Yaesu FTM-350R Dual Band FM Transceiver
Reviewed by Howard Robins, W1HSR Contributing Editor
The FTM-350R is a top-of-the-line mobile FM transceiver with well thought out controls. It offers some unusual features such as 222 MHz transmit and a stereo FM broadcast receiver, as well as options such as APRS and Bluetooth connectivity.
The FTM-350R is one of the more feature rich dual band radios I have had the occasion to use. I will elaborate on the features in this review. However, it is worth mentioning up front that this dual band rig also operates in the amateur 222 MHz band with 1 W of output power. It has APRS — Automatic Packet Reporting System — built-in, too.
Separated Front Panel and Main Radio Unit
The FTM-350R has a separated front panel (control head) that is connected by umbilical to the main radio unit. RJ-11 and RJ-45 connectors are used for mic and umbilical connections. Note that the front panel cannot be attached to the main unit. The included mounting bracket for the front panel is an L bracket with a suction cup on the bottom. This leaves much room for improvisation.
The front panel has a larger than usual display with brightness, color (eight choices) and contrast adjustable in the menu system. The panel is split into left and right half radios with mirrored controls on each half. Each half has a VOLUME control and a TUNING knob. The left side is dominant in that its tuning knob doubles as selector dial while working with the menus.
There are three buttons on each side of the display and five more under the display. The functions of many of these buttons change depending upon Smart Function mode. The eleventh button is the POWER/ LOCK button. While a mic is included in the box and the rig is optionally Bluetooth capable, there is also a mic built into the front panel and the top button on the right serves as PTT. There are two built-in speakers, so external speakers are optional.
The main radio unit weighs in at just over 3.5 pounds. There are connectors for the umbilical and mic (yes, a second mic connector) on one side panel, and RF, data, line-in, and external speakers on the opposite side panel. Of course the fused power cord is also on this end of the main unit. There is a third speaker built into the main radio unit. From a menu, you can enable the control head speakers, main unit speaker, all speakers or no speakers. Another menu allows you to tailor the audio a bit by enhancing the high or low tones in several steps.
Three helpful documents are included in the package: Operating Manual (52 pages), APRS Manual (35 pages), and two pages of diagrams depicting the installation of optional accessories, connections, and settings. Installation instructions for the optional accessories were weak or nonexistent — the diagrams were a lifesaver.
This rig has so many features that I really did not get too far on my own before cracking open the manual. There are Set Mode menus, Smart Function keys, and Special Function Mode to configure the various installed features. It takes a little experience to know where to go to adjust settings. However, I must say that given the considerable suite of features, the keys and menus are very well thought out. After only a few minutes to get acquainted with them, making adjustments becomes fairly intuitive. A lot of consideration had to go into designing a system with so many features and options to make them reasonably manageable.
Too often I find that ergonomics and user-friendliness are left out of the equation. What good is a feature-rich radio if you can never figure out how to program it? I have a "simple" 2 meter radio that has such cryptic stenciling on the buttons that I need to refer to the manual to make simple changes, such as switching from memory to VFO or changing power level. Yaesu did a great job with this radio.
The three buttons to the left of the display are FWD, BCK and SET. Pressing the FWD or BCK buttons scrolls through several page displays: Main radio — Navigation — Clock — Barometer/Altitude — GPS. Which pages are included in this scheme is user settable.
Pressing the SET button brings you to the menu groups. Once there, turning the left TUNING knob indexes or scrolls from one group to the next; pressing the knob selects and opens the group. Turning the knob indexes into the list of options within the group; pressing the knob selects the option for setting. Rotating the knob scrolls through the available choices for setting the option. The groups are: Audio, TX/RX, Display, Memory, APRS/PKT, Scan, System, Navi, Timer/Clock, Signaling and Option. So, most of the settings for this rig are implemented using the same buttons and procedures.
The five buttons below the display are called Smart Function Keys. Their functions change with the push of the F key, which is the lowest of the three buttons to the right of the display. There are four sets of functions with the optional Voice Guide Unit installed and APRS activated. Pressing and holding the F key brings up a fifth set of functions that control squelch type and tones.
A Special Function Mode is accessed by powering up while pressing the key to the left of the power key. In this mode you can reset the radio, reset APRS settings, setup cross-band repeat, control cloning, turn on Bluetooth pairing and so on.
Channel programming is equally simple. Each memory channel can store frequency, split/offset, tone, power level and alphanumeric label. I like the fact that the power level is included — it avoids accidentally using too much or too little power when changing channels, and results in less fumbling around while on the road. There are eight character positions for each alphanumeric entry. The large alphanumeric display is crisp and readable from several feet away. The frequency is also displayed in a smaller font. Each half of the radio has its own set of 500 programmable channels.
Yaesu's MH-48 microphone, which has four programmable P buttons, is included. These buttons can be set to most common functions such as TX power, repeater shift, reverse, scan or tone. There are also UP and DWN buttons that can be used to change channels or frequency in VFO mode. The alphanumeric keypad can be used for direct entry of numerical information, such as frequencies or pairing codes, and text for APRS text messages. The A, B and C buttons on the mic can be used to navigate the text message entry fields.
Packet Radio and Automatic Packet Reporting System (APRS)
Yaesu, with the FTM-350R joins Kenwood in providing mobile APRS. The Set Mode, APRS group, provides one-stop shopping for all APRS parameters such as MYCALL, SSID, icon, Beacon rate, SmartBeaconing Path, and so on.2 There are a number of interesting ways that beacons can be managed in this radio. In addition to manual, auto and SmartBeaconing, there are Interval, Proportional, Decay, Slow Speed and Rate Limit controls available. Proportional cycles through a series of Path routes over a period of time. Decay extends the preset beacon interval when your vehicle is stopped for a period of time. Your beaconed position can be fixed or based on actual coordinates with the optional GPS receiver attached.
Received positions are displayed on the full screen and include icon, distance, a graphic display of relative location, speed and coordinates. Received weather beacon information is decoded and displayed quite clearly. See Figure 1 for some examples. With the Smart Function keys set for the APRS functions, pressing the S LIST button brings up a list of received beacons; turning the left tuning knob indexes through the list. Pressing that knob selects and opens the beacon info for reading.
Text messaging works in similar fashion. After I received a message that was sent as a bulletin, a little message icon appeared on the main screen. Pressing the MSG button brings up a list of messages and turning the left tuning knob scrolls through the list. Pressing that knob selects and opens the message for reading and reply.
Muting the APRS side of the radio (the side you select) is an option that makes it possible to not have to turn down the volume to avoid listening to packet clatter. You can also select options for alerting you when various types of beacons are received.
Alerting has been taken to another level with this radio. Some of us manually set up a 100 Hz tone to be transmitted with position beacons. Receivers are set up to open squelch when they are close enough to the transmitter to decode the tone. Hearing packet clatter alerts you to the fact that you are within simplex range of another station (digipeaters do not repeat the tone), which means you could make voice contact on the APRS frequency and move to a different frequency to have a conversation if desired. Kenwood made this a feature in the TM-D710 that could simply be turned on and off.
Needless to say, this conventional 100 Hz tone arrangement could also be implemented on the FTM-350R. However, it seems Yaesu has adapted its proprietary alerting features (Enhanced Paging and Coded Squelch, EPCS — more on this later) to work with APRS. You can set up alerts when beacons and messages from specific stations are received, or for those received from any station meeting range criteria that you can set. With the Voice Guide Unit installed and MSG VOICE turned on (in the APRS/PKT Set group), call sign and message will be announced. There are filters that can be used to limit which beacons and messages will be announced. For example, it is possible to set up a filter so that only participants in a public service event are displayed.
We bought the CT-140 data cable to see how this radio would work with a PC. This cable has an 8 pin mini-DIN plug that goes into the data port on the main radio unit. On the other end of this cable are a 9 pin female D connector for a PC serial port, and a 6 pin mini-DIN connector for an external TNC. There is no information in either manual on using the built-in TNC for anything other than APRS. You can select either GPS or packet to be outputted on the data port. There are TXD and RXD pins on the serial PC connector diagram, but no PTT.
I tested the packet cable using Hyper-Terminal and mapping software. The GPS GPRMC and GPGGA sentences are sent, and they did spill into HyperTerminal with their coordinates reflected on the mapping software. (GPRMC and GPGGA sentences are standard strings of data that contain latitude and longitude, speed, bearing, time and other information used by GPS systems.) I switched the data output to the packet mode and saw raw APRS data spill out. I tuned to a local packet node frequency and saw its ID beacon and some other packet data. I could not get a command prompt, so could....