Yaesu FT-4X is part of the new range of handhelds from Yaesu that attacks the concept of low-cost outdoor radios. Rugged casings, IP54 water protection and loud speakers are just some of the main common features of these 4 radios. The main differences are size and dual or single band, but you can see more in the table below.
|Display||Dot matrix||Dot matrix||6 char alpha||6 char alpha|
|Size (mm)||53 x104 x30||53 x104 x30||52 x90 x30||52 x90 x30|
As usual with many amateur radio products, your actual radio will have a letter at the end of the name designating the market it is built for: R is for North America, E is for Europe. Differences between the two versions are minimal, mostly related to usable band limits. The radio reviewed here is the European version and is labelled FT-4XE.
The “flagship” of this mini-army is the FT-65, which is supposed to replace the venerable FT-60, now 14 years old and a bit long in the tooth but still very popular. The FT-4X is a trimmed down version of it: physically smaller, with a smaller keypad and a very basic display.
To get competitive, Yaesu took a look at the successful radios in the value range (like the Baofeng UV-5R) and adopted some of their features for this new family of handhelds. Reverse SMA antenna connector, alarm or FM receive are all reasons why people hurried to call these “rebadged Baofengs”. I plan to find out if this is true below.
All the radios in this new Yaesu series use the same antenna, charger and accessories but the batteries are different on the bigger models and wouldn’t fit. The FT-65 and FT-25 also have the option of an upgraded 2500mAh battery.
A programming cable is available from Yaesu, as well as a tiny speaker mic or a VOX earpiece.
What’s in the box
The FT-4X box includes the radio, SBR-28LI 7.4V 1750mAh battery, SRA-15 antenna, SHB-18 belt clip, SAD-20B AC adapter, SBH-22 desk charger, operating manual and a lithium battery safety warning.
At a first look the FT-4X is small, solid and has good build quality; the speaker is surprisingly loud and audio is reasonably clear. The PTT button is angled and has a good feel.
This radio has IP54 intrusion rating. Translated to plain english, the unit is protected against intrusion of particles larger than 1mm and against liquid spray up to 60° from vertical. So, some fine dust may get in at some point, but no water when it’s raining.
Rubber gaskets are used all around (even for the battery terminals), so I’m pretty sure the rating is very genuine and you’re safe to take it out in the rain.
The tiny latch that keeps the battery in place is a bit too hidden and looks small and fragile. You will have troubles removing the battery with gloves / frozen hands and might break if radio is dropped. There aren’t too many reasons to remove it though.
Quickly testing the front-end performance in a bad RF environment and comparing to my other handhelds, my impression is it does OK. It did better than the Baofeng UV-5R or the Kenwood TH-F7E (called TH-F6A in North America) and seemed to be on par with the Kenwood TH-D7E. This is subjective and not a real measurement.
The FT-4X has a “real” S-meter, in the sense that it has 12 different steps (0-11). Probably it’s way-way off the (6dB/step and -93dBm for S9) standard, but it’s still a useful indication when looking for a better signal, for example.
There is no dual-receive but it has 2 VFOs and does dual-watch. Does cross-band split (satellite guys are now happy) but the minimum step is 5kHz (satellite guys are not happy anymore). Contrary to my initial impression, it looks like on the FT-4X you can actually save cross-band split channels to memory, but not on the FT-65. You can do this either by using a programming cable or with a procedure described in the Advance manual (link further down in this article).
To go into FM broadcast receive mode, you need to use VFO B or Memory mode and type in the frequency. VFO A doesn’t seem to be able to receive FM broadcast. For values under 100MHz you need to start with a 0, for example 090.300 for 90.3MHz. Good thing is it can also receive in the 4m (70MHz) band.
Installing the stock antenna, I noticed this doesn’t make proper contact at the SMA center pin, I think they went for the cheap stuff here. Just a minor mechanical issue, fixable, but it can kill the final stage. A very serious problem overall !
There is a T-CALL button next to the PTT that transmits an 1750Hz tone and there is also an Emergency button that puts the radio on the Home frequency and activates some sort of alarm: this makes the display light blink SOS in Morse code. The T-CALL button can be repurposed from the menu to the MONI function, which opens squelch when pressed; much more useful.
Keypad buttons are small, rubbery and soft, have a lot of travel and there are guards between each column. This makes the keypad very hard to use, vastly inferior to the Baofeng and about any radio I’ve ever had. For outdoors people, there is no chance to use the keypad with gloves.
Even more bad: the menu is sorted alphabetically so related functions are not grouped together. DCS at 10 but Repeater Shift at 31, because it’s fun to go up-down through the whole menu for two repeater-related functions, with that awful keypad, on that awful 6-character alphanumeric display. If you want to change the repeater shift from 7.6 to 1.6 for example, you’ll have to keep the Down key pressed for about a minute, as you can’t type the value in. CTCSS is actually under 38. TN FRQ (use V/M to switch between R and T values) and you enable transmit CTCSS from 36. SQL TYP (yeah, makes no sense). If the guy that thought that out would build a car, it would have the brake pedal in a submenu at number 17 and it would require about 6 key presses to enable it.
To make things worse: there are no shortcuts for frequently used menu settings and no quick access, all you have is scrolling with the tiny up/down keys through the 45-item list. The keypad supports secondary (Function + key) and tertiary (long press key) functions, but most of them are not used for anything. To change the output power for example, you’ll have to go deep in the menu, apparently it’s not important enough to be a secondary function. And if you happen to need one of the very few secondary functions you’ll have to remember them by heart, because there is no symbol on the keys that tell you what other functions they support.
Awkward: on the FT-4X the menu item 28 RF SQL is supposed to adjust squelch level, with settings from OFF to S9. However, there is another setting for Squelch Level that you access when you press F and then T-CALL, with options from Level 0 to 15. Both affect where the squelch opens, but it’s not clear what’s the difference.
Silver lining: the keypad is illuminated and you have two programmable buttons. Haven’t tried them yet, but one of them will probably be the output power level. There is also an Automated Repeater Shift (ARS) function that will … automatically enable repeater shift whenever you are on a bandplan repeater frequency. This doesn’t work very well for the UK on UHF but it helped in about half of the situations.
The standard printed manual is not great. Lacks essential instructions and you might want to consult the online-only Advance Manual.
Unlocking wideband transmit
To enable transmitting outside amateur radio bands, follow this procedure:
- Turn off the radio
- Hold PTT and T-CALL pressed and turn on the radio
- Release PTT and T-CALL
- Type in the following code (it won’t show on the screen):32406665
The radio will restart and wideband transmit is now enabled. Follow the same procedure again to disable it.
A look inside
The main reason the Baofeng UV-5R and most of the chinese VHF/UHF handhelds managed to be so cheap is because they are all built around a transceiver-on-a-chip for walkie-talkies from RDA Microelectronics called RDA1846. The latest version is RDA1846S and this is what pretty much what all the cheap chinese radios use, together with the companion chip RDA5802 that acts as a broadcast FM receiver.
This solution, although modern and compact, is not designed for performance but for cost. Combine this with wide front end filters and you get a very fragile receiver that won’t be able to rough RF environments. Let’s pop the Yaesu FT-4X open and see what we’ll find.
Not much on the front, just the LM4890 1W audio amplifier (and some poor solddering).
Removing the solid aluminium cover on the back takes a bit more time, as there a quite a few screws holding it in. But, this is the PCB side with all the goodies:
It looks like there is decent input/output filtering, definetely more than in a Baofeng.
This is the brain of the radio, a GigaDevice GD32F101, an ARM Cortex-M3 microcontroller. Looking around the PCB, we can spot the RDA5802N FM receiver right next to the audio connectors:
As by now I expected to find the infamous RDA1846S on the same PCB, the most probable place it would be under the small metallic shielding cage. Crafty people, you can’t properly see the markings on that chip, but there are enough clues:
Yes, that’s a “46S” under there. It should start with an 18, and there it is (different angle):
So yeah, the rumours are true, the new Yaesu radios are redesigned Baofengs. Which is not necessarily bad.
I had to completely rewrite this paragraph after I discovered the internals of the Yaesu FT-4X are very common with a Baofeng. You get proper front-end filtering and the step in build quality is there, but Yaesu missed the mark in few important areas that Baofeng actually got right (or at least better). While the RF side is superior and it feels like a more robust radio, the user interface is the worst I’ve seen yet.
Ignoring the antenna connector problem I’d say It’s a reasonable outdoors radio with a bad user interface, maybe suited for infrequent use.
As closing comment, Baofeng/Kenwood accesories won’t fit, the FT-4X has different battery and audio connectors. Antennas are interchageable and the Baofeng UV-5R can be charged in the Yaesu FT-4X desk charger (but not the other way around). Unfortunately there is no AA battery case available for the FT-4X or its new family, like with older Yaesu handhelds.