Build Quality and Form Factor
The Boxchip S700 series basically nails it in both of these categories. The Boxchip S700A was a pleasant surprise regarding build quality. After using the Boss 7S+ as our daily driver for awhile, the superior build quality of the S700A was immediately evident. While the build quality of the Boss 7S+ was pretty decent, the light weight plastic case and fairly light internal components made it feel a little less premium. The S700A has a more substantial feel and weight to it. More like you would get in a commercial HT or a well made Amateur radio HT from one of the big three manufactures. The current premium Amateur radio HT residing at HRS is a Kenwood TH-D74. The Boxchip easily matches the build quality and heft of the TH-D74. Actually in some regards the Boxchip S700A is built better when it comes to being water resistant. The Boxchip is rated at IP65 when it comes to water resistance compared to the TH-D74 rating of IP54/IP55. The main weakness of the TH-D74 water resistence is the lack of tightly sealing battery compartment and not a so great seal between the battery contacts and the radio body. Even though on the S700A there is not a rubber seal around the edges of the battery compartment, the battery compartment fits tightly. However, inside the battery compartment of the S700A there are two rubber seals. One seal is where the battery terminals contact the radios internal battery terminals. Effectively sealing of any water intrusion that might get into the battery compartment. The second internal seal covers the two sim slots and SD card preventing water from entering that area. The only other area that would be easily vulnerable to water intrusion on the S700A would be the type C port. However, the type C port is covered by a rubber plug while not in use. The external speaker mic connection is closed off by a cover that is screwed on. Of course the cover is removed when attaching an accessory to this port or when the speaker mic connecter is screwed and seals the contacts. In other words the Boxchip 700 series should be fine in the rain or a quick drop into a shallow puddle. The back of the case has a ribbed area for a better grip. The study included belt clip is attached by screws to the back of the radio rather than the clip on style that can come loose easily. With the belt clip is attached, the ribbed area helps the belt clip maintain a better grip on whatever it is attached to.
The S700A is well put together and solid. There are no squeaky creaky bits that make noise when using the radio. All the buttons and knobs are reasonably solid and rubber coated. The included antenna screws into a RP-SMA connector. With the use of SMA RP to SMA adapter you should be able to attach other antennas. On the top of the radio is a knurled rotary knob which under the DMR app lets you change channels. The knob can also be used to control other apps by installing a button mapper app under Android. The knob also doubles as the power on and power off button when held down a few seconds. There is also a yellow button on the top of the radio that is commonly used as the SOS button, but can mapped to provide other functions when used along with a button mapper app. The button can be mapped with a button mapper app to perform actions such as launching a specific app or to trigger other actions in Android apps. On the left side S700A there is a button above the PTT that lets you select what application the PTT button will be used with. Sort of like two PTT buttons in one. When the radio is turned on, by default the PTT Button can be set to be mapped to a specific application such as Zello. Pressing the button above the PTT switch sets the PTT to work with the internal DMR radio when the DMR app has been launched. When the PTT has been selected to work with the DMR app, the LED indicator on top the radio will begin to flash blue. One neat little side effect of this layout is that if you select the PTT to the DMR mode and don’t start the DMR app, you can prevent programs like Zello that automatically starting up when the PTT button is accidentally pressed. Below the PTT button are the up and down volume controls. The right side of the radio you have the Motorola M6 accessory port and a button that is mapped to start the camera app. On the bottom of the radio you have the Type C charging and data port. The Home, Back, and Enter buttons are hard buttons located along the bottom of the screen. The nice thing about hard buttons are that they easier to get to when wearing gloves or just finding them by feel.
The S700 series rugged form factor is excellent for those who are very serious about their network radio use. The large screen adds a great deal of convenience and functionality compared the radios with smaller screens. The S700 series are ideal for handheld use, base use, or mobile use. That being said the S700A is a rather large radio comin in around 2.7″W x 5.7″H x 1.02″D not counting the included 4″ antenna and weighing in at around a 13 ounces.
How is it as a Phone?
The Boxchip S700 series contains an unlocked dual sim GSM LTE phone. So phone functionality is very good. The Android 6.0 operating system allows for most of the calling features we have become expect on modern smartphones. Call quality is generally generally very. The S700A was tested against an iPhone 10 on the T-Mobile and signal performance was so close it would be hard to say which one came out ahead. The Boxchip 700 was able to connect to the 4G LTE network and use data just fine. This means that you should have access to the various Amateur Radio communication apps were ever you have phone and data services. The Boxchip S700 series form factor also lends its self to being a phone much better than the 2.5 screen Network Radio models. However, it might be a little difficult to use as your daily driver phone because of it’s size. On the other hand, the S700 series would make a much better phone to use in the field due to its long battery life, ruggedness, and loud speakers. So yeah, the S700 series make a good smartphone, but at the end of the day it all boils down to personal choice.
Battery life on the S700A was great. Network Radios tend to have very good battery life since they are running smaller lower resolution screens and processors that require less power than most newer smartphones. The S700As 4500 mAh battery will usually get you through 2 to 3 days of typical use. However, your mileage may very greatly depending on factors such as screen brightness, how long the screen is on, the apps you are using, how much phone use, how much transmitter use, etc. If your primary use is to sit around a ragchew on Zello, IRN, Echolink or Peanut, then the battery will last longer than you will.
The Boxchip 700 produced some of the loudest audio of any of the Network Radios that have been tested at HRS. The S700 series appear to have two front firing speakers on the front of the radio. These speakers were able to deliver painfully loud audio with little distortion. The received audio quality was very good whether using DMR or radio related apps. No rattling was noticed from the speaker grill or the body of the radio. The Boxchip S700A audio is ideal for use outdoors or in a mobile.
The Boxchip 700S series uses an unlocked version of Android 6. Which means you can customize certain aspects of the screen and operation to your taste. The Boxchip S700 series comes with a custom launcher installed that allows for large icons, which is actually pretty nice in that it makes it easier to select apps when you are on the go. Of course like most Android devices you can install other launchers and skins to make it your own. The S700A boots up reasonably quickly within around 30 seconds. Apps are loaded almost instantly and touchscreen navigation is very fluid with little to no stuttering from the processor. On the less expensive Network Radios, loading an app was like watching paint dry. The ARM MT6753 in the S700 series processor was able to produce a Geekbench single core score of 624 and multi-core score of 2730 which places it’s performance around the middle of the pack for Android phones which is pretty decent. The version of Android installed on the Boxchip does not come with any bloatware installed. However the Google Play Store app is preinstalled and works just fine to add more apps to the device.
DMR and Analogue Programming
DMR on the S700A is well DMR and it works just fine with great receive audio and good transmit audio. When you buy the Boxchip S700A you have the choice of selecting a model with a VHF radio or a UHF radio. Either radio can be programmed to operate in analogue or DMR mode. The radio that was tested is the UHF model since it was going to be used primarily with a hotspot. The Boxchip S700A UHF Analogue / DMR radio has an output of .5 watts on low power and 2 watts on high power. The .5 watt setting was an ideal power setting for operation with the hotspot which is pretty close by. The 2 watt setting would be more useful for over the air contacts with analogue or DMR repeaters if you are relatively close to the repeater site. When using the S700A with analogue repeaters you have the option to enter CTCSS,DCS, or DCS invert tones. However you will have to enter the TX and RX frequency offsets manually. Programming channels directly on the screen is fairly easy because there are no little buttons to press or little multi-function button combos and stand on your head deals going on. The programming and operation of the S700A can be done right on the big bright sharp screen. However when it comes to programming multiple channels into the S700A it will probably be easier to use Boxchips BPS software. The BPS software is pretty straight forward and simple unlike some DMR programming software that looks like you need a DMR engineering degree to use. It was very easy to get the S700A up and running with a MMDVM hotspot. Basically you just have to install the BPM software on your PC, enable the developer mode on the S700A, and plug the USB cable into your PC and you will be good to go. Programing is pretty simple for using the S700A with a hotspot. Put in your call sign and DMR ID into the General Section, populate the contacts section with reflectors and their DMR ID , add the contacts you created to the RX Group list, go to the Channels list and create and name a DMR channel, put in your hotspots RX and TX frequency, set you transmit power level, enter the time slot (usually B), the color code (usually 1), you can set a default contact if you want, be sure the correct group list is selected and then send the data to radio by selecting the write button and boom you are done. One thing that is pretty common through out the BPS programming is right clicking on settings in the Customization pane to add new items or to rename items. You can save the file you created in case you need the info again. The above actions will create a channel for your hotspot and you can select the individual reflectors from within the PTT Apps dial plate menu (looks like a pile pf dots) from the main screen. You can also create Analogue channels by right clicking on the channel settings entry and filling out the appropriate info for the repeater or a simplex channel. Anything that was created under the channels section can be accessed via the channel knob when running the PTT app. It may take a little trial and error depending how much customization you want to do, but it is pretty easy to get the hang of. Once the file is written to the S700As memory, you can disconnect the radio from the PC. Go to the S700A and start up the PTT App and select your hotspot channel and the DMR reflector name from the dial plate menu. Key up and your Hotspot should change to that DMR reflector. Remember we are talking about using MMDM reflector here running Pi-Star so if you have a different hotspot your mileage may vary. A nice thing about these little cheap MMDVM hotspots (around $100 on Amazon) is the small display will show if your connection was accomplished. Another important aspect of the BPS software is updating the PTT app. Boxchip is continually improving the BPS software and the PTT app. Whenever a new version of the BPS software comes out (which is generally announced on their Facebook page) even though you may not feel you need to update your DMR settings you should install it anyway and at least click on the Install Apk button. This will insure that the latest version of the PTT app which runs the DMR radio is the latest version.