|Solid, flexible and reliable dual-band HT
||Time Owned: 0 to 3 months.
|This is actually a comparison review with the Yaesu FT-60R, which I published on my personal site at http://n2rac.com/yaesu-ft-60r-vs-icom-ic-t70a-comparison . I am reposting here, for the benefit of fellow hams who are interested in buying either model. Note that you can also find side-by-side images on the review linked above.|
*Yaesu FT-60R vs. Icom IC-T70A Comparison*
While many hams are switching to digital radios, there are still many among us who enjoy older technologies, be they fixed stations, mobile radios or handheld portables. Of course, for the beginner ham, the portable radio is among the most popular choices in getting into the hobby. The popularity of inexpensive China-brand radios like the Baofeng UV-5R series is often cited as a factor that sparks interest in the hobby.
In terms of durability, reliability and receive sensitivity/selectivity, however, you can’t go wrong with a branded radio — Icom, Yaesu or Kenwood, or even Motorola (even though the latter focuses mostly on commercial rigs). As basic dual-band portables, the Yaesu FT-60R and the Icom IC-T70A are perhaps the most accessible given their price.
These aren’t exactly new devices. The Yaesu FT-60R was introduced in 2004 as a successor to the versatile FT-50R. The Icom IC-T70A was launched in 2010 as a dual-band cousin of the V80. However, given that these two radios use their respective brands’ current accessories (batteries, chargers, etc.), they are still considered to be current models.
In fact, the FT-60R’s longevity is testament to how much hams love that particular model. At eHam, there are around 33 pages of reviews for the FT-60R, while there are only three for the IC-T70A.
I have not read any comparison reviews, so far. But when you do a search for a no-frills dual-band handheld, these two would often come at the top, and people often ask for a comparison, to help them decide between the two.
As chance would have it, I got the opportunity to acquire both radios. I had to sell several handhelds to cover for the cost, however. But it was worth it.
This review will be a work in progress, since I don’t have time to write lengthy pieces, and I sometimes discover something new on the radios as I use them. Instead of a full review, I’ll compare points of difference between the two, to help fellow amateur radio enthusiasts choose.
Yaesu FT-60R. Around $135 equivalent, used. For the price, I got the radio, 1400 mAh NiMH battery and rapid charger, which the original owner, fellow club member DV1YAI, was kind enough to bundle in. I think the charger itself is around a $25 value.
Icom IC-T70A. Around $167 equivalent, used. For the price, I got the radio, two 1400 mAh NiMH BP-264 batteries and the rapid charger. Quite a good deal, since apparently the original retail package only includes either regular/slow charger or just the plug-in DC adapter. The rapid charger itself is a $25 value.
I actually had to sell a few other HTs to acquire these two dual-band units, particularly two Icom IC-V80 units that I loved, as well as a classic Yaesu FT-50R I’d been playing around with.
I was actually considering keeping my BP-265 batteries that I used with my two IC-V80 handhelds, and selling the NiMH packs that were part of the IC-T70, since I was already used to the rapid charging and charge-anytime capabilities. However, when I learned that the BP-265 could not be charged from the radio’s DC jack, I decided to stick with the NiMH.
By the way, I also have an Icom F4003 — the channelized commercial variant, which shares battery platforms with the IC-V80 and IC-T70. Good times!
*Build and physical characteristics*
Both radios are approximately sized the same, although the Yaesu is a bit shorter in height and marginally slimmer. The belt clip is flatter, and it does not protrude at the back too much compared with the Icom’s.
Yaesu FT-60R. Battery clip attaches to the radio via metal bracket and screws. The battery clip houses the loop for the hand strap/lanyard. The radio has rubber gaskets at the battery, although it is not rated for splash resistance (I suppose the battery’s rubber gasket is meant for the FT-270R, which is “submersible”. I notice that the radio’s external chassis is metallic, at least the sides and rear.
Icom IC-T70A. Battery clip attaches to the battery via plastic clip. The hand strap attaches to the radio itself. The unit is rated at IP-54, which means it can withstand splashes, shocks and dust. Unlike the IC-V80, though, its mic/spk port does not require a screwed-in cover, which provides easy access (which might compromise water resistance a bit, though).
Using the Icom with a BP-265 Li-Ion battery makes it fatter, although lighter. I don’t mind the bit of heft now that I’ve switched to NiMH BP-264 (more on this later).
Winner: The Icom IC-T70A because of its IP-54 rating. The FT-60R looks solidly built, however, with a metallic chassis. Still, both lose out on points by using an SMA-male connector. I prefer BNC because of the strength and versatility — you can easily switch across antennas without worrying about tread wear (I read that SMA has a maximum of 500 cycles). Such is life, I guess — manufacturers need to save up on space and cost. I just bought an SMA-M to BNC adapter so I can use my old antennas.
Yaesu FT-60R. The Yaesu’s volume control and squelch dial are analog potentiometers. The volume button acts as the power switch, too. However, the VFO/channel dial seems a bit too clicky for my taste. It also does not have an “accelerate” feature, which increases the speed as you turn the dial faster. What it does have is a separate “up” and “down” buttons on the keypad, which, while a duplication of the dial’s functionality, can come in handy during one-handed operation.
Also, The Yaesu supports a host of keypad shortcuts, some of which are even programmable. You can also easily switch across channels by pressing the number and then the F/W button.
Icom IC-T70A. The Icom’s volume control is digitally-actuated, as is the squelch. In fact, there’s no dedicated squelch dial. You have to hold down the MONI key and turn the dial to adjust squelch. The radio offers an “auto squelch” feature, though. Power button is a toggle switch. I like how the dial feels, as it seems more solidly built than the Yaesu’s. Plus, it has an “accelerate” feature, which means the options scroll faster while you increase turning speed — useful when inputting alpha tags.
Unfortunately, the keypad controls are a bit cumbersome. There are four dedicated option keys at the upper row, but no numeric keypad shortcuts. Also, the number 0 and the * and # characters are located at the right side rather than the bottom row.
Winner: Yaesu, because of the keypad shortcuts and. Also, many prefer the analog squelch and volume dials.
However, I like the feel of the Icom’s dials and its “acceleration” support.
Both devices come with DC ports, which can be used to charge the NiMH battery pack. Newer retail packages of the IC-T70A -- marked IC-T70A HD -- come with the Li-Ion battery pack and charger. This does not support charging using the DC jack, but The BP-265 does offer longer operation time. So it’s a tradeoff!
Yaesu FT-60R. While the Yaesu provides a way to charge via DC port, you cannot transmit while plugged in (at least not on high power) with the supplied adapter. It will power-cycle, since the wall wart can only output 500 mA, whereas high power operation requires around 1.5A. One advantage is that the radio’s DC port is the same size as the rapid charger’s port, which means there is no need for a separate wall wart or adapter. One disadvantage: no charging indicator when plugged in.
I bought an FBA-25 dry cell case for the Yaesu. I actually use NiMH cells. I stripped off part of one cell’s wrapping, so I can charge the batteries in the radio itself when needed. The larger-capacity Fujitsu cells (1,900 mAh) actually outlast the stock 1,400 mAH battery pack. You can opt for bigger-capacity Eneloops, but these might not fit as some rechargeable cells are larger in diameter.
Icom IC-T70A. The Icom has a clear advantage here, however, as it displays a CHARGING indicator when plugged in — both while powered off or on. It gives a full charge indication, too. On the other hand, the Yaesu does not have such an indicator. The Icom’s DC jack uses a smaller barrel, however, which means you will need a different wall wart or an adapter that converts the supplied charger to a smaller diameter.
I actually have adaptors for both barrel sizes, so I sometimes just charge using a 12V wall wart that supports higher currents. I also bought a plug-in adapter for the car’s power socket (bought from DW1XXO for P80).
Both devices have voltage indicators, although the Icom can only display voltage when you power up the unit. The Yaesu gives you access to voltage in the menu system, and it can even be assigned to a keypad shortcut. This means you can monitor the voltage drop when you TX.
Both have their respective AA battery cases, which are excellent for emergency comms use, since you can simply use alkaline AA cells. Unfortunately, while it’s easy to source FBA-25 for the Yaesu, it’s hard to find the BP-263 dry cell case for the IC-T70A (or the V80 for that matter).
In terms of battery options, the IC-T70A supports the BP-265 or Li-Ion package, which offers around 30 to 40 percent more capacity over the NiMH. It also comes with a quick charging option (2.5 hours). You cannot charge the Lithium-based cells using the DC jack, however.
I believe Vertex Standard also has a Li-Ion battery and charger set for the Yaesu, but it’s an expensive option under the Vertex commercial brand.
Verdict: Both have their ups and downs. Both models have wide support, so you shouldn’t find it hard to source new compatible batteries. The FT-60R is compatible with VX-150, VX-250 and FT-270R batteries. The IC-T70A is compatible with V80, U80 batteries.
Yaesu FT-60R. Illuminated keypad, with dedicated “lamp” key at the side. You can also change backlighting settings to KEY, 5SEC or TOGGLE, as with most Yaesu handhelds. The amber backlight is quite dimmer than the Icom’s more modern-looking green lamp, however.
Icom T70A. Keyboard is not illuminated, so you might struggle with using the device in the dark. The alpha tags are quite weird-looking, too, since the character set requires that some letters are lowercase, while some are uppercase. So, for instance, DX1ARM will become dX1ARm. This is unlike with the Yaesu, which has enough LCD characters to produce all uppercase letters — easier on the eyes, in my opinion.
Neither device has a dot-matrix display for the alpha tags and frequencies, however, unlike the Baofengs. Neither has dual channel or VFO display either. Those are a few things that the Chinese brands got right.
One feature that I miss from my old FT-50R, which the FT-60R loses, is the dual VFO. The FT-50R had a secondary display, which could display either the secondary VFO or live DC reading. I like that particular radio’s dual-watch functionality while in VFO mode. The FT-50R scans each A or B VFO alternately every 200 ms, unlike the priority watch feature on the FT-60R or IC-T70A, which only scans the priority channel every 4-5 seconds. This is also not unlike how today’s Baofengs do it.
(Update: I have found a workaround to the dual watch limitation. On both radios, I have programmed a channel bank for my 2-3 favorite channels, and I simply run a scan.)
The screens are approximately the same size, and both have almost edge-to-edge S-meters. I’m aware that Yaesu amateur HTs usually feature S-meters, whilst Icom does not always offer this. In partcular, the Icom IC-V80 only had three bars on its meter, which is quite unusable.
I wonder, however, why the Icom’s S-meter will often give a higher signal report than the Yaesu. It’s the same with the FT-50R. either Yaesu is conservative in its signal reports, or Icom is over-reporting the S-value, or the Icom is more sensitive.
Winner: Yaesu, although the Icom’s brighter screen might make up for the lack of keypad lighting.
*Memory management / channels*
Yaesu FT-60R. 1,000 memory channels. 10 memory banks. You can assign each channel to as many memory banks you like. Banks cannot be named, however. You can have one calling/home channel per band. And only channel #1 can be the priority scan channel when in memory mode. However, you can set any channel as priority scan while in VFO mode.
You have the option for scan skip or scan “only”. However, unlike with the FT-2900R mobile, you have to manually choose in the menu whether to scan all non-skipped channels or scan the “only” channels (in the FT-2900R, if you start scan on an “only” channel, it only scans “only” channels).
Icom T70A. 250 channels. 26 memory banks (A-Z). You can only assign each channel to one memory bank. You can name memory banks. There are also two calling channels, which you can easily switch to with the V/M/C button (and you can scroll across calling channel #1 and #2 with the dial). Unlike the IC-V80, which has an “enter” key, you need to key in the three digits channel (say, 008 instead of just 8-enter). A minor niggle, but it can affect the workflow.
Scan can be done for the band, channels, banks or between the duplex frequencies. You can also skip channels, although there are no “scan only” options. However, you can select channels that you can skip while scanning VFO (great for skipping those frequencies with interference).
Both allow linked scanning, although the Yaesu is more straightforward in the steps needed to link banks for scan. It also has a quick access key to scan linked/preferred banks. Just press and hold V/M, and it will scan the preferred or linked bank/s.
The verdict: I like how the Yaesu allows you to assign a channel to different banks, and how easily you can switch banks. However, I like how the Icom has more banks and that you can name each bank. I also like how you can lock the keypad while doing a scan with the Icom.
Yaesu FT-60R. One of the selling points of this model, along with many other Yaesu portables, is the wide RX range. The FT-60R receives from 108 MHz up to 999.99 MHz, with some gaps in between. It’s not as wide as the FT-50R’s 76-999.99 MHz, but no one really uses much of this range, I presume. The saving grace is the AM capability, which lets you eavesdrop on airband conversations between planes and air traffic control usually in the 125-127 MHz range
Icom T70A. The Icom does not have wideband receive, so you’re limited to 136-174 Mhz and 400-470 Mhz receive.
My radios did not have TX restricted to amateur bands, as these seem to be Asian-market specific. Thus, no need to do some hacks/mods that other US-based hams often do to expand RX (or even TX) capability.
*Receiver sensitivity / selectivity*
It seems the Yaesu FT-60R suffers from some intermod, especially in the presence of RF-emitting devices like laptops, LCD screens and such. This is perhaps a result of the radio’s wideband-receive capabilities. It seems more prone to such interference compared with the older FT-50R. Of course, I am unable to measure this quantitatively. I’m just basing it on observation and comparison across the models.
According to the specs, selectivity is rated at:
Yaesu FT-50R: 12 kHz/35 kHz (–6 dB /–60 dB)
Icom IC-T70A: Narrow/Wide both more than 60 dB (at CH spacing 20 kHz/in the amateur bands)
By the way, the IC-T70A supports true narrowband RX and TX, while I believe the FT-60R does not (it only increases audio volume to compensate for narrowband receive). It shouldn’t bother amateurs, as NFM is mostly used in commercial applications.
*Transmit performance and audio reports*
Both radios are similarly capable in terms of transmit power and actual performance. Both deliver 5, 2.5 and 1 watt at their H, M and L setting, respectively. Given my residence’s altitude, I can easily hit 70cm repeaters 80 Km away even at mid-power. 2 meter repeaters are more susceptible to obstructions, however, although I can easily hit repeaters 20 Km away on the stock antennae, as well as a repeater around 90 Km away with a Larsen green tip antenna (via SMA-BNC adaptor).
Audio reports have been good on both devices. However, the Icom IC-T70A has adjustable mic gain (settings from 1 through 4), which might come in handy when you switch across quiet and noisy environments. For the most part, setting #3 is the most ideal. However, I’ve recently shifted to mic gain #4, which lets me converse in comfort even when the radio is 1 foot away from my face.
*To be cotinued …*
As earlier mentioned, this will be a work in progress. I will note down observations with each radio as I use them. So far, I’m happy with both the Yaesu FT-60R and the Icom IC-T70A.