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Railfan Technology > Uniden SDS-100 review

Date: 08/08/21 10:14
Uniden SDS-100 review
Author: WW

Every so often a question comes up about railfan use of the Uniden SDS-100 scanner because it can be equipped with the option to decode NXDN radio communications, which the railroads will eventually widely adopt.  Recently, I purchased an SDS-100, not for railfanning purposes.  My reason for purchasing was that I recently relocated from an area with relatively little non-railroad digital communications to an area where nearly all non-railroad communications are digital, mostly P25 in the 800 mHz band.  For that use, the SDS-100 performs relatively well, probably better than most any other portable digital scanners.  The SDS-100 replaced my old, obsolete, and dying GRE digital scanner.

All of that said, for railfanning purposes, the SDS-100 is, bluntly, a poor performer.  I compared it with the performance of my other portable radios, and the SDS-100 performed worse than all of them.  First, the radio is very difficult and obtuse to program from the keypad.  I've worked with two-way radio programming for around 30 years, and even I find keypad programming the SDS-100 to be tedious and non-intuitive.  This alone would cross the SDS-100 off of my recommended list for casual railfan use.  I also would not recommend that an inexperienced radio user try to program the radio through the Sentinel software.  Like most radio programming software, it is very easy to miss or misprogram some obtuse setting in the radio that can lock out bands, etc.  

Second, and likely most importantly for railfans, the SDS-100 is flat-out "deaf" in the VHF railroad bands.  It has very poor sensitivity in those bands--my other portables (including the analog Uniden Bearcat BC-125AT) will happily receive signals and output good audio quality that won't even open the squelch on the SDS-100.  This is especially true with the stock antenna that comes with the SDS-100.  Using a Smiley Slim Duck tuned to the 160 mHz range improves the SDS-100 reception somewhat in the railroad bands (and doesn't seem to adversely affect the 800 mHz digital reception very much), but the SDS-100 still significantly underperforms my other portable radios.

Third, I only rate the output volume of the SDS-100 at fair.  My other portables all have higher audio volume, which can be important when one is trying to hear the radio in a noisy environment.

Fourth, like the BC-125 AT, the SDS-100 has a plastic case that might not protect the radio very well if it is dropped onto a hard surface.  The optional nylon case is pretty much a necessity to protect the radio from mechanical damage, such as being dropped.

A couple of other notes, the SDS-100 uses a proprietary battery pack, not AA batteries.  As such, one should probably carry an extra battery if one plans to use the radio for more than a few hours at a time.  The radio uses a mini-USB to USB cable for charging and does come with a 110V AC-to USB adapter.  Charge time is around 4-6 hours in my experience.  The operating manual states that the radio can be powered by the USB cable, but the radio will not charge if  the radio is turned on while the USB cable is being used.

So, the only compelling reason to purchase the SDS-100 is for non-railfanning purposes.  The Uniden BC-125AT will easily outperform the SDS-100 on the analog railroad radio channels for about 1/6 the price.  It is also possible to purchase an NXDN-capable commercial portable for around the same price for an NXDN-enabled SDS-100.  NXDN digital portables such as the Icom IC-F3161D or Kenwood NX-200 (both of which I've discussed at length in other posts on this forum) will absolutely beat the SDS-100 into the dirt in reception performance in the railroad bands.

Date: 08/09/21 12:33
Re: Uniden SDS-100 review
Author: exopr

Thanks for your review, good to know. 

Date: 08/09/21 16:31
Re: Uniden SDS-100 review
Author: RFandPFan

Excellent review, thanks.

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