APRS – What are my options?
So far, in this special interest area we’ve talked about putting together inexpensive APRS setups in order to keep the barriers to entry low. In this page, we’ll compare *nearly* all the commercial options available. Brace yourself. Some of these solutions can be quite pricey. Welcome to amateur radio.
Yaesu has introduced some interesting APRS rigs in its System Fusion line. These are true dual receive rigs with the added bonus of being able to take part in the new digital modes over System Fusion repeaters. There are some cool features on these rigs that you won’t find elsewhere. Like the Kenwood below, you can dedicate one side to voice and one side to APRS. Additionally, the rigs can communicate who you are and where you’re at outside of APRS so others in the area with System Fusion radio will know if you’re monitoring and if you’re in range. Don’t worry about being able to only talk to System Fusion rigs, though. All System Fusion radios detect if the other station is analogue or digital and adjusts accordingly. In other words, it’s fully backwards compatible.
I’ve heard rumors that you can connect this radio to APRSDroid so you can plot objects on the map. I haven’t tried it, yet, so I can’t confirm at this time.
Yaesu FTM-400DR Price $499.95 after rebate Type: 2M/70cm Mobile
In my mind, this rig is the new king of APRS mobiles. All it lacks is moving maps, which is surprising given its color touch screen. None the less, this is the rig on my current wishlist.
Yaesu FT1DR C4FM Price: $309 Type: 2M/70cm HT
The FT1DR is the new System Fusion HT. For an APRS dual banding handheld, it’s a competitive price.
Kenwood DM-D710G Price: $679.95 Type: 2M/70cm 50W Mobile
To many, this is considered the Cadillac of APRS mobile rigs. It features a built in TNC and GPS. It will allow you to message users back and forth, provide direction finding capabilities to beaconing stations, digipeat, and features built in Echolink functionality as a bonus. The great thing about an integrated unit like this is it broadcasts your current frequency automatically so people will know how to reach you because APRS is supposed to be about two way communications.
Keeping with the Cadillac analogy, it’s too rich for my blood. Well, let me qualify that. It’s too much in my opinion for a VHF/UHF mobile with APRS solution. Let’s do the math. A $200 dualbander + $100 TNC + $100 GPS = $679.95? I give props to Kenwood for embracing APRS, but I think there are more economical ways to get these features (5/23 Update: See above for the Yaesu FTM-400DR). Plus, we could do better with visualization. You can add AvMap to this to get maps and icons, but that just adds more costs.
Kenwood TH-D72A Price: $449.95 Type: 2M/70cm HT
This handheld transciever has a built in GPS and TNC. It can be used to control a Kenwood TS-2000 through Skycommand. It is a stand alone digipeater and can function as an IGate, too.
Yaesu VX-8DR Price: $420.95 + $74.95 for GPS Type: 6/2/220/440 HT
This is the APRS version of the VX-8R. It’s waterproof at 1 meter for 30 minutes. It has a built in TNC, but the GPS unit sold separately. I’ve seen this radio get as low as $360 new after rebate. If I was into search and rescue and needed an all in one, water resistant, two way communicator, I might consider the extra price over a normal quadbander. However, a Bluetooth TNC Adapter still seems like a better option to me.
Kantronics KPC-3 + Price: $199.95 Type: Desktop TNC
This is a dedicated TNC workhorse and is very popular in packet radio and as a dedicated digipeater. It has several features that you won’t find in another solution. It is a low power device and can run off of a 9V battery if needed. It also allows for remote configuration… great for a hilltop digipeater. This is what N4HAP-1 digipeater in Tullahoma is using.
Mobilinkd Price: $49.95 plus $9.95-12.95 for most adapter cables Type: Bluetooth TNC
For me, this is a definate buy. Particularly if you already own a smart phone or tablet. I’ve written an entire article on Mobilinkd here.
Cross Country Wireless APRS TNC Digi Tracker Price: ~$130 (depending on the exchange rate to British Pounds) Type: Bluetooth TNC
Connect this device to a laptop via USB and and you’ve got a full feature APRS setup. What you’re buying here is a GPS, TNC, and Bluetooth adapter all in one box. Flip a switch and it’s a standalone digipeater or igate. With the current Bluetooth version, you can see others and text using a free Android app or connect it to a computer to use a more full featured APRS program. Want to use an external GPS antenna for better reception? This device features an SMA connection to accommodate that need. It also comes with a 6 pin MiniDIN data cable for Yaesu/Kenwood/Icom radios.
I am very interested in getting my hands on this device and trying it out some time. I’m kind of surprised it’s not more common given its features and price.
TinyTrak4 Price: $75 w/o GPS, $140 w/ GPS. Subtract $10 for the kit version. Type: Tracker, unless connected to a computer or optional display/keyboard.
The TinyTrak series is one of the most popular on the road. Small and purpose built, the latest TinyTrak can double as a TNC for your Winlink or any other packet needs. It’s also the cheapest digipeater solution that I know of. If it’s hooked up to a compatible GPS, it can display the locations of other stations.
As stated above, this is a simple tracker unless it is connected to a computer or a separate display ($45) and keyboard adapter ($24) is added.
TNC-Pi Price: $40 for the kit, $65 for the finished TNC. Works as an add-on to Raspberry Pi which runs $25-35. Type: TNC
TNC Pi is a TNC add-on for the low power, low cost Linux system known as Raspberry Pi. Running Linux, it can support the APRS program Xastir. Add $35 more dollars and you could add a small touchscreen to the device from Adafruit.
TinyTrak3 Price: $42 w/o GPS, $107 w/ GPS. Subtract $9 for the kit version. Type: Tracker, unless hooked up to a computer
This is a very popular, inexpensive tracker. As a tracker, it will tell others where you are, but it won’t allow you to see others.
Argent Data Systems OpenTracker USB Price: $45 + $17 for most radio / power cables. Type: Tracker, unless you hookup a computer
This is a small tracker in the vein of a TinyTrak. Add a radio and you have a tracker. Add a computer and you have two way communications and situational awareness.
As a side note, if you’re just looking for a tracker to tie to a computer, consider going the virtual TNC route. Dire Wolf, for example. Think WINMOR for APRS.
Micro-Trak Price: $220 Type: Frequency agile all in one vehicle tracker.
If all I wanted to do was have tracking on my vehicle, I didn’t want to build anything, and I wasn’t looking to communicate with others, I might consider this option. For the price, you get everything you need (mag mount antenna, cigarette lighter power adapter, dedicated transmitter, GPS, etc) to wire your car up for 10W APRS.
Micro-Trak AIO Price: $260 Type: Frequency agile, AA powered all in one tracker.
Running 8 days in a Pelican case, this all in one tracker would be ideal for backpacking (if you weren’t looking for two way communications) or tracking something unmanned like a balloon.
BigRedBee Price: $265 Type: Frequency agile, AA powered all in one tracker.
This setup does not include an antenna or case. It runs off of 6 AA batteries and an internal memory stores tracks for later downloads. The killer app for a setup such as this appears to be balloon or rocket flight.
If you have any questions or comments, I can be reached at my callsign @arrl.net.
Dallas Clements, K7DCC
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This page was created March 30, 2014 and last updated May 13, 2014.