This is the best DMR ham radio handheld transceiver (HT) on the market. It’s also the only HT I’ve come across that implements Bluetooth correctly. It’s not compact, but it’s also not overly bulky for what it does.
Here’s my review of the AnyTone AT-D878UVII Plus. This is the latest model (released in April 2021) in AnyTone’s ham radio HT DMR lineup. It has a robust build and packs a lot of features into its form factor. It’s not perfect, but there’s nothing better in the DMR realm.
This radio is intended for ham radio operators. You can find information about Getting Licensed from the ARRL (American Radio Relay League).
A quick note on Digital Modes
There are three competing ham digital voice standards. If you want to talk with all three, you must buy three different radios…
D-STAR (created by ICOM), Fusion C4FM (created by Yaesu), and DMR (an open standard). D-STAR and Fusion have an advantage in that they are designed for Ham Radio. Unfortunately, none of the major ham radio manufacturers agreed upon a single digital standard or reasonable licensing. Hence, we now have competing proprietary digital modes segmenting ham operators who choose to go digital. DMR is an open standard, but it was designed for the business world, not ham radio, so it’s not an ideal solution. However, it’s affordable and less fragmented (just about every digital Chinese radio supports DMR), so many hams have worked to make DMR suitable for ham radio, and it’s increasing in popularity.
Japanese manufacturers are still refusing to implement DMR, but the Chinese manufacturers are noticing the popularity of DMR and are re-designing their business radios with firmware for ham radio. This AnyTone is what I would consider the flagship DMR Ham Radio.
Here are my observations on the Anytone AT-D878UVII Plus’s features
Physical Channel and Volume encoder knobs. Many newer radios have a volume knob, but then you’ve got to use clunky buttons to move between channels. This allows you to change channels by feel.
Color Screen. The screen is pretty nice. It reminds me of those candy bar-style phones from the ’90s. The colors are customizable. You can set custom background images and foreground colors to red, green, blue, cyan, yellow, orange, or white.
Support for 500,000 DMR contacts. Currently, there are 200,422 Ham Radio DMR IDs worldwide, so it’s nice to have room to grow. A lot of other DMR radios are limited to 200,000 (or even 1000) contacts.
Bluetooth. The Bluetooth implementation is well done. It’s better than even more expensive radios such as the Yaesu FT3DR.
I had no trouble pairing it to my Jabra Elite Active 75T earbuds and could use my earbuds for Receive or Transmit; the AnyTone has the ability to adjust Mic gain for Bluetooth, so you don’t come in too loud or softly.
I have my Jabra earbuds paired with my computer, phone, and radio all at the same time (although it seems only 2 devices can be connected to the Jabra at once).
While watching a YouTube video on my phone, an incoming radio transmission caused the video to pause, and the headset immediately was listening to the audio from the radio instead.
A few seconds after the radio transmission was over, the Jabra reconnected to my phone, and I could resume playback. That’s a good design.
Remote Bluetooth PTT button. It comes with a Bluetooth PTT switch so I can have my D878 up high on a shelf where it can get a signal and operate it remotely.
Programming Software and Firmware Upgrades. The Programming cable worked with Windows 10 out of the box–I didn’t have to install any drivers. I downloaded the CPS and Firmware from BridgeComSystems and had no trouble flashing the firmware and programming it.
History of Firmware updates. Unlike most radios, one of the strong points of the Anytone D878 series radios is it gets firmware updates fairly often–I’ve been seeing firmware released every couple of months, so you’ll get regular improvements and new features (AES-256 was a feature that was added recently).
CPS. The CPS software is straightforward. You’ll be right at home if you’ve programmed a DMR radio before. If not, you’ll just need to learn some concepts such as Zones, Talkgroups, Contacts, Color Codes, Time Slots, etc. It’s a little more complex than CHIRP.
TX Mod. Unlocking Transmit outside ham bands took a bit of work. By default, the CPS wouldn’t allow me to program transmit on frequencies outside the ham bands with a frequency out of range band error.
Now, I should mention that while the AnyTone can meet the technical emission requirements (narrowband, etc.), and many people do use these kinds of radios to transmit on FRS/GMRS/MURS/Marine frequencies, it’s not technically type certified by the FCC to transmit on those frequencies.
However, I like to have my radio unlocked and ready to go for TX in an emergency. I couldn’t get the standard PTT+1 option to open it up. So I had to get out my soddering kit… just kidding. After a bit of searching, I found the solution on RadioReference and was able to use AT_Options (16K) to unlock it.
SHA256 (AT_Options.zip) = 00147503e372552638bc6032866f7abc04042bae2e620413ae493e9cdb53aade
⚠️ Warning: this could damage your radio, but it worked for me.
After unlocking the TX, the radio’s working mode changed from Amatuer mode to Professional mode, which locks out most settings. Still, I was able to switch it back in the CPS under Common Setting -> Optional Setting -> Work Mode.
AT_Options may not be necessary, It seems like you should be able to unlock TX in the CPS using the Models menu…but I couldn’t get it to work.
FCC Part 90 Certified. The radio is certified for FCC Part 90, making it practical for anyone who wants commercial/amateur capabilities in one radio.
Multiple DMR IDs (up to 250 of them that can be set per channel). You can tell the radio was designed with the idea that people may use one radio for both business and amateur radio. The radio can have multiple DMR IDs so you can use your business DMR IDs on the business bands and your Ham Radio DMR ID on the ham bands.
Encryption. In DMR mode, the Anytone supports AES 256 Encryption (this is only allowed on the business bands, so an FCC Part 90 license is required in the USA). The implementation is supposed to be compatible with Motorola and Hytera’s commercial radios (Mototrbo).
Documentation, Training, and Support. I rarely see this offered with radios, so it’s a nice bonus. If you purchase the AnyTone radio directly from BridgeCom Systems (directly from BridgeCom or via the BridgeCom listing on Amazon), they include access to all sorts of training, support, a FB (ugh) community, support, and quick guides to get you going. If you’ve never used a DMR radio, I highly suggest taking advantage of this.
APRS. I’ve never had a radio with APRS, but I turned it on, and it seems to work … this radio is capable of sending or receiving. I think the implementation could be a little better–I see what looks like Unicode characters not coming through on some transmissions. But I have nothing to compare it with.
Areas the radio could be better…
Limited RX Frequency Range. So, for a DMR radio, this is typical, but I consider it a weakness. If you don’t need Bluetooth or DMR, radios with wideband receive such as the tried and true Yaesu VX-6R (analog) or the newfangled Yaesu FT3DR (analog+fusion digital) have RX from 0.5KHz-999MHz allowing them to monitor pretty much everything. They can listen to Shortwave radio, air-band, AM radio, FM radio, 900MHz stuff, etc. Wideband receive combined with a fast scan means the Yaesu radios can quickly provide you with situational awareness and potential contacts. If I was buying a radio for hiking, survival, emergencies, etc. I’d get one of the above Yaesu’s (in fact, I have the VX-6R). The AnyTone, on the other hand, is limited to receive 136-174MHz, 400-480MHz, and FM radio.
Slow Scanning. If you’re scanning the ham bands, even with programmed frequencies, you can easily miss QSOs. Even my 15-year old Yaesu VX-6R smokes it. Now, the Anytone is not as slow as a Baofeng UV-5R, so there’s that. But for the price point, I would expect a faster scanner from AnyTone. That said, DMR was originally designed for commercial use, not ham use, so there are no DMR radios on the market with a decent scanning speed.
I might be a little harsh. But there’s a full-color display, and the year is 2021; why are we still scanning anyway? There should be a band scope to let us see what’s going on across the entire band.
Large Battery. The Battery that came with it is 3100 mAh, and it’s a little bulky–I bought a low capacity 2100 mAh, which results in the radio being about the same size as an MD-UV380.
Battery Life. (Added: 2022-10-19, wanted to use the radio for a full-year before writing on the battery). The battery life on the radio is really good. There are two areas that are important to me:
- Runtime. How long the battery actually lasts. I’ve never had it run out on me with my light-usage pattern.
- How long the battery can hold a charge while the radio is off. I’ve left the radio alone for several months, turned it on, and it still had a full charge.
The battery life seems good, there’s no parasitic drain from the radio when it’s off. I’m confident in the battery life on this radio, I’d use it for an emergency kit.
Menu system. Most of the features are accessed via nested menus (like those old cell phones from the 90s). This seems like an antiquated way to program a radio by hand..most of my other ham radios have feature buttons and function keys, allowing commonly used settings to be changed with one to three key presses. That said, you can reprogram a number of the buttons to access common settings.
Boot time. This is what you get when you cross a computer with a radio–it takes 14 seconds to power on!
Comparison to other AT D878UV models.
There are four models in the AnyTone lineup. All of these radios are similar, all of them are the exact same physical case so look identical.
Comparison of the AnyTone AT DMR handheld lineup:
There are four models (Update: 2022-10-19, the D868UV and D878UV have been discontinued, but leaving here for historical reasons or if you find them on eBay) in the lineup sold at BridgeCom Systems, all look identical since they use the same radio case:
DMR Radio Alternatives
A few other DMR radios I bought and tested may be better, depending on your needs and budget. Here are my thoughts on the alternatives:
Before I get into the details, I thought I’d mention the RX analog audio sounded best to my ears on the MD-UV380 and AT-D787UVII Plus. On weak signals, the Alinco and Radioddity had too high of a pitched white noise for my liking. Even these didn’t attain the RX audio quality of my VX-6R (but since that doesn’t have DMR, it’s disqualified).
TYT MD-UV380 – Inexpensive
The MD-UV380 does DMR but has limited contact storage; the encryption is 128-bit (but XOR instead of AES) and not compatible with any other radios. No Bluetooth. Also available is an MD-UV390 model, which is the same radio in a waterproof case. It also has some limitations, such as only 16 channels per scan group. This radio is inexpensive and easy to program. It would be great for use with a DMR hotspot, but otherwise, this is better suited for business than ham radio.
ALINCO DJ-MD5TGP – Similar but Compact Size
The MD5TGP is near the AnyTone as far as internal hardware. Its best feature is that it is more compact. The downside is the firmware is not as advanced, and Alinco rarely updates it. It doesn’t have Bluetooth and has a limited number of contacts. The encryption claims to be AES-256, but the CPS would not let me enter a 256-bit key. It would only derive a 256-bit key from a 6-digit alphanumeric code which doesn’t seem that secure. Also, the screen has a huge bezel, so it looks deceptively large …but it’s a small screen. If you don’t need Bluetooth or APRS and want something compact, this is the most compact full-featured DMR radio.
Radioddity 73A – Pocket Sized
The Radioddity 73A. So here is a DMR radio in the mini pocket-sized form factor of an FRS bubble-pack radio. It’s small and cheap. It has a fixed antenna, limited capabilities. But if you needed some tiny short-range DMR radios, this is a good option. I wouldn’t recommend this for ham use unless it were just a secondary radio. I will also say this was the most difficult radio to program because the CPS kept crashing or wouldn’t talk to the radio. I finally got it to work–but just the pain of the CPS crashing and communication issues would steer me towards the other options. Also, there are a few annoying things about this radio–like when you power it on; it makes a very loud beep. It also has its own encryption implementation that’s not compatible with any of the other radios. I’m also not really convinced this is Part 90 certified, so it may only be usable on the ham bands.
The AnyTone AT-D878 series has been popular in the DMR ham radio community for good reason. The latest AT-D878UVII Plus is a worthy flagship radio to continue the line; although it’s missing a few features I’d like, I expect those who buy it will not regret it.
The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly.
– Proverbs 15:2 ESV