- Frequency coverage - longwave, mediumwave AM, shortwave WITH SSB and covering the "full" shortwave range, FM, and air band.
- Small size (just about pocket-size)
- 500 memories (100 for each of the bands)
- FM RDS capability
- Helpful tuning features including direct frequency entry, a variable "speed" tuning knob, a separate fine-tuning "wheel", up/down slewing buttons
- External antenna jack
Also of note, unlike the nearly identical Digitech AR-1780, the D-808 ships with a soft faux-leather pouch, external wire antenna, rechargeable battery, and USB cable for charging, and at half the price of the AR-1780.
Further, the radio performs fairly well for a set of such a low price. While I don't find performance on any band to be stellar, the D-808 certainly is capable of pulling in stations, especially with a suitable external antenna for SW and SW/SSB use.
This is not intended to be a full review of the radio; rather I wanted to share some observations on the usability factors, in particular those which I find to be lacking. For some reason, very few radio reviewers seem to spend any time on ergonomics, or on the actual implementation of the controls that have to be used to operate the device. Personally I find these things to be key to my long-term enjoyment of a radio, and strongly impact the likelihood that I will want to use a radio on a day-to-day basis. I am more likely to USE and ENJOY a radio that is easy to tune, has decent auto-scanning capabilities, a sane memory preset scheme, etc. even if the radio isn't quite as strong a performer on every band.
The first thing I want to note is that the D-808 was implemented with buttons that are flush with the front of the case, and which require very firm presses to engage. Combined with their small size and cramped arrangement, pressing them is simply uncomfortable. My radio usually sits on a plastic picnic-style table and the radio slides around all over the table when I try to press buttons unless I hold onto it with the other hand. This is a poor design decision that negatively impacts using this radio, especially as other design issues pretty much require a LOT of button pressing - and I'll come back to it again and again.
A nice feature of this radio is that is actually has a tuning knob, often absent from cheaper shortwave portables. But this one has strong "stops" so it doesn't turning smoothly - each turn requires you to apply enough force to overcome the friction. And the radio mutes with every turn, so it's pretty miserable for a casual session of "tuning around" a band.
As is the case with nearly all portable digital radios, the numeric keypad does double duty allowing entry of frequencies or access to memories. On the D-808, the radio is always in a mode where the default action of pressing a number button is to call up a memory location. Several negative (to my way of thinking) consequences arise as a result:
- Because every keypress instantly pulls up a memory, the memory "pages" or banks must be limited to 10 memories apiece. So if you wanted to program in all the MWARA frequencies, you would have to split these over many memory pages. Then to tune through them you have to do extra keypresses to get from page to page.
- In order to directly enter a frequency you have to first press a "freq" button since otherwise pressing the button would tune a preset station. As with most shortwave radios you also have to press the freq button AGAIN at the end of any entry that doesn't use up all the available digits (basically any SW frequency under 10000). These extra button presses, combined with the poor button design (see above) makes frequency entry a laborious process.
There are of course other ways to tune; one helpful feature allows the D-808 to auto-tune-and-store frequencies in a band. Here again, there are implementation issues -
- The radio seems to have a high threshold for recognizing a signal, so it "finds" far fewer frequencies than it can actually tune. To be really clear on that point, I can tune frequencies manually that are perfectly listenable but the D-808 doesn't find them when auto-tuning. I have compared this function with a number of other portables and ALL of them find more frequencies than the D-808. Note, the same inability to recognize a listenable frequency while scanning also affects scanning with the slewing buttons.
- If you do happen to find a bunch of frequencies, they will be stored across multiple pages (see above issues with the small page size).
- The auto-tuned frequencies are always stored starting in page 0 preset 0 for the chosen band and work up from there, so if you want to manually program memories, you need to put them on a high page. There is no option to have found frequencies added to the existing list, it always overwrites.
One final note on frequency memories - there is no way to access (tune) a preset other than pressing the associated key on the number pad (possibly AFTER doing additional keypresses to pull up the correct page). You can't scan through a bank of stored frequencies. You can't move from one to the next with the slewing buttons, nor with the tuning knob. As with everything else requiring the use of button presses on this radio, this is a pain.
As for performance, despite many reviews giving the D-808 high marks, I find it to be only average, but it's also hard to gauge due to the usability impediments I've been describing. For example, how do you measure shortwave performance? Unless you have bench test equipment, you mainly test it by seeing how many stations you can pick up under various conditions (on the whip, with some kind of external antenna, indoors vs. outdoors, different times of day, etc.) and listening to them. But consider:
- Manual band-scanning sucks on this radio - the tuning knob is not comfortable for a long session moving through a band and the muting is bad
- Using either the slewing/scanning buttons or the auto-tuning, the radio seems to require such strong signals that it finds very few stations - even when you KNOW the signal is there and you KNOW the D-808 is capable of tuning it
- Auto-tuning stations and having them stored results in the frustrating experience of pressing buttons to step through them and having to switch pages
In short, in order to see what I can pick up with this radio I'm mostly spending time looking at EIBI schedules or the like, trying to figure out what ought to be tunable, and manually entering frequency after frequency. It's very hard to compare how well this radio performs next to a radio that is much easier to use, like various models from Tecsun and Eton/Grundig.
The end result of all these observations is that I'm again looking for a radio that hits closer to my sweet spot for features, performance and usability. The D-808 will likely be the next radio I list on E-bay.