Icom IC-R3 Two Way Radio

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All the frequencies in the palm of your hand

May 10, 2008
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Broad frequency range. Versatile. Good battery life with the screen off. TV mode.

Cons:Price. Analog TV mode useless in 2009. Confusing interface. TV mode kills the batteries.

The Bottom Line: It's an Icom. Great radio, lots of capability, in a small and robust package. Unfortunately the high price and unfriendly controls would make me hesitant to recommend it.


Contrary to the title heading, the Icom IC-R3 is not a two way radio. The R3 is multi-frequency, multi-function, radio scanner for the 495Mhz to 2.45Ghz range, with a built in color LCD display that lets it decode and display analog television channels in either PAL or NTSC format, depending on version.

There are several versions of the IC-R3 sold in different parts of the world. Different versions have different TV signal decoders to show PAL B, PAL G or NTSC M formats. The US version of the R3 is restricted in the 815 to 902 MHz range to comply with US laws on receiving Analog Cellular frequencies.

While the R3 can receive in the lower section of the 802.11b/g range ("WiFi" wireless networking range) it doesn't have decoders to let it display the output of the common wireless video cameras, nor is there any capability to use it for identifying wireless hotspots beyond there being an access point in the area (provided it's running on channel 6 or below).

The Good: The R3 is small and light weight with two LCD displays. The large (considering the size of the unit) color display is used for many of the RC3's various modes. The most obvious is Color TV mode for commercial or amateur broadcasts. However the display also allows the RC3 to be used for some (very) basic frequency analysis, signal location, band scan, etc., depending on how you set it. There is a second small alphanumeric LCD display that displays frequency range, freq, battery level, signal strength, and a couple of other functions. Both are backlit and easy to read.

Frequency sensitivity is good across the entire range, though obviously somewhat limited by the antenna size. The antenna itself is easily removable with a BNC mount so you could put on an antenna tuned for the range you're most interested in. While not a replacement for a good base station receiver, it's great for a handheld.

The RC3 has room for 400 memory channels in 8 banks of 50 each, and you can enable scan modes to cycle through all of them in several ways.

In fact, the IC-RC3 has so many modes and functions that I could use up a couple of pages describing them all. The screens are configurable, the modes are versatile, and I suspect the easiest way to describe them all would be to suggest downloading the manual from Icom's web site and pouring over it's 34 pages.

Out of the box, it comes with the unit, a hand strap, the removable antenna, a hard copy manual, a Lithium Ion rechargeable battery, a spacer/tray for using three AA batteries, and an AC charger for the battery.

Like all the Icom products in my experience (I'm an amateur radio operator, and much of my kit is Icom) the IC-R3 feels solid and well built and has worked well.

The Bad: I have only a few complaints about the R3. First, and foremost, is Icom's complete and utter lack of mastery over the user interface. While it can do a lot of things, getting to those things can be a challenge. The controls consist of a rotary knob on top, a function button on the side, three buttons, a four way tilt pad, and a power switch on the front. All of these buttons have multiple functions, in some cases several layers deep. It's all pretty easy (if never intuitive) once you're used to it, the initial learning curve is maddening. I've found this to be a fairly common thing with Icom products. Great radio. Terrible user interface.

Battery life with the color screen on is shorter than expected, which makes watching TV on it somewhat limited. Though how many people will really use this for watching TV? Since there's no digital converter, once the switch to digital TV happens in 2009, that function will be come more or less useless - though Amateur TV will still work, if you happen to be somewhere the local Hams are broadcasting.

I was also a little disappointed that it doesn't have decoders for most of the popular wireless cameras, since it would have been trivial for them to include that functionality.

Lastly, while it can pick up AM and FM radio broadcasts, it doesn't speak Stereo. So the R3 can't serve as a real replacement for listening to music on the FM bands. It's possible the newest R3 (and newer R5) have this capability.

The conclusion: The Icom IC-R3 is a very capable, light weight, multi-frequency scanner with TV capabilities. Unfortunately, the high price and less than friendly controls keep me from recommending it.


Recommend this product? No


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