be a good thing - a strong, fully quieted signal sounds very crisp and sharp - in weak signal conditions the background hiss sounds quite loud with respect to the other operator's transmitted audio and can be quite piercing, quite uncomfortable at times.
The other features
SCAN. Like the FreeQuency PMR-201TX, this set has individual CTCSS settings for each channel and these are included when scanning, so if you set the channels to:
1-Off, 2-Off, 3-Off, 4-Off, 5-Off, 6-Off, 7-19, 8-Off
-then scan will stop on any transmission on channels 1-6 and 8 regardless of tone, but will only stop on transmissions with CTCSS 19 on channel 7. You can't officially exclude any channel from the scan, so the trick here is to programme the channel you don't want with a CTCSS tone you know is not in use on that channel. This implementation of scanning, where you can mix a selection of CTCSS and no CTCSS, is something that I've decided I quite like. It seems to be something of a FreeQuency speciality. It's not quite as good as having proper scanner style memories in which to store and scan particular channel/code combinations, but it's a pretty decent compromise.
In this particular case the set operates in the 'timed pause' mode, meaning that if it finds an incoming signal, it stops on it for a maximum of five seconds and then resumes scanning even if the transmission it stopped on is still present. This is not my preferred way of working but it does mean that you won't miss anything, whereas if you had 'stop and stay' mode scanning, you could be held on one channel forever and miss something interesting on another channel. If the transmission drops during the five second pause time, the set waits for a further five seconds (for the reply) before resuming the scan. It all seems to be designed around the assumption that nobody ever speaks for more than five seconds.
SCAN is started and stopped with a momentary press of the power on/off key, which performs its primary function when held down for a second or so. UP and/or DOWN might have been a more intuitive choice for initiating scan than the power button, perhaps by holding them down for a second or so, but that's just a minor quibble.
VOX is enabled by holding down the MODE switch for a second or so when in normal operating mode. It has just one fixed level of sensitivity. This ought not to be a problem if the radio is used as a Gateway, but could be a consideration if you want to use it either somewhere very noisy (on a motorcycle?), or if you want it to be especially sensitive (for a baby alarm?).
MONITOR (Squelch and CTCSS tone squelch defeat, used for checking to see if a channel is in use or to try to receive a very weak signal) has its own button where it should be, next to the PTT button. To toggle it on or off you have to hold it down for second or so. A momentary press of the MONITOR button illuminates the red backlight instead.
CALLTONE, one only, a slowish two-tone warble, invoked by a quick double-press of the PTT button when in normal operating mode.
BATTERY SAVE is an invisible background feature - in normal receive mode the radio saves battery power by slipping into a power down-mode most of the time while it's in receive, waking up periodically to see if an incoming signal has appeared on the selected channel. This may lead to a slight delay between the onset of a transmission, and the sound of it actually coming through your speaker. This is entirely normal. The battery save feature is disabled during scanning, so the radio will consume rather more power in that mode.
The status of most of the above functions is indicated clearly on the custom LCD display which has icons to indicate 'Transmit' (an antenna symbol), 'Busy', 'Vox, 'Scan', 'Monitor on' (a speaker projecting sound), and 'Roger Bleep on' (a musical note). There isn't a battery meter, just a 'low battery' icon which only makes an appearance when the batteries are low. There doesn't seem to be an audible low battery warning, nor is there a transmit timeout, both of which are good news for gateway operators. one of these sets was briefly tested as a gateway radio before it was passed to me for review and the verdict on the audio quality when used in that mode seems to have been extremely favourable.
Accessory connections to the PMR-122TX (including PTT) are via a single 3.5mm stereo socket on the top of the unit - there should be no problem with plugging a standard solder type plug into it for Gateway applications, and TTi offer a short single jack to standard twin 2.5mm/3.5mm sockets converter lead as an option, to allow standard speaker mikes to be used with these units. The top jack is also interestingly referred to as a 'charge jack' on a labelled features diagram, although the supplied drop-in charger unit uses contacts located on the bottom of the radio.
I found the receiver sensitivity to be about average for a set with such a conveniently compact antenna. I set up my usual milliwatt-power 'beacon' and walked away from it across open country with one of these sets and a Telcom TE-150 (with the squelch set to minimum in the user menu) side by side until the signal disappeared below the squelch. I then carried on further with the MONITOR mode engaged until the signal dissolved into the noise, and I couldn't really pick a winner from the two. What I can say is that the PMR-122TX's more expensive stablemate the PMR-201TX did seem more sensitive than the PMR-122TX and the TE-150, the longer antenna on the 201TX possibly making just enough of a difference.
All in all these are smart little units - they would look just fine in any commercial premises or lying on an office desk. The manufacturer's RRP is 49.99 UKP, although I saw them on sale in Maplin (August 03) and they seem to have set the price at 10 UKP more. If you bought the included NI-MH batteries and a suitable charger separately you might be lucky to get much change from 20 UKP, so in this package the radios themselves are only costing you approximately 15 UKP each. They don't have CTCSS ident and the Telcom TE-150 does, but these look a lot classier and have a more selective and controllable scan system. Taking the RRP rather than the higher Maplin price as the actual price, I'm going to award the PMR-122TX twin-pack 8 out of 10.
My thanks to TTi UK for the loan of the sets reviewed.
Added: Thursday, August 21, 2003
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