Category Archives: Surveys

Replies from the Ergonomics vs. Performance poll

Yesterday, I posed the following question and asked for your input:

“Which aspect of a QRP radio holds more importance for you: its ergonomics (ease of use, comfort, display, size, etc.) or its performance (receiver test data, dynamic range, etc.)?” 

Thank you to everyone who participated in my recent quickie poll, which has now closed. There were so many interesting points in the feedback. Here are the results from the 252 votes cast within a 20-hour window:

In essence, a slight majority preferred ergonomics, with 57.1% of respondents indicating it as more important, while 42.9% favored performance.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’m well aware that this question paints with broad brush strokes. There’s not a give-and-take between the two: an investment in the user interface typically doesn’t mean performance is going to suffer. Indeed, I would say most of our modern transceivers sport decent ergonomics and decent performance.

If anything, the relationship between price and performance plays a proper tug of war. Even that’s nuanced, though!

I also received a number of comments and messages from readers who pointed out that my survey was flawed because it didn’t define what I meant by ergonomics and performance carefully enough. I agree that this wasn’t a carefully considered and properly worded poll.

That said, the way I wanted to present this was more like an informal raise of hands–something I often ask for during radio club presentations.

Selection of Comments

The comments from readers were excellent and what I would expect to hear from people who’d raised their hands in a club meeting.

Here are snippets from a few of them, (for all of the comments, click here):

From Scott (KK4Z):

A tricky question. I actually prefer a balance between ergonomics and performance. If you have a good performing radio with mediocre ergonomics, it might not be used to its full potential. A radio with good ergonomics and mediocre performance might be used to its full potential which may be above a good radio with poor ergonomics.

From Mark (NA4O):

My assumption is that performance would have to be good enough for the radio to be in the running. Likewise, ergonomics would have to be good enough for it to be considered usable.

From Nick (KC0MYW):

As I consider the radios that I have and have used and which ones I like better and why, I think that the performance of the radio can almost be considered an ergonomic characteristic with regard to how comfortable and easy the radio is to operate. While a radio with poor ergonomics is not a lot of fun to operate, a lower noise floor and smoother QSK can add as much to the enjoyment level as an easy to access RIT control.

From William (KR8L):

Difficult to say… Since my field operations are very casual affairs I suppose performance is a secondary consideration, although I don’t think I’d enjoy doing a POTA activation with my HW-8.

Ergonomics can be very important — for example, although my FT-817 performs well enough, the number of button pushes and knob twists required to change the keyer speed (or just about any other setting) can be very annoying.

The well thought out controls of my KX2 make it my favorite for field operating, but then it’s a good performer too.

From Brian (K3ES):

Tough question. I will say ergonomics, but what I really mean is easy access to the features I need. I don’t necessarily need contest grade performance, but I do rely on features like a tuner, cw speed adjustment, vfo, etc.

From Emily Clark:

I pick performance for a few reasons: I do contest QRP at times (most recently ARRL RTTY Roundup). I like the filtering, the clarity of the screen, the true FSK for RTTY, and the ability to put an IF spectrum out into N1MM+. I only have wire antennas, and with the AH-705 I virtually do entire contests on my 80m OCFD.

From Michael (N7CCD):

If taken to the extreme on both options, I think I would have to choose performance. I would rather operate a radio that can handle QRM (overloaded front end, etc.) with confusing menus, than the opposite. If not taken to the extreme, then I may choose ergonomics…

From Mark (W8EWH):

Ergonomics for me because I, like many, have many field portable radios and as I cycle between them I need to be able to use them without the need to consult a user manual or waste time fumbling around a menu system looking for a particular feature or setting.

From Shawn (WS0SWV):

Performance! As a retired design engineer, I learned that good design addresses the performance needs of the user(s) in an intuitive manner. If it is cumbersome or overly complex then users will tend to migrate away from it. Some communities have specific ergonomic requirements and for QRP field radios I would argue the primary ones are size, weight, current consumption there are others depending on mode of operation like keyer memories and narrow filters for CW but those are the big ones.

From Wlod (US7IGN):

Different people have different preferences and ideas about ergonomics and performance. It’s important to find a balance, or better yet, have different radios for different tasks.

From Andrew:

Ergonomics is nice, but without performance … it has no use, imagine a coffee mug; it may be hyperergonomical, but then it has a hole at the bottom…

From Dick (K7ULM):

Interesting question. It is interesting how the ergonomics of the KH1 over shadows the performance of the KX2 for some use cases. In some uses the KH1 is definitely the the choice due to its ergonomics. For other radios of its size it will be chosen because of performance and ergonomics. The specific use case is the controling factor IMHO. Performance slightly over ergonomics, generally for me, kind of?

My thoughts?

If there was one comment that reflected my thoughts most closely, it would be this one from John (AE5X):

There’s a lot of overlap between these two characteristics. Too little of one undoes the effectiveness of the other.

I find that most radios do have “good enough” performance (barring an outright flaw or deviation from legal requirements), therefore I pay attention to ergonomics more than to lab numbers of dynamic range and other electronic specs…if I need lab equipment to discern whether or not my radio’s performance is acceptable, it’s acceptable. I don’t like buried menus for commonly-used features.

John’s right. We’re lucky these days in that most of our modern QRP field radios have acceptable performance for our field activities like POTA, SOTA, IOTA, QRP Contests, and some even have the chops for the RF density of, say, Field Day.

If performance is acceptable, I tend to give more weight to ergonomics because it’s important to me that the radio be fun to use.

What makes this show of hands a hot mess, when we look at it under the microscope, is the fact that both ergonomics and performance are nuanced. Herein lies the challenge I find in writing radio reviews: I believe it’s important to explore those nuances so that the review can inform a potential buyer (who might not share my same point of view) in a meaningful way. Sometimes it’s difficult to do that within a print publication’s word count.

Closing thoughts…

As we often say, there is no “perfect” radio that will please everyone, so I think it’s important before we make a purchase decision that we’re realistic with ourselves and understand what we actually value.

Here’s one real-life example–outside the world of QRP transceivers–I’ll share from a friend who, sadly, is now Silent Key. Since I can’t ask for his permission, I won’t mention his name.

Back in 2010, he came to me for advice on buying an SDR (Software Defined Radio)–a PC-connected black box receiver.

Even though not that long ago, keep in mind this was still during the infancy of modern, high-performance, SDRs and most of the options were going to set you back $1,000 or much more. In other words, a substantial investment.

This friend was an avid SWL DXer and was considering an SDR that, at the time, had a slight performance edge over popular SDR models from manufacturers like Microtelecom, RF Space, and WinRadio. I’m not going to call out this SDR by name either, but I’m sure some of you can guess which one I’m referencing.

This particular SDR had fabulous receiver characteristics on paper, but it was well known that the proprietary PC application that controlled it was a bit of a nightmare to use.

My friend purchased it. I tried to help him set this SDR up and learn how to use some of the basic functions and features, but we both found it a struggle. The GUI (graphic user interface), one could tell, was likely designed by the hardware engineer, not someone with experience creating usable software applications, also, unlikely someone who was a DXer or SWL.

He ended up selling this SDR after having owned it for less than a month. He agreed that the performance was brilliant, but hated using the app that controlled it. In the end, he purchased the venerable Microtelecom Perseus and absolutely loved it.

Rob’s advice

This topic of our personal preferences is such a deep one; I think I might put together a club presentation, exploring some of the nuances.

Speaking of presentations, if you’ve never seen Rob Sherwood’s excellent presentation exploring transceiver performance, I highly recommend you check this one out. Rob will be the first to tell you that modern transceivers tend to perform so well that the operator should give weight to ergonomics and usability.

Also, consider listening to this episode of the Ham Radio Workbench podcast when Rob was the guest.

Cast Your Vote: Ergonomics vs. Performance – What Matters Most in a QRP Field Radio?

I’m in the midst of writing several radio reviews, and this process always brings up a few inherent dichotomies.

For example—and the point of this quickie poll—some operators seek, first and foremost, a radio with brilliant performance specs. This is especially the case when we’re talking about contest-grade, pricey transceivers. Dynamic range, sensitivity, filtering, and blocking? Yeah, those are looked at very carefully by contesters and DXers.

On the other hand, for some, a radio’s performance is less important than how enjoyable the radio is to actually operate. Are the ergonomics well thought through so that common tasks are easy to perform? Is the display easy to read? Is the encoder weighted correctly? Is the radio compact but useable, etc.?

Even though field radios are typically not thought of as “contest-grade,” many of them have superb contest chops and receivers that can handle RF-dense environments with ease (I’m thinking about my KX3 with roofing filter here).

However, some radios might lack precision filtering and a contest-grade receiver architecture but are designed with field use in mind interface-wise. The Elecraft KX1 and Penntek TR-45L come to mind, although there are many more. Both have great receivers, actually, but the designers obviously placed an emphasis on user a user interface that is field-friendly. I find both such a pleasure to use.

What’s your opinion?

I recognize fully that I’m painting with broad brush strokes here—there are so many other variables in evaluating a radio. I’m sure most of us want a good balance of both performance and ergonomics.

But if pressed for an answer, where do you fall? What do you give higher priority: performance or ergonomics?

If you’d like to cast your vote, please consider participating in the poll below:

Survey #3 Results: What QRP HF transceiver would you or do you choose for air travel?

This past week, I posted the third of several surveys on, this time asking:

“What QRP HF transceiver would you or do you choose for air travel?”

I turned off the survey at 6:30 EDT today, with a total of 475 responses.

Survey Results

Here’s a pie chart showing the top 18 results in the survey. To see detail, you will need to click on the image below (or click this link) to enlarge it in a new window:

The top choice was the Elecraft KX2 which accounted for 22.9% of the votes.

It’s funny: I had assumed the Icom IC-705 might take first place in this survey. Then I realized that I own both the KX2 and IC-705 and, this summer, I chose the KX2 each time I traveled. Indeed, I can’t think of a time in recent memory that I didn’t take the KX2 with me during travels.

The reason I picked the KX2 each time is because it’s such a comprehensive HF radio with a superb built-in ATU and battery pack. There’s no field situation I can throw at it that it can’t handle. In fact, if a site doesn’t allow any antennas on the ground, I can even pair it with my AX1 or AX2 tabletop antennas.

I see why so many of you picked it as your first choice.

Your second choice was the Icom IC-705 which accounted for 14.3% of the votes.

The IC-705 has one very cool feature for travel: you can charge it with a common Micro USB charger!

No need to take a separate power supply, battery pack, or custom charger. Simply bring a Micro USB cable and plug it into the hotel USB charger, your phone’s charger, or even a Lithium power pack. If you’re happy with 5 watts of output power, you really need no other battery, power supply, or charger.

Of course, the IC-705 is compact, sports the entire HF band, VHF, and UHF and is multimode. It can also receive FM and AM broadcasts along with weather radio, and the AIR band.

You can even do D-Star natively and allow the GPS in the IC-705 to find the closest repeaters and load them to memory.

The IC-705 is a very savvy travel transceiver!

Your third choice was the Yaesu FT-817/818 which accounted for 9.9% of the votes.

At first, I was a little surprised the FT-817/818 would gather more votes than, say, the Elecraft KX3, but then again it’s actually a very compact radio. I remember when I used to travel Europe for a living, I would tuck my FT-817 into my carry-on and I hardly noticed it was there.

It also ships with a NiMH battery pack, and you can also buy a much longer-life and faster-charging Li-Ion pack.

The FT-817/818 is a rugged radio. You don’t have to worry about it being harmed in a pack and it lays pretty flat as well so it’s easy to protect and pad among your clothes.

The Elecraft KX3 took forth place with 8.6% of the votes.

The KX3 is one of the highest-performance field radios ever made and it is incredibly portable.

I added the Side KX panels to my KX3 many years ago. With those installed and using the Lexan cover, it’s a very rugged radio. Simply toss it on your flight bag and you’re good to go!

The KX3 is also a very efficient radio, so you could easily power it with, say, a $25 Talentcell USB battery pack–one that TSA wouldn’t blink at.

I’ve traveled pretty extensively with my KX3 so I see why it ranks so high on the list. Like its newer sibling, the KX2, it has an amazing internal ATU. You can also load the KX3 with AA cells for short on-the-air sessions or longer listening sessions.

Fifth on this list of travel radios is the Xiegu X6100 which accounted for 6.1% of the votes.

No doubt, what makes the X6100 so appealing is that, like the KX2, it’s a proper shack-in-a-box. Indeed, I would also add the X5105 to this same list.

The X6100 contains a high-capacity rechargeable internal battery pack and an excellent ATU. It’s an all-in-one radio solution that’s actually quite rugged and could easily handle the bumps and jolts of air travel.

Notable mention…

There was another winner in this survey. It wasn’t any one model, but rather a whole class of HF transceivers: super compact portable transceivers. If lumped together as a category, these would have placed in the top five.

I’m talking about radios like the: Mountain Topper series, QCX-Mini, QMX, QDX, SW-3B, (tr)uSDX, TR-25, TR-35, and similar. These radios are so incredibly tiny that they can be packed away in a very compact pouch.

Indeed, I have a complete dedicated POTA/SOTA station built around my Venus SW-3B (see photo above). It’s all contained in a small BROG headrest pouch that I could easily toss in a travel bag.

These pint-sized radios aren’t general coverage radios like the top 5 listed above, and many are CW-only. Still: if your goal is to hit the field a bit during your vacation, they’re incredibly effective.

This radio class also represents some of the most efficient and affordable transceivers on the market.

Full Results…

If you would like to see the actual number of votes for each of the 48 radios in this survey, click the link below to load the rest of the page:

  • Elecraft KX2: 109 votes
  • Icom IC-705: 69 votes
  • Yaesu FT-817 or FT-818: 47 votes
  • Elecraft KX3: 41 votes
  • Xiegu X6100: 29 votes
  • lab599 Discovery TX-500: 27 votes
  • Xiegu G90: 20 votes
  • (tr)uSDX: 15 votes
  • Elecraft K2: 11 votes
  • Penntek TR-35: 10 votes
  • FX-4C, FX-4CR or FX-4L: 9 votes
  • Venus SW-3B: 9 votes
  • Elecraft KX1: 8 votes
  • Mountain Topper MTR-3 series: 8 votes
  • QRP Labs QCX-Mini: 8 votes
  • The following received less than 7 votes
    • Icom IC-703
    • Mountain Topper MTR-4 series
    • Xiegu X5105
    • QRP Labs QCX
    • QRP Labs QDX
    • uBITX transceiver (any model)
    • Xiegu G106
    • Elecraft K1
    • Pentek TR-45L
    • Hendricks PFR 3 series
    • YouKits or Ten-Tec Branded 2-4 band CW QRP Transceiver
    • Flex Radio Flex 1500
    • M0NKA mcHF
    • Penntek TR-25
    • Xiegu G1M
    • Hamqrpkits EGV+
    • Expert Electronics SunSDR2 QRP
    • Hermes-Lite 2
    • DSW-20
    • QRP-Labs QMX

More QRP radio surveys on the way!

What did you think about these results? Was your choice in the top five? Feel free to comment!

Also, stay tuned as I have quite a few QRP radio survey questions in the works.

I’ve tagged all of these reviews so they’re easy to browse, just bookmark or note: QRP Radio Survey Series.

Survey #2 Results: If you could only have one QRP radio for all of your ham radio activities, which one would it be?

This past weekend, I posted the second of several surveys on asking:

“If you could only have one QRP radio for all of your ham radio activities, which one would it be?”

The responses started flowing in immediately and, once again, within the first day we had already accumulated over 400 votes.

I turned off the survey at 8:00 EDT on Tuesday, May 16, 2023, with a total of 618 responses. Due to my travel schedule this week, I didn’t leave the survey open for responses as long as I did for Survey #1.

Survey Results

Here’s a pie chart showing the top 14 results in the survey. To see detail, you will need to click on the image below (or click this link) to enlarge it in a new window:

The top choice was the Icom IC-705 which accounted for 28.8% of the 618 votes.

I’m not at all surprised the IC-705 was the most popular choice.

This survey focused on the one single QRP radio you’d pick to accommodate all of your ham radio activities, modes, etc. Frankly? The IC-705 does it all: HF/VHF/UHF multimode operation, DV voice (D-Star), built-in GPS, wireless connectivity for digital modes, built-in sound card, built-in Bluetooth and WiFi hotspot, built-in recording, broadcast band reception, high-performance receiver, color spectrum display and waterfall, and so much more. Heck, you can even charge its battery pack with a common Micro USB charger.  Read my review if you want a more comprehensive view of the IC-705.

The only real con anyone mentioned was a lack of an ATU which, frankly, is something that’s so easy to remedy with an external ATU or by using resonant antennas.

Your second choice was the Elecraft KX2 which accounted for 20.1% of the votes.

The KX2 is such a versatile portable HF transceiver that it was the most popular choice in our first QRP radio survey. No doubt, those who chose the KX2 love playing radio in the field as their primary activity because it’s such an adept and versatile radio to take outdoors.

Your third choice was the Elecraft KX3 with 18.7% of the votes.

I actually thought the KX3 would take second place since it’s one of the highest-performance HF radios on the market and covers 160-6 meters with a 2 meter option. It’s an HF Swiss Army Knife of a radio.

In fact, during the first day of voting, the KX3 held the number two spot with as much as a 2% lead over the KX2, but as more votes rolled in, that lead narrowed and the KX2 displaced the KX3 for runner-up.

Your fourth choice was the Yaesu FT-817/818 which accounted for 10.5% of the votes.

Again, I’m not surprised the FT-817/818 ranked high among survey respondents. As I mention in a recent article, the FT-817/818 is an amazingly versatile, durable, and capable QRP radio.

It’s also the most affordable among these top contenders!

Like the IC-705, the FT-817/818 has multimode capabilities from 160-6 meters, VHF, and UHF.  It also sports both SO-239 and BNC antenna ports which makes it very unique among QRP radios!

The lab599 Discovery TX-500 took fifth place with 3.9% of the votes among this set of distinguished radios.

Those who chose the TX-500 appreciate it for its 160-6 meter coverage, its unique form-factor and weight, overall performance, weather-proofing, and superb RX/TX current numbers for battery conservation. For those who like to play radio outdoors (sometimes in the rain) for hours at a time with a modest battery? Yeah, the TX-500 is made for that stuff!

Full Results…

If you would like to see the actual number of votes for each of the 48 radios in this survey, click the link below to load the rest of the page: Continue reading Survey #2 Results: If you could only have one QRP radio for all of your ham radio activities, which one would it be?

Survey 2: If you could only own one HF QRP radio, which one would it be?

I’m asked a variation of this question several times a month (no kidding!):

“Thomas, if you could only own one QRP radio, which one would you choose?”

If you’ve asked me this question, you’ll know I have a pretty canned response because I feel it’s a very subjective question–one that’s all about one’s own personal preferences–thus the radio I choose may not be the radio you would choose. Since others’ might use this choice to make a purchase decision, I’m uncomfortable providing a simple answer.

I need to better understand the operator before making a suggestion.

Survey #2

The last survey we conducted was so much fun and quite insightful! I’ve a number of surveys in store for the next few weeks. As with the previous, Survey #2 also focuses on HF QRP transceivers.

In this survey, I’d like to explore the topic above. In fact, another future survey will as well, but the case use will be more specific, so please read this survey question carefully:

Imagine, for a moment, that money is no object and that you could own any QRP transceiver in the world. Which one would you choose for all of your various radio activities?

In other words, you can own any QRP radio in the world, but you must use it for all of your radio activities (POTA, SOTA, QTH, Field Day, travel, etc.). Some of you may need a radio that can do all of these things. Some of you may only use it for Field Day, or travel.

In addition, some of you may only use one mode, while others use SSB, AM, CW, and various digital modes!

It’s all about you and how/where/when you might operate!

Please use the form below to make your selection. It’s okay to add a radio that isn’t listed in the “Other” selection, but make sure it’s a QRP (20 watts or less) transceiver, else the entry will be  removed because this particular survey is all about QRP radios.

The survey has no place for comments, but please let us know why you chose what you chose in the comments section of this post!

I will plan to share these results later this week. Thank you!

Survey #1 Results: What QRP transceiver do you turn to the most in the field?

This past weekend, I posted the first of several surveys on asking:

What QRP radio do you tend to use the most in the field?

The responses started flowing in immediately and within the first day we had already accumulated over 400 votes.

I turned off the survey this morning at 5:00 EDT with a total of 696 responses.

Survey Results

Here’s a pie chart showing the top 26 results in the survey. To see detail, you will need to click on the image below (or click this link) to enlarge it in a new window:

The top choice was the Elecraft KX2 which received 131 votes. I’ll admit, this was my top choice, too.

The KX2 is the most compact, full-featured radio currently on the market. I know of no other radio that weighs less and is smaller in size that also sports options for an internal battery and internal ATU. It’s also one of only about five radio models on the market that has a built-in microphone.

The KX2 is one of the pricier QRP transceivers on the market, so in that sense, it did surprise me that it was number 1.

The Yaesu FT-817 and FT-818 series transceivers took second place with 105 votes.

Since this radio enjoyed one of the longest production runs in the history of amateur radio–and the price floated around $650 US new–we shouldn’t be surprised. It has so many good things going for it; click here if you want a deep dive into why I think the 817/818 is a fantastic field radio.

The Icom IC-705 took third place with 101 votes.

The IC-705 is an incredibly versatile radio as well and it packs some serious performance! It’s also one of the priciest QRP radio on the market at around $1,400 US. Click here to read my full review of the IC-705.

These are only the top three radios–check out the full results below to see how the top ten ranked among a total of 48 entrants.

Full Results…

If you would like to see the actual number of votes for each of the 48 radios in this survey, click the link below to load the rest of the page:
Continue reading Survey #1 Results: What QRP transceiver do you turn to the most in the field?

Survey 1: What QRP HF transceiver do you turn to the most in the field?

Last week, Phil shared results from a survey he conducted on Facebook regarding the most popular radios used for POTA. The survey was informal and, of course, only open to those in the POTA Facebook community.

The survey confirmed my suspicions that both the Yaesu FT-891 and Xiegu G90 were among the top radios used by POTA activators. Heck…I hardly know a POTA op that doesn’t have one of these two rigs–!

The survey also made me realize that I live in the world of QRP and often forget that the vast majority of ham radio operators do not, necessarily.

QRP Radio Survey Series

I thought it might be fun to publish a series of surveys over the course of the next few weeks that specifically focus on QRP transceivers.  Each survey will contain only one question.

These will all be informal surveys, but I’d like to have a fairly specific question in mind with each and would ask that you think about that question and answer it as honestly as you can. Many of these are subjective, so this isn’t always an easy task.

This first question, though? It’s easier to base on fact…

What QRP radio do you use the most in the field?

At the end of the day, our “favorite” radio might not be the one we actually use the most in the field.

In this first survey, please select the QRP radio you use most often in the field


  • If you see a glaring omission in this list–a popular, mass-produced QRP radio I’ve overlooked–please comment and I’ll add it to the list.  Otherwise, simply select the “Other” choice and provide the manufacturer and model.
  • This list is pretty comprehensive, but I didn’t include some of the more obscure models, nor did I include vintage or Japanese Novice models simply because I see so few people using them as daily drivers in the field.
  • For this survey, I included radios with a maximum output power of roughly 20 watts.
  • The survey form has no place for comments, so if you’d like to tell us about your selection (even if it’s your only QRP radio), feel free to leave a comment on this post!

Thank you!

Survey 1: