Commercial users had no need for dual band and most utilised UHF therefore the early days of DMR in amateur radio were limited to mono band radios and only a couple of VHF repeaters.
However, just as the mode has progressed so have radios – more memory capacity, the ability to hold more of the DMR ID database (early radio could hold 1 000 contacts, which then improved to 10 000, followed by 100 000 and now some can hold 200 000 noting that the database has around 160 000 entries as at late April 2020), better functionality, promiscious mode, the ability to export/import data, digital GPS, analogue GPS, manual talk group dial, dual VFO, Bluetooth and the ability to do most of the programming via the radio if needed.
This is what can make selecting a suitable radio quite difficult and amateurs are always reminded not to go out and buy the cheapest or just any radio on the market without having done some research as this could lead to frustration and people being put off DMR. One of the most common issues I’ve noticed is that someone will go buy an uncommon brand / model of DMR radio and then need a code plug, which is hard to get or even get help to generate as very few people may know about this radio and how to program it.
I have been fortunate to have owned or had the opportunity to play with many radios from Connect Systems, Motorola, Hytera, Baofeng, Retevis/TYT, Ailunce, Radioditty and Anytone. Therefore most of what I will be writing on the radios is from personal experience mixed with feedback I have gathered from other amateurs. It’s always best to get reviews from several people as amateurs also have different ways of operating and not all dig deep into the hardware’s capabilities.
Many radios may have “issues” when they are launched however this is why it’s important to do CPS and Firmware updates. These not only resolve various issues but also add functionality and also improve memory capacity, especially for holding the DMR ID database.
Note that its best to use the programming cable that comes with the radio (the majority of manufacturers supply one free of charge in the box) as there are differences between some of the cables. Also, in some circumstances you may need to install driver software however the majority of computers will pick up the radio with no issue. When you do plug in the cable, connect the radio and turn it on, give your computer a couple of minutes to ensure it picks up the hardware and installs any necessary drivers.
Recently, all radios are being shipped locked to amateur bands – both in the UK and abroad. In some cases, it’s possible to change this either via the radio or software however, these changes should be done at the users risk and taking into account that it’s illegal to transmit on bands that you are not licensed for including PMR446.