I enjoy reading the posts on the QRPer. The size comparison photos recently posted got me thinking. I had taken a photo several months back of a X5105, 817, RS918 (McHF), G90 and a 705, basically to do the same thing (size comparison).
I have attached them for your amusement [click to enlarge]:
Thanks for sharing these, Ken. To me, it’s interesting to see the comparison between the FT-817 and the G90. When I owned a G90 I didn’t have an 817 at the time for comparison. It reminds me just how long/deep that G90 was! Also interesting to see that the mcHF clone is a wee bit wider than the IC-705. Thanks for sharing!
At least ninety percentof all of my radio operations happen in the field. Whether I’m in a park, on a summit activation, or I’m out camping, I’ve always thoroughly enjoyed “playing radio” outdoors. In fact, it was the joy of field radio––and the accompanying challenge of low-power operations––which launched my labor of love in the world of ham radio.
I’ve been running QRPer.com now for fourteen years, and during that time, the questions I’m asked most deal with selecting a field radio. Turns out, it’s an incredibly difficult question to answer, and we’ll touch on why that is before we dive into the reasons one radio might hold appeal over another for you.
Instead of offering up a list of field radios on the market, and reviewing each one—and, to be fair, there are so many these days—I’ll share with you a series of questions you might ask yourself before making a radio purchase, and follow up with a few bits of advice based on my own experience.These deceptively simple questions will help hone your decision-making. Finally, I’ll note a few of my favorite general coverage field radios and share what I love about each.
Spoiler alert: It’s all about the operator, less about the specs
When searching for a new radio, we hams tend to take deep dives into feature and specification comparisons between various models of radios. We’ll reference Rob Sherwood’s superb receiver test data table, we’ll pour over user reviews, and we’ll download full radio manuals before we choose.
While this is valuable information—especially since radios can be quite a costly “investment”—I would argue that this process shouldn’t be your first step.
I’ve found that enjoyment of any particular radio—whether field radio or not—has everything to do with the operator and less to do with the radio’s actual performance.
A realistic assessment of yourself
The first step in choosing a field radio is to ask yourself a few questions, and answer them as honestly as you can. Here are some basic questions to get you started in your search of a field radio:
Question 1: Where do I plan to operate?
If you plan to operate mostly at the QTH or indoors with only the occasional foray outdoors, you may want a field-capable radio that best suits you indoors—one with robust audio, a larger encoder, a larger display, and more front panel real estate.
On the other hand, if you plan to take your radio on backpacking adventures, then portability, battery efficiency and durability are king
Of course, most of us may be somewhere in between, having park activations or camping trips in mind, but overall size may be less important as we may be driving or taking only a short walk to the activation site. When your shack is a picnic table not too far from a parking lot or even an RV, you have a lot more options than when you have to hike up a mountain with your radio gear in tow.
Question 2: What modes will I operate the most?
Are you a single mode operator? If your intention is to only use digital modes, then you’ll want a radio designed with easy digital mode operation in mind.
If you plan to focus on single sideband, power output may be more important and features like voice-memory keying.
If you plan to primarily operate CW, then the radio world is your oyster because it even opens the door to numerous inexpensive CW-only field radios.
If you plan to primarily operate CW, I would strongly suggest going low power or QRP. I’ve often heard that 5 watts CW is roughly equivalent to 80 watts single sideband. I tend to agree with this. CW field operators hardly need more than 5 watts, in my experience.
I just noticed that this G90 is on sale for Prime Day (June 22, 2021 being the last day) for $399.20 US. This is the lowest price I’ve ever seen for the G90 including shipping and free returns.
I purchased and reviewed the Xiegu G90 last year for The Spectrum Monitor magazine. I kept the G90 for a few months, but eventually sold it as I had planned to do from the beginning. I personally didn’t need 20 watts of output and since the G90 had no CW or SSB memory/message keying, I simply didn’t take it to the field a lot, instead opting for my smaller QRP radios.
However, I know some park and summit activators who almost exclusively use the G90 and love it. As I state in my review, it must be one of the best value radios on the market even for the $450 I paid.
There’s a reason the G90 is one of the most popular HF transceivers on the market.
Again, if you’ve been considering one, this might be a great time to pounce on one as it’s at least $25 less than the lowest price I’ve seen to date. You must be an Amazon Prime member to take advantage of this deal. At time of posting, the seller still had 18 units in inventory.
“Thomas, I read your review of the Xiegu G90 transceiver on the SWLing Post and it seemed your overall impression was positive. I bought a G90 some time ago and love it. So far, I’ve only been listening with it, but hope to pass both my Technician and General class license exams this month. Curious why you stated that you sold it after your review. Could you shed a little light on that decision? Inquiring mind here. Thanks so much for your articles and videos.”
Good question, Brian! And bravo on tackling both your Tech and General class license exams in one go! We’re rooting for you!
The short answer is it had more to do with my own personal preferences than the radio’s performance and specifications.
As I stated in my review, I think the G90 is a great value and certainly a capable field radio. It must be one of the most popular portable transceivers in the Parks On The Air (POTA) program (along with the Yaesu FT-891) which is certainly worth noting.
You would be hard-pressed to find a transceiver with the features of the G90–including an excellent internal ATU and 20 watts output–for less than $600 and the G90 is currently only $425 US.
If you have a limited budget, and like the overall specs and features of the G90, you really can’t go wrong.
When I review a product, I do my best not to allow my own personal preferences to cloud my judgement. I try to imagine how I’d review a piece of gear based on being in a number of other operators’ shoes.
One of my pet peeves, in fact, is to read a product review and find that the reviewer is indulging in nit-picking and hyper-focusing on particular characteristics, features, and design shortcomings. I want to hear the negatives for sure, but I also want to feel comfortable that the reviewer’s personal preferences didn’t cloud their overall objectivity.
I also value real-word, hands-on experience in a product review.
After purchasing the Xiegu G90, I took it to the field and made a number of POTA activations with it. It never disappointed. I also used it in the shack for a couple of months. I found that the display was quite useful, easy to read, and it had most of the functions and features I tend to use in the field. Never once did I feel it was under-performing or not meeting my expectations. If anything, the G90 exceeded my expectations.
In fact, I remember telling some of my friends that the G90 was a “keeper” after taking it on a few field outings. But after my review, I found that I rarely reached for it when heading to the field. Why? Turns out some of my own personal preferences surfaced:
Most of my other QRP transceivers have CW memory keying and/or voice memory keying. The Xiegu G90 does not.
For POTA and SOTA activators, voice and CW memory keying is a useful feature, as it frees you to do other things like log, eat a sandwich, or talk to others while calling CQ. In other words, it can help with your “work flow.” If you’ve watched my activation videos, you might have noticed that I tend to use memory keying for calling CQ and, sometimes, for sending 73s.
When walking out the door to hit the field, I tend to grab my transceivers that have memory keying functions.
The G90 has an excellent internal speaker for use in the field. With that said–and this is hard to describe–I find its overall audio characteristics a little “harsh” and unrefined. I found that, over time, the G90 gave me a bit of listener fatigue during long sessions in the field or shack. That’s not to say it has bad audio–it’s just not as good as some of my other transceivers.
ARRL lab testing shows that the G90 has key clicks in transmit. In fact, the key clicks were bad enough in their testing that they suggested never using the G90 with an external amplifier. For those of us who don’t use amplifiers, this may never be a factor at all. Also, Xiegu retailers sell affordable external amplifiers to pair with the G90, so I must assume it doesn’t affect all amplifiers negatively. If I’m being honest with myself, I think this was another nail in the coffin.
I knew the G90 would collect dust, so I sold it.
However, I know operators who love the G90 so much, they sold their pricier rigs after buying a G90. I even know operators who own two G90s: one for the shack, one for the field. With a total investment of only $850, I see why they made that choice.
The G90 just wasn’t for me though.
A final note about the new Xiegu GSOC
Ironically, I was asked by Radioddity to evaluate the new Xiegu GSOC controller only a couple weeks after I sold my original G90. Since the GSOC is designed to pair with the G90 , they had to send me another G90 on loan for the evaluation.
In early November, I took delivery of the new Xiegu GSOC Touch Screen Controller which has kindly been sent to me by Radioddity on loan for a frank evaluation. [Thank you, Radioddity!]
To be clear: the GSOC is not a transceiver, it’s a control head for the Xiegu G90 and (to a limited degree) X5105. Note I recently reviewed the Xiegu G90.
GSOC development has been closely watched by Xiegu owners since its announcement in the summer of 2020.
Frankly, I didn’t completely see the appeal myself because the price of the GSOC was projected to be around $550–at least $100 more than the retail price of the G90 transceiver it controls.
The G90, in my opinion, is a good value field radio. Not a stellar performer, but it gets the job done and the built-in ATU does a brilliant job finding matches. It’s become a very popular radio for portable field operators because of the price, the versatility, and the power output (up to 20W). It’s not a KX2, KX3, or IC-705, but it certainly provides much more than one would expect from $450.
When you combine the price of the G90 and GSOC, however, you’re pushing $1000 and that’s getting in the range of radios like the Icom IC-7300.
Not feeling the GSOC love
In short, I’ve been quite disappointed with the GSOC. It feels like a product that was rushed to market way too soon. The specs and features don’t match up to what’s been advertised yet.
In summary? I can’t recommend the GSOC yet and that’s why I’m posting this summary here on QRPer–I’d like to dissuade readers from grabbing one of these as a Christmas gift.
The package looks tempting, but there are too many issues that must be addressed just to achieve proper control of the G90. I can tell that, personally, I won’t purchase the GSOC even when everything is fixed. The price point is just too high, in my opinion, for the functionality it provides. The G90 is a fun, functional little radio, but doesn’t sport the performance and receiver characteristics that I feel warrant a touch screen controller. The controller will only ever be as good as the transceiver to which it’s attached.
Do you own or have you considered purchasing the GSOC? I’d love your comments/thoughts.
The following article first appeared on our sister site, the SWLing Post.
You might have noticed from recent posts, I’ve been on a bit of a POTA (Parks On The Air) kick lately.
I’ve been enjoying taking the Xiegu G90 to the field and seeing just how well it performs under intensive use on battery power. So far, it has certainly proven itself to be a capable field rig.
Still, on two recent activations I also brought my trusty Elecraft KX2 along as well. Without a doubt, it’s still my number one field rig. It will be difficult for another field transceiver to displace it.
With that said, the G90 is less than half the price of the KX2 (when the KX2 is configured with the optional ATU). The G90 can also pump out a full 20 watts of power–nearly double that of the KX2. I also love the G90’s spectrum display which makes it so easy to find free frequencies and hunt other parks. Its internal antenna tuner–like the KX2’s–can match almost anything very quickly.
Here are a couple of quick reports from my recent activations:
William H Silver State Game Land (K-6967)
Saturday, my family had planned a trip to visit my father-in-law. My wife encouraged me to find a nearby park to activate as there are so many between our house and his. I made it slightly more challenging by deciding to find a park or POTA entity I’d never visited.
Turns out the William H Silver State Game Land was only a 30 minute detour. I had never visited it and, in fact, it was even an ATNO (All Time New One) for Parks On The Air, meaning no one had yet activated it.
I had initially planned 1.5 to 2 hours for the activation, but we were running behind Saturday morning so I had to cut my time at the park to a total of about one hour–which included set-up, operation, and take-down.
We arrived at the site and I immediately deployed my EFT Trail-Friendly end-fed antenna.
My 12 year old daughter (who is studying for her ham radio license and is a great at digging callsigns out of the noise) helped me log contacts. I stuck with very brief exchanges so that I could work as many stations as possible. When activating an ATNO, I always want to give as many POTA “hunters” as possible the best opportunity to put the site in their log books.
I started on the 40 meter band and worked 20 stations in 25 minutes with the Xiegu G90.
I then moved up to the 20 meter band and switched over to the Elecraft KX2.
Turns out, 20 meters was pretty unstable, so I worked very few stations. I did work a station in California with 10 watts and a wire, though, so I’ll still call that a success.
I plan to visit this same site again later this year–it’s very accessible.
Buffalo Cove State Game Land (K-6886)
Monday morning, even though the weather outlook was dodgy, I scheduled another park activation which, like Saturday’s, was at a state game land which was another ATNO.
I like game lands. Unlike state parks, I don’t have to worry about crowds and I also usually get to take my Subaru or truck off-road. Access roads here in the mountains are typically steep, curvy, and washed-out in places. Finding the site can be very challenging, too. Still, I love adding a little off-road fun to a park activation!
The Buffalo Cove State Game Land is much larger than park K-6967 (above). I drove deep into the lands and found a large parking and camping area for hunters. I had the whole place to myself, so I found the best tree to support my end-fed antenna.
I operated the KX2 exclusively on this activation because I wanted to use its voice keyer and my Heil headset for hands-free VOX operation.
In the course of 90 minutes, I worked 51 stations from the trunk/boot of my car.
Many thanks to my good friend Mike (K8RAT) who made the whole process much smoother by spotting me on the POTA site.
Band conditions were actually pretty rough today, so I was very pleased with the results and intend to return here for a weekend activation later this year as well. This would actually be an ideal location for making low-noise portable SDR recordings while camping overnight.
This weekend, I decided I want to increase my portable field antenna arsenal. More about that in a future post!
I posted a quick announcement on the POTA website, and jumped in the car.
When I arrived at the park, I noted an excellent, easily accessible picnic site with a nearby tree to hang my EFT Trail-Friendly antenna. Since I hadn’t been to this park in many years, I continued driving to check out other potential POTA sites.
In the main parking lot, I spotted a ham radio operator’s car with a prominent callsign on the back window and a POTA bumper sticker. I couldn’t see their operating site from the parking lot and since we’re all trying to social distance these days, I didn’t bother searching for them to introduce myself.
While it’s certainly allowed to have two activators running a park at the same time, I really didn’t want to impose and certainly didn’t want to cause any QRM by operating on the same meter band.
I had a “Plan B” in mind in case the park wasn’t accessible. On the west side of South Mountains State Park there was another POTA site: the South Mountains State Game Land (K-6952). I started driving in that direction, then used Google Maps to help me locate the entry road. Turns out, it was an additional 35 minutes of driving! Still, it was a beautiful day so no complaints from me.
The road was typical of game land roads: gravel and washed out in places. I had to ford one creek. My Subaru had no problem doing this, of course. (I actually love off-roading, so secretly I hoped the road would be more challenging!)
About four miles in, I found a pull-off that was big enough for my car and had an ideal tree to hang the antenna. I backed into the site, opened the hatch on the Subaru, and used the trunk/boot as my radio table.
Although there was a fair amount of QRN on 40 meters, now that the G90 has an RF Gain control (with latest firmware v 1.74), I could easily mitigate it.
I worked a number of stations on 40, then decided to move up to 20 meters.
I was very impressed with the response on 20 meters as well. Fading (QSB) was very deep, however, so I kept contacts brief. At times, stations would call me, I’d give them a 59 report, and when they’d reply I could barely hear them (and vise-versa). It took a little patience and good timing, but I believe I worked everyone who called me.
In the end, I had a total of 27 contact in the log with about one hour of operating. Here are my log sheets:
After transmitting steadily for an hour at a full 20 watts, the G90 body was pretty warm to the touch, but it had operated flawlessly.
A great field radio
The G90 is a gem of a transceiver and has some features that make it ideal for field use.
For one thing, I love being able to keep track of my battery voltage on the display:
Also, the G90 has excellent selectivity. On both 40 and 20 meters, at times I could see adjacent stations on the spectrum display that would have bled over and created QRM on less robust receivers.
I also like the ability to control all of the major transceiver functions without having to dive into an embedded menu. Adjusting the filter, RF gain, attenuator, and pre-amp, for example, is super easy.
I love the spectrum display, too. In the field, it’s nice to be able to find an open frequency by simply watching the display for a minute or so before calling QRL or CQ. It also allows me to see when folks are tuning up nearby to make contact with me.
Although I’ve been using a resonant antenna in the field, the G90 has a very capable built-in ATU. Back home, I’ve used it and have been very impressed with its ability to find good matches. Yesterday, for fun, I was even able to get it to tune up the EFT Trail Friendly antenna on 80 meters! I doubt it would be efficient, but the ATU did find a 2:1 match.
The only two features I feel like the G90 is missing are a notch filter (both manual and auto) and a voice keyer. I’m sure a notch filter could be added in a future firmware update (others have been asking for this as well), but I doubt a voice keyer could be added as easily. In truth, the voice keyer is a bit of a luxury, but it’s a feature I use without fail on my KX2 since park and summit activations often require constant CQ calls. Being able to record a CQ and have the radio automatically send it allows the op to drink water, eat lunch, and relax between contacts.
(Note: this post first appeared on our sister site, the SWLing Post.)
Earlier this week, I took delivery of a new Xiegu G90 general coverage QRP transceiver. I’m reviewing this portable rig for The Spectrum Monitor magazine. Although this Chinese manufacturer has been around for a few years, this was my first purchase of a Xiegu product.
I’ve had the G90 on the air from home for a couple days, but I feel like the best way to test a QRP transceiver is in the field!
Due to the Covid-19 lock-down and a number of our regional parks either being closed or severely limiting visitors, I haven’t made many POTA (Parks On The Air) activations this year.
Recently, however, North Carolina has been opening state parks and allowing visitor access to hiking trails and picnic areas, but keeping all facilities (stores, cafes, visitor centers, and restrooms) closed to the public.
Yesterday, our family decided to pack a picnic lunch and head to Mt. Mitchell State Park (POTA site K-2747). My wife knew I was chomping at the bit to play radio in the field and actually made the suggestion. (She’s a keeper!) 🙂
There were only a dozen people at the park so we essentially had the place to ourselves. Better yet, it gave me the opportunity to pick out the most ideal picnic site to set up and deploy my EFT Trail-Friendly 40/20/10 antenna.
My POTA activation was unannounced and I didn’t have Internet access to self-spot on the POTA website, so I started the activation old school by calling “CQ POTA” until someone happened upon 7286 kHz.
After perhaps 10 minutes of calling CQ, Greg (KE0HTG)–a helpful POTA chaser–finally found me and spotted me on the network.
I worked a few stations in succession, but summer QRN levels were incredibly high and I believed static crashes were cloaking would-be contacts. The G90 has no RF Gain [Actually, thanks to this feedback, I now know the G90 does indeed have an RF Gain control (firmware version 1.73 and higher).] I asked one kind operator if he would hold while I switched over to my trusty Elecraft KX2.
The KX2 did a much better job managing the noise and that same op was easily readable where with the G90 I could barely copy him. I suspect I could have tinkered with the G90’s AGC levels to better mitigate the noise, but I didn’t want to do this in the middle of an activation.
I worked about fifteen stations with the Elecraft KX2 on 40 meters.
One real advantage of the KX2 during a POTA activation on SSB is its voice memory keyer (of course, it also has a CW memory keyer). I simply record my CQ and have the KX2 repeat it until someone replies, then I hit the PTT to stop the recording. Not only does this save my voice, but it also gives me an opportunity to eat my lunch while calling CQ!
I eventually moved up to the 20 meter band and switched back to the Xiegu G90.
On the 20 meter band, the G90 handled conditions like a champ.
Someone eventually spotted me on 20 and I worked a few stations.
The 20 meter band was very fickle and unstable yesterday. For example, I struggled to finish a contact with an operator in Massachusetts, yet got a solid 59 report from Spain with only 20 watts.
I had a great time with the G90 in the field. I can see why it’s become such a popular transceiver as it offers incredible bang-for-buck (it can be purchased new as low as $450 US shipped).
This week, the noise levels on the 40 meter band should be very high here in North America, so I plan to spend more time with the G90 settings and see if I can mitigate the QRN a little better. I’d welcome any tips from G90 owners.
And yes, I’m already eyeing a couple of parks to activate next week!
Post Readers: Please comment if you’re familiar with the Xiegu G90 or any of the other Xiegu transceivers.