REVIEW: Connect Systems CS800 DMR mobile radio

Connect Systems CS800 VA3XPR DMR radio ham
The Connect Systems CS800 DMR mobile radio.

The Connect Systems CS800/801 (UHF/VHF) is a new value priced DMR mobile radio being offered by Connect Systems, as part of its line-up of budget DMR radios targeted toward the ham radio community. This unit packs many features, including, superb audio, sturdy construction, 45W/50W (UHF/VHF) power output, a remote mountable head, capability for 65,536 digital contacts, keypad programmability, plus much more – all at an affordable price. This is a good radio for anyone looking to get started with DMR using a mobile radio and at the time of this review, the pricing directly from Connect Systems was $280 USD.

Author’s Rating: 3/5

The Good

The Bad

  • Speaker audio clarity

  • Loud audio output

  • Sturdy construction

  • Remote head capability

  • Ham friendly programming software

  • 65,536 digital contacts capability

  • Keypad programmable

  • Price
  • Significant software defects

  • No visual indication of settings for programmable buttons

  • Lack of Bluetooth capability

  • Incomplete user manual
  • Features expected to be available with the August 2015 firmware update.

    The Package

    The Connect Systems CS800 comes standard with the following items out of the box:

    • DTMF microphone;
    • DC power cable;
    • Mounting bracket;
    • Microphone hang-up clip;
    • User manual.

    The Full Review

    The Connect Systems CS800 is the first DMR mobile radio to be offered by Connect Systems, as part of its line-up of budget DMR radios targeted toward the ham radio community. Until now, the only DMR mobiles available on the market were those from Motorola, Vertex Standard and Hytera, which are intended for commercial users at considerably higher prices. This is good news for hams that are looking purchase a new DMR mobile at a price point that won’t break the bank.

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    For anyone that is familiar with the use of the Connect Systems CS700 and the newer CS750, you will be happy to know that the menu structure of the CS800 is identical to both of these portable units. In addition, the CS800 shares the same programming software as the CS750 with one of the major bonuses of allowing users to make use a single codeplug for both the CS800 and the CS750, making it a very convenient to keep both radios up to date. In terms of the programming cable, it can be purchase from Connect Systems for $15 USD.

    For those users are looking to install the CS800 in their vehicle, you will be delighted to know that the CS800 comes capable of having the radio head remotely mounted from the body out of the box. This is ideal for installations in vehicles with limited mounting space so that the radio body can be placed in the trunk or under the seat with the radio head mounted on the dash or console area using a standard RJ-45 Ethernet cable. Also, the radio appears to have a sturdy construction, ensuring that it will last on those bumpy roads. Finally, one of the most important items for mobile radios is their ability to be heard, given the prevalence of road noise. To address this, the CS800 comes standard with 3W of audio output, ensuring it will be heard when needed.

    Connect Systems CS800 remote head DMR radio ham VA3XPR
    The remote mountable head for the Connect Systems CS800 DMR mobile radio.

    With the rapid growth of DMR around the world, most DMR radios on the market cannot handle the huge number of registered DMR contact names and call signs in their radios, as generally, these are limited to around 1,000 contacts. To deal with this dilemma, Connect Systems will enable the CS800 to store a whopping 65,536 digital contacts with an upcoming firmware releases. At the time of this review, the radio can only handle about 1,000 contacts, but we felt that this feature was worth mentioning, given the benefit to ham DMR users. Another feature that Connect System expects to release with an upcoming firmware update is the ability to program the radio via the keypad. This would allow users to add DMR channels on the go without the need of the programming software.

    One aspect of the CS800 that can take some getting used to is navigation using the programmable buttons on the radio head. Users can assign the function of these buttons in the programming software as desired, however without a visual indication as to what these buttons are programmed for can make them difficult to use – especially while driving. Also, for anyone looking to use the radio while driving in areas where hands-free operation is required by law, it is important to note that the CS800/801 does not support hands-free operation via Bluetooth.

    Conner Systems CS800 DMR mobile radio VA3XPR ham
    The rear view of the Connect Systems CS800 DMR mobile radio.

    With this radio providing a lot of goodness for the price, users should be aware of some of the problems that they can expect to experience with it. Firstly and most prominently, the DTMF microphone that is included with the radio does not encode DTMF. In addition, the early versions of this radio included a microphone that was missing a capacitor, which caused “motor boating” of the signal, likely due to RF getting back into the audio circuitry. Connect Systems has replaced the faulty microphone on new units and is offering replacements for previously affected units, so this problem should not be an issue for newly purchased units. One other hardware defect that has been identified with this radio concerns the use of an external speaker using the external speaker jack at the rear of the radio. This was due to a faulty design and again, Connect Systems has offered to fix the radios for affected users at no charge.

    Also, at the time of the review, there were several major software defects present, which Connect Systems has stated that it will address with upcoming firmware releases, so users will need to take these into consideration when deciding whether to purchase this radio or not. These defects include:

    • Encoding DTMF does not function;
    • Power level changes via the menu not functioning;
    • Intermittent TX / RX issues on both timeslots.

    Finally, when it comes to learning to use the CS800, users will find that the user manual has many sections in the Table of Contents that cannot be found in the rest of the manual. Unfortunately, the manual appears hastily put together and appears to be incomplete, so users should keep this in mind if they require detailed instructions on how to use this radio.

    Conclusion

    The Connect Systems CS800 is a good choice for anyone looking for a value priced DMR mobile that comes with features tailored for the ham radio user. Since the CS800 has a consistent user experience with the CS700 & CS750, many hams will find this radio relatively easy to program and use out of the box. Since the CS800 still has several software defects and promised features, we are hopeful that Connect Systems will quickly address these, which should take this radio from being a “good” radio to a “great” one for the price.

    Disclosure: Along with the Connect Systems CS800 DMR mobile, the author also owns the Connect Systems CS750 portable and has owned the Connect Systems CS700 portable.

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    About VA3XFT

    VA3XFT
    Don is a 16-year veteran of the telecommunications industry and a licensed Canadian ham radio operator since 1988. He is passionate about VHF/UHF repeater communications, especially using digital modes and he has owned and operated a number of ham radio repeater installations over the years, including ones in both the provinces of Ontario (VE3/VA3) and New Brunswick (VE9). In addition to ham radio, Don enjoys traveling, hiking, kayaking, biking and astronomy.