The Motorola Motorcycle Trbo Ion is a “solid radio”. The build quality is superb. When you hold it in your hand, it feels heavy, solid and unbreakable. The screen is bright and the colors are vivid.
When you turn on the device, you immediately notice the amazing sound quality. The speakers are full and bassy. Motorola’s noise balancing algorithm is very easily noticed by anyone paying attention. All audio transmissions are at the same level. It’s quite a blessing when you’re listening to a DMR ham radio while on an unbalanced radio you’re constantly turning the volume up and down trying to balance the audio transmissions.
The radio has room for 2000 contacts, which is enough for most people. Zones are easily configured and the screen clearly displays the channel name and zone on the vivid screen.
Programming the Ion is quite easy using “cloud programming software”. When it came out I thought it was going to be web accessible but in fact it is a Windows based program that stores your codeplug data in the cloud and writes it to your radio over the network connection radios.
The biggest downside is that the software is subscription based and requires prepayment to Motorola in order to have programming capabilities for their radio. There is no configuration once the software is purchased as it is configured by Motorola, and Motorola Technical Support can view and modify your codeplug at any time. When it comes to ease of use, the software is very slow and many features that existed in the XPR/DP series have been removed from the ION. The most important being “Talker Alias”.
For the amateur radio community, one of the benefits of DMR is being able to see who you are contacting. Most DMR radios allow you to upload a contact list providing name, callsign and location. With over 200,000 DMR users worldwide, a contact list limited to 2,000 contacts barely scratches the surface. This was resolved with the XPR series by adding Talker Alias which allowed the name and call sign to be sent over the digital stream and the radio to decode this information and display it to the user. Without Talker Alias, an Ion user is both limited to the number of contacts and unable to download real-time data stream data.
The RF part of the radio is superb. With the stock antenna I can hear weak signals and pass a nice clean signal into weak repeaters. When Motorola released the XPR7550e, they claimed that this radio was able to receive 8% better signals than their other radios, and to be honest, in field tests the difference was almost non-existent; however, with the Ion it is noticeable. In a workspace filled with RF, other radios will be mostly static hearing a local repeater, the Ion, while still having static I can distinguish radio traffic.
The radio has both a regular mixed mode scan and a polling scan. I was able to program a vote scan list with all 45 Florida SARNet channels; an amateur radio repeater system that broadcasts simultaneously across the state of Florida and has 45 different sites. Voting allowed me to travel freely across the state and always be on the strongest repeater. Unfortunately, the regular scan didn’t work so well. When trying to scan just 6 DMR talkgroups, I found that many times I would miss complete radio transitions. Sometimes it took an incoming signal for more than 25 seconds for the radio to open on that talkgroup. I found that this only happened when using my DMR hotspot. The radio would properly disable when working through a regular repeater.
As an Android device, the radio works very well. The Android build feels complete and smooth. I can download any Android app from the Android Play Store directly to the device. The device has a nice rear-facing camera that takes great photos, but lacks a front-facing camera for all kinds of video calls. The device has only one speaker (the main radio speaker). Most POC devices can be used as a phone, this device can be used as a phone, but would require all calls to be on speakerphone or routed to a Bluetooth headset.
Other apps such as Zello, Echolink, DV Switch, Peanut all work well. The transmission audio is clear. Battery life remains high despite running these apps in the background. Buttons (including PTT) are only bound to the RF side of the radio and cannot be reassigned to Android apps. There is speculation that the buttons will be accessible by Android apps in the future; including Motorola’s WAVE app, but a timeline hasn’t been fully solidified.
Standard battery life with heavy usage is around 11-12 hours. Large capacity battery adds extra 1.5 hours.
All in all, this might be one of the best radios I’ve ever used; However, not being able to scan properly on a DMR dual-slot access point can be a hindrance for some people.