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N9EWO Review : GRE / GRECOM PSR-800
"EZ Scan" Digital SCANNING RECEIVER
(including Uniden BCD396XT notes on bottom of this page)

GRE / GRECOM PSR-800 "Digital" Handheld Scanner
This is a decent Digital P25 handheld scanner from GRE minus a normal keyboard. Controlled using menu's.
Also sold in a RadioShack variant as the PRO-18 , but has features cut and usually at a higher "street" price (normal for RadioShack).
LCD is near impossible to see in low light situations without the backlight in use (on in photo above), also the LCD plastic lens cover scratches VERY easy .
The model was discontinued with GRE "stopping all production" in October 2012.
Located on the bottom of this page is a micro-review of the Uniden BCD396XT.
(photo : N9EWO)


Country of Origin : (PRC) China
Approximate "Test Sample" Serial Number : 0028xx

Software (Firmware) Version In Test Sample
up App Ver. (CPU) : F 1.3
DSP App Ver : 1.1

EZ Scan Software Program : Version 1.03


Discontinued Model

Important Note: Parts of this review may or may NOT be valid for the lesser RadioShack PRO-18 variant model (untested and also discontinued).


We don’t normally cover VHF-UHF “Scanner” type receivers much on this web site, but I have made another exception. One may wish to
read the PDF owners manual before hand as I do not cover many basic operations in this report.

Why a PSR-800 ??

I had a chance to use a
RadioShack PRO-106 for a while (variant of the GRE PSR-500) and while it worked just fine the size was just too large for my desires. My local public service frequencies will be moving to P25 digital in the near future (as I write this text).

My last handheld “scanner” purchase was way back in 1981 (or was it early in 1982 ??)
with the disastrous Electra Bearcat BC100. This was the first programmable "handheld" scanner on the market and sure neat on paper. But never lived up to it’s potential with many quality control problems and just plain poor engineering. I had the very first version that lacked a BNC antenna connector and no screws on the bottom battery cover (both were major issues) . I remember ordering it and waiting for 3 months + before delivery as it was in very heavy demand. But has to be one of the worst receivers I have EVER owned ...portable or desktop. Ah…those memories .

So back to the present and of course one looks at the
Uniden BCD396XT as a possible P25 “handheld” alternative to the PRO-106, in fact it’s the only other digital P25 model that exists. Well…not quite, as I type this report GRE (GRECOM) now has the PSR-800 model. Slightly larger to the PSR-700 analog cousin, but with P25 Digital and still a smaller size to the PRO-106 / PSR-500. These PSR-700 and 800 models have no direct keyboard entry and use a built in internal database for programming (stored on a micro-SD card). However it can be done via a connection to a personal computer as well, which we choose to do 99.9% of the time.

The BCD396XT is still a tad smaller over the PSR-800 and would normally be more desirable to me (smaller the better). But after reading of multiple issues with the internal 24-ohm speaker failures (not just a couple either), better digital decoding / audio and springs in the battery case with the GRE model, I decided to go with a PSR-800.

Function selection is done near TOTALLY via a menu structure. If you don’t like dealing with menu’s, this is NOT the radio for you !! There is a weird way to enter a frequency on the fly using the search mode, but is not an easy chore.

RadioShack “neutered” PRO-18 Model

GRE manufactured a variant model called the
PRO-18 for RadioShack in the USA. Button layout is in a different “bull’s eye” configuration. However, the real stinker is the fact that it’s missing a number of features from the main PSR-800 model.

Including: NO record/playback function, only 100 scan lists (PSR-800 has 200), No alert LED, no clock and the list goes on.

Size, Layout, “Keypad Face Plate Wear”

The GRE PSR-800 measures 5.75 x 2.6 x 1 inches. NOTE: These are MY measurements and not the ones found in the manual or on line. The 5.75 length includes the squelch knob on top. Pocket size as long as the case is not used. Well unless you have larger than normal “lumberjack” shirt pockets. It is indeed a bit larger over the Uniden BCD396XT model.

As covered above there is no “normal” numeric keypad. 10 keys are to be found on the front panel. 4 are arrow “up-down-left-right”, one for power, menu, skip, Sel/play/pause, attenuator. Last but not least a special button for weather/sky warn frequencies, but this could be used for just about any one-touch access ones that you desire.

On top there is a BNC antenna connector, 1/8 inch stereo headphone/earphone jack and an analog Squelch knob. Poor female BNC quality continues using the low-grade “fork center pin” socket just like with all other GRE scanners over the years (and of course with Uniden as well). Why a better quality connector is STILL not used is a very good question ?

GRE uses some matt finish “clear cote” paint on the Keyboard faceplate and only after short time out of the box in use (like 2 days) one could see severe finger-rubbing marks (this near clear paint wears off super fast). This only got MUCH worse after a week that made the front of the set look like it was 10 years old instead of 10 days old.

This was corrected this nasty with very late production. Sorry, we do not have any serial number area’s where this quality bug happens and ends.

Just like Uniden, the owner’s manual is only provided in a PDF format. The owner must print this 90-page manual if he or she desires. This is one area where the RadioShack PRO-18 version is a plus where a printed owner’s manual is included in the box.

GRE / GRECOM PSR-800 improved "shinny" front panel with very late production samples (just before it was discontinued) .
No more "matt" finish coating in the keyboard area that was showing nasty wear only hours after use "Brand New" out of box.
(photo : N9EWO)

LCD Plastic Lens Scratches Very Easy , Improved Plastic Shell , Versatile Backlighting Adjustment

As you may see elsewhere while looking around the Internet, the plastic lens that covers the LCD screen scratches VERY EAISLY. Most owners are taking universal type cell phone/GPS “screen protectors” and fitting these on from day one. Remember there are adhesive and static based types of these screen protectors on the market. Can’t say myself which one is better (untested) ?

Texture of the cabinet is far improved over the PSR-500 / PRO-106. It looks much more durable and less susceptible to scratches, unfortunately the LCD plastic lens was not the same story.

The LARGE LCD has great contrast and is adjustable. Also the brightness is fully adjustable in steps. For my eyes the default is WAY too bright at the MAX setting. We in fact turned it down to LOW (lowest you can go before OFF) . Looks just fine and saves battery life at the same time. Even better you can shut the keypad lighting off to save battery life even more (which we do). Even the length of the timed backlight mode exists. Versatile indeed.

Sadly, as is the case with the many LCD’s on consumer electronics, without the backlight on and if used in a room with low ambient light, it is near impossible to see. Of course a moot point for outside use or in a BRIGHT room (no problem then).

Backlighting can be toggled on “full time” use when the AC adapter or computer is connected.

Unlike the PSR-500/PRO-106 LCD , the display is hard to read in low light level situations without the backlight in use.
The little AC plug in the upper right hand corner lets you know you are connected to a external 5 volt power supply (or computer).
Display is larger (including an extra line) when compared to the elder GRECOM PSR-500 and RadioShack PRO-106 models.
(photo : N9EWO)

Micro SD card , EZ Scan Software Program (Version 1.03) works OK but has limitations

A 2 GB “Micro-SD” card is included which contains the Radio Reference database and also for memory storage when the onboard recorder is used.

Size of the micro-SD card can be increased (up to 32 GB SDHC cards) but it needs to be PROPERLY formatted before use with the EZ Scan software program and perhaps using the “SD Formatter” program before that (see the owners manual and/or GRE America web site for more information). There has been talk around the Internet that some manufactures of memory cards do not work so well with the PSR-800. Stick with SanDisk and you should have no problem? Unknown if the speed of any card is important (2,4,6 or 10). This we may look into at a later date??

Something to keep in mind is the larger the card the longer it takes to boot up from a cold start.

The
GRE software is easy to use for the most part. Always a learning curve with ANY new computer program. In this case it uses a REAL USB cable and not a serial to USB converter cable as with the PSR-500 or PRO-106. IMPORTANT NOTE: You MUST have at least Windows XP with service pack 3 installed or better to use it. Sorry there is no Apple OS version. Tabs are located on the BOTTOM of the GUI which is bit weird. All receiver firmware updates (CPU and DSP) are done within the program. So don’t look for any downloads anywhere for firmware updating. UPDATE :The last firmware update (for Phase 2 P25) was 2 "stand alone" updates.

It does take some time (more than I’m used to) for uploading or downloading to the receiver. There is no save function , whatever you enter or change is it (what you enter is stored in the program at that second "auto style"). No printing function of entries either which is a MAJOR drawback to me. All search data/limits (including Spectrum Sweeper limits and bands etc), can NOT be done in the software at all. These MUST be changed within the menu on the receiver manually. The Micro SD card can be removed and data transferred much faster using a card reader on the host computer if desired (not tested).

Yes, one can program the set using the on board excellent Radio Reference database and works very well. But for our normal use and desires we use the computer software for programming . Certainly is going to be a huge boon for someone who travels in the USA or Canada.

200 Scan Lists That Can Be Alpha Tagged

The RadioShack PRO-106 and GRE-500 handheld scanners have 20 Scan Lists. With the PSR-800 there are 200 available (with the RadioShack PRO-18 is 100). Even better is that you can give each scan list an Alpha Tag (not just some number).

We found this to be a HUGE advancement and makes up (slightly) for the lack of a numeric keyboard. However doing this without the computer program will be a real chore.

AC Adapter , Internal Battery Charger , Battery Contacts Use Springs , Low Battery "Beeper

The PSR-800 has no traditional round DC Input jack like found on the PSR-500 (or RadioShack PRO-106). As the trend is going these days, it has a lone “mini USB” jack for the data transferring and also for the 5volt DC power input. This makes total sense, as when you connect to the computer the battery life is a moot point.

No external power adapter is included. Any 5 volt USB power adapter (car or AC home type) SHOULD be able to be used with the PSR-800 with no problem . The downside is about 99.9% of these are of a switching type supply and unwanted RF noise is always a possibility. But being this is not a HF/SW receiver should not be a major problem (but maybe somewhat depending on the supply used and if near any HF receivers or antenna’s)

There is a built in “Timer Type” battery charger circuit on board and I do NOT recommend use of it. 100% of our battery charging is done in a external device at a slow rate (200~250 mah). There is a way to shut the internal charger off entirely in the menus (set to “0”).

I love the fact that GRE uses battery springs in the case for improved connections. Unlike Uniden, which make use of all metal tabs in the BCD396XT, these have a greater chance of breaking let alone possible inferior connections (my view of course on this one).

It is a bit difficult to remove the cells from all 4-battery cavities. Unless you have long fingernails, better have a plastic pry tool on your key chain to carefully remove the cells in the field.

Just like with the PSR-500/PRO-197, we have a low battery beeper when the batteries need to be replaced. At first it was not operating properly , but after 6 charge cycles of new ni-mh batteries, it started to work fine. Hint : Do not use any larger than 30 in the beeper menu setting.

As you can see in my battery chart on the bottom of this report , my extensive testing shows that the PSR-800 does use a bit more current over the older PSR-500 / PRO-106 model.

Speaker , Audio Quality , Signal Dropouts , Audio Amplifier “Pop”, Stereo Headphone Jack Works Good

The tiny internal speaker is a real aural treat. No breakup distortion, more than loud enough even in noisy outdoor use. Also does not contain “bassy” parts of the audio spectrum either which is something you don’t want listening to voice communications.

Volume level is adjusted electronically and the UP and DOWN arrows on the front panel are used. This works very well for my uses and allows returning back to a previous setting which is hard to do on the PRO-106 where the on off “power” is tied to the volume control. The 800 has a separate on-off button.

However the audio is not quite all wine and roses. Just as it is with the PRO-106/PSR-500 , I do detect (signal or audio?) distortion that creeps in at any audio level setting. This is not to any real annoying “serious” level, but for the record if you are picky as I ‘am you will hear it. Shutting off the AGC does help SLIGHTLY, but does not cure it either.

One other bug we detected was if whatever signal has extremely HOT LOUD audio (I mean it must be very VERY LOUD), the set may take off scanning before it drops (gets cut off, this was noticed with CONV signals in testing). Not sure what is going on ? Another one I may have more on later with time and it dosen't happen that often.

The PRO-106 and PSR-500’s audio amplifier runs full time even with squelched signals (you can hear the hiss). With the PSR-800 this has changed as it’s switched on/off with receiver activity. A minor annoyance to this arrangement is I can hear a light POP every time the audio amplifier comes to life and more so when it returns to standby.

One can plug in stereo headphones with no need for any silly adapters. There is actually a totally separate volume control level just for headphones (receiver automatically senses this when you plug those in).

Performance , Sensitivity , Included Stubby Antenna BNC Connector and the Earphone Dust Cover


Receiver sensitivity is very good overall, even in the 800 Mhz side of the spectrum. As it usually is with GRE made scanners, the UHF sensitivity is lacking just a bit. Also remember, as is the case with all other current GRE scanners, there is no FM broadcast coverage or super wide FM filters. Here is where Uniden equivalent models have the advantage. The P25 digital decoding quality is equal to the PSR-500 / PRO-106 (very good). Leaps and bound better over my older Uniden BCD996T (even after all firmware updates).

The included “4-inch” stubby BNC antenna works well for what it is. One will crave for a better performing antenna almost immediately. We found the older
8-inch Icom FA1443B dual band HT antenna to work well overall for a traditional looking (and not too long) ducky. For a more stealth looking antenna but still good performance we like the Diamond 7 inch RH-519 (BNC) model. Super thin but one needs to keep in mind is not for any heavy-duty use (it will bend), but this is still my favorite scanner antenna.

We experienced a serious issue when attaching different BNC antennas. The problem involves the soft plastic earphone cover that loops through the BNC connector for attaching this cover. The “loop” is just thick enough not to allow some BNC connectors to lock on (bottom of BNC connector bottoms out). The cure is just remove the jack cover, but leaves the jack unprotected from dirt and dust. I CAREFULLY filed off a small amount of the RH-519 antenna BNC connector and that made it so I could still use the cover. The same would also have to be done with the Icom FA-1443B as well. This again will vary and may not be an issue with your aftermarket antenna?

I will NOT be held responsible for any info that is listed here.
ALL DONE AT YOUR OWN RISK !

Some aftermarket antenna's bottom out on the PSR-800's BNC antenna connector (you are not able to lock it on).
This is caused by the plastic earphone cover (see red arrow in photo above). You can just remove it , however we CAREFULLY filed off a small amount
from the Diamond RH-519's BNC's base (as shown in the right picture) and now fits fine and cover still attached protecting the jack from dirt and dust.
(photo : N9EWO)

Search Functions OK and "Spectrum Sweeper" is useful but NO where near as good as Uniden's Excellent "Close Call"

Search functions allow you to set start and end limits. Limit search you still enter the START and END frequencies as with any other scanner but here it is done with the "up-down-left right" buttons. A bit of a chore to use it. One can also do tight limit entry and sort of have direct frequency entry . Service Search for various pre-entered limits. There are adjustments that can be done here as well (like locking out certain CB channels, or only search certain Ham bands).

"Spectrum Sweeper" allows you to do a near field search of the popular ranges of the receivers coverage and is useful. This does however not work in the background as does Uniden's excellent "Close Call", so it ties it up (will not work with the Scan or another Search in use). Also it tends to be less (or too) sensitive. So depending where you are to the captured (or not captured as the case may be) signal the performance tends to be luke warm for me as compared to our older Uniden BCD996T. Use of the attenuator can help tame a hot area OR it can totally kill off any signals. Yes, Uniden has this one in the bag, it's really a night and day difference for me on this feature.

Excellent Built In Off Air Recorder


The PSR-800 (feature not included with the RadioShack PRO-18 variant) allows for off air recording. It works extremely well and the volume setting has no effect on the recorded signal. Unlike the Icom IC-R20, it does not record in some weird offbeat format. It uses the AU format and that is editable with most audio editing software and plays with most general players. New files are started with each squelch break. Files can be downloaded to the computer using the programming software and of course can be listened to within the receiver as well.

MAJOR DRAWBACK !! Headphone / Earphone Jack Useless With Any External Speaker

You will find a stereo 1/8 inch "Headphone/Earphone" jack located on the top of the set. It allows you to use a pair of stereo phones with a 3 conductor plug without the need for any adapters (so can be heard in both ears). There are 2 totally independent volume control settings. One for the internal speaker and another for the "Headphone/earphone" jack. As soon as you plug into this jack the lower level volume setting takes over and is indicated on the LCD. The level is way too low for any chance of a external speaker to work even at lower levels. It just cuts off way too much of the output for this use. Sadly there is no way to override this silly oversight. Unlike the GRE PSR-500 or RadioShack PRO-106 variant that with a shorting wire EXTERNALLY between the earphone jack ground and the antenna connector ground bypasses the anti-blast resistor. Too bad GRE did not allow a toggle user selection in the software/firmware to allow some kind of a override to this microprocessor controlled setting. To me this is a MAJOR drawback with the PSR-800

Final Word

Is the GRECOM PSR-800 worth it after my grumbling above? YES... But it’s going to depend if YOU don’t mind a 100% menu driven scanner. For some it will NOT be the right choice. At the time this report was typed, it may do some digital modes that no other scanner does. The audio distortion issue might be a gremlin in the pie depending how sensitive YOU are to that , it's not that bad (the Uniden BDC396XT is MUCH worse..see mini review below).

"Phase II" P25 Added and then it was History !!

In October 2012, GRE issued "beta" firmware (CPU and DSP) that added Phase 2 (II) P25 reception to the PSR-800. It was not more than a few days later that the company stopped all production of scanning receivers.

Dave N9EWO
N9EWO all rights reserved
ver 3.6

Discontinued Model

The Uniden BCD396XT (left) vs. GRECOM PSR-800 (right)


The excellent plastic stand shown here can be purchased from "Universal Radio" in the USA (model #0022)

As one can plainly see above the elder Uniden BCD396XT model is housed in a more compact cabinet, “direct entry” keyboard, an EXCELLENT near field receiver that actually works (close call) and even includes an AC Adapter and 3 decent AA ni-mh batteries that give up to 12 hours of use (after a 4 cycle “break-in” using a EXTERNAL slow charger such as the Lacrosse BC1000 or BC700 at the 200 mah default charge rate).

We have tested a later sample and it’s definitely in a more convent package for real pocket use, which we liked greatly (4.9 x 2.3 x 1.1 inches) . However when compared to the GRECom PSR-800, the main bug for us is the grizzly” distorted sounding audio when P25 digital was being monitored. It reminds me of an AM or FM portable radio audio when the batteries are weak. The GRE is a night and day difference in audio quality to my ears. Mind you P25 reception works but a bit hard on the ears after awhile.

As I’m typing this text Uniden
includes a 6-volt 800ma regulated SWITCHING type AC adapter (AD1001) with the scanner. It has a “not so nice” heavy ferrite choke dangling about 6 inches from the actual adapter body. It’s clean enough, but the nasty here is the output voltage with our test sample was a whopping 7.2 volts (loaded). This extra voltage makes the rear part of the cabinet to get VERY warm after an hour or so of use (increased voltage internal regulator burn off in the scanner).

The older BCD396T model included a larger size regulated “transformer type” adapter. However it uses the same identical model identifier (that is ALSO the AD1001).
We acquired one these OLDER style adapters and the voltage was much closer to what it should be (our test approx 6.25 volts loaded). Scanner operates cooler with being 1 volt less to have to burn off in the set. So you have now been warned !!

Overall a very nice useable scanner package but again the P25 decoding and audio quality is far superior with the GRECom PSR-800 !!

There have been reports around the Internet that the BCD396XT’s (and other variant models)
have suffered from excessive speaker blowouts , and plastic cases that nearly crumble into nothing nearly fresh out of the package.

From my own experiences in use (my view) is one should not set the volume past 7 (or 8 maximum at any time) especially in P25 modes where the volume tends to go all over the place (AGC on or not) along with increased distortion. Of course still no guarantee that you will not experience a speaker failure (who knows, but is a start)? You can hear the stress it places on the speaker element at higher settings. This is not a problem with the GRE PSR-800 as it can easily handle “soft-loud” volumes with ease and with MUCH less audio distortion.

(Note: We have seen reports that the
Uniden “Home Patrol’s” also suffering from this same “high distortion” audio issue, along with excessive speaker blowouts as well. However we have not tested this model.)

Dave N9EWO, all rights reserved
Ver 1.4


My actual "ni-mh rechargeable" AA battery testing for total operation time. No breaks in the time frames given above.
Used lower "indoor" volume setting and no P25 or trunking in these tests, so expect a bit lower times in "real life" use.
(With a louder #22 volume and receiving ALL P25 signals, took about 1 hour away from the times above in our testing. No LED's on.)
As you can see the PSR-800 uses more current when compared to the older RadioShack PRO-106 / GRECOM PSR-500.
As it ALWAYS goes, your batteries are useless with a BAD charger. Stay totally away from those 1 or 2 hour battery "cooker" chargers .
I ONLY charge at a 200 mah rate with a Lacrosse charger (BC-700 or BC-1000 models) . Yes always charge EXTERNAL (not in the scanner) !!
Just one semi-bad AA battery will not cut it when one deals with any P25 digital scanner , your operation time will be severly reduced .
(N9EWO Chart)

I will NOT be held responsible for any info that is listed here.
ALL DONE AT YOUR OWN RISK !


My first "scanner" was in 1975 (left photo above), a Radio Shack (GRE) " Realistic PRO-5 ", cat. number 20-169 ($ 120. USD + crystals).
4 Channel UHF band only "crystal" receiver, used 4 AA batteries for power and was super neat for the day.
FYI : The "GRE" Realistic PRO-4 was the FIRST handheld scanner on the market in late 1973 (right picture above),
and this model ran on TWO 9 volt batteries , later samples (by mid 1974) used only a single 9 v battery.

N9EWO's FIRST "public service" receiver (portable radio) owned back in 1972 .
The Sears "3 band" model 57N2272 (made by Sanyo) at $ 29.50
Actually had a variable squelch control, but only worked fair at best.
Back in these days, the VHF-Hi band was all that was needed in my town .
Included a AC adapter wall wart (6vdc at 200 ma). 4 AA batteries.
(Then the local police moved to UHF, so for the PRO-5 above)


Links (all subject to change without notice)

PSR-800 Yahoo Group

e-ham PSR-800 reviews


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