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Railfan Technology > Anytone AT-D878UVII Portable Radio review--A good railfan radio?

Date: 10/09/22 09:37
Anytone AT-D878UVII Portable Radio review--A good railfan radio?
Author: WW

A few weeks ago I teased that I planned to post a review on a new portable radio for railfan use.  Well, here it is: the Anytone AT-D878UVII.  First, the disclaimer:  If you are just a casual railfan user of radio for railfanning, you can likely skip the rest of this review.  The AT-D878UVII is complex analog/DMR digital radio best suited for amateur radio operators who also want a portable radio that will do double duty as a railfanning radio.  I’m going to skip over most of its many neat features for amateur radio use, and concentrate mainly on its performance as a railfan radio.

The AT-D878UVII is a high quality, solidly-built Chinese radio that, common to many of the higher end Chinese radios, can be set up to via the programming software to operate in one of three configurations applicable to US operation:
FCC Part 90 Commercial 2-way radio
Transmit:  136-174 mHz VHF and 400-480 mHz UHF
                    Frequencies can NOT be programmed from the radio keypad
FCC Part 97 Amateur radio
Transmit:  144-148 mHz VHF and 420-450 mHz UHF
                   Frequencies can be programmed from the radio keypad
Open (“European Commercial”), not compliant for transmitting in amateur or commercial bands
Transmit:  136 174 mHz VHF and 400-480 mHz UHF
                   Frequencies can be programmed from the radio keypad

Note: the radio has full receive capabilities in the 136-174 mHz VHF and 400-480 mHz UHF band in any of the three configurations, however, keyboard frequency entry is disabled in the Commercial (Part 90) configuration.
The AT-D878UVII has become quite popular among preppers as a “SHTF” radio because, in the open (“European Commercial”) mode it will transmit (not legally) in the commercial bands, the amateur bands, and the Family Radio Service (FRS) and General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) bands, and is field programmable from the keypad.

In appearance and function, the AT-D878UVII operates and programs more like a commercial 2-way radio than an amateur radio.  There are literally dozens of combinations of how keys, etc. can be programmed to operate.  Thus, the radio can be set up to operate pretty well as a railfan radio.  The AT-D878UVII has 4,000 available memory channels, so there is plenty of memory for just about any radio task.  A quick note about DMR digital radio—this has become one of the common digital platforms for amateur radio—there is a wealth of information on the internet about that.  What DMR is NOT is a digital platform that will decode the railroad digital radio standard platform--NXDN.

So, how does the AT-D878UVII perform for railfanning?  Programmed correctly, it is a pretty darned good performer.  Its sensitivity is better than the Uniden BC-125AT scanner and nearly as good as my “flagship” Wouxun KG-UV6X radio.  The AT-D878UVII seems better than both in selectivity.  The AT-D878UVII approaches my Icom and Kenwood commercial portable radios in performance.  The AT-D878UVII has decent scan speed.  One of the few “inconvenient” features is that it takes a few keystrokes to add or delete a channel from the scan list.  The AT-D878UVII has very good audio quality, even at the highest volume setting, which is one of the loudest of any portable radio that I have.  Battery life is excellent, though fully charging the radio on the desktop charger can take up to a couple of hours or more.

Now, about price and what’s included.  The AT-D878UVII is available from several vendors online, prices currently are around $220.00.  An AT-D878UVII Plus model is available for around $100 more that includes Bluetooth capability—an option that I found unnecessary for my use.  Included is a desktop charger, proprietary battery, programming cable (programming software is a free download), a decent performing antenna (for my test, I used the same Wouxun-type antenna that I use on my Wouxun KG-UV6X and that is about 2” shorter than the standard AT-D878UVII antenna), and an operating manual that is actually fairly well-written and useful.  I purchased my AT-D878UVII from Powerwerx—where I also purchased separately the Wouxun-type 4” stubby antenna and a nylon carrying case, those two items that I could not find on other AT-D878UVII vendor sites.  The nylon carrying case looks to be made by the same outfit that makes the Wouxun and Uniden BC-125AT carrying cases that are all of good quality.  They all share a “D-swivel” that is also compatible with Kenwood belt clip swivels.  Common to many Chinese radios, the programming/earpiece/speaker mike plug receptacle on the radio is a Kenwood type, meaning that most Kenwood-plug type accessories may be compatible with it.

In conclusion, if you are an amateur radio person already interested in DMR radio, the AT-D878UVII is considered one of the “flagship” radios for that purpose, AND it will function as a decent railfan radio, too.  Also, though I have not tested these nor do I have plan to test it, Anytone makes two “sister” mobile radios to the AT-D878UVII, the AT-D578UV III Plus DMR Tri-band Amateur Mobile Radio and the AT-578UVIII Pro Dual Band Commercial Mobile Radio.

I have yet to experiment with all the various amateur DMR features of the radio, but all indications are that it will be fun for that use, too. 

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 10/09/22 09:41 by WW.

Date: 10/09/22 12:07
Re: Anytone AT-D878UVII Portable Radio review--A good railfan rad
Author: skyview

I have one of these and it is indeed an excellent railfan radio!  Highly recommended and even better if you have your amateur radio license as well.  One item I didnt see mentioned (perhaps I missed) was that the radio has dual VFO, so you can simultaniously monitor two seperate frequencies, very handy!

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 10/09/22 12:08 by skyview.

Date: 10/09/22 12:43
Re: Anytone AT-D878UVII Portable Radio review--A good railfan rad
Author: WW

Yes, I did omit that it has dual watch.  It can monitor on two VFO's, but not receive simultaneously.  I also did not mention that the screen of the AT-D878UVII is full color and is user configurable.  The display is attractive and practical, but it, like most similar screens, is hard to read in bright sunlight.

Date: 10/11/22 14:42
Re: Anytone AT-D878UVII Portable Radio review--A good railfan rad
Author: x9000

Is it possible to get a copy of the code plug with the railroad channels programmed in?

Date: 10/12/22 07:22
Re: Anytone AT-D878UVII Portable Radio review--A good railfan rad
Author: WW

x9000 Wrote:
> Is it possible to get a copy of the code plug with
> the railroad channels programmed in?

I just modified an existing code plug.  The channel list can be exported from the programming software as a .csv file that is readable by Excel.  Then, just add the AAR railroad channels to the list in Excel and import the modified channel list back into the programming software.  One can also create an "AAR" Zone in the Zone List, and then add all of the AAR channels to that list.  Finally, one can create an "AAR" scan list, then add or subtract AAR channels from that list as one needs to.  By the way, if there is interest, I can show how to quickly create all of the AAR channels in Excel as a .csv file for the various radio programming software out there than can import .csv files.  It saves a lot of time. 

Date: 10/12/22 15:41
Re: Anytone AT-D878UVII Portable Radio review--A good railfan rad
Author: x9000

I'd like to see what you did with Excel.  

Date: 10/12/22 19:46
Re: Anytone AT-D878UVII Portable Radio review--A good railfan rad
Author: WW

x9000 Wrote:
> I'd like to see what you did with Excel.  

Let me see if I can summarize it.  Chances are, you have acquired a code plug (for those who haven't worked with DMR, etc., "code plug" is just a fancy name for a radio program file with channel and other data included) from someone else or from a source that has "pre-built" code plugs for, say, a certain geographical area.  For example, my original "code plug" that I obtained is a code plug with all the DMR repeaters located in my home state, plus a DMR contact list of thousands of contacts worldwide that have talked to ham radio operators via DMR in my state.  I did not want to "re-invent the wheel" on all of that, so I just added the 180 or so AAR analog channels to the bottom of the  channel list contained in that code plug.

To do that, you open the code plug file in the 878 programming software.  Save it as a new file name, then work in that file (so you have the original file if you have to go back to it).  Then, on the Tools tab in the software, scroll down to "export".  Click on that and a new box will appear showing all of the various "pages" in the programming software.  Click on "Channel" and it will open a save box as a .csv file.  Name that file as you wish and save it where you will know where it is on your computer.  

One other note--I got my "original" code plug from the Bridgecom website (they are a big seller of the 878).  Just enter the state for which you want a codeplug in the search bar on Bridgecom's website and you should be able to fine one for your area.  Then download it, and you now have a "base" codeplug to which you can add the AAR channles if you wish. Other amateur radio groups may have pre-built codeplugs that one can download, too.

Now, open the ..csv file in Excel.  It should have columns from A to BA, with the first row being the column header.  Most of the columns contain data that is superflous to using the railroad channels for railfan purposes.The important columns for railfanning are columns B-G, ,O, W, and Y.  Most all of the rest can be left in default, or "Off".

The settings on Column E should all be "A-Analog"; Column G should all be "12.5 kHz"; Column O should all be "Carrier"; and Y should all be "On"--this prevents the user from transmitting on the channel.  In Excel, one can use the copy and paste functions to copy and past down that list of AAR channels.

I name each AAR Channel by its AAR no.  For example, the 160.4550 mHz frequency I named AAR 023.  For my use, in the 878 software, I created a  Scan List name of "AAR".  Now, in Excel, I put "AAR" in all AAR channels in Column W.

Now, one can hand enter all 180 or so frequencies in Columns C and D, or one can use this shortcut.  I don't enter the first 6 AAR channels (only used in Canada) so I start with AAR Channel 007, 160.2150 mHz.  Let's say, for example, you are going to enter the AAR channels, starting in Row 500 of your .csv file.   So, in row 500, you would enter  160.2150 in cell C500.  Now, drop down one row and enter this formula in cell C501:  =C500+0.015, then press Enter.  You should have 160.2300 as the result.  That is AAR Channel 024's frequency.  Now, re-select cell C501, then copy that cell.  Then, paint down the C row from C502 until you have selected 95 more cells.  Now paste.  You should have frequencies 0.015 apart (15 kHz) all the way to 161.565 mHz (AAR Channel 97).  Now, go to the next cell down and enter the first "splinter channel".  This will be AAR 107, 160.2225 mHz.  The drop down one more cell in column C and enter =C(the number of the cell immediately above)+0.015.  This should yield a value of 160.2375 mHz--the value for AAR Channel 108.  Now, copy and paste from that cell to the next 90 cells until the last cell is 161.5575 mHz, AAR Channel no. 196.  Now you have all the AAR analog VHF frequencies entered.  THIS NEXT STEP IS VERY IMPORTANT. IF YOU OMIT IT, THE .CSV FILE WILL NOT IMPORT BACK INTO THE 878 PROGRAMMING SOFTWARE FILE.  Paint down the C column from the first AAR frequency to the last (all the AAR frequencies that you have entered).  Press copy.  Then,not changing the selection that you have made, select Paste/Values. This will substitute the values in all of those cells for the formulas that you entered earlier.  Now, using the same selection. press copy again and paste the cells into the same rows in Column D.  Now those frequencies are also in the Transmit column if you ever should need them.  Now, at the bottom of this frequency list, you can also add the Train Telemetry UHF frequencies (6 of them, HOTD, EOTD, DPU1, DPU2, DPU3, DPU4).  There is no shortcut to naming the channels--I just hand type in the name in each row of the AAR VHF channels and the UHF telemetry channels.  Most all of the data in the columns other than I've listed, as noted earlier, should be 0, Off or similar to another analog channel in the code plug.  I also add the 7 NOAA weather channels to the code plug, the only difference being the the Weather Channels are still wide band with 25 kHz spacing instead of 12.5 kHz.  If you have not been doing so alll along, SAVE THE FILE.

Now, return to the 878 software and open the "new" 878 (.rdt) file that you had saved before you exported the Frequency List to a .csv..  Go to Tools, click Import.  You should see a box similar to the Export box.  You may get a pop-up message about older versions of CPS. Just click OK.  Now, select the Channel Box and you should see a pop-up where you can locate the .csv file that you created earlier, added the AAR frequencies to, and re-saved.  Select it, and click OK.  The selected .csv file name should show in the Channel box.  Then, click on import.  IMPORTANT: THIS WILL OVERWRITE THE CHANNEL LIST IN THE 878 PROGRAM FILE.  That is why you want to keep an original of the 878 (.rdt) file and modify the copy.  If everything looks good, then save the resulting 878 file (.rdt file extension).  I usually save it with a new name such as "ABC Region Code Plug with AAR 10 12 22" (the latter being the date it was created).  If, for some reason, I later modify the file, I will save it with a new date, such as "ABC Region Code Plug with AAR 11 15 22".  

The last step is to upload this new code plug to the radio.  And then try it out.   As one can see, this can be pretty involved.  As I said at the beginning of this review.  The AT-878UVII is a complex radio designed for experienced amateur radio folks.  Having experience in radio programming by computer  (I have way over a decade of experience at it) really helps. 

One final note: I got the code plug for my 878 from the Bridgecom website (they are a big seller of the 878).  Just enter than name of the state that you want a code plug for (e.g., "Utah code plug) and then download the code plug for that state.  Now you have a code plug to use as a "base file" to which you can add the AAR channels.  There are other amateur groups, etc. that also may have useful code plugs.

Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 10/12/22 19:59 by WW.

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