For those who know me well, it goes without saying that I love new technology and electronic gadgets. Despite rumors to the contrary, I don’t always get the latest thing that comes out. However, I have been intrigued by ICOM’s new touch screen radios ever since they came out with their all-band IC-7100. Since I tend to like having my HF rig separate from VHF/UHF communications, I did not get the IC-7100.
However, when I learned that ICOM was replacing their VHF/UHF D-STAR IC-2820 with a new touch screen model, I knew I would want to have that one. This is especially true because I make extensive use of my VHF/UHF radios at my desk and in my vehicle… even more so now that we have a local D-STAR repeater for both VHF and UHF. Until this recent change, I had an IC-2820H in my vehicle and an ID-880H at my desk. Now with an ID-5100A in both locations, I am not stripping my gears between different screen and menu types.
So, now that we have the background out of the way, on to my initial impressions.
I think I had watched every video that was out there on the ID-5100A. I had been constantly wiping the drool off my computer screen for months. Despite seeing these, I must say they do not do the screen of the radio control head justice. When I opened the box, I was amazed at the size of the screen. For someone who is retirement age, this screen is so much easier to read. The touch screen is quite responsive and because the radio has this touch screen, one has to re-think how they interact with the radio. We hams have gotten so used to going through layers of menu items, pushing multiple buttons, or pushing a button multiple times to get to one particular setting, we don’t quite know how to act when there is a deceptively simple way to do it using the touch screen.
Just a very easy example: On the IC-2820H or ID-880H, if you want to change the power level from the control head, you have to press the “Low” key several times to get to the power level you want. On the ID-5100A, you just have to press the power indicator letter on the screen, up pops a dialog, and you select the level you want. The entire screen is like that. Want to see your GPS location information? Just press the GPS symbol on the screen. Want to change the band in VFO mode? Just press and hold the frequency number on the screen and a dialog pops up with a list. That’s not to say one doesn’t have to go through the menu tree for certain settings. But, even that is well-organized and easy to do using the touch screen. In fact, the menu system is very similar to the ID-51 handheld, but using a touch screen instead.
The radio has other newer features, as well. For example, it has an optional Bluetooth capability. With the addition of an optional Bluetooth card, you can use ICOM’s pendant/earbud device. You can also use this in conjunction with a smartphone (currently Android-based only, although those of us with iOS devices are hoping ICOM will soon come to their senses). Also, the radio has an SD card slot for saving information from the radio, so you can use it on your computer or transfer it to another radio, much like the ID-51.
While I am not going restate all of the specifications here, the ID-5100A’s operating capabilities are very similar to the IC-2820H, with the following exceptions (not an exhaustive list):
- The touch screen, which I have already covered.
- The radio does not come with any mounting hardware. That must be purchased separately. I think ICOM was trying to keep the base price point of the radio down. Most places are selling the radio for around $750 and D-STAR/GPS is already included. Compare that to upwards of a $1000 for the IC-2820H with D-STAR/GPS. See Richard at Main Trading Company for deals.
- The GPS antenna is integrated into the control head on the ID-5100A, not a separate piece.
- The ID-5100A does not have a diversity receive antenna port like the IC-2820H does. I found I never really used that. I was probably not the only one, hence why ICOM dropped it from the ID-5100 features.
- The ID-5100A does have a low speed data port for DV data transfers/cloning, but not a packet port to which you could hook up a TNC.
- The ID-5100A allows for monitoring two DV channels at once. You could not do this on the IC-2820H.
- One does not have to power the radio on and off to enable/disable cross band repeat. Very simple menu option under “Others” on the ID-5100A. Very easy.
The ICOM product page for the ID-1500A is located here: http://www.icomamerica.com/en/products/amateur/dstar/id5100a/default.aspx
Be sure and watch the Amateurlogic.tv smack down between the ID-5100A and the IC-2820H on that page. It gives you a real indication of the differences between the two radios.
I am still learning all the capabilities of this radio model. But, as someone who enjoys a well-designed piece of hardware (I worked in the computer industry for three decades), I am very impressed with this offering from ICOM. It is so easy to use and I have used practically every brand out there over the years. If you are used to using computer tablets or touch screen vehicular GPS devices, you will feel right at home with this radio.
But, you need to see it first-hand to really appreciate it. All the reviews and videos help, but they just don’t do it justice. I suspect that once people get their hands on this at Dayton, HamCom, or with those of us who have one, ICOM is going to be treading water trying to keep up with demand. Great job, guys!
Gary Lewis – WG5L