Uniden SDS100 review

| diciembre 4, 2018

Uniden SDS100 review

Uniden SDS100: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

By Larry Van Horn N5FPW

The SDS100’s digital performance is better than any other scanner in both simulcast and weak-signal environments.”

The integration of SDR technology into our street scanners is now a reality with the release of the Uniden SDS100 handheld scanner.

Understanding Simulcast Reception Issues

Until now, traditional scanners did not have the ability to handle QPSK, a modulation scheme generated by Phase I and II simulcast systems, and as a result had fallen short when attempting to demodulate these signals resulting in poor reception and unintelligible voice.

A simulcast system transmits the same traffic on the same frequencies at the same time from two or more locations.

The purpose of a simulcast system is to provide better coverage within its intended operational area. These signals tend to arrive at your scanner with slightly different time delays, which causes interference and sometimes the interference is so bad as to block the entire conversation. This result is most noticeable when a strong digital voice transmission constantly breaks-up where it should be clear.

SDS100 function and menu controls. (Courtesy: Uniden) BT953 3600 mA battery pack. (Courtesy Universal Radio) scope of this review.

To average scanner users the solution is a properly designed I/Q receiver that can recognize the proper timing of these digital signals. The SDS100 is a true I/Q scanner that is designed to handle the challenging environment of simulcast trunk radio systems mentioned above.

What’s in the Box?

I received our review model SDS100 (serial number 383Z88001976) from Universal Radio Inc. in Worthington, Ohio. The item arrived properly packaged for shipment and on time based on shipping information received from Universal Radio.

Items included in the box included:

  • SDS100 Scanner Radio
  • SMA Semi-Ridged Antenna
  • SMA- BNC adapter
  • 411.com registration card
  • USB to USB Mini-B programming cable
  • Rotating Belt Clip.
  • Belt clip Plastic Attachment with 1 screw installed
  • Owner’s manual printed copy with online PDF format available
  • MicroSD Card (8 GB) installed. Included on the microSD Card: a copy of the
  • RadioReference Database (HPDB), Uniden’s Sentinel Software, and operating files
  • Formed Cardboard packaging – molded pulp and external box
  • Various plastic bags for listed components

What is Under the Hood

The SDS100 is a handheld scanner with a multi-color LCD display. The unit is slightly shorter than the Uniden BCD436HP handheld scanner, narrower with the taper at the bottom, but significantly thicker. It has a handgrip molded into the unit. The rubber trim around the SDS100 handgrip and bottom areas feels a little slicker than the rubber trim around the Uniden 436 handheld.

The SDS100 keypad is backlit. There are three front softkey buttons (the functions of which change depending on scanner status). The SDS100 has a select/volume/squelch multi-control knob on top of the unit and side-actuated function and menu controls.

There are two connectors on the right side of the scanner. One is used for USB PC connectivity and battery charging (USB Mini-B), and the other is a USB Micro connector with its usage still to be determined and/or announced.

Uniden includes their Sentinel programming software (programming and firmware updates are via MicroSD card or through USB Mini-B connector) and it can be used on Windows 2000 – XP – Vista – 7 – 8 – 10 operating systems.

The new version of their Sentinel software will support three scanners (SDS100 / BCD436HP / BCD536HP). While you can program frequencies/information into any of the previously mentioned scanners from the unit’s keyboard, the Uniden HPDB database updates will require a connection to the Internet and computer to get that job done.

As with previous units, the SDS100 has Close Call™

RF capture capability and supports CTCSS / DCS / NAC / RAN / Color Code decoding.

Current SDS100 units are shipping with one 3.7V 5400 mA Lithium Ion battery pack. This pack can provide up to eight hours of operation on average. The battery pack will charge while the scanner is operating (first manual issued 18 The Spectrum Monitor November 2018 was incorrectly stated it would not). Universal Radio advises, as of 10-8-18, “We are shipping the updated version that includes the larger high-capacity BT954 3.7 VDC 5400 mAh lithium ion battery.”

What You can Hear

What can be monitored with the SDS100? It mirrors the capability of the BCD436/536 scanners. SDS100 frequency coverage, steps, modes, systems and voices includes: 

  • Frequency coverage: 25-512, 758-824, 849-869, 894960 and 1240-1300 MHz.
  • Frequency Steps: 5, 6.25, 7.5, 8.33, 10, 12.5, 15, 20, 25, 50, or 100 kHz.
  • Modulation Modes: AM, NFM, FM, WFM, or FMB.

System Types: Analog conventional frequencies; trunk radio system types: Motorola™ Type I/II/IIi Hybrid/II Smartnet / SmartZone / SmartZone OmniLink, EDACS™

– Standard (Wide)/Standard Networked/Narrowband (Narrow)/ Narrowband Networked / SCAT / ESK / ProVoice,

LTR™ Standard, APCO Project 25 Standard, Phase I FDMA, Motorola X2-TDMA, Phase II TDMA and LSM systems. Additional systems, such as MotoTRBO Capacity + and Connect +, DMR Tier III, Hytera XPT, Single Channel DMR, NXDN 4800/9600 and EDACS ProVoice are available by a paid upgrade.

System Voices: Analog, EDACS Analog, ProVoice,

APCO-25 Common Air Interface Common Air Interface,

Phase I FDMA, Phase II TDMA, DMR, NXDN.

It should be noted that the Provoice, DMR and NXDN modes are optional and requires a paid upgrade with unit registration on the my.uniden.com website.

SDS100 Handheld Features

There are three new major features incorporated into the SDS100 (feature set and all specifications are subject to

change).

True FQ™ Receiver – Designed to improve digital performance in even the most challenging RF environments. An I/Q receiver captures the complete signal waveform in three dimensions, allowing for improved error correction and digital signal recovery. This is the first scanner to incorporate software defined radio (SDR) technology. Uniden claims that its SDS100’s digital performance is better than any other scanner in both simulcast and weak-signal environments. We will exam that claim a bit closer later in this review.

•    Customizable Color Display – You can set the display color for each field in the display. Additionally, for many fields you can select the information provided. The SDS100 is also the first scanner that allows you to decide what to display, where, and in what color. The user also has custom fields on the unit display to put information right where you want it displayed.

•    Water Resistant (JIS4) – Resistant to dust and damage caused by splashing water from any direction (when all jack covers are in place).

Other BCDx36HP and SDS100 Features common to the two scanners include:

•    HomePatrol Database – Includes all known radio systems in the US and Canada. The database is updatable with the Sentinel software and Uniden updates the main database weekly.

•    Location-Based Scanning – Allows you to set your location(s) by ZIP code or GPS coordinates for instant reception.

The Auto-locate feature will determine your general location if you don’t know where you are.

•    Range Control – Lets you set how far out from your current location the scanner will search for Channels in

Favorites Lists and the Database. Location precision for Departments and Sites that allows you to define a location and range using rectangles instead just of a single circle.

•    Serial GPS input for location-based scanning using the Uniden GC-GPSK or another compatible GPS receiver.

Connect to a GPS receiver (not included) for precise system selection and continuing reselection when you travel. The scanner will automatically select what to scan based on your current location as provided by an external GPS unit.

•    Favorites Scan – Allows you to organize your Systems into Favorites Lists. The scanner can scan any combination of Favorites Lists and the Full Database.

•    8 GB microSD card (BCD436HP has a 4 GB microSD card) that holds the entire US and Canada database of radio systems, plus leaves room for hundreds of hours of audio Side by Side: Uniden SDS100 (left) and BCD436HP (right) recording. Also used for storing Favorites Lists, Profiles, all your settings, and Discovery sessions. MicroSD cards of one GB up to 32 GB supported.

•    Trunk Tracker V Operation – Scans APCO 25 Phase 1 and Phase 2, X2-TDMA, Motorola,EDACS, and LTR trunked systems, as well as conventional analog and P25 digital channels.

•    Instant Replay – Plays back up to 240 seconds (4 minutes) of the most recent unsquelched transmissions without the added quiet time between those transmissions.

•    Audio Recording – Captures and stores individual transmissions until squelch closes for later playback with time stamping and some metadata via scanner or PC.

•    Custom Alerts – You can program your scanner to alert when you receive a Channel or Unit ID, a Close Call hit, an ID is transmitted with an Emergency Alert, or a Toneout hit. For each alert, you can select from nine different tone patterns, 15 volume settings, seven colors, and three flash patterns.

•    Multicolor LED Alert – The alert LED with seven colors (blue, red, magenta, green, cyan, yellow, or white, can be used with your Custom Alerts).

•    Trunking Discovery – Monitors system traffic on a trunked radio system to find unknown IDs and automatically records audio and logs new channels for later review and identification.

•    Conventional Discovery – Searches a range of frequencies to find unknown frequencies and automatically

records audio and logs new channels for later review and identification.

•    Analysis Modes – Includes trunked system analysis of signal, quality and activity, and EDACS/LTR LCN finder.

•    Scan by Service Types – Scan your channels by Service Type i.e. Fire, Police, Railroad, etc.

•    Multi-Level Display and Keypad light – Makes the display and keypad easy to see in dim light with multiple backlight levels.

•    Temporary or Permanent Avoid – For Systems/Sites/ Departments/Channels.

•    System/Channel Number Tagging – Number tags allow you to quickly navigate to a specific Favorites List, System, or Channel.


•    Start-up Configuration – You can program each of your Favorites Lists with a Startup Key (0-9) so that when you power up the scanner and press the key number, just those Favorites Lists assigned to the key will be enabled for scan.

•    Close Call RF Capture Technology – Lets you set the scanner, so it detects and provides information about nearby radio transmissions. Close Call Do-not-Disturb checks for Close Call activity in between channel reception so active channels are not interrupted.

•    Broadcast Screen – Allows the scanner to ignore hits on known broadcast frequencies including pager frequencies in search and Close Call modes. You can also program up to 10 custom frequency ranges that the scanner will ignore.

•    Fire Tone-Out Standby/Tone Search – Lets you set the scanner to alert you if a two-tone sequential page is transmitted. You can set up to 32 Tone-Outs. The scanner will also search and display unknown tones.

•    PC Programming – Use the Sentinel software to manage your scanners Profiles, Favorites Lists, Databases, and firmware updates. Makes database and firmware updates simple.

•    Priority/Priority w/DND Scan – priority channels let you keep track of activity on your most important channels while monitoring other channels for transmissions.

•    Priority ID Scan – Allows you to set priority to talkgroup IDs.

•    Intermediate Frequency Exchange – changes the IF used for a selected channel/frequency to help avoid image and other mixer-product interference on a frequency.

•    Individual Channel Volume Offset – Allows you to adjust the volume offset for each channel.

•    Configurable Band Defaults – Allows you to set the step (5, 6.25, 7.5, 8.33, 10, 12.5,15, 20, 25, 50 or 100 kHz) and modulation (AM, FM, NFM, WFM, or FMB) for 31 different bands.

•    Repeater Find (Reverse) – Allows the scanner to try to switch to the repeater frequency if an input frequency is found.

•    Adjustable Scan/Search Delay/Resume – Set a delay up to 30 seconds or a forced resume up to 10 seconds for each channel or search.

•    Data Naming – Allows you to name each Favorites List, System, Site, Department, Channel, ID, Location, Custom Search, and SAME group, using up to 64 characters.

•    Duplicate Input Alert – Alerts you if you try to enter a name or frequency already stored.

•    Quick Keys – You can assign up to 100 Quick Keys to your Favorites Lists, Systems, Departments and Sites.

•    Search Avoids – You can temporarily avoid up to 250 frequencies and permanently avoid up to 250 frequencies in any search mode or Close Call mode.

•    10 Custom Searches – Lets you program up to 10 custom search ranges.

•    Search with Scan Operation – Lets you include Custom Search ranges during scan operation.

•    Three Search Keys – You can assign three of the number keys to start a Custom Search, Tone-Out Search, or Close Call Search.

•    Quick Search – Allows you to start searching at the displayed frequency or enter a frequency and start searching.

•    SAME Weather Alert/Priority – Lets your scanner alert you when a SAME alert is transmitted on a NOAA weather channel. You can also set a weather channel as a priority channel.

•    Date/Time – Date/Time indication on display with time stamping for recordings. Also Receive Signal Strength Indicator (RSSI) displayed.

•    Built-in Battery Charger – Allows you to charge the rechargeable batteries in the scanner from any USB port.

The Good

While we do not have the simulcast issue here in our radio neighborhood, I have carefully monitored traffic on various newsgroups. While a few commenters have mentioned that the SDS100 did not improve their simulcast issues, it appears so far that the bulk of the SDS100 purchasers that have experienced the problem with other scanners are satisfied with this scanner performance in their challenging RF environments. If this trend holds then I would say this radio may be a significant step forward in solving the simulcast reception issue. More on this later in the review.

Our test unit was more sensitive than my Uniden x36 series scanners in most frequency ranges. I was pleasantly surprised how well it performed in my two favorite bands: civilian and military aircraft bands. Uniden supplied sensitivity specs for the 436 vs the SDS100 scanners are listed in table one. It backs up what we were able to observe during our on-air testing.

Overall, I liked the modern feel of the unit. It looks good and uses the great menu system from the x36 line of scanners. Consequently, there won’t be much of a learning curve if you owned a x36 series scanner. While the Sentinel software is adequate for most the computer related operations of the SDS100, I still prefer to program my high-end Uniden scanners using third party software from Butel in the Netherlands. You can learn more about their ARC536 software online at http://www.butel.nl/products/arc536/arc536. html.

The scanning speed of the SDS100 beat that of my x36 series scanners. I tend to program a lot of stuff, especially when I have loaded my civilian/military aircraft favorites. The SDS100 handled my larger files quite well.

The Bad

As most of you know from reading my scanner reviews here in TSM and the former Monitoring Times magazine over the years, there is no perfect scanner. I was really hoping that the SDS100 might have been the one. But try as I might, to be honest, the current version of the SDS100 will not find a home in my shack for reasons you will see below.

First, the speaker is horrible. The fidelity is awful. the unit has plenty of audio power, but it can easily overdrive the tiny, tinny-sounding speaker at higher volume levels. Honestly it is the worst I have heard of any of the Uniden scanners I own. Others SDS100 users appear to like the audio. I don’t.

While the multi-color display provides endless options for how and what information you can view on it, you won’t be seeing it well or even at all in bright sunlight. In bright mobile environments most Uniden handheld screens I have tested can be hard to view. My 436 has issues in this regard. The Whistler TRX-1 screen is much brighter, but it does not display anywhere near the information that the Uniden 436/ SDS100 does.

To combat viewing issues in bright sunlight environments, Paul Opitz at Uniden has suggested that the display is more viewable in the black/white mode in direct sunlight. During our test we tried that option and it appeared to not have make that much difference. This problem is not unique to the SDS100. Many smartphones, tablets, and other portable electronic device screens suffer with their screens being washed out in bright light environments.

Our last negative item is the antenna connector. It appears that to maintain water resistant integrity, the antenna connector on the SDS100 is slightly recessed into the unit. I had some difficulty attaching my antenna’s BNC connector to the unit. For those wishing to use aftermarket antennas with higher gain or for specific frequencies, in some situations you may need to use an adapter.

The Ugly

First and foremost, this scanner generates heat! While that might not necessarily be a problem when you first use thus unit, it may be down the road a bit. It was the first thing that stood out as I started conducting my tests. During our test is did not run overly warm or hot, but never the less the case was warm.

This radio intercepts and processes radio signals ferently than any previous scanner you may have ever used in the past. Some SDR radios, SDR dongles, computers and other computer-related devices will run warm after a certain amount of time processing commands. Since there is I/Q computer technology inside the SDS100, this scanner is no different.

If you have ever used one of those RTL-SDR USB dongles available at Amazon with I/Q circuitry you know how warm those things can get after a short period of operation.

The SDS100 we tested never did approach those heat levels, but heat is always a concern to me as an electronics technician. An added concern in this regard is, what happens if I wrap the SDS100 in a third-party case? Depending on what materials of which the case is made, I am concerned that

putting the SDS100 into a case might escalate heat issues. Only time will tell if heat will become a major issue by aging the SDS100 components faster than it should, thus causing possible heat related electronic component failures.

It appears that some of the units, possibly in the initial shipment of SDS100 scanners from the factory, suddenly quit receiving, which resulted in those customers having to send the radio back to Uniden in Fort Worth, Texas, for repair. Various theories have been proffered in online groups regarding what was causing the radios to stop receiving signals. No official word from Uniden has been offered so far. Therefore, we have no explanation as to what caused this issue or how extensive the issue is/was—no recall campaign was initiated by Uniden regarding this reception failure issue.

It is unknown at this time if this is related to the heat issue I outlined above, a manufacturing issue/part defect, or quality control at the factory. If I hear anything more, I will surely pass it along here in the pages of TSM.

This Uniden scanner uses a battery pack for portable operation. It should be noted that this is not the first time Uniden has gone this route for powering their handhelds.

The older Bearcat BC100XLT, BC200XLT, BC205XLT, and the Sportcat SC-140 and SC-150 scanners immediately come to mind.

Shortly before the SDS100 units started shipping,

Uniden issued a press release on the original battery pack, which read: “IMPORTANT NOTICE! After final design, we found that the battery life with the included battery did not meet our expectations for run time. So, we are changing our design to use a bigger battery that can last 8 hours. When this battery is ready, we will send you one, at no charge. Simply register your scanner at: my.uniden.com. We appreciate your patience while we get these into production.”

The initial BT953 2 cell AAA battery pack was rated at 3.7V 3600 mA, which provided the user with at best 320 minutes of operation (5.3 hours). Since the initial release Uniden is now supplying a higher capacity three AAA cell BT954 battery pack that can deliver on average up to eight hours of operation. Unlike the Uniden 436, you will not be able to run any other type of batteries other than the Uniden Lithium Ion BT953/954 battery packs. At press time we do not have a price if the user wants to purchase extra battery packs.

I can confirm from field reports that the SDS100 has not been completely effective in eliminating the simulcast reception issue mentioned earlier in this article. The SDS100’s claim to fame is better reception of simulcast systems. Many say that it has made a notable improvement in receiving their local simulcast system, but there is a mix of good versus bad reports.

Add the poor simulcast reception issue along with the units that have completely died or went deaf makes me wonder if these issues involved only the initial shipment of SDS100 scanners sold here in the United States, or does it represent something more widespread? Hopefully the picture will become clearer as additional scanner shipments make their way from the Uniden factory and are sold into the marketplace. Finally, the ugliest part of the SDS100 scanner saga of them all is the price! If you want to purchase the SDS100 be prepared to shell out some bigtime cash. List price for a SDS100 is $700. The prevailing street price appears to have settled in around $650. If you add in the three mode upgrades (Uniden upgrade prices: ProVoice $50, DMR $60,

NXDN $60—dealers charge even high prices), you now have a scanner that will be pushing $820 or more depending 22 The Spectrum Monitor November 2018 on taxes and shipping.

The Uniden BCD436HP pricing is all over the place.

I have seen two distinct list prices of $530 and $600. Street prices range from $410 to $500. Taking the low end and adding the upgrades mentioned above and you up to $580 for the 436 handheld, $280 cheaper than the SDS100 with upgrades (and that is still not chump change). Be prepared for some major sticker shock if you purchase the SDS100 scanner.

Overall Rating and Final Thoughts

First, I must confess that I have used/tested many Uniden scanners for years. I like the company and their product development staff. Paul Opitz has been one of the true innovators in developing new scanners/features and getting it into marketplace during his time at Uniden. Given the complexity built-in to these small technological wonders, the SDS100

like most of Uniden’s scanners continues to amaze me.

But should you buy a SDS100 when the BCD436/536 will do. I think the biggest factor in your decision to buy this new scanner is simple. Is simulcast reception an issue where you routinely monitor? If it is, then you might be able to justify an $820+ scanner purchase. The SDS100 will afford you the best chance of combating the reception problems associated with the simulcast issue.

If you are looking for a quality product and are not interested in the three new features mentioned previously in this review, that the SDS100 offers, you can save a bundle by purchasing a Uniden BCD436HP.

Bottom line: No one can argue that the SDS100 seems to be a nice evolution from the older 436/536 scanners.

Only you can decide if the price is worth the upgrade to the SDS100.

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