Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Hands-On with the Home Patrol

Last month I wrote about the debut of the Uniden Home Patrol scanning radio, which brings all kinds of user-friendly functionality to the monitoring hobby.

Recently I had the opportunity to get a pretty good look at one, courtesy of my friend Tom. A picture of it in action is above. I apologize for not having something else in the picture to illustrate the unit's size to scale; it's about 7 inches long by 5 inches high and about 4 inches deep.

This is by no means meant as a technical or specialized overview. I approached this based on what I value in a radio, and the way someone for whom it is being marketed to would.

  • The functionality of the radio makes it exceedingly easy to operate and understand. The touchscreen controls are easy to use, whether you want to adjust the range (in miles) of what the automatically loaded frequency database will retrieve for monitoring, set a channel as a favorite (priority) or to avoid (lock out), or manually hold the receiver on a specific frequency or talkgroup. The Replay function plays back the last transmission received, and the Record function records all traffic received to an installed micro SD card.

  • One thing absent from the internal software is the ability to program frequencies into the database. You can directly input a single frequency to monitor, but can't make it part of the scanning database. This database is addressable via the included software and PC interface cable, and the Radio Reference database integral to the radio is updated at least once a week. It's probably a good idea to update the unit through your computer along the same time frame.
    I verified this via the Home Patrol website, which you can query by zip code to see examples of what the unit will receive. I sent updates to
    Radio Reference last week for new 800 Mhz frequencies now in use at Grand Junction Regional Airport, and they appeared on the Home Patrol website. Sweet.

  • The GPS functionality relies mostly on a "hockey puck" type GPS receiver and interface cable marketed specifically for the unit. As I mentioned previously, GPS receivers that communicate coordinates via the NMEA 0183 protocol will talk to Home Patrol, but connecting them is cumbersome and expensive. You do have options, however. The unit will accept manual GPS coordinate entry to program via the internal database.

  • The unit is not ruggedized. Care needs to be taken to avoid damage by impact or vibration.

  • The audio quality and volume is adequate for a home environment, but not hardly for the restaurant we were in, and ditto for a vehicle, office, or area with higher-than-usual ambient noise. My PRO-96 put it to shame in terms of volume.

  • Like just about any scanner, the provided stock antenna leaves much to be desired. My friend Tom had a more professional grade multi-band antenna that needed two adapters, one from BNC to SMA, and a 90-degree elbow so the antenna was positioned properly. The difference in reception quality was worth it, however.

I like this receiver, but not enough to spend upwards of $600 for everything I want to do with it. I'll wait for future iterations of the Home Patrol to do even more interesting things. Also, the hobbyist and programmer communities are likely developing software applications that will maximize the ease of updating and operating the unit.

The influences of things like online scanning via dedicated websites, IPhone or Android apps, and now dynamic updating of internal databases in receivers such as Home Patrol stands to re-energize the monitoring hobby in ways we have yet to understand and cannot predict.

As the old Chinese curse says, "may you live in interesting times". In more ways than this, to be sure.

Enjoy the rest of the week.

3 comments:

Tom Stiles said...

Very informative review. Sounds like it is one of those radios that if you have tons of money, buy it. Otherwise wait till someone sells it used.

Tom

Daryl Branson said...

It looks really portable. I can only imagine it be used by ambulance chasers, the curious, and bad guys.

John Linko said...

Daryl:

I think that you captured only a small part of the demographic.

The media, many volunteers in public safety (Search and Rescue, Victim Advocates) and public service agencies (Red Cross, Salvation Army) can also be included among those who could find potential value in this.

The Red Cross chapter in GJ serves a good chunk of the western slope, and their vehicles and personnel at times go well outside, i.e. Katrina. A scanner that will always monitor local activity no matter where it is in the country could be quite useful to them.

Among all of those little groups of law-abiding citizens that might find interest in the Home Patrol, I don't think that any of them deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence with "bad guys".