XIEGU G90 review for ICQPodcast.
As I have just bought myself a new portable transceiver, I offered Martin and Colin a review on it for the show, in case some of you are looking, also at getting a new portable HF rig.
The radio I bought is a XIEGU G90, 20-watt SDR portable radio. Twenty watts I find is the “sweet spot” for portable HF radios. While I have operated with 5-watt QRP radios, the increase in power to 20 watts does make a difference. The next option up is a 100-watt mobile radio and while these are about the same size and weight as the G90, the batteries that you need to run them are not!
So why a Chinese Radio, not an American or Japanese one? Well, the only similar radio would be the Elecraft KX-3 with its 15 watts output. Alternatively, I could use a 100w mobile radio with the power turned down to 20 watts. Both of these alternatives fail on price when compared to the XIEGU. Prices vary with offers from time to time but generally the G90 is a 450 Euro radio and this includes taxes and shipping.
I already own a 20-watt XIEGU radio, the X108G which is the predecessor to the G90. The G90 however has several advances over the X108. The G90 is a Software Defined Radio with a waterfall. It also has a built-in antenna tuner, a Morse code decoder, a speech compressor and a more sensitive receiver.
It was only when I got the radio that I realised how good a radio it is with fully adjustable DSP receive filters and several customisable user interface settings.
A simple way of describing the G90 is a portable version of the classic ICOM IC-7300. Most of the features that I am used to on my IC-7300 are on the G90 as well but of course, packed into a far smaller case.
In fact, one of the “disadvantages” of this, as with most portable rigs, is the size. The display although clear is small. All control buttons are small. There is an optional “GSOC” external controller for the G90 which provides everything on a 7-inch, tablet-like screen but it has to be carried along with the rig to the portable location making the combination a less practical portable solution.
After just a few minutes of using the rig connected to my home antenna, I was generally very impressed with the G90. Just using its 20 watts I was able to call two SOTA activators and they came back to my first call. On receive, I can hear everything that I can hear on my IC-7300.
This rig is not perfect – no portable rig is – however, as has already happened, being an SDR, changes to the way the radio operates or additional features can be added through firmware updates. This is now common on modern rigs and removes the need to send the radio back to a dealer to get new features added.
Let’s take a listen to some snippets of, the quite loud audio from the XIEGU G90 and then I will come back to list the things that I would like to see changed or added to the rig.
<<<< XIEGU G90 AUDIO CLIP PLAYED HERE >>>>
That was some reception on a fairly “ropey” 40-metre band. It does underline that the receiver is both sensitive and selective.
In my opinion, however, one failing on the G90 is the lack of digital noise reduction. Its smaller brother, the X5105 and the new X6100 has it, so I was surprised to find while the G90 has noise blanking to remove pulse noise, it doesn’t have noise reduction. I asked Radioddity, XIEGU’s worldwide distributor to ask Xiegu whether this is going to be added in the future. The response was that there has been some delay due to the upcoming launch in August of the new small X6100 HF/6m all mode rig but that work on the G90 firmware upgrade will start next month – July 2021. We’ll have to see if this addition has made the cut.
Something I feel that could be easily resolved to provide a service to older hams like me with failing eyesight is to change the microscopic text on the buttons from being grey on black to fluorescent orange or yellow so that they are more easily visible. Radioddity agreed to pass on this suggestion.
I realise that there is a lot built into this radio but as it is so compact it feels heavier than I had expected. It’s only a little longer than its predecessor, the X108G but I’d swear it’s twice the weight! A lot of that weight is the large heatsink that it has forming half of its case but despite the size of this heatsink, the radio still gets warm after some time operating. Keeping the rig out of the sun is required, not only to make reading of the display possible but also to avoid adding extra heat to the radio. There is no space left in the small case to add a fan so XIEGU has addressed this issue in that the optional stand to lift the display to a better angle also includes a temperature sensor-controlled fan to help with cooling. XIEGU say however that the rigs finals are so conservatively rated that the raised temperature in normal operation should not be an issue, but to avoid leaving it in full sunlight.
I am a fan of RF Speech processing rather than audio level systems that most rigs come with. After testing the one in the G90 however from a summit, I am impressed with the XIEGU implementation. The report I got was that the difference between no compression and compressor on was my signal went from 4-4 to 5-6 (audibly) – that is quite an achievement and I could also see on the waterfall that the compressor does not make the signal wider as some do.
Another point that I have reported back to Radioddity is the RIT setting control. It changes receive frequency by 1 Hertz at a time. You heard right ONE HERTZ! I have suggested that they make this at least 10 or possibly 100 Hz. Perhaps this change may find its way into the upcoming firmware update?
When creating a portable radio and packing so many features in it, as in the G90, the control buttons have to be small, which they are but at least they have a positive “click” which the buttons on the previous model did not.
The smaller brother, the XIEGU X5105, has a built-in battery, which I think is very practical, but the G90, like its predecessor, the X108G has to have an external battery. With the new flat Lithium batteries and the wide voltage range that the G90 can operate from, perhaps I can find a way to fit a battery under the optional stand if I buy one. Then again I could use the battery AS the stand!
I realise that some of the points I have just raised are as much wishes from me for any portable rig rather than actual problems in the G90 design.
The real question is how do I feel operating the G90 and is it worth its 450 EURO price tag?
The answer is the radio astounds me! The receiver is crisp, the controls and remote control over the CAT interface are responsive. Those two SOTA stations that I mentioned earlier gave me a report 2 S-Points down on what I would have expected on the home station, which outputs 300 watts as opposed to the G90’s 20 watts.
Would I recommend others to buy this radio, if it fits your portable needs and if you can buy through a local dealer – YES!
In the US, this could be MFJ, in the UK Sinotel, in Europe Pileupdx.com in Sweden and the worldwide distributor is Radioddity who have bases in China, the US and a warehouse in Berlin, Germany. I bought my G90 from Radioddity and have found them to be open and helpful. I’m sure the other XIEGU dealers will be as well.
I mentioned earlier that the CiV computer interface (also known as the CAT interface) was responsive. Why is that important?
It’s important to me as I intend, as I do on my X108G, to have the option to use an old Android Smartphone as an external controller and display when I operate portable, leaving the rig inside my rucksack. The G90 has a detachable control head and comes with a connecting cable but the advantage of a smartphone over the head with the small display is that a smartphone display will always be more readable in sunlight than the 2 to 3-inch display on these rigs. That being said my first summit activation with the rig was in sunlight and I was able to read the 2-inch screen fine the whole time but I find operation using the smartphone to be easier.
XIEGU do sell an optional “GSOC” external controller but I prefer the smartphone approach on cost if not for other reasons. The smartphone, I already have and the software costs 5 euros. The GSOC cost 350 Euros. It’s true that the smartphone does not have the waterfall display that the GSOC has but I’m willing to give that up and as mentioned earlier, taking a 7” external controller along to a portable activation is more bulk and weight that can be excluded when using a smartphone.
For those whose interest I have caught with the mention of the cheap remote-control software, the Android software that I use is from Dan Toma YO3GGX and is called PocketRxTX. It supports many, many radios and through user configuration, additional ones can be added. I wrote the XIEGU X108G and G90 support files for the program. Configurations for already defined by the community, or by Dan, radios can be downloaded from a central repository directly into the App. The app supports USB, Bluetooth or Network connectivity from the smartphone to the rig. For the network, which can be a local LAN or over the Internet a computer, either a Windows PC or raspberry Pi needs to be present. For the local connection, as an external display and controller, USB is used but if the radio supports Bluetooth serial data it can be a “cordless connection”. The G90 does not support Bluetooth at the moment, but I have just received a €14 Bluetooth dongle that is designed for the ICOM IC-7000 that I may be able to adapt to work with this rig.
For the USB connection, the Smartphone has to support the OTG (on the go) mode – most recent phones do, and an adapter from the phone’s micro-USB or USB-C socket to a USB-A socket is required so that the 3.5-millimetre TTL serial to USB cable that comes with the G90 can be used. These OTG adapters only cost 2 or 3 euros.
In my portable activation setup, the phone connects to the G90 via the cable and adapter and the existing XIEGU microphone remains connected directly to the rig as do any headphones or the internal speaker.
If you want to use the network connection the free “jAReC” server software that runs on Windows or Raspbian also takes care of audio and so the smartphone’s speaker and microphone are used, which of course means you can operate your rig from anywhere in the world that your phone can get an Internet connection.
In my opinion – How does the G90 compare with the well-known leaders in portable HF rigs?
The most talked-about portable rig at the moment, the ICOM IC-705 doesn’t have a built-in ATU and only outputs 5 or 10 watts. It does however cover VHF & UHF and can run off an internal battery. It’s currently selling in Europe at 1400 Euros compared to the G90’s 450 Euros.
The Elecraft KX3 is a compatible rig with 15 watts output and a built-in ATU and has an internal battery. It also has 6 metres which the G90 does not. It costs in the base configuration, 790 Euros.
The classic small HF portable rig is the Yaesu FT-818ND. It is only 6 watts output and has an internal battery but no ATU. It costs 640 Euros at the moment.
Considering features versus price my choice was the XIEGU G90, mainly for the higher output power. Going from 5 or 10 watts to 20 watts when portable does make a difference.
As always, your needs will be different to mine and your choice between the rigs I have mentioned and possibly several others (especially if you only operate CW) can be completely different.
A good second-hand rig may be an option for some of you.
Isn’t it GREAT that we have so much choice at the moment?
Radical space reduction with a Raddy rucksack!
Ever since I started activating SOTA I have been trying to get a good balance between equipment taken and the size and weight of what I have to carry. For some summits, lots of equipment is easy to take as there is no climb, no long walk and no restricted transport, like a small chair lift. The biggest challenge is a summit that has a long walk in, has restricted space in transport, be it a seat lift or small cable car and can be crowded as the summit is a small area.
For a long time, I carried two bags, a padded camera bag for the radio gear and a second small rucksack for the wire antennas and cables. On top of this, there was the mast and later the large surveyors trip to accommodate. This system was not working well.
I then managed to switch to a 45-litre rucksack where with the help of the Komunica HF-PRO-2_PLUS-T antenna and my small photo-tripod with radial wires I could pack everything inside one pack. If the 6-metre mast was needed, it fastened onto one side of the bag and the screw-in sun umbrella base that I use as the base for the mast, on the other side. So I now have a complete set for a more difficult to get to the summit. The problem was the weight. As there was space in the rucksack, I slowly added things that I “might” need into it and this bag now weighs over 12 kilos!
Along comes the “Raddy” Rucksack (sold by Radioddity). While I suspect this is really originally designed for a laptop PC. It does seem to suit usage for portable radio as well. The bottoms of the internal pockets have holes for cables to pass through and the fact that the zip goes around 3 sides of the bag means it is possible to open and lay the bag flat if needed.
The contents of the Raddy rucksack are:
- XIEGU G90 Transceiver plus microphone.
- Komunica HF-PRO-2-PLUS-T 80m through 10m vertical antenna.
- Photo tripod with coax and radial wires.
- Foldable headphones.
- Thick plastic groundsheet.
- Logbook, brochures and pens.
- Various cables and connectors.
- (optionally) SOTABeams Bandspringer random wire antenna and arborists throw bag with cord.
Best 73 from Ed DD5LP.