Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Standard Horizon HX850S

The new Standard Horizon HX850s is a handheld VHF radio with a built-in GPS. This allows the digital (DSC) portion of the radio to always have a position to send to other DSC-equipped radios. The Coast Guard in the Pacific Northwest (Sector Seattle) can receive and act on DSC distress alerts so this radio seems a pretty useful piece of safety gear. To get all this to work you need to get a free MMSI number (from BoatUS if you are in the US).

After using an HX460s for many years the HX850s seems a bit bare. It works well - the radio sounds good, seems to have a sensitive receiver and an adequate transmitter, the GPS acquires quickly, and certainly seems accurate. The 460 has so many bands though that it's like cable vs. regular broadcast TV.

The HX850s display is large but compared to the HX460s it seems somewhat lo-res. The available display modes are useful but the available GPS info will take you back 15 years to units that only had lat/lon, COG and SOG. That's exactly as advertised and perfectly adequate for the intended use. After all this is a radio with a GPS and in an emergency the position is what is useful.

The unit has a strong magnetic field. It affects the steering compass much more than the HX460s and any other handheld VHFs I've had. Gotta be careful where you set it down. This is probably due to a large speaker magnet which is responsible for the unit's great sound. Too bad it doesn't get more bands like the 460 which I sometimes use as a portable AM/FM radio.

I ordered the optional AAA battery pack. I'll load it with lithium batteries and will keep the HX850s in my ditch bag. Makes a lot of sense there.

Update: the AAA battery pack arrived and, oddly, it takes five batteries. Not a problem but you either have to buy 10 batteries or tolerate one left over. I got 10 and vacuum-packed the whole lot and have it stored in my ditch bag.

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