Time To Experiment
My POTA activations are supposed to be recreation. That is, they should involve setting up the station, operating it, getting enough contacts for an activation – or not! – and then packing up and heading home. This isn’t supposed to be stressful or a place to deal with the bumps one hits when using something for the first time. Usually, for me, it’s paired with something like camping or cycling so it isn’t really conducive to experimenting with new tools and techniques. That work is better done closer to the bench and the shack. Oh, and a good internet connection!
Friday, I got an unexpected hour in the afternoon to play radio in the backyard. I pulled out the Chameleon Delta Loop that I’ve been sitting on for a few weeks and the X6100 with the Surface. I got established on the patio with the radio gear and then set up the delta loop in the yard.
As with all things Chameleon, the deployment was simple and fast. It’s rugged and easy enough to setup and tear down with one person in 2 minutes or so. That time is extended if one has to keep radio beagles and radio rotties away from the investigating the antenna.
With it set up, I went to playing with the X6100 on FT8. It was the first time I’d hooked it up to the Surface with the intention of doing anything more than making sure that audio and CAT control worked. I plugged it into the delta loop and started to listen.
Observations – X6100
Look, the X6100 is NOT the IC-705. Not even close. There is no reason to compare them, but it’s almost impossible not to when the IC-705 is my regular activation radio and the X6100 is the one I would take camping or backpacking. More on that in a minute.
I will say that it feels barbaric to connect my computer to the radio with a cable. Knowing that the X6100 has WiFi and Bluetooth in it makes this even harder to choke down. It’s a software problem and I’m sure someone will solve it if Xiegu doesn’t. The added bit of weirdness is that, well, nothing is particularly well shielded. I get a little bit of buzz when the USB cable is attached. Not enough to disrupt anything, but enough that I notice.
The X6100 also gets really, really warm. I noticed this early on and found a mention in a forum somewhere about a particular heat sync that worked well. I grabbed a couple of them and stuck them on the back of the unit. For running digital modes, this is a must. It got really warm during OSPOTA last year, but the first few times I ran it with digital modes, it was hot enough to make a grilled cheese sandwich on it. The heat syncs help this a lot. It’s really critical if one is going to chase digital modes when it’s not below freezing outside.
All of this said, this little rig is a lot of fun and it does everything that it needs to do really well. It has a built-in ATU (which I’ve mentioned before) that seriously cuts down on the stuff I need to carry and power in the field. Removing this one item makes a difference. I’ve had success with a random wire antenna in a tree with the X6100 on phone activations and it was solid. It’s a very lightweight setup compared to the IC-705 (in my style of operation).
Observations – Chameleon Delta Loop Antenna
After setting up the antenna, I put the anazlyzer to it. It comes in well below 2:1 on all bands over 20m. My next deployment of that antenna with the IC-705 will see how hard the mAT-705 has to work to find a good match. My guess is: not very. In short, it’s like all of Chameleon’s antennas. It has a rugged build and performs exactly as one would expect. Perhaps even better.
The downside to this is that optimizing for rugged construction obviously makes for a less comfortable carry weight. The ground spike, Hybrid Micro, and one whip are usually pretty heavy. Heavier than I’d want to carry on a long trip. Add a second whip and the connector and all we’re doing is nearly doubling the weight. For a cycling trip, I wouldn’t think twice. I never do. I use the whip and the extension all the time. But for backpacking, I’d likely leav it all at home and go with a random wire or resonant antenna that I could deploy with a throwline into a tree.
In practice, I hit Houston and Hungary from the backyard on FT8 at 5 watts (or less). It’s really, really hard to complain about that.
Conclusions – X6100
The more I use it, the more I like the X6100. I still think it has a ton of potential as a very hackable radio. There’s a full Linux-based computer in that thing and hacking up firmware one can boot to on an SD card is powerful. This thing is a platform for people who are motivated. For the rest of us? It’s a great software defined transceiver. I wouldn’t be afraid to have this as my only portable rig. The pricetag is reasonable for the feature set and performance. It is certainly a more manageable price point than the IC-705 is for a lot of operators.
This is a versatile radio that gives an operator access to phone, CW, and digital modes on HF. There are very few nits to pick, all told. Yes, I do want wireless computer connections. But it’s not a showstopper. Like everything else in ham radio, there are compromises. If you’re optimizing for portability, versatility, AND price, it’s hard to go wrong with the X6100.