Whistler TRX-2 Added to the Mobile Station and Further Observations on the Whistler TRX Scanners

Earlier this year, I bought a Whistler TRX-1 handheld scanner. My experiences with it over the last few months recently led me to add a TRX-2 to my mobile station. Specifically, a trip to northeast Georgia, a trip to Fernandina Beach and Jacksonville, Florida, and using the TRX-1 in the shack to gather P25 conventional UIDs have further shaped my opinion of Whistler’s two flagship scanners. I definitely prefer Uniden’s user interface and I’m still not pleased with the P25 trunking performance (particularly in the 700/800 MHz band) of Whistler’s TRX line, but they do other things quite well, so the TRX-2 is a good tool to add to the mobile station.

The Uniden Home Patrol 2 remains in the mobile station; the Whistler TRX-2 has joined it to give the station added capability. The strengths of the Home Patrol 2 are its simple, touch screen user interface and superior P25 trunking performance so it will handle Aviation, MilCom, and P25 trunking duties. It’s inconvenient at best to manually tune a channel on a TRX-1 or TRX-2 under normal conditions and practically impossible to do it while driving. I’ve found that when I’m monitoring Aviation or MilCom communications, it’s not unusual to manually tune to a channel to follow communications, so the touch screen and user interface of the Home Patrol 2 makes this no more difficult than changing channels on the car stereo. Doing the same with a TRX-1 or TRX-2 would involve so many button presses and navigation through menus that it would be too distracting to do while driving and therefore just too dangerous. The strengths of the TRX-2 are its DMR and NXDN capabilities and its ability to display P25 conventional radio IDs (UIDs) so it will handle conventional public safety, DMR, and NXDN scanning. The Home Patrol 2 offers neither DMR or NXDN reception and I’ve recently found myself traveling through areas that use those modes, so I needed to add something to the station that would add them. I just haven’t been satisfied with the DMR performance of my Uniden BCD436HP and BCD536HP (and NXDN capability has only recently been added to them) so I couldn’t see mounting either one. On the other hand, the TRX-1 has done a great job on DMR and NXDN and also displays radio IDs on P25 conventional frequencies (which the Uniden radios don’t do), so a TRX-2 was the radio to add.

IMG_20180501_081700_resize
Radios in the mobile station: from top to bottom: Yaesu FT-8800, Uniden HP2, Whistler TRX-2 on the bottom left, Yaesu FT-857D on the bottom right.

With the exception of the Home Patrol 2, mobile scanners are large and bulky relative to modern car interiors. In that area, the TRX-2 also came with another positive: it comes out of the box with a detachable control head, the BCD536HP does not. I put the radio itself under the driver’s seat and mounted the control head (as seen in the photo above) on a RAM mount under the Home Patrol 2 and next to my Yaesu FT-857D mobile HF radio.

Since I first offered my observations on the TRX-1, further use and experience with it and now the TRX-2 have modified some observations and led to others.

IMG_20180123_061509_resize
The Whistler TRX-1 (center) flanked by the Uniden BCD396XT (left) and Uniden BCD436HP (right) for size and display comparison (disregard the talkgroup showing on the 396, the other two radios are set up to skip that talkgroup)

TRX-1/2 Positives

  • I really haven’t had the opportunity to compare the NXDN performance of the Uniden and Whistler radios, but so far my experience is that the Whistler TRX-1 and TRX-2 are easier to use with DMR systems and perform better than the Unidens on DMR systems. Additionally, with the Uniden BCD436HP and BCD536HP, it’s critical that you know the logical order of the frequencies in a DMR trunking system in order to program it, you don’t with the Whistlers.
  • The TRX-1 and TRX-2 receive both DMR and NXDN out of the box. The Uniden Home Patrol 2 does neither and there are separate DMR and NXDN paid upgrades for the BCD436HP and BCD536HP. The upgrades cost $60 apiece, so if you want to add both DMR and NXDN capability to your 436 or 536, you’re adding $120 to a $400-500 scanner. This is something that Uniden intends to carry over with their new SDS-100 and something that they really should reconsider because it significantly increases the price of the radios compared to the Whistlers.
  • The TRX-1 and TRX-2 offer the ability to stop on encrypted transmissions while the Uniden BCD436HP and BCD536HP don’t. The 436 and 536 skip encrypted transmissions, but you can set the TRX-1 and TRX-2 to not ignore encrypted transmissions and pass the encryption noise or a busy-tone similar to a telephone busy signal. This is particularly helpful if you’re searching for frequencies or talkgroups or want to know when an encrypted frequency or talkgroup is active.

TRX-1/2 Negatives

  • The Whistler TRX-1 and TRX-2 displays just don’t display as much information as the Uniden Home Patrol 2, BCD436HP, or BCD536HP displays do. The Uniden displays are larger, offer longer and more useful alphanumeric tags, and to me are just more readable. On the other hand, those with vision impairment may find the larger, bolder type of the Whistler display easier to read.
  • The Whistler user interface is more complicated than the Uniden user interface, particularly when used as a mobile scanner. Manually tuning a channel (or in Whistler’s parlance, an object) is far more involved than either the BCD436HP or BCD536HP, which offer tuning knobs and more involved than the Home Patrol 2 which you navigate through a touchscreen.
  • The TRX-1 and TRX-2 just don’t track P25 trunking systems, as well as the Uniden scanners, do, particularly in the 700/800 MHz range. In side-by-side tests, I’ve watched the Whistlers miss transmissions that the Unidens don’t. With both the TRX-1 and TRX-2, I’ve found that I have to adjust the data decoding thresholds on P25 trunking systems in the programming software to improve system tracking and even then they tend to miss transmissions.

In my first post of observations on the TRX-1, I wrote about how much of a problem the programming software for the TRX-1 is. Although the TRX-2 uses a separate program from the TRX-2, it’s basically the same program optimized for the TRX-2. The interface is still clunky and counter-intuitive to most Windows-based software. One of the main issues is that you can’t cut and paste information from one program to another, you can only utilize the software’s import feature. Another of my complaints about the Whistler software was about its transfer speed. When you connect the radio to the computer to program it, the transfer speed is astonishingly slow compared to connecting the Unidens to a computer to do the same. I have discovered that removing the SD card from the TRX-2 and inserting into my computer’s card reader significantly increases the transfer speed. With the TRX-2, that’s not a huge problem as the SD card inserts into the radio behind the control head. With the TRX-1 it is a problem because its micro SD card inserts into the side of the scanner under the battery compartment cover which is in turn under the radio’s protective case. It just isn’t as convenient or easy to remove the TRX-1’s memory card as it is to remove the TRX-2’s memory card. One design change I would suggest to the TRX-2 is relocating the memory card slot to the control head since they’ve designed the radio with remote mounting the head in mind. The rest of the radio, particularly in a mobile installation, isn’t always in the most easily accessible place.

One thing that hasn’t changed since I wrote about my observations on the TRX-1 is the lack of aftermarket software. Aftermarket software from companies such as Butel and ProScan is available for Uniden’s software and even though Uniden offers their own software for their radios, they cooperate with the aftermarket companies. Whistler does not; they have refused to share their programming protocols with outside software developers, so you’re stuck with their software. When I wrote about that in February, my opinion was that I probably wouldn’t have bought a TRX-1 if I had known about how bad the software was and that third-party software wasn’t available for the TRX-1. I have since come around to the opinion that some of the benefits of the radio in regards to DMR/NXDN performance and the ability to read P25 radio IDs outweigh the lack of third-party software. Third-party software or better factory software is still desired and I have made my opinion known to Whistler on several occasions.

When comparing the Whistlers with the Unidens, it really isn’t like comparing Chevrolet and Ford or Coke and Pepsi. It doesn’t come down to brand preference, Whistler’s scanners and Uniden’s scanners follow different methods of doing a similar task and don’t do all tasks well. When making a decision about which one to buy, you need to consider what you’ll be using it for and what you’ll be listening to. I have written a blog post that considers which radio you might want to choose if you live in the coastal Georgia area.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s