Ham Radio Adventures 21: X1C5 APRS Tracker Review

Ham Radio Adventures 21: X1C5 APRS Tracker Review

– Hi folks. Today, I’ve got two aerial
sticking out of my hoodie. One, is my radio microphone, but the other is this
fantastic little device. Let’s take a look at it
and see what it does. (upbeat electronic music) This is the X1C5 Plus APRS
tracker from Venus Technology. And we’re gonna take a
look at how it works, how it performs, and
what it actually does. And finally, we’ll be looking at whether it’s something you actually want. The X1C5 is a self contained APRS tracker. It’s in a metal case
with an internal battery. It has a USB charging system
and a neat color display. There are three buttons on the top and a recessed power button on the base. It has an SMA female socket
and it weighs in at 105 grams. A good way to test an
APRS tracker is obviously to take it on a trip. So, I’m gonna go on a cycle ride. We’re gonna ride about 10 miles or so and I’ll see how it does
getting back to my IGATE, which is here at home. My IGATE at home consists
of a WX three in one APRS IGATE from Microsat. That’s connected to a Yaesu mobile and the whole system is connected to a colinear on the roof of the house. Before setting off, I’m going
to switch on the X1C5 tracker and check that it’s actually transmitting. I’m going to do that by
checking on my mobile phone connected to the APRS.fi website. There, you can see the icon showing that it’s being received by my IGATE. To get the best possible
performance from the X1C5 tracker, I’ve put it in the upper
pocket of my rucksack and you see the antenna
sticking out though. So, we’re all clear of my body when I’m actually cycling along. I’m going to cycle a circular route. It’s about 10 miles long
and I know that for some of the route it’s quite challenging for radio communications
from my home location. So, it’ll be a really
good test of the tracker to see if it can actually
get back to my home IGATE. The tracker’s been configured to send a position
report every 30 seconds. The tracker itself is
normally silent in operation. Although, it can be configured to beep when it makes a transmission. It would also beep when
it receives a transmission from my IGATE. My IGATE transmits periodically. So, it’s interesting to see
when you can actually hear the IGATE from the tracker’s receiver. I’ve deliberately chosen a route with a mixture of rural and urban areas. In the urban areas, you
get a lot of scattering of the signal, which
can be sometimes useful and improve the performance. Let’s see as we cycle through
the center of Macclesfield, how many times the IGATE
actually receives the tracker. And before long, we’re home
again and it gives us the chance to check the results and see
how the tracker actually did. (car engine roaring) It did a pretty good job
on most of the route. Although, it did miss a large section on the Southwest of the
route, shown here in blue. The tracker’s nice color
display is jam packed with information on
your location, altitude, speed, and all sorts of other things. The buttons on the top allow you to scroll through various
sorts of information, so you can see other
stations that you’ve received as you’ve been traveling along. And you can also see
information on your own system, such as the voltage, the
temperature, and even the pressure. All these things are built into the X1C5. So, it’s quite a well-featured unit. There are quite a few
different information screens. But, with the relatively
simple user interface, you’re unlikely to get lost for long. Setting up the X1C5 is fairly simple. It comes with a little app
that you download and activate. And, you then read from the device and it shows you the settings. You change them and then right back to it. The app is quite useful as well. And it shows you a little bit more about the actual first
features of the device. So, you can see, it’s
got Bluetooth built in. It has WiFi functionality, as well. That’s useful because
it will act as an IGATE because not only is
the X1C5 a transmitter, it’s also a receiver as well. So, it will receive other APRS stations and you can receive them and then transmit to the APRS IS portal. Other features it’s got is
it acts as a Digi RELAY. So, when it receives an APRS
signal from another station, it will actually relay that. And that’s quite an interesting feature. Not legal in some countries,
but it’s worth exploring. You put in your own call sign here. It’s got various beaconing modes. I’ve just got it set to
beacon every 30 seconds. That’s nice and easy. It’s got smart beaconing though as well. So, that will beacon at different rates, depending on what you’re doing. A thing to be aware of is
that the format for some of the numbers in this
app are very critical. So, for example, this is 144.8000. So, it’s down to the, instead
of being down to a kilohertz, it’s down to 100 Hertz,
which is a bit unusual. And so, it’ll take you a while
perhaps to get around some of these numbers being
in the right format. But, just be aware of
that as a little problem or little pitfall that you
can run into on the app. When you’re sending, using it as an IGATE, you’ll need to set up a server as well. It comes with a server set up in it, which is a Chinese server. I actually set mine up
to a server in London. So, there are other things. You can see that the app will switch between different languages. It’ll switch between Chinese and English. But, even when it’s switched to English, some of the labels are still in Chinese. It has a useful window as well, which shows you what is actually going on and you can see what the device is up to. So, all in all, relatively simple to use. Overall, I think this unit
functions pretty well. But, would it be of any use to you? Therein lies a couple of questions. The first thing is, well,
it’s a tracking device and you’ve got probably a
tracking device with you already in terms of your mobile phone. There are lots of apps you can download if you just want to know where you are. I think APRS is rather more interesting than tracking yourself
with a mobile phone. In that, it gives you a sense
of how your transmitters and receivers are working. So, where you can actually
get the signal through. And I personally find that
particularly interesting. APRS tracking devices will only work where there is some APRS infrastructure. And in most places, there
simply aren’t any IGATES or receivers and transmitters that are working on the APRS system. So, unless you want to set
up your own infrastructure as I’ve done both in my
house and in my motor home, then you’ll probably find
that this sort of unit will be pretty useless. It’s range is relatively limited. It’s only a one Watt transmitter. So, maybe five miles or so. Obviously if you’re on a
hilltop, you’ll get further. But, unless there’s some
infrastructure within that sort of distance of
you, you’re not really going to find a great deal of
use from a unit like this. Overall though, I like it. I think it’s quite a nice little unit. It’s pretty neat. It’s a pretty good way to get into APRS. If APRS is something that is new to you, something like this will perhaps give you the sort of enthusiasm and incentive to learn a little bit about it. So, overall, I give this unit a thumbs-up. Thanks for watching. If you enjoyed this video,
do give it a thumbs-up. I’ve got lots more videos planned. So, do consider subscribing by
clicking the SOTABEAMS logo. Thanks.
(upbeat electronic music)


12 thoughts on “Ham Radio Adventures 21: X1C5 APRS Tracker Review”

  • Nice little device. Is it possible to use it as an simple KISS tnc an pair it with the smartphone and use APRSdroid or something like that? 73 Stephan, DF6PA

  • Willian. Direction says:

    Will it TX on 70cm instead of 2m that might be handier for me to link back home to a cross link vhf uhf rig at home. reason being aprs repeaters near by are on vhf.

  • Thanks, Richard! You said it was only 1w and I guess that compares poorly to say a Yaesu or Kenwood HT with APRS? Agree, good to get into APRS. Nice bike, too!

  • Robert Crawford says:

    Thank you for the review and commentary. I am thinking of APRS for a Kayaking trip, of about three weeks, this summer. I also looked into it for a cycling trip from Kansas to Utah that I did a couple of years ago (only about 980 miles, but it involved quite a bit of time in the Rocky Mountains). I ended up not using APRS for that trip also.
    Something that I have trouble finding is an APRS coverage map. Such a map would help the APRS/Mobile-based tracking decision a bit easier.
    Again, so it doesn't get lost, thank you for the review.

  • I think most hams have heard the term ‘APRS’ but many (like me) didn’t really know what it was all about. A really good insight Richard, thanks. 73 M1DDD

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