Yaesu FT-70D Preliminary Review and Photos

on Chris Martin's Blog

My amateur radio career began with a Baofeng UV-5R walkie talkie (HT), bought for a song at the OVARC hamfest in beautiful Marana, AZ.

OVARC hamfest photo courtesy WD7F

(Photo from WD7F)

Baofeng UV-5R

The UV-5R basically works (and is a great value at $25 new), but some frustrations had me searching for a replacement. I read many good things about Yaesu's FT-60R, which has been in production for over a decade (since before the smartphone era!), but hesitated on buying one. The FT-60 uses old NiMH battery technology which makes the radio too heavy for lightweight/ultralight backpacking -- 13 ounces, plus 5 ounces per spare battery. There are lithium-ion batteries available (approx. 3 ounces each), with a few compromises: they need a specific drop-in charger and cannot be charged via the radio's DC in port.

FT-70D

I bought the new FT-70D mostly because it is designed for lightweight, modern batteries, and also because it has no 'analog' volume/squelch knobs sticking out from the radio to be inadvertently tweaked. In fact, the one "omni-knob" has a physical guard and can be completely locked out with a short-press of the power button.

Yaesu FT-70D

This radio has been produced for less than a year, with no really in-depth reviews yet, and no published RF testing like ARRL Lab does. The opinions that are on the web seem divided. Reviews on eHam are ovewhelmingly positive (these sold me the radio), while QRZ Forums has reports of poor battery life in multiple threads. In this context, here is my contribution. First, the elephant in the room...

Power and Battery

Battery life is not excellent but probably OK. The main issue with mine appears to be relatively high standby current draw; the radio is always a little warm when powered on (its internal thermometer reports 12°F higher than ambient). Looking at the manual, Yaesu claims a standby draw of 120 mA for the FT-70D, nearly three times the FT-60R's claimed 45 mA! (Maybe this extra power is required for the newly supported digital modes?) I have not tried the "battery saver" feature yet.

I drained a full battery in 13 hours of the following:

  • Intermittently on standby, scanning, and receiving at mixed audio volume
  • Transmitting for probably a cumulative 10 minutes. Started with a couple of contacts and net check-ins. At the end, I found an empty frequency on 2 meters and just transmitted a couple minutes at a time until the low-voltage protection circuit shut off the radio at 5.2 volts.

The low-battery indicator appears to be a simple function of voltage. This is a very inaccurate way to determine state-of-charge in lithium-ion cells, and the indicator sporadically changes during use (e.g. comes on and off during transmit/receive). I suspect this has misled other reviewers to an inaccurately poor conclusion regarding battery life. It's a shame that Yaesu cut costs here rather than using a modern method of SoC estimation, like you'd see on a smartphone. Still, a minor inconvenience once you start applying a mental 'low-pass filter' to the battery indicator.

A wattmeter on the wall wart suggests that the battery does charge while the radio is turned on and powered by the "DC in" jack.

From this limited testing, I would guess that a full battery would last for a long day "in the field" if you're not transmitting very much. A spare battery is probably essential for a day of heavier radio use, or reliance on the radio for emergencies. Fortunately, an extra battery is light to carry and sort-of-cheap to buy.

(One unexplained anomaly: when transmitting on external power with the battery removed, the AC wall wart draws 30-35 watts, for a 5 watt HT! I have yet to investigate whether this additional power is consumed by the wall wart or the radio, as I don't want to cut into the radio-side power cable. More reasonably, the wall wart draws 1-2 watts when the radio is on standby.)

Size/Weight, Ergos, and Housing

Comparison of Yaesu FT-70D and Baofeng UV-5r

Comparison of Yaesu FT-70D and Baofeng UV-5r

Comparison of Yaesu FT-70D and Baofeng UV-5r

My FT-70D weighs 9.8 ounces with a battery (and the battery weighs 3.2 ounces). It is about the same height and depth as the UV-5R, but a lot wider. The way that I would "usually" hold a walkie talkie, it's a fairly long reach for my right index finger around the back to the PTT key, but I can adjust.

The housing feels sturdy, rugged. Not magnesium alloy (like the FT-60), but some glass fiber-reinforced plastic, maybe polycarbonate. My only comment on durability is on the battery retention clip at the bottom of the radio; it's recessed but plastic rather than metal, and maybe undersized. I'd be careful not to impact it on anything pointy.

Battery clip on Yaesu FT-70D

Controls/UI

The radio is easy to operate and program, especially compared to my Baofeng. I love the ten-key letter entry, just like an old-school cell phone! The keys feel nicely firm and clicky, with a sweet amber backlight. Unlike other reviewers, I don't mind having to hold a key to adjust the volume with the omni-knob.

My biggest UX complaint is that the F key (which gets used a lot) is too recessed, a little hard to press. I wish the F key and mode key were swapped. A bunch of times, I've accidentally pressed mode instead of the F key.

Further, the UI has some inconsistent behavior. Most settings are chosen with the omni-knob and confirmed by pressing PTT (e.g. transmit power level), but some are selected by pressing the F key (e.g. PL tone frequency). Some settings are chosen with a dedicated key and require no confirmation (e.g. mode). A few operations are very unintuitive and must simply be memorized (e.g. delete memory channels by pressing AMS key). Aside from this, the interface mostly stays out of the way, and if you goof something up it's pretty easy to figure out the un-goofing.

Finally, this being 2018, I wish for more than 6 alphanumeric characters when labeling a memory channel. only 6 characters means cryptic names like "CNYCTH".

Digital Modes / C4FM / "System Fusion"

I have no interest (and some disdain) for the proprietary digital modes that the FT-70D supports. Vendor-locked communication protocols are anathema to amateur radio. So, I use the FT-70D only as an analog walkie talkie.

Conclusion

I've read a few love letters to the popular FT-60R, and part of me still wants to buy one while they're still produced. Still, with a spare battery, I think I'll be OK with the FT-70D. It's possible that there's a manufacturing quality issue affecting battery life on some other units, but mine seems to have no issues so far.


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