As an owner of the Runbo E81 I wasn’t sure about how I would find the RFinder B1 as it’s based on the same phone hardware. Well the good news is that all the tweaks and modifications that have been done by RFinder has turned a so-so device (from an amateur radio point of view) into a really great device.
So what do RFinder do? RFinder take a phone that has an RF module and turn it into something very useful for amateur radio. It’s made useful by using a database of the worlds repeaters, gateways and other amateur radio fixed stations to provide frequency information for the devices radio. Using an easy to use app that shows all your local repeaters etc you just select the one you want to connect to and it sends the information to the radio and away you go.
In addition to the database you can also add your own frequencies into a virtually unlimited number of memories for quick recall. If like me you are someone that travels a lot this is all unbelieveably useful. Especially as the radio in the B1 is a dual band DMR radio.
For DMR there is also going to be an app that will directly connect you to the Brandmeister network without having to use a hotspot.
In practice the radio functions well with good quality transmitted and receive audio. For DMR there is a promiscuous mode that allows you to monitor all the talkgroups on a given frequency. You get 4 or 5 watts out depending on whether you are on 70cm or 2m.
The phone isn’t a bad phone either. Currently it runs Android 8.1. It’s not quite in the same class as some of the very latest and greatest phones, but it has a decent amount of internal ram (64GB) and a decent processor that copes well with all the tasks that you will normally do with a phone. It can take 2 sims as well as a SD card to expand the memory, plus it covers the vast majority of 2G, 3G and 4G bands used worldwide, so it’s a great phone for travelling. The quality of the main rear camera is OK, it won’t win any awards but it’s sufficient for casual picture taking. I think that on many of my business trips this will be the one phone I will take as the dual sim functionality means I can use both my main sim and a local sim as well as have a ham radio.
As well as radio you can also use the B1 with POC (PTT over Cellular) apps such as Zello or Teamspeak. There is even a secondary PTT button that can be dedicated to a POC app while the main PTT operates the RF radio. Headsets and mic’s can be attached to a side connector similar to the one used on many motorola radios. The B1 is waterproof, so it has the potential to be a great device for emergency communications.
The B1 is quite bulky. To power the phone and radio a larger than normal battery is used and this makes the whole thing quite a bit bigger than most phones. The other issue with the battery is that it is a 7.4v battery so you can’t charge it from the usual 5V USB chargers that most phones use. The B1 comes with a nice desktop charger that the radio drops into. This is nice, but it’s bulky. Not something you want to pack in a briefcase. Hopefully more charging options will become available in the near future. There are a few clicks and pops as the radio powers up or changes mode which are a bit annoying but this is minor. The other downside is the cost. This must be one of the most expensive handheld radios on the market. But I think it’s worth it. A good quality phone costs close to what the B1 costs. In addition you get a great dual band radio.
I really like the B1. I think this is the future of handheld and mobile radios. It’s so easy to find the frequencies of local repeaters and directly programme the radio. You can run apps like APRSDroid for APRS tracking and messaging. You can have you prefered POC app running for world wide PTT communications. Plus you can use all your online apps and services all in one device.