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Friday, May 26, 2006

Mini Review of UBCD396 Digital Radio Scanner 

This is my mini review on my Uniden UBCD396T digital handheld radio scanner. The USA version of the scanner is the BCD396T. First, what this review is about. It's not meant to be a thorough review like you get from other websites. This is a review based on my personal opinion, on the items that I think are important and also my experience as a user of this scanner. I've had the scanner now for roughly 6 months so I would like to think I have a pretty good understanding of the scanner and can give a reasonable review. This is by no means in depth. Now We'll get onto the review.

Look & Feel

I won't post pictures because if you're reading this, the chances are, you've already read other reviews and seen pictures of the unit. I will mention that the size is quite good. Without the antenna on, the unit will not extend the length of your hand. In other words, the unit is roughly 5 inches in length, 1 inch in depth, and 2 inches in width. The case is pretty sturdy and the buttons, and general feel are solid. On thing that I don't like about the case is the belt clip style. The first thing I did when I got the scanner is throw the belt clip in my drawer. It's awkward if you're not used to this type of clip. It basically feels up side down. I know that's not a very descriptive explanation, but if you can see the photo of the clip, you'll understand what I mean. I've also noticed the belt clip is loose if you have a longer antenna on the unit as opposed to the stock antenna. The antenna tends to push downward causing the scanner to rotate on your belt. Some people actually like this style of belt clip, but it's not my cup of tea. I know you can buy pouches and maybe even other belt clips for it, so don't let that turn you off if you're thinking of getting one. While I don't like it, I've been getting along fine without the use of any belt clip.

In other reviews, people have mentioned that if you rub on the keys, then after a while, the writing tends to rub off. I believe this may be a problem in earlier models when it was first released in the USA, but I've been using mine quite a log over the past 6 months, and I've experienced no fading, or anything so Uniden have obviously fixed the issue. The buttons also have a nice feel to them. Some people may think they're a tad small, but I think it's fine.

The display is a tad small, but only in comparison to others on the market. It seems big enough to me and I've used several scanners, both desktop and portable over the years. The backlight is a nice looking blue and does a good job in illuminating the background. There's enough data on the screen to keep you informed of what's happening.


I'm sure you've read on other reviews that you should never judge a scanner by the stock antenna that you get with the unit. I wouldn't go as far as saying it sucks, but there are much better antenna's out there and they really do make a big difference. I think buyers of any scanner including the UBCD396T aka BCD396T need to think about what frequencies they are likely to want to listen to and then buy an antenna that suits it. For example, I tend to listen to the Police on 468 MHz and the Government Radio Network on 413-419 MHz so I have an antenna that tunes into that band pretty well. I use the Diamond RH771 which covers 144/430 MHz. The antenna socket on the scanner is a SMA socket but don't despair if you already own BNC antennas, because Uniden have generously supplied an adaptor which works well. My Diamond RH771 antenna comes in both SMA and BNC but at the time they didn't have any SMA versions in stock so I just got the BNC version. Despite what people think about loss of signal, I haven't had any problems with mine, and I've been taking it off almost every day so I can fit it in my briefcase. The antenna length for the RH771 is reasonably long at approximately a foot and a half (40 centimeters). That's a rough estimate because I don't have a ruler in front of me.

The scanner does a really good job in my opinion on picking up signals. I pick up both analog and digital APCO 25 police all over Sydney, Wollongong, Blue Mountains, and Central Coast which basically extends from the CBD around 100klms radius. I realize the Police would be using repeaters everywhere, but I still pick up lots of other conversations around the place. Sometimes in Close Call mode I pick up a little too much but that's probably because I live in Chatswood, NSW which is a bit of an RF swamp. I'm no expert on sensitivity of things like this, but I'm quite happy with the quality and distance of what I pick up with this radio scanner.

Ease of use

The UBC396T is one powerful little radio scanner but it does tend to require a bit of a learning curve. I think the hardest thing to come to grips with the scanner is the way the memory works. Most other scanners up until now have banks of memory locations and had limitations on things like how many trunking systems can be put in a bank etc. The memory allocation on the UBCD396T is very different but in a good way. Essentially, you have 6000 memory locations and you're free to use them almost any way you like. There are some limitations but in comparison to the way memory is done on most older scanners, this way is definitely a step in the right direction. The limitations are simply, you can have up to 400 systems, whereby each system can contain up to 20 groups. Each system can only have 10 quick keys attached to them which is a bit of a let down, but some people would argue that just means finding more creative ways of allocating your memory. There is also a limitation on how many talk groups you can have in a group. I believe it's about 200 talk groups which I think in most cases is sufficient but it would have been nice to have more than that. I believe it's a technical limitation though. Apart from those minor limitations, the memory allocation on the unit is brilliant. Uniden have also given us control channel only mode even for Motorola 400 MHz trunking systems which further reduces the amount of memory you'd need to use.

The other issue with the memory allocation is the way you access the memory. It's not difficult, but it does take a bit of getting used to. Essentially, you can assign quick keys to a system, and a group, and then turn them off and on as you like. Having something as powerful as this scanner comes with a price and that price is having a bit of a learning curve. Having said that, if you use it for an hour a day, you'll have the thing 90% down pat within a week.


Close Call
As mentioned earlier in the review, the close call seems to work fine albeit in my area, can tend to pick up stuff I don't want, but the nice thing with the scanner, is you can lockout the unwanted frequencies, and also turn on and off different bands so you tend to only pick up what you want. It really does work well though. I've used it to pick up the local fire department fire ground when they came to an alarm at my apartment building, as well as numerous other things and it works pretty well. I've never used a scanner with close call before so I have nothing to compare it to.

Trunk Tracking
I listen to our Government Radio Network here in Sydney which uses a Motorola 400 MHz trunking system. The volume tends to be a little on the soft side for trunk tracking. I have compared it to my Pro 2096 desktop scanner, and also my BC780XLT and both of those tend to be louder but it can easily be fixed by turning up the volume. You may need to remember to turn the volume down though if listening to other things because there does seem to be a pretty marked difference. The Australian version of the scanner did have a firmware bug in it when it first came out that didn't track the NSW radio network properly but Uniden fixed this issue with a firmware update, and now it tracks conversations flawlessly. It even picks up digital conversations that are trunked. But encrypted conversations can not be listened to and we'll probably never be able to.

Digital Reception
This is likely the reason you bought this scanner, or are thinking of buying one. You'll be happy to know that the unit works well in my opinion when it comes to listening to digital transmissions. Here in Sydney, the NSW Police are moving from Analog to Digital and currently about 90% of the Local Area Commands use Digital Apco 25. Initially, I had a bit of an issue with choppiness but once I learned how to use the scanner properly I alleviated the problem. You can actually adjust the digital threshold with the scanner, and as daunting as it may sound, It's actually quiet easy to do. Now when I listen to digital, it sounds great.

I've owned a lot of scanners over the years, but this one is definitely the best out of the lot. Uniden have definitely got it right with this scanner. I think they can make a lot of improvements but this is definitely heading in the right direction. The new Uniden 996 desktop scanner is supposed to be even better. Early last year I pondered what scanner to buy and couldn't find one that did what I wanted. I wanted a scanner that did control channel only mode trunk tracking, lots of memory, digital, and close call. When I heard about the 396, I had to have one, and bought one of the first ones to hit the Australian market. I highly recommend this radio scanner to anyone after one that can pick up digital and do trunk tracking. It does have it's issues, but the good far outweighs the bad.
If I were you, I wouldn't be sitting here reading this review, I'd be at your local retailer handing over some cash to buy this power horse.

Disclaimer: I have no association with Uniden whatsoever and decided to do this mini review to hopefully help people who are after real world reviews. Feel free to email me your comments. Check out the link on the main webpage.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Manly Quarantine Station 

I'm thinking of going for another Heritage tour of the Manly Quarantine Station this weekend, with the hopes of taking some photo's. For those that don't know, the Quarantine Station was used from the early 1800's up until around 1972 as the main quarantine area for people coming to sydney by boat. In the early days, it was the first place people would see when entering the heads of sydney harbour, and because of all the horrible diseases going around, in many cases, it was their last place they would ever see, because quite a large number of people died on the site.

Because of the diseases like Small Pox, Black Plague, Cholera, Typhoid and Influenza killing people by their millions around the world, the dead were often buried hastly in the dead of night (pardon the pun) without the proper last rights given to them, The place is said to be haunted because of this.

Unfortunately, a few years ago, the Hospital block of the quarantine station burned down due to clumsy electrical contractors working on the site, but I've been told that the tour is still very interesting. I have to admit, when I've been in the past, the hospital was one of the most interesting parts of the tour.

I've been on a heritage tour a couple of times now, and also a ghost tour once, and it really is quite eerie, and fun. If I do go, I'll be sure to post some photo's.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Website almost HTML compliant 

I've been going through the website with a fine toothcombe trying to make it as html 4.01 transitional compliant as possible. I think i've succeeded about 98%. The other 2% can't be done due to restraints in functionality and the fact I use Blogger for parts of the site which aren't Html 4.01 transitional compliant.

What's this mean in laymans terms? It means the site is now better written so people using other computers, and browsers will see the same as most other people. It also means the search engines will index my site better.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Health Update 

I've had a close call this last few days.. My abdomen has been feeling very tender on the right hand side in a particular area for the last few days and i've been concerned that it could be my Crohn's Disease flaring up. Yesterday I went home feeling sick, and today I occasionally felt a bit ill, but fortunately, i'm starting to feel better now. I have a killer ear ache now but that's good believe it or not, because that's not a symptom of my Crohn's acting up.

My sleep problems is still occuring. My sleep apnea is still bad, but believe it or not, doesn't feel as bad as before. I can't really tell though because some nights I think I had a good nights sleep only to be really tired the next day, and other days when I feel like I've slept badly, I seem fine all day. My Insomnia is also still a problem but no where near as bad on most nights. Some nights are really bad though. I certainly don't seem to be as concerned about it as much. I haven't been using the CPAP or more accurately, the APAP machine much lately because of a recurring stuffed up nose at night, and i've also managed to fall out of the habbit of doing so. Hopefully soon i'll get back to using it. Man.. I really envy you people that have no problems sleeping. I not only have trouble getting to sleep (Insomnia), but I can't stay asleep (Sleep Apnea). How's that for bad luck. The only thing that could beat that is if I started having nightmares :)

I'm going to go for a blood test sometime over the next couple of months. Nothing serious, just a check up on my Vitamin B12 levels due to having my bowel resection in 2001, and to get my C-Reactive Protein, Cholesterol, and Blood Sucrose Level checked. I'll also get my Iron level checked because from memory, I was a bit aenemic last time.

Well.. that's about all for now.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

More changes completed 

I apologise if anyone noticed tonight some really weird formatting issues on a few of the pages. I've been busy implimenting Comments to both the 'What Shits Me' section and the 'Photogallery' section.

All should hopefully be good now.

Saturday, May 13, 2006


Not much happening at the moment.. Doing lots of stuff to the website. I'm even thinking of changing webhosting companies to one that has ASP .NET 2.0 so I can start learning ASP. I hear it's supposed to be pretty good these days. Of course, this is just one of the many things I want to do with my website but severely lack the time to do it.

I'll get there though, so keep an eye open for changes. Some will be subtle, and some not so subtle.

One thing you may have noticed is the photogalleries have changed slightly. I deleted two of the galleries that were to do with my work since most people apart from work collegues will probably find them boring. I've also revived several older galleries. Incidently, they were there all along, but invisible. I accidently had blogger set to give me only 7 posts and I only just realised it. Silly me :)

More changes to come.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006 - The Photoblog Resource 

I was just going through some of my website logs and remembered that once upon a time, I placed my photography webpages on - The Photoblog Resource. I wish they'd allow you to do searches of sites though. As far as I can tell, it's all random. Unfortunately their add/update section is currently down. Hmmm.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Got my camera back.. woohoo! 

I got my Nikon D70 DSLR back from repair the other day. I have to say I was pretty impressed with Maxwell here in Sydney. They fixed it in 2 weeks even though they quoted up to 4 weeks. Other people experiencing the same issue had to wait longer than me so I'm happy with the turnaround time. The camera now works good again. Although, I haven't had a chance to get out and take more photo's. Hopefully soon.

A few changes to the website 

Well.. Just did a few changes. Those of you revisiting the site probably noticed the following.

1. The scrollers are now bigger, and faster. Currently they all say the same thing, but I'll get around shortly to updating the individual ones.

2. I've added a new What Shits Me section. I thought I'd document my pet hates as I find them. Apologies if the name offends you :)

3. I've re-added most of the earlier photo galleries.

4. Last but not least. You'll notice a few ad banners around. I'm just trialling them to see if they're worth keeping. Hopefully they don't stick out like a sore thumb and detract from the rest of the site.

I'll work on adding a bit more content soon. Keep an eye on the site.

Broken Links 

I'm in the midst of adding a new section on the website to replace the now defunct guestbook. It's the 'What Shits Me' section. I should have it up and running tonight or tomorrow. Keep an eye open.