Historically speaking, I’m very good with my cellular phones. I get very good life out of them and have managed to NEVER lose, trash, flush, or otherwise damage any cell I’ve had. That said, I’m extremely picky about my cellulars – they must fit my needs. I don’t go hunting solely for the latest and greatest. If I buy a phone and I’m not happy with it for some reason within the first few months, I replace it. It’s about function, ease of use, and security.
For the last few years I’ve been using an iPhone 6S+ 128GB phone that has served me well. Has a large screen, a ton of memory, easy of use and better-than-average security. Lately, however, the battery has performed poorly. I ended up putting it in a case that doubles the depth of the phone – in exchange for enough battery to last me 3 days without recharging. Pretty cool, but heavy — and made it hard to connect special devices that attach to my phone, like the FLIR Thermal Camera. So I’d been debating what to do with this situation. Problem was, I haven’t been enamored with any of the newer phones, which took away things I valued — like a wired headphone jack with full definition audio output.
I’d been looking at the RFinder B1 for awhile and, while not my ideal phone, it appeared to bring something major to the table that made me consider this direction: A unified UHF/VHF/DMR radio and cellular built into one unit. Not just an amateur radio, but an FCC Type Accepted radio that covered the commercial/public safety bands as well. That’s a big deal in my realm…
I purchased the RFinder and several accessories and move in a direction that would make this my primary portable system. (I’m not a fan of carrying multiple devices with me, when possible). The iPhone can head off for proper battery replacement since the phone is in otherwise excellent condition, leaving me with a great backup — and the phones operate by simply switching the SIM from one to the other and I’m immediately operational. Sweet!
The RFinder B1 is an experimental radio/cellular for me. It’s not cheap, (about $1500 by the time it arrived) but it appears well built and sturdy. It has good water-resistance, loud audio for the speaker (loud enough that you want to turn it down when you’re on speakerphone because people on the other side of the restaurant will easily hear your caller!).
I’ve had it for a couple of days and, I must be honest, I’m not a fan of Android. The UI of the iPhone is miles ahead and, as is typical with Apple products, “makes sense”. Android requires more thought and searching to find that elusive setting to solve an issue… (What’s my phone number?! Where do I find it?!) I’ll wade through that side of the equation and get used to it. That’s the cost of changing platforms.
Initial impressions? First, the unit runs a major version of the O/S behind what is generally used – this is due to special needs from the radio portion of the unit. I’m told that the B1 will receive a revision when the next iteration of the O/S is released (not documented, just a word-of-mouth thing), although I don’t have an idea of when that will take place. I will live with that, but the lack of certainty combined with poor communications from the manufacturer is a significant distraction from what I want from any piece of equipment I purchase. Next, the screen size is disappointing for me – I’m going blind and I have hand tremors, so the size of the screen is an issue that’s harder to work through. I manage, but it doesn’t make me happy. Lastly, and maybe it’s just me, but locating source documentation and instruction is, well… not going well. When I purchased the radio I was told I needed to update an application via the Google Play store — but I haven’t been able to locate it. There was some other item that needed to be upgraded/updated, but my feeble brain has forgotten what that was. Had it come with some useful guidance, this would have made me feel less incompetent…
Today (day 2), I managed to get some needed software installed, the Google Suite and Google Authenticator running, and a couple of other much-needed utilities. It’s less of a brick now. That said, I was at a customer’s location and had to find an email which had been sent me — with a 24 character authentication code… Holy cow, seeing it was a trick and required enlarging the screen – not something I’ve had to do on my iPhone. I guess I’ll get used to it. I managed to play with the two-way radio function and brought up a local repeater – easy to do. It was at this point that I discovered just how loud the speaker was… I was in a restaurant and someone began speaking on the repeater and you could hear it easily at the opposite corner of the room. Hitting what I though was the volume control buttons on the side of the unit did not reduce the volume and I ended up shutting off the radio until I have time to sort it out.
One of the cool things about the radio is that it pulls the data for all of the amateur radio and DMR systems near you – automatically – so you (a) don’t have to manually enter them (if you’re not an amateur: Just in podunk Grays Harbor there are about 20, which translates into time to insert them in any other radio). That’s a big plus… On the down side I found that there are repeaters that were pulled and sent to the radio which have not been active in 2-3 years – meaning that someone unfamiliar with the area could be frustrated when they attempt to use the non-existent sites. I’m a little annoyed that there’s a $10/mo subscription fee to access this data… Why? By the time I was done, this radio cost me over $1500… That’s a lot of money to throw after a radio that’s, well, cool but not-the-cat’s-meow. Plus $120/year? That’s on top of your monthly cellular bill so this isn’t an inexpensive toy for what you’re paying — and you’re kinda stuck on the hook to do this, or end up missing out on the meaningful use of the radio. I think, since part of the argument for the monthly fee is the cost of maintaining the database, would be to identify people in the region who can keep the data accurately maintained…
As I continue to work through this change I’ll keep you updated — and use this page to gather useful information for other owners of the RFinder B1.
Sunday, September 28
I had the opportunity to spend a few hours on the unit today as I attempted to resolve a couple of problems. The outcome(s) remain unresolved at this time.
- I can key up a local repeater and, monitoring the signal on my service monitor, I can see/hear the outgoing signal. The repeater comes back on the output frequency and, using the service monitor, I can see/hear the signal just fine. On the radio, however, the indicator light for the received signal lights, but I hear no audio. I’ve cranked the volume and the indicator under RFinder shows we’re at level 5 – but nothing’s heard. Squelch is set appropriately, sound levels are the same. This took me to an alternative solution: Use a simplex channel and see what signal level is required to trip the incoming audio. That’s covered in #2…
- Trying to set up a frequency for 146.52 simplex on the radio and store it. After much trial/error I finally realized there’s a separate list for storing personal preference frequencies — but they aren’t handled from the same screen that appears to be the appropriate place to see this information. Doable, but not convenient and flies against convention for normal operation. Also, this would be an absolute nightmare to input my frequency list as the work has to be done by hand, from the device. There appears to be no tool to push a spreadsheet or other typed solution to the radio and doing this task for around 1000 frequencies by hand, on the small interface of the radio makes me question it’s value.
- Lack of a meaningful manual. A small manual with very little important information was provided with the radio but it lacks specificity and meaning. I spent an hour trying to locate a more useful manual but it appears that none exists. The manual may have proved helpful in solving problem #1, might have given answers about #2, and should have explained things like: What is the function of the POC switch on the side of the radio? When the radio is left on and the radio is in sleep mode, will it still receive? Do I need to log in again to TX? What can I do with invalid data in the database? Is there a method for doing bulk updates to the database? Is there an alternative for inputting bulk (local) data into the radio like via USB?
- Updates? When I purchased the radio I was told to update the RFinder app on the Play store. Problem is, there’s no update available.
- RFinder Pro – what’s different? What’s required for me to use it, since I can’t find a place to register, etc., so I can make it work. Same with the IMEI app.
I see the concept regarding the usefulness of the radio – but that assumes reasonable support. Currently, however, it is an experimental device that has potential but isn’t ready for prime time.
The last few days have been interesting. Had some free time to work with the radio, try a few things, and see where it took me… After much frustration I have managed to get to the point of consistently receiving audio as I expected it should work. The solution? Reset the unit and start over. That said, the remainder of my list of issues/concerns remains. It has been 5 days since I sent two emails to the seller of the radio (radiofinder) and, so far, have received no response. None. Nada. Zip, zero, and zilch.
I’ve decided that, for now, my smarter course of action is to drop a SIM back in my iPhone 6S+, take it in for a new battery, and use it as my primary device – that will allow me to continue to function properly and play with the B1 until I get answers, or run the thing through the shredder.
I’ve made it a point to carry the B1 with me at all times. When I wanted to be proficient with the guitar, I carried it with me everywhere and practiced with every spare minute. About the 10,000 hour mark I found that I was quite proficient. I’m hoping the B1 doesn’t fall into the same mode.
At this point I have use of the basic functions of the Rfinder application, but the underlying complaints remain – inaccurate database information and lack of unity between the “main” data and anything you create. An oddity found: There’s a knob on top of the radio, as well as an up/down pair of switches on the right (volume control style). Apparently, the volume control switches on the side only control phone functions related to audio. The knob on top only controls the radio volume. EXCEPT when the unit has gone to sleep (i.e., you’re not actively logged into the phone). At that point, the knob is dead.
I’ve reached out to the Rfinder people (again) and feel like I’m an unwanted step-child. No response, even after a direct email to Bob ( W2CYK ) who has affiliation with sales in the US. At this point, I guess the best answer is to start pushing this story into the search engines and do what I do best to draw attention to the shortcomings of this unit. Maybe that will encourage better communications and lead to resolving some of the noted issues.