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Reviews Categories | Transceivers: VHF/UHF+ Amateur Base/Mobile (non hand-held) | Kenwood TM-281A Help

Reviews Summary for Kenwood TM-281A
Kenwood TM-281A Reviews: 78 Average rating: 4.4/5 MSRP: $174.95
Description: 2 meter FM mobile transceiver providing 65 watts of power
Product is in production.
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K5AHH Rating: 5/5 May 22, 2018 15:57 Send this review to a friend
Nice Overall  Time owned: more than 12 months
I've owned this radio since 2013, and it's never missed a beat. Easy for ME to program because the way you program it is very similar to the Kenwood handhelds I've owned. Loud audio when traveling in the pickup, too. I used to keep the radio in a Havis brand center console over the transmission hump in my 2013 Chevrolet Silverado, but I've since removed it, and installed a Kenwood TK-7160H (basically the commercial version of the Kenwood TM-281A). The 281A is still in service at the house, though.

--I really wish Kenwood would have a "5" watt setting for really long QSOs, or even have the power output setup like this: 5, 10, 15, etc. until it gets to 65. It probably would not take much finagling from some Kenwood engineer, lol! Also, I wish the radio had the heatsink on top like my ICOM IC-2200H did, or the ICOM IC-V8000 I had with a heatsink on top AND a small fan on the back. I guess a downward facing heatsink is perfectly acceptable for short transmitting for periods of time, but I am long winded at times, so when using the radio in the house, I simply got a small desk fan and forced the air onto the sink! Works FB.

--The audio from the front-firing speaker (I love front-firing speakers, since I have my mobile radios in a Havis Console which would otherwise block a top or bottom-firing speaker) sounds much nicer, overall, when compared to radios I've owned such as the ICOM V8000, ICOM IC-2200H, and Yaesu FT-8000.

--These are just really good radios, and for $130, you can't beat it. I'd give it a 4.5 because of the bottom-facing heatsink (heat rises, yes?), and the lack of a lower power level of 5-10 watts. I've learned to live with these "quirks", if you want to call it that, and I'll just give it a 5. Thanks, Kenwood! Nice little radio.
SWLCHRIS Rating: 2/5 Mar 25, 2018 17:57 Send this review to a friend
Good radio Bad directions  Time owned: 0 to 3 months
I got my Kenwood TM 281A Saturday at HRO in New Castle DE. I got it home, took some 12 gauge wire to the battery and hooked everything up. It turned on and I began a nightmare 45 minutes to an hour trying to program what should have been easy repeater settings in the channels.Each time I went to enter a repeater setting, it got lost. I had my choice of NOAA or nothing when I would try to pull up the memories I just programmed.It wouldn't hold a memory if I had a gun put to my head. I was on the verge of taking my day off to return the radio and get something else.
Something told me to google Kenwood TM281 memory issues and there was the answer !!
It appears that in the manual it states to press MR button when ready to commit to memory.Which is what I was doing.
What it DOESN"T say is that you have to press MR twice to have the memory set.
As soon as I did that ...everything worked great. I now have my local repeaters and simplex programmed in and easy to access.
So far as radio quality goes, it seems to work a lot better than the Chinese radio I had before or the Alinco handheld I had in the Jeep.I"m able to hit repeaters 30 miles away with ease using my dual band antenna on the roof of the truck. I don't have the intermod issues of the Chinese rig I had before or the random signals from the Alinco.
Time will tell how this radio performs but for a new ham that lack of thorough direction in the manual might be a dealbreaker if they don't look up the issues.
K4TK Rating: 4/5 Dec 11, 2017 08:21 Send this review to a friend
Use mine as a base station setup  Time owned: more than 12 months
I use mine for 2 meters at the house as a base station. I have no complaints, though I admit, I'm more of an HF I don't use my rig a lot.

But for me, all the features and performance are just fine. I have the quick cheat sheet instructions by an aftermarket company, and that keeps me straight on all the features/config.
KE5EDV Rating: 1/5 Jun 12, 2017 14:00 Send this review to a friend
No Longevity  Time owned: more than 12 months
Bought this unit last Mar. or Apr. Had it installed in my truck and it has worked fine so far. Good audio fairly easy to program . This weekend however I started having problems. It seemed to be stuck in the Memory Mode.
I called Kenwood and was able to get a technician the very first try within about 5 seconds. Unfortunately after doing everything for him as he walked me through it that I had already tried several times. After I did all of the things he asked, He said, that it needed to be serviced. He then asked if it was under warranty and I said I think it had just ran out . He then stated as a matter of factly I'd just need to buy a new one. I thought since it had just ran out they might still do something. He said they'd work on it for $75.00 an hour plus shipping. So, needless to say this will probably be my first and only Kenwood.
KD6NXI Rating: 5/5 May 17, 2017 13:10 Send this review to a friend
Easy to use.  Time owned: 6 to 12 months
Easy to use and has good audio. Entering menu is a little confusing. Rugged.
N6QN Rating: 1/5 Jun 28, 2016 11:51 Send this review to a friend
Works but short-lived  Time owned: more than 12 months
This is--was--my third Kenwood 2-meter mobile. It lasted just over a year. I had two TM-261's before then: both died just over warranty. When it worked, the 281 did an adequate job: nothing special. I have programming software, which made it a whole lot easier to set up. My replacement will be of another manufacturer.
NW0LF Rating: 5/5 Apr 23, 2016 06:35 Send this review to a friend
Excellent Radio  Time owned: more than 12 months
I have had the radio now for almost 2 years as a base station. I have had to add a fan to mine because the radio will run hot under extended transmission. I wouldn't hesitate to buy another or recommend the purchase. I like that it is simple to program unlike my Baofeng-well the Baofeng is with Chirp. I have had as base stations an Icom IC-2100 and 207H. Good radios but I got the Kenwood for a good price and don't regret a thing.
WA0UAY Rating: 5/5 Apr 22, 2016 13:58 Send this review to a friend
Excellent  Time owned: 0 to 3 months
Just installed the 281 in the SUV. This is the third unit I have had and always impressed with the quality and ease of operation. Programming is simple, front mounted speaker is a real plus. Go ahead and get one. There are no issues with this radio. The only thing I would mention is a slight rattle sound of the speaker at higher volumes, but not objectionable at all.
A proven solid transceiver!
N4BBN Rating: 5/5 Feb 12, 2016 17:22 Send this review to a friend
Radio Hits the Mark  Time owned: 0 to 3 months
The TM-281 is my first ham rig (although I've been around the hobby and radio equipment for many years). This is a tough little radio -- nothing prissy about it. The front face and display are simple and uncluttered. The display is easy to read in all light conditions. Signal reports have been excellent, and the receiver is sensitive -- even through a quarter wave mounted on the trunk lip. I only have to use the high power occasionally -- and I live in extremely hilly country. Many folks complain that the hi/lo pwr setting is global and not programmable to individual channels, but I find that a plus, because it's easier for me to keep track of whether I'm operating high power or not, and I'm not burning up the radio using 65 watts when I don't need to.

This radio is almost too easy to program. Although Kenwood offers the software for free, since the radio is mounted in the car, I had no way to get my desktop out there to program it. But a quick read through the manual and a couple of moments with the buttons and I programmed everything I need right now with disturbing ease. Since I don't have experience with any other 2 meter radios, I can't make a comparison, but I can say that the radio is not intimidating to field program.

I don't know why everyone gripes about the menu-driven squelch. It's a two-button process, for Pete's sake! And I never need to adjust it. The offsets are automatic unless it's an odd offset, and even then both offset and tone are easily field-programmed. There are 100 channel slots if you use alpha-numeric designations ( also easy to program), 200 if you simply use the frequency designations. The buttons on the face are dual-function. The main function is printed on the button, and the secondary function (accessible by pressing the "function" button) is printed on the face above the button.

The radio is lightweight, small, and fits easily into the under-dash console. The front panel isn't sexy; it looks more like a commercial unit (which I prefer) and utilitarian. The mic is substantial, and the buttons easy to see and use. I programmed one of the four programmable buttons to do direct number input (rather than spinning the tuning dial).

The radio is the right price. I paid $129 for a brand new unit on sale from HRO. I'm thinking of getting a second one to use as a base unit. Always been a fan of Kenwood and this radio does not disappoint. Glad I bought it; would definitely buy it all over again.
KA2AYR Rating: 5/5 Jan 8, 2016 11:50 Send this review to a friend
Closest to Land Mobile Radio ham VHF transceiver I've seen...  Time owned: more than 12 months
I have two of these and I'm buying a third. The user interface on some radios is horrible. Twist this, push that three times, wait for the beep, push another button, just to get to another menu. Other radios only display frequencies rather than mnemonics, or have a cluttered, busy display that would confound people who don't want to diddle with a radio. Not to mention, how do you get back to where you need to be if you push the wrong button or get lost in the menu?

There are times and places for those kinds of radios, but not for my family. They each have valid amateur radio licenses, but are not necessarily into the "ham experience" of dialing in frequencies while driving. I needed a radio with good performance and a simple user interface. Something exactly like a land mobile radio, and that's really what I wanted. Something with just a volume control, an alphanumeric display, and a channel knob. Except those usually have to be modified or cracked in some way to get into the amateur band, and their performance might be degraded. They'd look pretty, and work pretty badly, unless I change chip caps, replace electrolytics, put brass screws in the coils, use a hex editor to get on frequency, dig out one of the old 386 computers in the garage to program it, and completely realign it because the alignment points were all above 150 MHz. Forget that!

That's where this radio comes in. It's inexpensive and it's not complicated. While this radio can be operated from the front panel with key and knob sequences, or mic entry, I can program it with software to make it very simple to use and assign names to channels with nothing else displayed. This way, my wife can meet me on the "SOUTH" repeater, because it's on the display. I can have her switch to direct because I programmed it as a channel and the display says "DIRECT." It also does narrowband FM (RX and TX) and will receive on 7.5 and 12.5 kHz channel centers. The only drawback is that it won't receive aviation. Otherwise, it will receive between 136-174 MHz in carrier, CTCSS, or CDCSS squelch.

It's also pretty small, fits into smaller vehicles without taking up all the space, and has a fairly decent mic - although a full-sized Kenwood KMC-27B microphone will plug directly in and work fine if I want to get rid of the keypad (seditious, I know).

Wish the TM-481A was marketed in the US.
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