By Tony Langdon VK3JED
The Hytera PD36X series radios are entry level handheld radios capable of both FM (25/12.5 kHz channel spacing) and DMR digital operation. Until this year, I had not heard of Hytera, but a bit of online research revealed that Hytera is a well known Chinese manufacturer in the professional 2 way radio industry, supplying radios for commercial, government and emergency service uses around the world. Given the nature of Hytera’s main clients, I had high expectations of the Hytera PD36X radios, as far as performance went.
Unpacking and first impressions
PD362s still in their packaging.
Two Hytera PD362 portables arrived in two boxes, each containing one radio, charger, a belt clip, wrist strap, users manual, safety information and compliance documentation. In addition, a USB programming cable was supplied. The batteries were already installed, but required the removal of an insulating plastic strip, before the radios could be powered up. The belt clip was different to most radios that I’ve used before. Instead of being a simple bracket screwed to the back of the radios, they are more like a “back shell” that stays on the belt and cradles the radio. The radio can be easily clipped and unclipped from this belt clip. I found this design to be much easier to use than the traditional belt clips.
Inside each box
As for the radios themselves, they are very lightweight, but still feel solid. The PD362s lend themselves to slipping into pockets, if it is decided not to use the belt clips. I frequently found myself putting both radios in my pockets, each tuned to a different frequency. Their light weight and compact size meant I often forgot they were there, until a sound came out of the speaker.
The manual is fairly basic, covering the features of the radio from the point of view of a user who has had the radios pre-programmed for their needs. The English translation is quite good, with only a couple of minor grammatical points noticed, that don’t affect the clarity of the instructions. My only real criticism here is that a couple of functions weren’t explained in enough detail, and I had to do a bit of trial and error to see exactly how they worked. The small font on a relatively low contrast background would cause issues with visually impaired users.
Being a commercial radio, rather than an amateur radio, I was prepared for programming, before getting on the air. I also obtained a couple of radio IDs from DMR-MARC, so I could operate on the network. The programming software supplied, but not the driver for the USB cable. However, a quick search of the Hytera website revealed the driver download. Both the driver and the programming software installed easily on my ancient Windows 7 laptop, and with a couple of mouse clicks, I was able to download the programming already in the radio.
Programming the PD362
I then proceeded to program the radio, but the first attempt left me unable to access more than one channel. A quick read of the manual and online documentation revealed that the memories in the radio are organised into zones, which are like banks, each capable of holding 16 channels. I setup two zones, one for analogue FM repeaters and simplex frequencies of which there happened to be 16 in total of interest for the purposes of testing, and a second zone for DMR repeaters and simplex. In this zone, I programmed both timeslots, each set to listen for traffic on the talk groups expected on that timeslot. I also programmed a simplex frequency, using the DMR-MARC recommendation of TG99 on Slot 1.
Uploading this programming resulted in a fully working radio. The process was pretty painless, and the online help in the Hytera software was very useful for working out what many of the functions were. I was able to make use of the programmable buttons to enable easy power level switching, simplex ("Talk around" in commercial speak)/duplex switching and zone selection. Having two radios with different radio IDs, I also programmed slightly different zone names in each, so I could tell at a glance which one I was using, without having to go into the menus.
As there is no DMR infrastructure in my area, the radios were initially tested on local repeaters, as well as through my remote base, which allowed me to bring up test signals on command.
Monitoring the local 70cm FM repeater.
First tests were some casual contacts with local amateurs via the VK3RBO 70cm repeater. For this test, I went bicycle mobile, with my regular radio, an Icom IC-91AD mounted on the bike and one of the Hytera portables in my hand. On air reports were indistinguishable between the two radios. Both were rated as good to excellent audio quality. Similarly, on receive, both radios had great audio, though the Icom has issues being heard in noisy environments. The Hytera seemed to be a bit louder in the noise. Later testing in the city showed the Hytera radios to be able to be easily heard amongst the sounds of city traffic, while sitting in the belt clip, something which the Icom can struggle with.
Some basic testing was done using DMR on simplex. Initially, the orange LED that lights during the call hang time caused a bit of confusion, making me think PTT had somehow got stuck. Perhaps yellow or another colour might have been more suitable. However, once I was aware of this feature, the colour change from red to orange when releasing PTT became more obvious. In DMR mode, the audio was even easier to copy, though as expected, there was a slight "unnatural" sound, due to the vocoder. However, the audio on DMR is significantly better than that of D-STAR or P25, both of which I have used extensively, and in my opinion is quite pleasing to the ear.
Next came some more detailed testing of receive and transmit performance. The receive testing was done with the help of a remote base, which allowed me to provide relatively weak signals. With the compact built-in antennas on the PD362, I didn't expect miracles, but was pleasantly surprised when the Hytera radios demonstrated identical sensitivity as the Icom (with its external rubber duck antenna) to weak signals. On transmit, the Icom slightly outperformed the PD362s, which was expected, as the Icom is a 5 Watt radio, while the Hyteras are only 3 Watts. Further testing in the shack, where field strength could be more closely monitored revealed that the difference on transmit could be explained by the power difference between the two radios. Those inbuilt antennas actually perform quite well, while making the PD362 a truly pocket sized unit.
The final place of testing involved a trip to Melbourne, 160km away. This was necessary to be able to access the DMR-MARC infrastructure. Unfortunately, it turned out that the Melbourne DMR repeater was off air at the time, and with the next nearest DMR repeater over 1000km away, further testing was not possible in the time available. However, being in the city gave an opportunity to test the PD362s under more difficult conditions. Inner city Melbourne, like many cities is full of strong out of (amateur) band signals, which swamp the front ends of most amateur grade handheld VHF and UHF receivers. My IC-91AD suffers moderate interference from these out of band signals. The Hytera PD362 passed this test with flying colours, with not the slightest bit of out of band crud bleeding through. The commercial pedigree of the PD362 shines through here, the high RF environmental performance being the best of any radio I've ever used in the Melbourne CBD in the last 25 years. I was able to hold a conversation on a repeater 20km away, without the slightest sign that there was strong RF in my vicinity, despite deliberately choosing a site that put me in close line of sight to the antennas in the middle of the city. If you regularly operate in the vicinity of other UHF transmitters, I can highly recommend the PD36X series radios.
Testing the PD362s in Melbourne
With regards to battery life, Hytera rates the PD36X radios at 9 hours in FM mode and 10 for DMR. The testing I have done suggests that at the duty cycles specified, this is quite possible. In quieter areas like where I live, the battery will easily last a day, with the vast majority of time spent in standby, and only infrequent transmission and reception. Under these quiet conditions, the battery is still more than 2/3 charged after 8-10 hours. After 30 minutes of transmit/receive operation and a couple of hours standby, the top segment of the battery indicator turned off, which again is a better result than amateur grade handhelds usually achieve at power levels around 3W.
The PD36X series radios are an excellent entry level FM/DMR portable. In the time I've had the PD362s, I've grown to love them. They are a convenient size, yet have the performance associated with bigger and heavier radios. With their good battery life, they are also radios you can leave on all day monitoring a channel, whether in your pocket or on your belt. The provision of FM is useful for those who need to maintain the ability to use legacy systems, while DMR capability allows for the migration to this digital technology, with its better voice quality, spectrum efficiency, talkgroups and text messaging features. If you’re considering getting into DMR, definitely consider the PD36X series portables. Not only will you gain DMR capabilities, but you will also gain a solid radio that will find many uses around the shack or workplace.
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*PD36X, X=2, 5,6 or 8, model number varies geographically.