My radio purchase for the year in 2012 is a Uniden HP-1 Home Patrol Scanner. After debating about what kind of radio I wanted to get this year, I finally settled on the HP-1 as an addition to my mobile station. The relatively compact size compared to other mobile/base model scanners and the size of the display were key factors in the choice. As I’ve used the radio, I’ve come away with mostly positive impressions but there is one negative impression that had I known more about it prior to my purchase may just have changed my mind. Normally I would start off writing about the positives of a radio but in this case I feel the negative, because of how much it stands out, needs to come first.
The HP-1, out of the box, is a $500 scanner for the entry level or casual scanning enthusiast. In and of itself, this is not a bad thing but $500 sounds awfully steep for entry level or casual hobbyists. Unless you pay extra for the Home Patrol Extreme upgrade after you receive the HP-1 it is a fancy yet not very capable scanner; without the upgrade it lacks the ability to search. The Home Patrol Extreme upgrade gives you what they call “discovery mode,” which is the search function in other scanners with a few extra bells and whistles in the form of analytical tools. I was aware I would have to purchase the Home Patrol Extreme upgrade to get those features, but I didn’t realize it was going to be a $100 purchase. Not long after scanners graduated from crystal receivers, they were equipped with some sort of frequency search function and the first trunking scanners gave one the ability to search for talkgroups instead of simply scanning known ones. That capability exists in the HP-1 when you take it out of the box, but you have to pay Uniden an extra $100 to unlock it! Essentially, for $500 you get a basic scanner with a fancy touch screen and geographically based programming and for $600 you get a normally featured scanner with a fancy touch screen and geographically based programming. Had I been fully cognizant of this, I’m not sure whether I would have purchased the radio or not.
With that out of the way, what is there to like about the HP-1? Quite a bit, actually. It is simple to use, versatile, and compact. Having been a long time fan of Uniden scanners, I’ve found it to be a step up in many aspects.
If you can use one of the now ubiquitous GPS navigation devices, a touch screen ATM machine, or the credit card box at your grocery store’s checkout counter, you can use the Uniden HP-1. The user interface really is that simple. It has no knobs and with the exceptions of power on/off and volume up/down no buttons. All of the radio’s functions are controlled by the touch screen and easily navigated menus. With the Home Patrol Extreme upgrade, you can edit favorites lists with the touch screen instead of having to connect to a computer and it’s an easy straightforward process with an on-screen keyboard. To change settings, you go select the proper menu and just tap the appropriate button on the screen. I’ve found adapting to the HP-1 far easier than adapting to the BCD396 when I first bought it; with the influx of other touch screen devices I think many users will find it more intuitive. For the beginning or casual hobbyist, you simply tell the HP-1 where you are and what type of communications you want to listen to and it uses a database stored in its memory card to scan what’s around you. All you have to do is use the supplied USB cable and software to periodically updated the database.
The HP-1 is very versatile; it can be used as a desktop, mobile, or portable scanner. It isn’t very big , so it doesn’t take up very much space . For portable use, it isn’t much larger than Uniden’s BCD396 scanners; the only drawback is that the display drains batteries more than a handheld scanner would. For longer events such as an air show or a race day, an extra set(s) of batteries would be a must. On a desk or end table, it wouldn’t take up any more space than an alarm clock or a NOAA weather radio.
I bought mine with mobile use in mind and I’ve found it to be well suited for the job. There is a mobile mounting bracket available for $11 that interfaces with RAM mounts, an inexpensive and suggested purchase. The mobile mount makes it easy to take in and out of the car; I just wish Uniden would have included a BNC/SMA adapter in the box like they did with the BCD396 (like most new Uniden scanners it uses an SMA antenna). The radio isn’t much larger than many GPS navigation units, so it isn’t hard to find a place to put it in most vehicles; I’ve mounted mine off of the center console.
It comes out of the box with a cigarette lighter adapter for power so providing power for the radio isn’t a problem. The large screen is easy to read and its auto-dim feature is very handy at night; the screen can be set to dim when there is no audio. I’ve found the screen to be easily read in most lighting conditions, even at sunrise or sunset when a low sun beams directly through the windows on it. The front firing speaker is plenty sufficient for mobile use as well, I haven’t had to use an external speaker with it. Before I decided to buy an HP-1 one of my concerns was RFI and intermod when using an external antenna; so far I haven’t found it to be any more of a problem than other scanners I’ve used.
I particularly enjoy using the “favorites lists” with the HP-1. Using Butel’s software I’ve created two, one that has public safety, federal, and state frequencies and systems and one that has military frequencies. The first one covers the Savannah, Brunswick, and in-between areas so that I don’t have to switch locations in the HP-1 when I go back and forth. The second allows me to monitor MilCom instead of public safety just by switching lists. When I take a road trip out of the areas I’m normally in, the location based programming using the RadioReference based database comes in very handy; I no longer have to program everything ahead of time I just need to make sure that the database stored in the HP-1 is up to date.
The main feature that the $100 extra “Home Patrol Extreme” gets you is Discovery Mode. Discovery mode is a conventional or trunked search mode that is a self contained version of computerized searching/logging that software such as Butel’s ARC series provides. In conventional discovery mode, you provide the scanner a lower and upper search limit and it will search between those limits, logging and recording the hits. Afterwards, you can review the time stamped hits and listen to the recordings. You can also name the discovery mode search to use in the future. Trunked discovery mode works similar except that you tell the scanner which site within a trunked system you want to search; the scanner then searches for talkgroups, logging and recording them. In both modes, you can set the scanner to check the database and ignore frequencies and talkgroups that are already in the database. This is a great tool for figuring out new trunked systems.
Additionally, the Home Patrol Extreme upgrade gives you the ability to track the current activity of a trunked system. The current activity screen will list frequencies and talkgroups that are active along with UIDs (radio IDs) along with site and system ID information on control channels. For EDACS systems, there is also a tool that helps you ascertain the LCNs needed to monitor those type of systems.
If you want to easily monitor public safety communications in your area and you don’t mind parting with $500 to do it, the I would strongly recommend the Uniden HP-1; it is a simple and effective tool for that task. Savannah is well covered by the database that the HP-1 uses and you shouldn’t be disappointed. If you are a more in depth hobbyist and do more searching or listen to less common things that may not be in the RadioReference database, you may want to deliberate more before buying an HP-1 because you’re probably going to be making a $600 purchase, not a $500 purchase.