Kenwood TH-D75 Review

I pre-ordered a Kenwood TH-D75 as soon as the distributors started taking pre-orders. I’ve had my Kenwood TH-D75 for a week now, and have had a chance to use if for quite a few hours. This is an expensive radio, I paid $750 for mine. Why would anyone pay this much money for any handheld radio? And is this one worth the money? You can buy a Baofeng UV-5R for less than $20, and it includes a charging cradle, which the Kenwood does not. The Baofeng will transmit and receive on the 2m and 70cm amateur radio bands, receive nearly anything with FM modulation, and with a little tweaking, can transmit on GMRS and MURS frequencies. What could the TH-D75 have that makes it worth almost 40 times the price?

I have an iPhone 15 Pro with a 460 ppi OLED screen, which is about as good as a small screen can be. The Kenwood has a bright, high resolution backlit screen with excellent color, and it’s easily readable in outdoors in full sun. It’s not as good as the iPhone 15 Pro, but its a better screen that any other handheld I have seen or used.

Most handheld radios only run from their battery. Some of the high-end radios offer multiple options. The TH-D75 has every option you could hope for. It will charge the attached battery and simultaneously power the radio using any of the following:

Use the same USB-C cable to connect the radio to your computer for programming. I tested a pre-release version of the CHIRP driver for this radio, and it worked flawlessly over USB-C. The radio also streams the received and decoded audio to your computer over the same USB-C cable.

This radio has well designed physical and digital interfaces. There is a physical encoder knob with a satisfying detent which will scroll infinitely in either direction. This knob is great for scrolling through a long list of memories, or through the alphabet when entering text into the radio. Much faster than holding down the up arrow that’s typical on less expensive handhelds. The physical buttons don’t require a lot of force to activate and are 100% reliable; not so on the UV-5R.

I have a Wouxun UV9PX, a $190 two band analog HT. The physical design of the radio is good, nice buttons, good knobs, two superheterodyne receiver circuits. But the user interface is horrible. The following three menus are right next to each other:

27 is a radio setting, 28 is used in VFO mode, and 29 is used when saving a new memory channel. Why are they together? Why does saving a memory channel use the same mental model as changing the backlight level? Those two things are not the same. If you forget a menu number, then you have to scroll through the whole list, looking at the 6 character name of each menu hoping it makes sense. Sometimes it does, like Menu 28 “OFFSET” which set the offset frequency. Sometimes it really doesn’t, like Menu 1 “ABR:s” which sets the time before the backlight turns off, or Menu 27 “ABT-LV” which sets the backlight level. I need a cheat sheet to go with the radio to document the various menus and the sequence in which to use them in order to do what I want (i.e. program a repeater)

On the Kenwood, there are buttons for actions (switching to VFO mode, sending an APRS beacon, beginning a scan). Menus are for settings, not for actions. Like cheaper radios, every menu has a number and you can navigate to the memory by typing the number. On the TH-D75, however, the menus are organized in a three tier heirarchy, and each tier gets a 16 character name. If I happen to remember that the backlight timer is Menu 901, I can just type it. Or I can press Menu, choose Configuration from the list, then choose Display from the next list, and finally choose Backlight Timer. No menu cheat sheet required.

Because the screen is large and high resolution, the Kenwood has “soft” buttons, meaning that pressing a physical button will do different things depending on the context of the user interface. The action to be taken by pressing the button is shown on the screen above the button. The user interface has more robust interaction models that are easy to use and don’t need a trip to the manual thanks to pervasive use of these soft buttons.

This radio also knows about the amateur radio bands and their band plans. When you type in a frequency in VFO mode, if you pick one that should be simplex, the radio knows that and turns off the shift. If you pick one that should have negative shift, it knows that and sets it automatically, including the appropriate offset frequency depending on which amateur band the frequency is in. Of course if your repeater has non-standard shifts or offsets, you can set those, but most of the time you don’t have to do anything. Type the frequency, set the tone type and frequency, and you are good to go.

For every other handheld I’ve owned, I’ve created and printed a cheat sheet showing a categories list of all the memories, with names and comments for each. I went to all that work because a typical 8 character memory name was not good enough for me to be out in the woods and know which memories I should/could be using.

The TH-D75 solves this problem for me with two great features. Every memory can have a 16 character name, and the whole name shows on the screen when that memory has been recalled. Second, the radio supports the concept of memory groups. You assign each memory to one of thiry memory groups. Each memory group can also have a name of up to 16 characters. Using these two features I have enough information about the memories on device that I don’t need a cheat sheet any more.

Most modern stand alone GPS receivers, like those made by Garmin, now have larger screens that can display maps. The TH-D75 doesn’t can’t show maps, but it does everything else. It shows the satellites you are receiving from, and your current position and elevation. In addition to numeric latitude and longitude, it also shows your maidenhead grid square. For the privacy conscious user, there is a setting that reduces the precision of the position sent in APRS beacons.

You can define up to 100 waypoints or locations, which can all be named. Select one of these locations as your target point, and the radio will display distance and direction to the target. You can also activate a track logging function, which will periodically record your position to a file on the microSD card. There are several settings which control the frequency and method of logging points on the track.

You can place the handheld into GPS receive only mode, which disables the other radios and extends battery life. Or you can leave GPS on, but change the setting for how often you want the handheld to wake up the GPS radio and acquire your position. This radio has everything you need for an afternoon of geocaching.

Here’s a grab-bag of other features:

There are some real problems with this radio. This review was written on firmware v1.02. Hopefully these issues will be addressed in future firmware updates.

Bluetooth is so buggy that it’s unusable. I could never get the radio to pair with a bluetooth headset, even though I tried a half dozen different headsets from a variety of manufacturers. I spent a couple of hours trying to connect the radio to my Macbook Air. Pairing was very unreliable, and I often had to power cycle the radio and the bluetooth on my laptop for the devices to show up when scanning for bluetooth devices to pair. Usually I could not get the devices to pair. In the few instances where I could get the devices paired, they devices would not communicate with each other. In all those attempts, I was only abl to download the radio into CHIRP one time over bluetooth. And when I immediately tried to upload back to the radio, it hung and I had to power cycle the radio and force quit CHIRP.

The manual says that if you insert a microSD card into the radio you can connect it to your computer with a USB-C cable and access the contents of the card. You activate this mode by selecting “Mass Storage” in Menu 980. I tried it. Neither a Windows 10 computer nor my Macbook Air could recognize the radio as a mass storage device.

I can understand some bugs in a newly launched product, but these two features just plain don’t work. I expect better from Kenwood.

While this radio has a robust set of features, there are some common handheld radio features that it does not have:

Maybe you don’t want or need all the capabilities of this radio. If that’s the case a much less expensive handheld will work just great for you. The Icom ID-50A is a great radio that costs about half as much as the Kenwood. It has USB-C, D-STAR, GPS, and it’s submersible. But is has half the memories, doesn’t transmit on 1.25m, doesn’t have Bluetooth, and doesn’t have APRS. It also has a monochrome screen.

There are many handhelds that are two band analog radios, with no digital capabilities. The best of these radios generally cost less than $200. You can get the excellent Yaesu FT-60R for $160.

So is this radio worth $750? For most people probably not. It’s the most expensive HT on the market right now. But it’s also got the most features, and it’s delightful to use. I’m glad I have one.

I wish Kenwood would put these same features and screen into a mobile radio with a 50W transmitter. I’m not holding my breath.