My Take on the BCD436HP

The BCD436HP is an evolution of the BCD396T/BCD396XT scanner, essentially a blend of features and function from the 396 scanners and the HP-1 Home Patrol.  I don’t think a 396 user would have much (if any) problem in adapting to the 436.  On the other hand, I think an HP-1 user that hasn’t used a 396 would have a more difficult time adapting to the 436.  With that in mind, I think the 436 is probably aimed at a different market than the HP-1 was.  The HP-1, I think, was intended for a more casual hobbyist looking for a simple to use radio.  The 436, on the other hand, seems to be aimed more at the more in depth hobbyist who would be more interested in carrying the radio on a regular basis and searching with it.

The 436 is a slightly larger radio than the 396 mostly due to the larger display. With the exception of the System, Department, and Channel Hold/Resume buttons added to the bottom of the keypad, the keypads are essentially the same.  Some functions change between the two radios but it’s nothing that you wouldn’t get used to easily.  That said, I still try to press System button on 436 while trying to turn it off without looking at it because I’m so used to the bottom left button being the power button!  The Function and Menu buttons are on the same place on the left side of the 436 just as they are on the 396.  The 436 also utilizes the same multipurpose rotary knob on top of the radio as the 396 does; layout is the same on both radios: antenna (SMA) on the left, multipurpose knob on the right.   The 436 carries over the “Close Call” feature that the 396 had and which the HP-1 does not.

While it doesn’t have the touch screen that the HP-1 has, the display on the 436 is arranged much like the HP-1’s display.  At the top of the display you have the Favorites List/System display which is laid out the same as the System/Group display which is found at the bottom of the 396, time/date, an S-meter (same as the 396), and a scan up/down indicator arrow.  The majority of the display is like the HP-1’s, separated into three segments showing System, Department/Site, and channel information.  In the channel information block, it shows the channel name in addition to the talkgroup ID or frequency information, in the case of conventional frequencies the PL, DCS, or NAC being received, and in the case of trunking system talkgroups the UID (unit ID) being heard.  I have one complaint with this part of the display; although it appears that there is room for it, it does not display the frequency a talkgroup ID is being transmitted on. The very bottom of the screen shows control channel/mode information.  A display related feature of the 436 is its alert light.  You can set the light to illuminate in a number of colors, flash quickly, or flash slowly to alert you to specific frequencies, talkgroups, or UIDs being active.  This is a very nice feature; even if you have to turn the volume down you can still be alerted to specific activity – for example I have fire department dispatch frequencies and talkgroups set to flash red.

Other than the complaint about the frequency on talkgroup IDs (which really is minor – it wouldn’t keep me from buying the radio), I really like the display on the 436; it presents a lot more information in a more readable format than any handheld scanner I’ve used before.

The larger display does use up more battery life than previous scanners.  Perhaps they could have added another battery (it uses 3 AA batteries just like the 396s do) but then that would add size to the radio (and I’ve already seen some complaints that the radio is too big – you can’t have it both ways).  In my experience, with a new set of batteries I’m getting 6-8 hours per full charge.  The fluctuation is probably due to how much digital is being heard and how much the light is used.  If you’re going to be out at an all-day event such as an airshow or a race it only makes sense to carry extra sets of batteries or perhaps a USB power supply like a Go Puck.

My biggest gripe with the 436 has to do with the speaker.  While it appears to be the same size as the speaker in my 396s the audio isn’t as powerful as the 396s; I’ve found that I have to turn the 436 up a notch or two higher than I have to with 396s.  That is not the case with the audio through the headphone jack; the audio through it is just as good as that from the 396s.  If you’re in a noisy environment and don’t have a set of earbuds it’s a definite shortcoming.  I found a pair of Yurbuds sport ear buds that I really like and try to keep them convenient; they’re comfortable and offer a good compromise between hearing the scanner and also hearing outside noise.

Since I spend part of my time in an area with a TRS that uses multiple digital simulcast sites (SEGARRN in Chatham), I was concerned about how the 436 would work when I was in areas where the simulcast tower coverage would overlap.  I spent some time in several areas where the Kerry Street and Montgomery Chatham SEGARRN tower site coverage would overlap and didn’t have any problems with readability.  I didn’t notice any difference in audio quality between those areas and at home where I’m close to the Kerry Street site.  It doesn’t appear that this will be an issue (at least with the SEGARRN system).  It’s also worth mentioning that I spent a good bit of time inside one of the local hospitals recently and the audio from P25 signals with less than optimal signal strength was fairly readable.

While we’re on the subject of trunking, the 436 is capable of monitoring P25 Phase II trunking systems but since there are no Phase II systems in the area I can’t report how it works on those systems.  In buying the 436, Phase II systems were one of the things I took into consideration; if any of our area systems become Phase II or a new Phase II system goes online, at least I’ll be a step ahead and have the capability.

In my previous post on the 436, I mentioned that while scanning the Type II Motorola TRS in Glynn County I noticed the radio wasn’t always displaying the UID being received.  While at home in Savannah, I tried listening to the Chatham-Effingham TRS on the 436.  The Chatham-Effingham system is mixed mode and while I didn’t notice it not displaying UIDs on digital talkgroups I did notice it sometimes not displaying them on analog talkgroups.

To try out the 436 on aviation frequencies, I switched antennas from the stock duck to a Jetstream clone of a Diamond RH-77 and sat outside (at home in Savannah) scanning Jacksonville ARTCC’s VHF frequencies. I was very pleased with the 436’s performance.  It picked up airborne traffic on:

  • 124.675 – Jax Center Jekyll Low
  • 126.750 – Jax Center Brunswick Low
  • 132.925 – Jax Center Savannah/Millen Low
  • 126.125 – Jax Center Statesboro High
  • 126.350 – Jax Center St. Augustine High
  • 127.875 – Jax Center Aiken High
  • 133.625 – Jax Center Georgetown High
  • 135.975 – Jax Center Alma High
  • 132.425 – Jax Center Hunter Ultra High
  • 133.300 – Jax Center Moultrie Ultra High
  • 135.450 – Jax Center Keystone Ultra High

In addition, just as I can with either the BCD396T or BCD396XT, I can hear Hunter Tower and Ground on both VHF and UHF frequencies from the front yard at home.  While sitting outside checking the VHF air frequencies, I also picked up the ground side of 2-3 Aviation’s KNIGHTHAWK OPS (Hunter AAF) on 37.975 FM; they’re a good 4-5 miles away and there were a lot of trees around me so I’m quite pleased with the 436’s low band FM reception.  The VHF/UHF airband and MilAir reception is so far equal to that of the 396, and I’ve always found the 396s to be very good MilAir scanners.

The 536 comes with Uniden’s Sentinel software but just as with the Home Patrol it’s good for updating the radio’s firmware and database but not very good for managing favorite lists.  I’ve always found Butel’s software to be good for programming and control (with the Pro versions) and ARC536PRO for the BCD536HP and BCD436HP is no different.  I’ve easily built up four favorite lists so far; one for Savannah, one for Brunswick, one for MilAir, and one for using in the shack.  For those that are used to Butel software for other scanners, the user interface will be the same you’re used to, adapting to ARC536PRO won’t be an issue.  You could program this radio by hand but it would be extremely time consuming, software is definitely the way to go if you’re going to make frequent use of favorite lists over the database.

I’m very pleased with the BCD436HP and I’m glad I bought it.  If you want a handheld scanner that can listen to what most of the Savannah area has to offer, it would be an excellent choice.  You’ll be able to monitor the digital SEGARRN system that most of the Savannah and surrounding area public safety agencies use, the P25 TRS in use by Hunter AAF and Fort Stewart and the aviation and military aviation activity in the coastal Georgia area with ease.  The move from analog to digital communications systems isn’t slowing down or stopping; the use of digital voice is only going to increase I the future and the 436 is definitely a radio to consider if you’re in the market for a digital scanner.

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