Other SOTA sites: SOTAwatch | SOTA Home | Database | Video | Photos | Shop | Mapping | FAQs | Facebook | Contact SOTA

Electronic logging for activators - VKPortalog


#1

I went to the SOTA presentations at the July Ham Radio rally in Friedrichshafen.

One was on using VKPortalog (Android only - not in the Play store) for live logging on the hill from a great speaker (who I failed miserably to note the name/call sign of - Sorry! :blush:).

Now, I’ve always been very sceptical of this as I’ve always thought it was faster to log by paper and pen. Well… it still is, sort of… let me explain :slight_smile:

I got a copy of the App and a file of regular chasers calls/names from Juerg HB9BIN who kindly offered to send it out after the meeting.

I installed it and then practised a bit off air, doing dummy QSOs to get used to the process.

Then I tried it for real… but to be safe I got Sue to log for me on paper at the same time, just in case.

Well… after about 10 minutes I was “sold”! It is a bit fiddly on my Galaxy S7 screen, but it wasn’t that slow and I found a load of advantages which I’ll outline below. I didn’t use the paper log Sue had made, but I did cross reference it to check my typing. She “paper logged” for me on the next couple of activations. After that I just thought it was unnecessary.

I’ve done about 20 activations this way now and I wouldn’t go back.

Plus

  • No hard to decipher handwriting later in the day.
  • With the file from Juerg I get 90%+ chaser names coming up. If one doesn’t come up it makes me check I’ve typed the callsign correctly, so adds to my accuracy.
  • I’ve ticked the options to put the name and RST results into the exported database upload files to go in the DB comments field for each QSO. This is information I didn’t bother with transferring from my paper log before as it was more typing during the DB upload process (call me lazy!). It also marks S2S contacts in the activator log.
  • It is SUPER easy to get S2S details from the “spots” page into the activator QSO page. One click and it is populated. Great to allow you to concentrate on pulling in that S2S contact, not scribbling stuff like mad.
  • Once an activation is complete I can review the log carefully (no handwriting problems) and then upload to the DB straight from my phone (subject to data coverage). I have uploaded activation and S2S chase details within 10 minutes of finishing an activation while still on the hill!
  • You can spot with it direct from the App. I know lots of others can do this as well. I like Rucksack Radio Tool for this a bit better.

There’s loads more advantages I am sure people will have.

Minus

  • There’s no doubt I can write faster than I can type on my phone screen, especially when I have to go back and correct mistakes sometimes. But, crucially, it doesn’t seem to be so slow as to break up my QSO rhythm, even in a big 40M SSB pileup.
  • If the info comes in from the QSO in the wrong order, like I get my RST from the other Op, but I don’t have their full callsign yet, then it can be a pain jumping around the screen to enter the data. But, I can still do it quickly enough.
  • It won’t work if it is raining. My phone screen becomes unusable with rain on it, despite it being waterproof. I’ll always have a waterproof notebook and pencil still with me for those “bad days”.
  • It hammers your phone battery because the screen is on all the time, so you need to ensure you carry an external battery to charge it. Especially if you use the phone for other stuff like track logging (GPS on) etc.
  • If you want to run it on a tablet it only supports “portrait” mode so not so screen friendly.

Next Steps
I’m considering buying a small Bluetooth keyboard to make the typing a bit easier. Although it’s not essential. It might not even work out as you need to tap the screen to submit stuff and switch between menus. It might be better to stick with the slightly fiddly screen keyboard. We’ll see.

Anyway, I just thought I’d share my experience.


#2

Hi Gerald,
agree with you totaly. I tried VK port-a-log on my activation of 19/8/2017. It was run on Samsung Galaxy S5 and as you experienced it was a bit difficult use because of a small screen and small keyboard. But I was so impressed by the application that there was no way back to paper logging. So my following 7 activations were all logged with VK port-a-log. I soon bought a cheap 7inch tablet with GPS and phone SIM slot (115 Euro). It was a good decision, No problem with portrait display orientation, all information is well displayed on screen.
Great logging aplication!

73, Mirko


#3

Hi Gerald,
I also use the app for more than one year now. With the bluetooth keyboard, typing will be much easier. A typical callsign contains characters and numbers, which is difficult to type on most smartphones.

So your next step is the wright one.

73 de Robert, DL4ROB


#4

Gerald, thanks a lot for your report with many useful details. I’ve already thought of logging that way once. But still looking here for the name of an ideal recent (contemporary) and fairly cheap Android tablet doing it with even some raindrops on the screen.

I’ve not attended the conference at Ham Radio due to holiday absence doing SOTA in Bregenzerwald, but this was Manuel, HB9DQM. He’s a ufb guy, doing a lot for our community here (and tough mountains), e.g. this useful Ham Alert software.

Vy 73 de Markus, HB9DIZ


#5

Hi Gerald, welcome to the growing group of operators who are keen on VKPortalog. I have been running it for a year or two now and would not want to have to go back to pen and pencil again.

I use a small tablet (Lenovo 7 inch - think they call it a tab 3 - probably a knockoff of a Samsung tablet) which is larger than my phone and also has far better battery life. The larger screen means that an external keyboard is not necessary and there us enough screen real estate to work with (although I would of course prefer more.

My only real annoyance is the inability to note down multiple callsigns and then work through them (my normal practice when I used a pencil and paper - or spreadsheet on a previous tablet), however Peter VK3ZPF is aware of this request and did mention he would consider how to do this. For me the main benefit is that I can get home and upload the log rather than transcribing the paper version into the computer for upload. Massive time saver and reduces the opportunity for transcription stuffups.

I have a battery bank that I use to keep the phone and tablet topped up when out on the hills - not essential for short activations, but if you are spending several hours on a hill, probably a smart idea to have one.

Matt
VK1MA


#6

Hi Gerald,
I was at the same lecture! I also decided to give VKPortalog a try, and like you, I haven‘t looked back. I can’t imagine using it without a bluetooth keyboard though. I use the German version of this:

If you do buy a non English layout, you will need a support app, as non English external keyboard support is non built into Android:

I find the above app works fine. It’s best to leave bluetooth on all the time to avoid config problems. The cursor keys allow navigation between dialogue boxes. My only gripe with Portalog is that I can’t get it to run in landscape, and I would like to have the SOTA ref field right under the RST dialogue boxes, so I don’t have to scroll as far for S2S entries. It would also be nice to be able to access the save button with cursor keys and hit return to save, rather than tapping the screen. Apart from that: how did I ever cope without it. I take an Ortlieb map case in case it rains; they can fit an 8 inch tablet comfortably. That said, I have never activated in the rain, so I cannot say for sure it will work ok.
Cheers
Matt


#7

I should perhaps also add that I run VKPortalog on a Galaxy Note 2 (hoping for an upgrade to Yota phone 3 in October). For power I carry a 14000mAh Rav Power battery pack, which gives me about 5 or 6 days maximum operating time. I find putting the phone in flight mode when not activating helps conserve battery life, as does charging at night with the phone off. If you’re carrying a large (roughly 12v) Li-ion battery pack, you could probably use a 12v cigarette lighter charger for charging the phone; it’s quite easy to take them to bits and rework the housing.
Cheers
Matt


#8

I’ve used it on my last 2 activations and I like it. I still need to get used to it and don’t forget to change modes/bands :smiley:

Where can i get the names.csv ?

Thanks,
Petronel


#9

Have you tried pressing CTRL and S on the external keyboard to save your QSOs?

73 Peter


#10

names.csv is built within the app as you work stations and save the operator’s name.
HB9BIN has a list available that can be added to the names.csv in the app that will give you lots of regular chasers names.


#11

Hi Peter,
just tried that out and it works great, thanks. Is there any way to change the order the fields appear on the page? As a purely SOTA user, QTH is not very important to me, it would be much better to have the S2S field in that position. When you use VKPortalog on a smartphone (Galaxy Note 2), the layout becomes much more of an issue. From the point of view of how things are organised on the flight deck, landscape mode would also be nice (perhaps omitting the logbook list that normally appears below). Thanks again for a great app!
73 de OE6FEG/M0FEU
Matt


#12

Thanks Peter.

I hope @HB9BIN can share his names.csv list.

73,
Petronel
YO8SEP


#13

In the mean time, you can try ‘First names list of SOTA participants for use with logging software like SotaLog or VK port-a-log’ on http://www.on6zq.be/w/index.php/SOTA/Software .


#14

@ON6ZQ Thanks !


#15

I just used VKPortalog for the first time yesterday. I did a 5 summit marathon SOTA day - logged over 100 contacts. I was running VKPortalog on a 7" Fire tablet. It worked great! Tablet still had ~50% battery left after 5 activations.

Huge thanks to Peter for making this app available - I’ve been telling all my SOTA buddies in W7W about it!

And TU ON6ZQ for the SOTA names file - awesome!!

73,

-Josh WU7H


#16

Hi Petrone
Send me a email pse and you will 6000-7000 SOTA-Names in a file called names.csv
hb9bin@yahoo.com
73 de HB9BIN, Jürg


#17

Thanks, email sent.


#18

The new version of VK port-a-log is out now. Among other things, you can now set line 4 to SOTA ref, so no scrolling down to log S2S points. I’m trying it out today on the Pfaffenkogel (OE/ST-483), so I’ll post again to say how it goes.
de OE6FEG / M0FEU
Matt


#19

Report here: