In a nutshell we will always play second fiddle to our American counterparts when it come to scanners. For just one simple reason. Scanner manufacturers, when dealing with the USA market take note of what their customers need. When dealing with any other market, they don't. We have to accept U.S models with minor modifications. Often even the bandstages are based on the US. Even worldwide bands all too often do not get updated. How long is it since the civil airband was exended from 136 to 137 MHz? Why does it matter? It matters as most scanners will not allow the 8 1/3 KHz tuning step in the 136 to 137 MHz segment! Quoting another example, why do many scanners bandstages for VHF high stop at 174 MHz? There is absolutely nothing special about this frequency here in Europe. Why not carry on to include band three just above this (up to 210 MHz) as there are a lot of trunked systems up there? And carrying on the USA theme, U.S listeners have available scanners supporting LTR/EDACS/Motorola Smartzone trunked systems. Not to mention APCO25 digital systems. MPT1327 is used all over the world, not only in the UK and Europe. So why no standalone MPT1327 capable scanner? And come on all of you (including Uniden) - its the 21st century now. How about Digital Mobile Radio? It is estimated that come 2016 half of all PBR type users will be on DMR. Do we really need to wait that long?
Also, why do scanner manufacturers keep using annoying headphone sockets which give sound in just one ear if you plug in standard headphones (unless you use a mono to stereo adapter or bridge over the left and right channels? Annoying!!!
That aside, I am pleased with this one...
Good Points - Things Uniden got spot on
Flaming heck! This really works well as a scanner at this price point. It's even quite acceptable on band II which isn't something you can say for a lot of its competitors. There are enough modes to actually choose the correct one for today's listening, hurrah!
Four FM modes, FMB forFM broadcast (150KHz maximum occupancy), WFM (for TV audio, wideband radio micrphones etc), FM (for antiquated stuff like marine VHF and amateur, 25 KHz occupancy) and NFM for just about all other current communications in the UK. Up to 12.5 KHz occupancy).
Enough has been said about this feature already in the scanner world. This is the most significant evolutionary step forward seen in scanner development since PC programming capability waas introduced.
At last, I've got hold of a scanner which has almost as many memory allocations as I wish to put in it. That's about all of Greater London! Before you say 'I wish I had your problem', this can be a real drawback when you are trying to work out if a user is in your local one, not another co-channel user three boroughs away.
Dynamic memory allocation is yet another huge breakthrough in the evolution of scanners. Every scanner produced has had a database built into it, but this has always tended to be a rigid flat database. In geeky terms, the current Unidens manage their channel entries more like a relational database than a spreadsheet.
The huge difference is that you can build up a catalogue of frequencies in memory which map out how the frequencies are associated. It's a lot like the hierarchical structure you see in windows explorer for instance. Four channels which relate to 'Industrial Effulgent LTD' can be stored as a group and held under the system 'Poison-Fishtown'.
What this means in practice is that you can organise your scan routine very quickly and easily to reflect your immediate needs. There are no wasted potential memory slots as we have previously suffered with rigid bank type structures.
Frequency coverage is from 25 to 1300MHz with two gaps, 512-806MHz and 960-1240MHz. This means that, from a UK perspective, it can't be used to listen to all UHF analogue television channels (now superceeded following digital switchover) although JFMG links and wireless mics, along with licence exempt devices cordless headphones on 863 MHz all make it in. Except for new allocations in the new 606 to 614 MHz (channel 38) allocation. The 960-1240MHz gap shouldn't be a problem either for any users as there's nothing of any value here - unless you are interested in the bleeps made by aircraft radar and distance measuring equipment.
Usual Uniden thoughtfulness here, as practiced from the early eighties. Normal AA cells are used; no captive market consumable has been devised here. A switch inside the battery compartment disables in situ charging for when disposable batteries are used, just as found in ancient Unidens like the BC55XLT.
Battery life is not outstanding, but then I'm comparing this to an IC-R20 which can return at least 11 hours on its lithium Ion pack. Endurance varies depending on factors such as battery saving feature and close call. To be honest I do not think the exact battery life maatters - power only needs to last for a day's usage, and unlike the old Nickel-Cadmium cells, today's rechargables are much less prone to memory effect.
Bad Points - you knew it cannot alll be spot on!
Sigh. Shortcomings - I guess it cannot all be prefect! for every user 100% of the time. I'd be very happy for anyone to tell me that there is a workaround or that I am missing a point or two.
One happy thing which separates Uniden scanners from most others is that their firmware is held in non volatile memory. With many other manufacturers, the internal software which runs the scanner is written to the microcontroller during manufacture using the OTW (One Time Write) technique.
The UBC3500XLT firmware can be flashed and what this means to us as consumers, is that any firmware bugs can be fixed at a later date and a new improved firmware version can be written to our radios using the programming cable.
At time of writing, there have been no firmware update releases for the UBC3500XLT. The American market scanners have in contrast, seen recent updates.
What I'll attempt to do here is identify some of the areas where improvements can be made in the hope that the firmware developers at Uniden can focus on consumer lead demand. I'll separate this into two paragraphs, 'Bugs', i.e. flaws in the existing 1.00.04 firmware, and 'Areas for Improvement' where we think that re-writing some of the code will lead to better user enjoyment.
The repeater offset does not work in the experience of UK users. Based on U.S offsets and is not user programmable. Someone didn't do their homework I guess.
All references to trunked systems need to be modified. This radio has no trunk tracking capability! For instance, entries stored under 'Qck Save Grp' / 'Qck Save Cnv Sys' need to be replaced with 'Quick Save Sys' / 'Quick Save Freqs'
Areas for Improvement
The squelch activated backlight needs to be a separate attribute to the overall backlighting behaviour, not a setting in itself. It should force the backlight turn off within a given time after squelch closes, rather than a given time after it opens. It would make more sense after all.
Oh dear, this is a real fly in the ointment for me. As seasoned European scanner users will know, it takes five decimal places to resolve some frequencies correctly. For instance, PMR446 channel 1 is 446.00625 but the Unidens dumb it down to a four decimal place figure such as 446.0062MHz. Now I know that 50Hz error will not spoil your listening pleasure (if indeed there really is an error), but to pedants like me, a frequency is either right or it's wrong. Missing the trailing 5 spoils the look of the radio. I know it appears a weird number, but 6.25 MHz channel spacing is a result of 25 and later 12.5 KHz channels being divided up as technology improves, and something we have had to live with.
My guess is that as these scanners are predicated by the US market where 12.5 kHz spacing is not used, they opted for 10KHz for the most part, but we have nonetheless become lumbered with it.
I assume that this is not an issue which can be resolved in firmware as there is physically not enough width on the PLL's address bus to accommodate our systems exactly.
The Control Knob
I'll try not to get into Julian Clary territory here but the control knob on the 3500 has about 2 degrees of play in it. Nonetheless, it has a good positive feel and makes a pleasant noise with each increment and decrement. This is often the way with controls which combine a push function with a rotary function. Just as long as it doesn't pack up as it perhaps feels like it's going to, we don't mind too much. I have had mine some time, so maybe my fears are premature.
I've done a minor mod to mine. I shrunk a very short length of heat shrink tubing over it and it now feels much firmer.
I believe that if it is worth reviewing equipment, it is worth being honest about both the good and the bad points. Certainly, this ranks as the best scanner with the most features for this price range.