Fun with the KX3

Elecraft KX3 QRP TransceiverYes, the Elecraft KX3 – although very much the wrong time of year to be playing with a /P radio, it’s very much the right time of year to sit in the Shack and think-up some ideas for the new year.

A couple of weeks back, I started plugging the KX3 into the main station aerial as I was concerned that I would forget how to drive it – plus, I wanted to keep within the Ham spirit of getting my money’s worth!

When the warmer weather comes around, I’ll be wanting to use the KX3 portable and keep my CW up – so a simple logging solution, plus the ability to handle on-the-fly macros would be nice.  The PX3 is out of my price range at the moment, and probably not necessary at this time.

Although the classic pen and paper is simple and effective, there are times when a bit of help from technology is required – either to make your operating easier, more efficient, or just a tad more enjoyable.

Wonderful Toys

My Arduino QSO Logger is half-built and half-coded, perhaps it’ll see the light of day at some point.  That would handle much of my /P logging+operating requirements:

  • Simple QSO logger (bare minimum fields)
  • Serial I/O for CAT and Macros
  • USB shield for QWERTY keyboard
  • Optional GPS module, aka: Where Ham I?
  • Modest power requirements – more efficient than a tablet, Pi or laptop
  • 20×4 LCD quite readable in bright daylight

This idea came from my idle musings of whether a simple Arduino and LCD could be used, almost, as a computer terminal – and it seems that VK4FFAB had already done it.  A commercial version, the Key Log Go, also exists and is probably how I would have packaged it were I producing them commercially (as opposed to just stuff it into a box and hope)…

Wot, No Paper?

Back in 2014, I got a cheap (£40) Android tablet after cobbling together tabLog which has served me well on numerous /P outings.  However, I’ve come to realise that tabLog is a bit restricted for use with the KX3 without re-writing it using a real programming environment as opposed to the (basic, buy very simple to work) App Inventor.  Although there is the possibility of using Bluetooth in order to get access to the KX3’s CAT port, it just means another thing to go wrong (not to mention another power requirement)…

Some casual Googling reminded me that KX3 Companion was out there and I quickly made the £4 purchase after trying the free version with my Samsung S5 Mini smartphone.  I was also able to get CAT plus CW/Digimode Macros working between the app and KX3 via its USB CAT lead and an OTG adapter.  Unfortunately, it does appear that there’s been little updates/fixes of late and the author has been a bit quiet – But, for pushing-out long-form macros and some assisted CW decoding, it’s hard to beat.

Elecraft tend to think of everything – and the KX3 is no exception: It’s capable of CW+PSK+RTTY encode/decode and the incoming text is offered via a CAT command.  You can also send it transmit text which makes operating rubber-stamp PSK QSOs quite boring compared to sending the characters “live”… and how does one send live PSK on a KX3?  With the Morse Paddles, of course!

The Sales!

Samsung Galaxy A 7inch 4G Tablet running KX3 CompanionNot helping matters was the local PC World who had been tempting me with offers on both Android and PC tablets during the holidays: £109 for either a Samsung Tab A 2016 7″ (with unlocked mobile+4G), or a Linx 1010B with the docking keyboard.

The Linx had been on my radar for a while – a fairly portable Windoze 10 unit with the addition of 2 full-size USB ports alongside a micro-USB for charging.  The keyboard dock uses its own connector so there was potential for a “full” computer with keyboard, 2 USB devices (ie: CAT/keying cable) and external power.  AFSK datamodes a possibility via the 3.5mm 4-pole “combo” jack.

Unfortunately, the Linx shot-up in price after Boxing Day so I decided that a sexy little Android number in the shape of the Galaxy Tab A was the way to go.  Although only a 7-inch’er, it’s a nice size for quick and convenient web-browsing, twitter’ing, internet banking etc.  It will also come in handy for use with my iZettle card-reader that I use for taking payments at events as “Ham Goodies“.

At 19cm, the tablet is the same width as the KX3 so there’s potential for using it on a stand behind the radio with a separate keyboard at the front.  The 3.5mm audio jack is a “combo” type, so offers both microphone+speakers in a 4-pole configuration – I’m using DroidPSK and DroidRTTY for AFSK digimodes.  The picture shows KX3 Companion being using to send a typical RST+Info macro – the KX3 is connected via its CAT cable and an OTG adapter.

tabLogX Android Logger by M0PZTSimple Logging

I revisited my tabLog software and found that the layout was spilling outside of the available screen space, so a quick revision (entitled tabLogX) was created and that’s now on the tabLog page.

The screenshot shows how it looks on the new Samsung – even though I wear glasses for computer use, the size isn’t too bad.  The real benefit is that I don’t have to decipher and type-up my written log into the Shack computer when I get home – a simple ADIF import does it for me!

I’d really like to write an Android logging application properly but don’t have the time or enthusiasm to learn a new development environment – even if I were to charge a few ££ via the Google Play store.  Perhaps when I’ve won the lottery and the bands are quiet.

Back to Windoze

I’ve also been tinkering with uLog and have added a rather basic KX3 macro window…

KX3 CW+Digimodes plugin for M0PZT's uLogThis add-on window connects to the KX3’s ACC1 port and operates in a “direct” CAT manner, ie: not via OmniRig.  As such, only some basic functions are supported and there is not a continuous stream of read/check status on things like Frequency/Mode at this time.

The primary function of the window was to allow a larger working area for the occasional foray onto PSK as well as being able to send the odd macro when in CW – I’ve yet to perfect the “Send Report, Name+QTH whilst taking a sip of my coffee” so a pre-scribbled macro can be useful.

Although the primary aim was to give me a sizable receive window on PSK/RTTY, there’s no reason why it can’t be used on CW.  To that end, I’ve added some basic functions to allow quick change of filter passband, keying speed and CW “spot” auto-tune.

The Filter Passband was an obvious addition as I find the rotary knobs a little flimsy, and I like to tune at a fairly wide setting (1500-2000Hz) before narrowing to work something interesting.  Holding the PBT knob down to select between my current (wide) filter and “NORM” (400Hz) is about as close as it gets.  Of course, if you then deviate from 400Hz, perhaps down to 250Hz or less – you lose the “wide” setting as it now toggles between 400Hz “NORM” and whatever value you manually select… Grrr!

Although operational macros are supported in the KX3 (ie: change mode, set frequency etc) there doesn’t seem to be a way to use them in an IF<>ELSE capacity.  I already have PF 1 assigned to toggle the Auto-ATU in/out, which leaves PF 2 and I really need 2 buttons: Filter 250Hz and Filter 1500Hz, for example.  Something as crude as IF(FILTER)<=500 THEN FILTER(1500) ELSE FILTER(500) would be ideal and similar settings could be controlled this way without too much “coding” skill.

The received text window in the screenshot above can be used as an automated decoder (CW, PSK, RTTY) to show you what the KX3 is decoding – or, you can turn-off the decoding and use it as a scratch-pad for writing-out what your QSO partner is sending.

All I need now is for the weather to get warmer before going out and playing with these wonderful toys…