I’d like to know if anyone is using a laptop on their SOTA outings. My goal is to interface the radio with the laptop to improve my CW rate. I also want to organize my log in a way as not to scramble for paper.
I’ve created a UDC with N1MM to handle the logging but I would like to get some feedback on how practical the setup would be. If you are using one, let me know your thoughts. And yes I know, it’s just more gear to haul.
I use an MS Surface Go 2 but only for running WSJT-X for digital modes from summits. But being a Windows system it can also run the usual logging programs. I have FLE and SwissLog loaded.
The only addition I’ve bought for it is a BT keyboard. This helps to protect the screen but it’s much easier to use a keyboard and the touchpad to operate the tablet, especially when the sun is shining.
The only weakness I’ve found is the internal clock is poor so I have to synchronize it before each activation either using home WiFi or via my mobile/cell phone on the summit. But this is only necessary for digital stuff of course.
I have a old netbook, which I take with me when I want to activate in FT-8. It’s perfectly capable of running WSJT-X and logging software. (Using Linux as OS) I would assume that it’s powerful enough for CW software as well, however I never tried it since I’m a old-school CW guy.
It cost approx. 200$ in 2010 (plus a few $$ for a RAM and SSD upgrade some years later), and is therefore completely written off in case it ends up in the dirt on a summit.
If you do decide to take a laptop in the field make sure you can read the screen in sunlight. i.e.it has high brightness and contrast controls that can be adjusted easily.
As for a laptop for ham radio tasks you don’t need something that powerful. I used to have an Acer Windows tablet that also had 3G cell connectivity which had a lot of contrast, it was more than capable of running ham radio apps. Unfortunately the screen failed after about 6 years of use and the 3G networks here have been closed down to free up the frequencies for 5G - so it got disposed of and I have an Android 9 tablet now with LTE connectivity.
As you need Windows, you might take a look at a second hand Panasonic Toughbook - as with one of those, if you drop it, it isn’t going to break.
Of course it’s a matter of priorities but…
- A laptop will probably weight at least 1kg.
- My paper log, its waterproof bag, a bulldog clip and pencil weighs 80g.
That leaves 920g for extra chocolate and antennas. You must get your priorities right!
Ed is correct, a display readable in bright sunshine is very important. Check you can read the display before you carry it up hill.
Very good points. Some type of shield would probably be required in bright sunlight. Checking gear is also important. Yesterday I had an intermittent contact on my CW key. It probably is a result of it getting wet a few days before.
My thought was something like a surface laptop. I think the minimum specs are 4G ram, 64G storage. Should be more than capable of running Ham Programs. But I need to check the used market first. These machines can get a little pricey.
As always, thanks for the feedback. It’s greatly appreciated.
I’ve tried shields - believe me - they are NO alternative to a brighter screen with more contract! Plus they are something else to carry and get in the way!
P.S. As a general rule any laptop or tablet less than five years old is going to be more than powerful enough to run the apps you want. make sure it has at least Windows 10 on it, to avoid possible issues with software in the future. Personally for portable use, I would never buy a brand new laptop.
The world is full of quite cheap almost new laptops.
If you only want logging, there are several good logging programs that run on your phone. I used to use Hamlog on a iPad mini, but then discovered Outd Log for Android phones. It does your logging, outputs a csv file, etc.
As M0WIV above, I run MS Surface Go 2 with a UAG case with built in keyboard.
I use it for Logging / WSJT and KST chat. It uses my 'phone for the network connection when cell coverage is available.
It is not taken on every outing due to weight and if doing a leisurely activation pencil & paper are sufficient.
I agree that the internal clock is poor and always needs setting to the correct time.
Always carry a backup paddle (or 2!). Check out N6ARA’s awesome tiny paddles:
I personally would never consider dragging a laptop with me for logging, but I’m sure you have your reasons. I find that I can easily work 2 or 3 QSOs per minute with paper and pencil on a summit - the main factor that limits my QSO rate is when I have many people trying to call me on the exact same frequency (zero beat to me). Once the initial pileup is over, things usually slow down to a more leisurely pace.
I’ve been suffering from some arthritis flare ups which make using a mini paddle difficult in the cold. Fortunately it’s getting a little warmer.
I’m currently using Larry’s paddle (N0SA) and I really like it. Although I really do need to invest in a spare. Thanks for the tip.
CU on the next one.
I have one of Larry’s paddles as well and it’s great. I totally relate to operating in the cold…I activate through the winter here and it gets COLD on those summits! I have some thin gloves that I wear when activating in the cold - I can work the paddle and write OK with them on. I’ve been thinking of trying a pair of electric heated glove liners next winter. 73!
I was thinking of picking up some had warmers
Fred, (Thanks for the QSO by the way)
I’ve been pretty impressed by the HAMRS app on iOS if an iPad is an option. Jarrett KB0ICT has spent considerable time fixing bugs. For SOTA it’s pretty slick. In a OtterBox case, an iPad is probably a pound or two? My work iPad is viewable in sunlight, and the battery should last a couple of activations, easy.
That said I’m still using a Rite-in-the-Rain notebook for logging, then entry via HAMRS once home.
Thanks for sending your call a couple times. The QRN/M on that summit was particularly bad today.
72 and GL
Indeed I can confirm what Andy wrote. … including the chocolate advantage.
In addition any energy consuming devices are prone “to be running out of battery”.
And they will be runing out of battery…
I saw activators writing logs on banknotes because they where running out of battery
… so paper and pencil is my option as long as I am not using FT8 or similar.
@Fred: increasing your cw rate goes best by having many Qsos. Start at the speed you are confortable and increase it periodically. Automated systems just distract and make you dependent on technology. 2-3 Qsos daily and you’ll be flying in a couple of month…
Nothing like practice and more practice. I intially started to learn CW just to lighten my SOTA kit. My goal was 15wpm, enough to activate.
I fell in love with it and can currently ragchew at 25wpm and do SOTA/POTAcontest exchanges at 35wpm, although I usually run at around 20wpm so as not to scare new CW ops off. I will take off the brakes sometime, though, just for fun when I’m nearing the end of an activation. Nothing like getting on the air to help with your speed and rate.
Outd Log now works on both Apple & Android. I use an old android tablet. I have an iPad mini as well but the battery doesn’t seem to last as long which is why I tend to use the Android tablet (which is typically good for 2-3 hour long activations between charges).
Also have it installed on my phone but it’s a bit fiddly with the small screen.
I would only ever carry a full windows computer with me if I intended to run FT8 or another digital mode.
The pros of “digital logging”:-
Keeps track of the time for you
Doesn’t blow away on a windy summit (like paper does)
Quicker & easier to upload the logs when you get home (especially if activating for multiple programs…SOTA, WWFF etc)
The problems you may face:-
Batteries can go flat, especially if you turn the screen brightness up too much
Screen can be difficult to see in sunlight, forcing you to turn the brightness up
Delicate electronics don’t cope very well with getting wet so I always carry a pencil & a waterproof notepad with me!
I tend to steer towards electronic logging on a tablet as my preference but I always have an “analogue backup” in case it rains or I have an issue with the tablet.
I’ve recently acquired a Surface Pro 4 (£100 second hand) for doing FT8 with SOTA. I was previously using a laptop but the laptop was too heavy to carry any significant distance/height on a regular basis.
The Pro 4 has a large screen which is great for usage but it’s very thin and I’m worried about breaking it, even with a rugged case.
The on screen keyboard in Windows 10 is rubbish but with WSJT-X etc. you only need the keyboard to enter your /P callsign and grid square and the rest can be done without the keyboard. I haven’t tried using the on screen keyboard for logging as I think it will be too difficult (paper logs work fine for me), with a bluetooth/wired keyboard it would be fine.
The clock loses sync badly however with JTDX you can tap the “sync” button to synchronise to the incoming signals (not sure if WSJT-X has this feature). Your clock doesn’t have to be perfectly syncd to UTC as long as it’s syncd to everyone else
The screen is fine in bright sunlight (e.g. this weekend in GW) and battery life is OK except when it’s cold. My device is second hand and it will run JTDX for at least 90 mins in good weather, but less than 30 mins if it’s cold.
The touch screen keyboard is particularly useless when it is raining.