Not just an overpriced Baofeng… sort of.
Before I start this review I would just like to point out that, like most of us out there, I am by no means a comms guru. I am basing my opinions on my experiences and observations made as an average user.
I bought my 152 whilst overseas having heard good things about them from friends, and so was very excited to get home and try it out for myself. My first impression of the radio was that it was a “serious bit of kit”, in terms of the packaging and presentation, and then the weight and build quality of the unit itself.
When you first receive the radio it comes packaged in a really nice hard case, with good positive latches that don’t feel like they’ll fall apart after 5 minutes. Inside the case the radio components are secured in a pre-cut foam insert, which protect them from any damage that might be caused by throwing it around in your kit bag.
Included in the package you receive:
- Main Body
- Battery Case
- Blade Antenna
- Antenna Base
- Charging Adapter
- Charger (US Plug)
As each component is individually secured and wrapped the guys over at TCA really have made sure that when your radio gets to you it is in perfect condition.
In comparison to other radios available on the market, namely the TRI, this replica really pushes the boat out in terms of quality. The metal body with green coating gives a really good weight and colour match to the real article. While the paint itself scratches and chips off relatively easily, anyone who has ever handled any piece of military equipment knows that it will be so battered and used by the time you get it that scratched paint only adds to the overall effect.
In terms of the fixtures on the radio the urban myth is that TCA uses parts shared by the real HARRIS article. Now whether or not this is true I don’t actually know but all of the plugs and sockets look and feel hard-wearing enough to last for a very long time, and the 100% compatibility with real steel PTT’s, Antennas and Batteries lead me to believe that even if they are not genuine articles, they are of a similar standard.
The control elements of the TCA 152 are where I draw my first complaint. The buttons and switches throughout the radio do not give the most positive feedback when interacted with. For example the rotary switch on top of the radio that controls power/volume on my model seems to have a very weak ball detent latch stopping the radio from being accidentally turned on, which I have noticed mine has been very easily by the securing para-cord on my 152 pouch. Alongside this mild annoyance I have also realised that to fully engage the buttons on the Keypad/Display Unit (KDU), they must be pressed very deep into the radio, which on the number keys especially, can be quite difficult while wearing gloves due to their smaller size. Now while this may not be the experience of all these radios it is the one real hang-up I have observed during my time using mine.
As previously stated above the TCA replica is 100% compatible with all ancilliary devices including PTT/Microphone devices, Antennas and Battery cases designed to work with the original HARRIS radio. This differs from other replicas that do not have enough output power to run some devices i.e. TRI 152’s not being able to run moving coil microphone devices without amplification. This goes some way to justify the price tag of a TCA 152 in that once you’ve forked out for the radio you don’t also have to spend approx. £50 a go having your RS PTT’s amplified.
The radio itself functions not unlike a Baofeng in terms of its programming and use of VHF/UHF frequencies. Actually the feeling given by the TCA while I was messing with the settings was that this is just a Baofeng on steroids, and that the remaining £225 in it’s price tag was for the outer appearance and military hardware.
On an aesthetic note the display unit on the radio is very well laid out, with plenty of relevant information about the radio and it’s current status readily available to the user, who can see what their current setup is at little more than a glance. The inclusion of a battery level indicator that has a greater level of precision than just the usual 3 bars is a very nice touch as it allows you to keep a closer eye on your power consumption over time.
Whilst on the subject of power and it’s consumption I would like to take a moment to discuss the battery. When you first receive the radio the battery case will have been shipped empty, and depending on your retailer rechargeable batteries will or will not have been included. It is recommended by the manufacturer that 4 18650 type batteries should be used to get the most out of the radio. These unfortunately are quite expensive at around £30-40 for a good quality set, and so this must be taken into consideration when purchasing. As a temporary solution to this, 8 CR123 batteries (rechargeable or otherwise) can be used instead, but I cannot imagine they will have the same capacity as the larger 18650 batteries.
Finally the TCA 152 features a pseudo “Crypto” mode, which acts more like a voice changer than a true encryption service, and makes any traffic sent and received by the unit sound as though it has been submerged in water. While it is quite effective in masking what is being said by the user, and is a good way for two people who are part of the TCA master-race to discuss the Baofeng peasants around them, in actual fact I consider the feature a gimmick and somewhat useless in any scenario where you need to be able to drop into wider team comms, as not everyone was committed/daft enough to blow £200+ on a toy radio.
My justification to Zero Alpha for buying this radio is that it is a lot of fun to use if like me you enjoy being more immersed than most in the comms side of Military Simulation. During the radio’s first outing at a recent Stirling Airsoft event I ran my radio as the backup receiver for the command net, running a squad net as it’s primary function. It was interesting for me to see the increase in power output over the Baofeng radios, as I was able to pick up and communicate with command in several situations where my TL could not, and with the use of an extended whip antenna could adjust the range of my radio with relative ease, resulting in several satisfying moments where almost broken transmissions were made clearer by simply letting out more of the antenna.
The battery life of the radio surprised me as well. Running on 4 Samsung 18650 batteries I only used approx. 10-15% of the available charge over the 48 hour period of pretty regular use. The radio was left on for pretty much the entire time and as the event took place during the fine British winter the unit had to compete with some pretty severe cold overnight, which didn’t seem to have too detrimental of an effect on the overall run time.
Overall I do think that there is a place in my kit box for the TCA 152, and as it was an indulgence paid for by spending 6 months in a shithole I can’t say I feel too guilty using it even though the vast majority of the retail price went on the “cool factor” and little else. If you are a more experienced player, and want the mental and financial challenge of breaking out into the comms world then the TCA 152 is definitely the way to go. For everyone else, mainly those who prioritise being a responsible human, just buy a Baofeng and a Nagoya whip antenna as it will cost you less than £100 for a full setup and will complete 90% of the tasks that the TCA 152 will do.
Thanks for having the patience to sit through and read my thoughts. If you have any questions or comments regarding this review please feel free to get in touch either on the blog or my instagram account – @thegeardocrow