Choosing a Scanner for the Coastal Georgia Area

One of the questions I get on a regular basis is about what kind of scanner to buy. Until this year, I didn’t have any experience with Whistler’s scanners, so it was a question that I was uncomfortable asking. All I could truthfully do was pass along my experiences with Uniden’s equipment and why I like their radios. Now that I have some experience with Whistler’s TRX-1 and TRX-2, I feel more qualified to answer the question. Most people who ask me that question are interested in Public Safety communications so my suggestions here will be based on that and the assumption that you’re going to be using it in the counties and communities along the Georgia coast.

Before making a decision about which radio to buy, you have to determine what type of radio systems you’ll be listening to. Are the radio systems you’ll be listening to be conventional or trunked? Will they be analog or digital? If they’re digital, are they P25, DMR, or NXDN? The best place to find answers to these questions is at RadioReference.com; go to the Georgia database and look at each county you’re interested in scanning to see what they’re using. In our case, the counties along and just off of the Georgia coast use a combination of digital trunking and analog conventional radio systems. Bryan, Chatham, Effingham, Liberty, and Glynn counties use the SEGARRN trunking system, which is a regional multi-site P25 Motorola trunking system. Brantley, Camden, Charlton, Long, McIntosh, and Wayne counties use analog conventional radio systems. None of the public safety agencies in those counties are currently using DMR or NXDN.

It’s worth taking a break here to mention that law enforcement dispatch channels for most agencies in Chatham County and Glynn County are encrypted. That means you won’t be able to hear most law enforcement agencies in Chatham County when they’re talking to dispatch and with the exception of Glynn County PD’s primary dispatch channel, you won’t be able to hear most of Glynn County PD’s channels and none of Brunswick PD’s channels. There is a steady trend toward encryption in law enforcement communications and it’s illegal to decrypt encrypted communications. Please don’t use the comments section below to debate encryption, it is what it is.

Now you need to determine whether you want a handheld scanner that you can carry around with you, a desktop scanner to leave on an end table or desk, or a mobile scanner for your car. Most people will go with either a handheld scanner or a desktop scanner. My suggestion is usually to go with a handheld scanner, it gives you more versatility because you can carry it with you wherever you go and you can always put it on your end table or desk and plug into the wall to keep from using up its batteries.

The next thing you have to do is acquaint yourself with the radios available, what they do well, and what they don’t do well. Below are the scanners currently available that I have experience with along with a description and what each does well and doesn’t do well. Depending upon where you buy the radio from, you’re looking at a retail price of $400 to $500. I’ve included a link to each on Amazon, but there are plenty of other places you can order them from including ScannerMaster and amateur radio stores.

 

Uniden Home Patrol 2

  • The Home Patrol 2 is designed for desktop use, but it can also be used as a mobile scanner. It has a large display that gives you a lot of information in a very readable form.
  • It comes pre-programmed with a national database; all you have to do is enter your location and tell it what types of communications/agencies that you want to listen to.
  • It has a very easy to use touch screen interface; if you can use a touchscreen GPS in your car or a smartphone, you can use the Home Patrol 2.
  • It does not receive DMR or NXDN systems.
  • It comes with software that will update the scanner’s national database and firmware to keep it current and up to date and you can also use it to create custom programming files for the radio if you so wish. Uniden has also made their protocols available to third-party developers and there are a number of options that make programming those custom files easier and offer computer control/logging of the radio.

 

Uniden BCD436HP

  • The BCD436HP is a handheld scanner.
  • It comes pre-programmed with a national database; all you have to do is enter your location and tell it what types of communications/agencies that you want to listen to.
  • Its user interface will take some getting used to. Once you get used to its menus and the how to navigate through them using the tuning knob and keypad, it’s fairly intuitive to use.
  • It will receive DMR or NXDN systems, but the capability comes at an added price. You have to do a $60 upgrade to add each, so if you add the capability to do both, you’re adding another $120 to the price of the radio. They don’t have to be done as soon as you buy the radio and you don’t have to them at the same time, so you can spread the additional cost over time. On the other hand, you don’t have to do either if you don’t have the need for them (and to listen to public safety in this area, you don’t)
  • It does a great job on P25 trunking systems but not as good a job as the Whistler scanners on DMR systems. Recent firmware updates have given it the capability receive NXDN systems but I haven’t had the opportunity to put it to the test yet.
  • It comes with software that will update the scanner’s national database and firmware to keep it current and up to date and you can also use it to create custom programming files for the radio if you so wish. Uniden has also made their protocols available to third-party developers and there are a number of options that make programming those custom files easier and offer computer control/logging of the radio.

 

Uniden BCD536HP

  • The BCD536HP is the desktop/mobile version of the BCD436HP with a few added features.
  • It comes pre-programmed with a national database; all you have to do is enter your location and tell it what types of communications/agencies that you want to listen to.
  • Its user interface will take some getting used to. Once you get used to its menus and the how to navigate through them using the tuning knob and keypad, it’s fairly intuitive to use.
  • It will receive DMR or NXDN systems, but the capability comes at an added price. You have to do a $60 upgrade to add each, so if you add the capability to do both, you’re adding another $120 to the price of the radio. They don’t have to be done as soon as you buy the radio and you don’t have to them at the same time, so you can spread the additional cost over time. On the other hand, you don’t have to do either if you don’t have the need for them (and to listen to public safety in this area, you don’t)
  • It does a great job on P25 trunking systems but not as good a job as the Whistler scanners on DMR systems. Recent firmware updates have given it the capability receive NXDN systems but I haven’t had the opportunity to put it to the test yet.
  • It comes with software that will update the scanner’s national database and firmware to keep it current and up to date and you can also use it to create custom programming files for the radio if you so wish. Uniden has also made their protocols available to third-party developers and there are a number of options that make programming those custom files easier and offer computer control/logging of the radio.

 

Whistler TRX-1

  • The TRX-1 is a handheld scanner.
  • It comes pre-programmed with a national database; all you have to do is enter your location and tell it what types of communications/agencies that you want to listen to.
  • Its user interface will take some getting used to. You will have to get used to navigating through its menus with the keypad. In my opinion, it isn’t quite as intuitive as Uniden’s interface and some actions require more keypress and menu navigation than the Unidens do.
  • It will receive DMR and NXDN systems out of the box, with no additional cost.
  • It does a great job on DMR and NXDN systems but not such a great job on P25 trunking systems (particularly 700/800 MHz systems). In side-by-side tests, I’ve noticed that it will miss some transmissions that the Uniden radios don’t.
  • Whistler’s software for the TRX-1 will update the scanner’s national database and firmware to keep it current and up to date and you can also use it to create custom programming files for the radio if you so wish. It is, however, a bit clunky and slow and Whistler has chosen not to make its protocols available to third-party developers.

 

Whistler TRX-2

  • The TRX-2 is the desktop/mobile version of the TRX-1
  • It comes pre-programmed with a national database; all you have to do is enter your location and tell it what types of communications/agencies that you want to listen to.
  • Its user interface will take some getting used to. You will have to get used to navigating through its menus with the keypad. In my opinion, it isn’t quite as intuitive as Uniden’s interface and some actions require more keypress and menu navigation than the Unidens do. This makes it less desirable as a mobile scanner.
  • It will receive DMR and NXDN systems out of the box, with no additional cost.
  • It does a great job on DMR and NXDN systems but not such a great job on P25 trunking systems (particularly 700/800 MHz systems). In side-by-side tests, I’ve noticed that it will miss some transmissions that the Uniden radios don’t.
  • Whistler’s software for the TRX-2 will update the scanner’s national database and firmware to keep it current and up to date and you can also use it to create custom programming files for the radio if you so wish. It is, however, a bit clunky and slow and Whistler has chosen not to make its protocols available to third-party developers.

 

Now that we know something about the radios, we can make a decision on which one to purchase. Going back to the beginning, we established that Public Safety agencies in our area use either P25 trunking systems or conventional analog systems. As far as the conventional analog systems go, the Uniden and Whistler radios handle them equally well. As far as I’m concerned, the decision is made when you look at P25 capability. The Unidens simply outperform the Whistlers on those systems, especially when they’re 700/800 MHz systems, which is what the SEGARRN system is. If you plan on traveling with your scanner to areas that use DMR or NXDN systems, the Unidens will do good enough to get you by on a temporary basis.

Which Uniden radio should you go with? That depends on how you plan to use it. If you just want a scanner to sit on your end table or desk, I would go with either the Home Patrol 2 or BCD536HP. If you want to go with a handheld scanner, I would go with the BCD436HP. If you want to put a scanner in your car, once again I would go with either the Home Patrol 2 or the BCD536HP. In choosing between the Home Patrol 2 and the BCD536HP, I think the main consideration would be your experience level followed by how much room you have to mount the radio in. If you’re a novice user, I would suggest the Home Patrol 2 because its user interface is much simpler to understand and use. If you’re more experienced, you may want to go with BCD536HP. The Home Patrol 2 will also fit in a smaller space than the BCD536HP.  If you plan on traveling with your radio, the BCD436HP and BCD536HP do offer you the capability to add DMR and NXDN reception if you need it.

There are 2 other Uniden options that I have not discussed because they are radios that I have no experience with – those are the BCD325P2 handheld scanner and the BCD996P2 desktop/mobile scanner. They are essentially the next generation of Uniden’s older BCD396XT BCD996XT scanners. They offer P25 Phase II reception just like all of the radios above do and are also upgradable for DMR reception. They’re slightly less expensive than the radios above but they also don’t come with pre-programmed databases. If you buy one of these, you’ll have to program it with the radios systems you want to listen to. I have used the BCD396XT and if these two radios perform anything like it does, they will be excellent performers. If you’re a more experienced user who wouldn’t have much problem programming them, you may want to consider them, but if you’re a novice user, you may want to keep your eyes on the BCD436HP, BCD536HP, or Home Patrol 2.

I hope you don’t come away from this post with the idea that the Whistlers are bad radios because they aren’t. Whistler simply approaches the task at hand with a different method than Uniden does. The two brands do different things well and it just so happens that the things that Uniden does well fit our area better. If we were surrounded by DMR and NXDN systems rather than P25 trunking systems, my suggestion would have been the Whistler radios instead.

By no means did I get into the specifics of each radio and all the bells and whistles each one comes with, but hopefully I went over enough to help you make a decision on which radio to buy if you’re in the market for one.

Correction:  I initially posted that the BC325P2 and BCD996P2 were NXDN upgradable, but they are not. I’ve corrected the text above and I apologize if I’ve caused any confusion.

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.

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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.

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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.

Observations on the Whistler TRX-1 Digital Trunking Scanner

A few weeks ago, I purchased a Whistler TRX-1 scanner after reading a review of it in Frequency Monitor magazine. I haven’t used a non-Uniden scanner in quite a long time and I wanted something that would receive NXDN since I find myself in the Pierce County and Bleckley County areas (both of which have transitioned to NXDN in recent years) so I decided to try out the TRX-1. First of all, it’s a rather hefty radio; even without the batteries in it, it feels heavier than either my BCD396XT or BCD436HP.  It uses four AA batteries instead three AA batteries like the 396 and 436 do and it’s worth mentioning now that it does not come with batteries in the box, you’ll have to have some on hand when you open the box if you plan on using it right away (they really should include a set of batteries in it, even if it’s just some regular old AAs). It’s about a third again the size of a Uniden BCD396XT, but a rubber case surrounds the actual radio adding some size to it. That rubber surround reminds me of a more wrap-around version of the rubber surround you could get for the old Yaesu FT-50 HTs and if you decide to carry it on your belt, it could really save some wear and tear on the radio.

 

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)

 

As far as accessories go, you’ll want to be careful when buying antennas, but you’re likely to already have at least one programming/charging cable for the TRX-1 lying around. The stock antenna on the TRX-1 is a bit stubby, but it does a decent job on VHF/UHF. As you’ll notice in the photo above, the TRX-1 bucks the trend in recent handheld scanners and amateur radio equipment by using a BNC connector rather than an SMA connector, so if you’re buying aftermarket antennas for the TRX-1, make sure you buy them with BNC connectors. If you plan on using antennas you already have that have SMA connectors, you’ll have to have some BNC to SMA adapters. If you already have other equipment that uses mini USB cables, you’re in luck. The TRX-1 uses a USB cable to both connect it to a computer for programming and to charge rechargeable batteries if you’re using them. A mini USB cable comes with the radio, but it never hurts to have spares.

 

Positives

It will receive NXDN transmissions. Commercially known as NEXEDGE, NXDN is a digital voice protocol developed by Kenwood and Icom. It’s said that railroad users will be transitioning to NXDN from analog FM and some public safety users are choosing it over P25, which sees more widespread use among public safety. That’s the primary reason I bought the TRX-1, to have an NXDN capable radio.

You don’t have to pay for an upgrade to do DMR like you have to with the Uniden BCD436HP, it does it out of the box. Based on listening I did in Laurens County with their DMR frequencies, the TRX-1 does a great job decoding the DMR, I experienced no problems with the audio even if I was inside of a building or in the car. I briefly tracked a DMR trunking system in Savannah with it and it tracked the system with no noticeable problems from inside the house with the stock antenna whereas it seemed to be too far away for the BCD436HP to track it (keep this in mind for later).

You have the option of skipping or receiving encrypted transmissions with the TRX-1. Being able to set the radio to not ignore encrypted transmissions is a great feature and one that Unidens don’t have. You can’t understand the encrypted transmissions, but there are times that knowing they’re being made is informative. One of the settings for encrypted transmissions is a telephone-like busy tone that the radio makes while an encrypted transmission is active. (I would definitely urge Uniden to adopt this feature on their next generation of scanners).

The TRX-1 allows you to review recorded transmissions instead of just listening to them. You can scroll through the recordings and listen to only ones you want to. It’s a much more useful and less time-consuming method than either the Uniden Home Patrol or BCD436HP use.

The aforementioned rubber case that comes with it is definitely positive point; as I mentioned above it really could prevent wear and tear on the radio if you wear it on your belt. It doesn’t protect the front from scratches, but it would definitely help prevent shock damage from drops. There are olive drab and gray swappable inserts for the back of the rubber case and a removable swivel belt clip that doesn’t come off easily; I like it a lot better than the belt clips that come with more recent Uniden handhelds.

 

The back of the TRX-1 showing the stout belt clip and one of the two decorative inserts that come with the rubber case that surrounds the radio (the other is olive drab).

 

Negatives

The battery life is short. I’ve found I only get about to four, maybe five hours at best from four rechargeable AAs from a full charge. This isn’t too good if you’re using it as a day-long event scanner. You’re going to be changing batteries more often and that involved taking it out of the rubber surround I mentioned above; it isn’t as easy as sliding a battery door off, taking out the old batteries and putting in some new ones. The TRX-1 charges through the same mini-USB port that it connects to your computer through (like the Uniden BCD436HP and Home Patrol 2 do), so I got around this issue while on vacation by carrying a USB battery in my pack and connecting it to the TRX-1 with the programming cable when it began getting low.

It has low audio, even with the audio boost feature turned on, it’s hard to get enough volume to hear in some situations. I can get higher volume out of both my BCD396XT and BCD436HP. If you’re going to be listening to the TRX-1 in a moderate noise environment or higher, headphones or earbuds will be a must.

The TRX-1’s display, even though it’s sizeable, doesn’t display as much information as the display on a Uniden BCD436HP does. It’s just a bit larger than the display on a BCD396XT and like the 396, alphanumeric tags for talkgroups and frequencies are more character limited. Also similar to the 396, the TRX-1’s display appears cramped and run-together. Personally, I prefer the 436’s display with longer alphanumeric tags and more space between fields and lines. For a radio as expensive as it is, I would expect a better, more readable display from the TRX-1.

The TRX-1’s user interface isn’t as user-friendly for me as the ones for my Unidens area. My biggest issue with the user interface is with manually tuning the radio for a channel (or object as the Whistler terms it). I have a habit of hearing something but by the time I grab the radio it’s scanned past what I want to hear. With the BCD396XT and BCD436HP that isn’t a problem, you can hold it on a frequency or talkgroup with the press of a button then scroll up or down through the menu to find the frequency or talkgroup you want to go back to. On the TRX-1, if it has already returned to scan you have to get out of scan mode, find what you want by selecting the object you want out of a menu and then selecting it to hold it on that object and listen. That’s terribly inconvenient and time-consuming. This probably isn’t an issue for many listeners, but I’m a bit of a different individual and it causes issues for me.

V-Scanner Folders in the TRX-1’s memory are similar but not quite the same as Favorites Lists in the Uniden BCD436HP’s and Home Patrol’s memories. One of the things I like about the 436 and the Home Patrol is the ability to monitor multiple Favorites Lists at one time; you can only scan one V-Scanner Folder at a time with the TRX-1. You can get a similar result by using Scan Sets with the TRX-1, but once again, it leads to a slightly more complicated way of getting the job done than the 436 (but not the Home Patrol does). With both the TRX-1 and Home Patrol, you just have to through too many menu screens to do it, whereas with the 436 it’s just a few button pushes.

As good as it does on DMR, the TRX-1 just doesn’t receive P25 trunking systems, particularly multi-site ones, as good as my Uniden gear does. When I first programmed it up and started trying to use it, I was stunned that it was missing a lot of transmissions compared to my BCD396XT, BCD436HP, and Home Patrol 2. At home in Savannah, I’m not very far from one of the SEGARRN tower sites and was missing at least 50% of what the BCD436HP was in a side-by-side comparison. It took much fiddling about with the data decoding threshold settings and setting the squelch very low for the radio stop missing transmissions. Even then it still misses some transmissions that the Unidens don’t. In my observation, the TRX-1 has to have a much stronger signal on the control channel than a Uniden does to adequately track a trunking system. I’ve also noticed that I have to have a better signal on the TRX-1 than I do on one of my Unidens to get good quality P25 audio from the TRX-1, particularly on 700/800 MHz. Even with a 700/800 MHz specific antenna on the TRX-1 and a stock antenna on the 396 or 436, the Unidens give better sounding P25 audio on 700/800 MHz trunking systems in lower signal environments.

 

Software/Computer Control

I have a couple more negative aspects to go over but they’re not so much as negatives about the radio as they are about the software and decisions Whistler has made regarding software. I’m a fan of Butel’s programming and computer control/logging software (I also use ProScan and ID Tracker). For every scanner I’ve bought in recent years, I’ve bought Butel’s software for it. I’ve found it easier to program the radios with Butel’s software instead of the manufacturer’s software (I’m not as big of a user of pre-loaded databases as I am my own information) and I love the capability that computer logging gives you when you’re searching for new things or trying to scan an event. Imagine my surprise when I went to Butel’s website (after I had already taken delivery of the radio) and finding this:

“Every day we get multiple requests for better programming software for the new Whistler scanners. Unfortunately Whistler has officially stated to us that they will not release programming protocols for third party software development. If you did not make a purchase yet we advise to look at Uniden’s offerings instead since they do support us and other 3rd party software development for their scanners. And don’t hesitate to send your complaints to info@whistergroup.com and tell them you bought a Uniden instead!”

I found this extremely disappointing, all the more so because of how user unfriendly Whistler’s EZ Scan software for programming and managing the TRX-1 is. The software simply isn’t intuitive for anyone who’s used to Windows-based software (which I would imagine are most users). It’s difficult to navigate around the data fields through using the tab key or arrow keys like you can in most Windows-based software, you have to use the mouse to select or move to each field instead. You can’t copy and paste settings or data fields. When you import from the RadioReference database with Butel’s software you can pick and choose agency/frequencies/talkgroups, but with EZ Scan, you don’t have quite as much versatility in what you import. Finally, there is the speed of the computer/radio interface. It’s slow. Startlingly slow in fact, the transfer speed between the computer is more like that of the previous generation Uniden BCD396XT rather than the current generation Uniden BCD436HP and Home Patrols. If Whistler isn’t going to put some more effort into the radio’s software, then give third-party companies like Butel or ProScan the ability to do so. Frankly, if I knew this before I bought the TRX-, I may very well have decided not to buy it.

 

Conclusion

The TRX-1 really is a radio that I wanted to love, but between the 700/800 MHz P25 trunk tracking issues and the third party software issue, I’m left lukewarm. I’ve not had the chance to try it on NXDN yet (when I went through Bleckley County recently, things were apparently quiet) and it does quite well on DMR, so if you’re in an area that primarily uses DMR or NXDN, this very well could be the radio for you (the only one right now for NXDN). On the other hand, if your area primarily uses P25 I would definitely consider a different radio, the TRX-1 simply doesn’t track multi-site 700/800 MHz trunking systems as well as other choices do. If you’ve got some cash to toss around, however, the TRX-1 would make a pretty good secondary radio, especially for searching. That said, there are certainly some lessons that Uniden could learn from Whistler, particularly the ability to select whether or not you want to skip encrypted transmissions and the way you review the TRX-1’s recordings.

In short, if you need DMR capability over P25 capability, go with a TRX-1. If you need P25 capability over DMR, go with a Uniden. For NXDN, at this time the TRX-1 is your only choice. The software issue is one that could be easily remedied by Whistler having a change of heart and sharing what’s needed for third parties to produce programming/control software for it.