First off lets start with a caution: TYT, Radioddity and probably others, supply software that is flagged as a virus by multiple antivirus companies when scanned with VirusTotal.com. If you are not familiar with VirusTotal, it allows you to scan files for viruses using multiple databases which provides better protection than a singe antivirus installed on a PC. Ok more on this later. On to the MD-2017.
It seems that the Chinese are looking to put big name radio suppliers out of business. Not that long ago Baofeng was unknown. At first people were skeptical. Now Baofeng is the ubiquitous radio. It seems everyone has one. Its a great way to get into ham radio. For under $30 its a deal. Sure there are problems with it but what else gets you dual band for $30 bucks!? It seems with the recent offerings from China that the Chinese are serious about taking business away the big manufacturers. There are new offerings that allow hams to get into digital and Dual Band to boot. Today we look at the TYT MD-2017
As of this writing the MD-2017 has been out for almost a half year or so. Its still pretty new and some bugs have been worked out in firmware updates. I would think that more are going to come. I are testing firmware version 3.036.
The MD-2017 offers dual band TRUE tier 2 DMR at a price under $200. Oh and for that price you can have GPS too. The Radio Comes with a programming cable and software (Caution: trojan malware!) and TYT offers updates via their website at TYT888.com
The build quality is good. Actually its quite good. It claims to be IP67. I wouldn’t consider this a rugged radio though. For those used to rugged commercial radios like Motorola’s or Kenwood’s you will notice that it feels a bit cheap. When I compare it to my old Yaesu FT-270 i find the MD-2017 feeling cheap mostly due to its lighter weight. The lighter weight can be a good thing if you want a lighter radio that is waterproof. There is a aluminum frame and gaskets that help keep water out of the battery contacts so expect this to do well overall.
As far as RF performance goes, I have yet to put it on a service monitor and do some measurements. I can say that the radio sounds good in digital and OK for analog. I have noticed that there is a hissing sound in analog much like the old analog 800mhz phones. this would suggest poor receiver performance. There are also squelch issues with radio in analog. The radio will fail to close squelch in a timely manner on some transmissions. This leads to long awkward static bursts that remind you that this is a Cheap Chinese radio. Reports from users though say that the transmissions from this radio sound good in analog and digital. Perhaps a better antenna would improve things. There are rumors about the antenna and once we test it on a analyzer we will see. I suspect that most of these issues are in part due to the fact that this is marketed for commercial use which means the antenna is probably tuned for frequencies just above the HAM bands where most people are using them here in the US.
Speaking of the antenna, There have been reports of the SMA connector breaking. This is bad news but sounds familiar. In fact My $8000 radio had the same issue. Yes you heard that right $8000 radio! the Motorola APX 8000 had issues that led to FSB11117A. It is the same issue. So while its a problem, it seems even $8000 worth of radio can have the same issues.
Seeing that Motorola had the same issue it would further support that the Chinese are desperately trying to copy Motorola. Just looking at the New radios like the MD-2017 and its an obvious style knock off of the Motorola radios. The speaker grill has the same rounded bars. The PTT button is lined with a color plastic like the Motorola radios and the side connector is a similar style too.
The side connector brings up another point. The MD-2017 has a nice side connector but its just a ribbon cable with some thick black paint isolating the different connectors. Be sure to keep the easy lose cover on the radio at all times to ensure that this connector stays in good shape. It wouldn’t take much to ruin this connector.
Now one thing that I like about the MD-2017 is that it has programmable buttons. Something many HAM radios are lacking. I hate having a engineer decide how to use my radio. Having the programmable buttons adds to the functionality of the radio. This is something I wish more expensive HAM radio manufacturers would notice and add to newer builds.
There is also the unusual addition of a track ball. This has been a debated subject for many online. While I must admit I would prefer a directional keypad with up, down, left, right, I find that the track ball does its job. I hope it is rugged enough to last. I have much more of a issue with the fact that you cannot program zone up and zone down. One of the big issues I have with HAM radios is the lack of Zones. I work with public safety radios for my job and the idea of Zones is stuck in my head. It allows me to keep all those channels better organized. This is something that I was looking forward too with the MD-2017. The problem is that you can only assign a Zone button. This means that you can cycle zones but if you go past it you must go all the way back around. There is another option to go into the menu and search out your zone and go directly there but who wants to dig through menus?
Menus are another topic with this radio. If you are on a channel that is busy and you are trying to do something in your menu, the radio will keep kicking you out to show you the display of who is talking. This is possibly the biggest failure this radio has to date in my mind. I have to change to a unused channel in order to make changes in my radio without getting interrupted. I hope they can address this in future updates.
The screen has some issues too. While it is a nice color display it only shows up when the back light is on. This means less battery life as you have to keep the back light on in order to see what you are doing. The Radioddity GD-77 doesn’t have a color screen but you can read it better outside and without having the back light on.
The last few points on this radio is that at this time I am unaware of anyway to adjust the radio. There are only two squelch settings: Normal and Tight. While that sounds great, I have no idea what levels they set the squelch at. Also if there were any need to adjust the reference oscillator, I don’t see anywhere to do so in the software. This is a big difference between the cheaper Chinese radios and bigger names. If you buy a Chinese radio, plan on it being disposable rather than an investment you spend money on repairing. The thing is though that at under $200 you can get a whole new radio. That’s cheaper than any flat rate repair cost. In fact I bought this radio at just above the cost of one hour of shop repair time. So if the shop has a one hour minimum it just doesn’t make sense to repair the radio.
Now about that software. It seems that these days anything coming from china (software wise) has some sort of malware on it. China it seems, is trying to get their claws into anything and everything and know that cheap goods are hard to pass up. Its hard to say what the motivation is behind the malware but in any case it makes this radio a NO-GO for recommendations. I was able to install the software on a old PC that had no network connection and no personal information on it nor anything I was worried about loosing. If you are associated with RACES or any other official group I would absolutely stay away from any of the Chinese radios for risk of bringing a computer virus into govt. systems. If the IT security officer finds out that a HAM brought malware into the network you can bet that it will not go well.
My conclusion is that IF you have a dedicated computer that you will never put on the internet nor have any personal or sensitive information on then go ahead and play around with this radio. Its a good but not great radio that gets you into DMR and with some firmware updates could turn into a great radio.