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Icom ID-31A Review: 440Mhz D-STAR HT

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  #1  
Old 12-27-2011, 11:59 PM
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Default Icom ID-31A Review: 440Mhz D-STAR HT


Yesterday, the day after Christmas, I went down to my local Ham Radio Outlet just to look around. I inquired about the new Icom ID-31A 440Mhz D-STAR HT with built-in GPS and was told that they had five in stock. After 20 minutes or so, I talked myself into buying the $400 to finally try out D-STAR.



After charging the battery overnight, I was ready to try it out. Here is a picture of everything included in the box, not including the manual and CD:



The first run of these radios includes a 2GB microSD card, although the manual indicates that the microSD card is not included. The battery is an 1150 mAh slim battery and there aren't really any special accessories included.

The left side of the radio incorporates a nice size PTT that is very crisp and easy to use. The SQL button is small to prevent you from accidentally hitting it. It serves two purposes: one quick press cracks the squelch open; rotating the dial while pressing SQL changes the SQL level. Note the location of the microSD card slot.



The right side of the radio contains the speaker/mic jack, the data port, and charging plug. The data port is used to clone the radio, connect to a PC for programming, or connecting to an external GPS.



Here is a picture of the Yaesu VX-8 beside the Icom ID-31A to show a size comparison. You can see that the ID-31A is slightly smaller yet similar in size.



Here is a side shot of both the ID-31A and VX-8 to help compare the thickness of the two radios. As you can see, the ID-31A is only slightly smaller.



The display of the ID-31A is a very nice dot matrix screen which is very crisp and easy to read. Here is a picture showing the standard FM simplex display.



Here is a shot of the radio in D-STAR repeater mode. In this picture, you can see the time, GPS status, battery status, repeater name and destination call, as well as the callsign of the station currently talking.




I gave the radio my usual first test of trying out the basic functionality without reading the manual. I successfully used standard analog FM for both simplex and repeaters and even was able to figure out how to program a memory channel. Although the user interface for the basic functions is really pretty easy to use, I struggled at first with the D-STAR functions. Admittedly, the D-STAR struggles were largely due to my unfamiliarity with the terminology and system, but after reading the D-Star quick start sections of the manual, I had a pretty good grasp of the D-STAR basics.

Next up in the review, I'll show some of the basic menu and GPS options and then discuss some of the more detailed D-STAR functions.


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Old 12-28-2011, 11:33 AM
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Basic Menus & GPS Features

When using the regular analog radio, the QUICK MENU button toward the bottom right brings up all the functions you need to setup the radio to access a repeater:



It also gives you the option to display the GPS information, assuming you have the GPS turned on. As you can see, the initial GPS screen shows you the satellites that it has locked into, as well as your current position.



Selecting the GPS POSITION menu from the QUICK MENU displays this screen:



While displaying your position, if you hit the QUICK MENU button again, you get GPS display options which allow you to toggle options like ALTITUDE DISPLAY:


or GRID LOCATOR display:

.

You can also control the heading on the COMPASS DISPLAY, shown here:



As you can see, the basic analog radio and GPS functions are quite easy to use, the user interface is well thought out, and the menu options are easy to access.

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Old 12-28-2011, 12:03 PM
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D-STAR Repeater Basics

I have to admit that this radio is my first foray into the world of D-STAR. Because of this, I didn't natively understand the terminology that I was seeing on the radio's D-STAR screens and menus. So, this is where the "see if I can figure it out without the manual" process ended. Fortunately, the radio comes with a CD containing a thorough D-STAR run down. I found the option on the radio to enter my callsign and then skipped forward to the basic repeater instructions.

To enable the D-STAR repeater access, you simply hold the DR button down for about 1 second. The result is a screen that looks like this:



The first time you activate this screen, the TO and FROM lines on the screen may be blank. Using the direction buttons on the radio, toggle either UP or DOWN to highlight the TO line, then select it by pressing the center blue button. A new menu will pop up where you select who you want to call.



For a basic repeater CQ, just select the first menu item called LOCAL CQ. The radio will return back to the DR screen and display TO CQCQCQ.

Now, use the UP/DOWN buttons to move to the FROM line and select it by pressing the blue button. This is where some of the magic happens with this new radio. You will get the resulting screen:



The Icom ID-31A comes pre-programmed with all of the known D-STAR repeaters! If you have the GPS enabled, select the NEAR REPEATER option and the radio will search it's memory for repeaters that are near your current location!



As you can see, the radio presented me with several repeaters in the Southern California area:



Pick the repeater you want to access and you're ready to go! The radio automatically sets RX frequency, offset, and any DCS/TONE access requirements. All you need to do is key the radio and talk! Remember, your callsign is sent as part of the data feed when you key the repeater.

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Old 12-29-2011, 02:35 PM
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The microSD Card

One of the more innovative features of this radio is the inclusion of a microSD card slot. The card slot is also compatible with microSDHC cards, which means you can use even the big 32GB cards. The first batch of ID-31a's are being shipped with a 2GB card, although the sales rep at HRO indicated that this inclusion wouldn't last long.

The microSD card enables the following features:
  • Storing and retrieving radio settings, including memories and repeater lists
  • Audio recordings of transmit & received communications
  • Pre-recorded auto reply audio for DV mode
  • GPS tracking logs
In my opinion, the best microSD card feature is the ability to configure the radio and edit memories with the included software, save the configuration on the card and then load it into the radio. This operation completely eliminates the need for cables attached to a PC! I found a local D-STAR repeater that wasn't included in the initial radio programming and was able to easily add it to the radio repeater list using the microSD card





When you load the settings file from the card, the radio's firmware asks if you which of the three load options you want: load entire configuration, load everything except "MY STATION" (callsign) info, or just load repeater lists. These options make it easy to copy repeater info to any other ID-31A.


I'll cover the audio recording features in a future update.

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Old 01-03-2012, 03:40 PM
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Thanks for all the reviews you post. I find all of them very informative and really appreciate the clear photographs to show the equipment. I am looking forward to more updates on the ID-31a !

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Old 01-03-2012, 03:53 PM
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I started Dstar 3 weeks ago. I'm just too far away from the repeaters to use an HT.

Have you had any feedback on the audio? I have heard several owners that loved everything on that HD except for their audio reports.

I have personally talked to 2 new owners of your HT this week and their audio was very poor also.

I talked to an Icom dealer and he was also upset over the audio quality and expressed hopes IC will address this issue.

I have to get right in the mic on my 880H myself.

Thanks for all you hard work on the reviews.

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Old 01-04-2012, 11:07 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AA4HV View Post
Thanks for all the reviews you post. I find all of them very informative and really appreciate the clear photographs to show the equipment. I am looking forward to more updates on the ID-31a !

You're welcome.

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Old 01-04-2012, 11:16 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by KW4HKY View Post
I started Dstar 3 weeks ago. I'm just too far away from the repeaters to use an HT.

Have you had any feedback on the audio? I have heard several owners that loved everything on that HD except for their audio reports.

I have personally talked to 2 new owners of your HT this week and their audio was very poor also.

I talked to an Icom dealer and he was also upset over the audio quality and expressed hopes IC will address this issue.

I have to get right in the mic on my 880H myself.

Thanks for all you hard work on the reviews.
The first reports that I've received on the audio were that it wasn't as good as the other HT's I normally use. I was told that it wasn't as crisp and bright as normal. I also had to turn the internal Mic Gain option up to 3 (the settings go from 1-4) to satisfy others. There is definitely some room for improvement here.

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