When it comes to the best handheld aviation radios, there are only two brands to consider: Yaesu and Icom. Both manufacturers design and sell COMM only and NAV/COMM models, so whatever functionality you will need they will have you covered.
Is Yaesu or Icom better, though? Well, this isn’t necessarily as simple as saying one brand is better than the other, as both have their strengths and followers. There are reasons why a pilot might choose one over the other, though.
Ease of Use
Icom portable radios are generally considered easier to use. Yaesu models tend to have a bit of a learning curve, especially if they aren’t COMM only models. With enough time, using a NAV/COMM model from Yaesu, like the FTA-750L or FTA-550L, should become second nature. But that learning curve does exist and is something that might make a pilot prefer to opt for a radio from Icom.
Yaseu are generous with the accessories they include with their radios. If you want to use an alkaline battery tray and cigarette lighter adapter, you’re in luck because almost all Yaesu models include these. The exception is the FTA-250L. It comes with a cigarette lighter adapter but not an alkaline battery tray. In fact, alkaline batteries cannot be used with this model at all.
Icom radios, on the other hand, even though a comparable model in terms of features may be priced similarly to a Yaseu model, do not include these accessories. If you want to use an alkaline battery tray or cigarette lighter adapter, you will be able to but these must be purchased separately. If you’re sure you are going to want these accessories further down the line, this is definitely something to consider, as the cost can soon add up, making buying a Yaesu radio the better choice.
Battery life is dependent on the functionality of the radio more than anything else. This explains why more inexpensive models without GPS or other navigation capabilities can last longer than more expensive models with these useful features.
While battery life is important – ultimately, this shouldn’t factor into your decision-making process. No more than an hour separates a model with comparable features and functionality, with sometimes Yaesu having the edge and at other times Icom.
If you’ve ever used an aviation headset with Bluetooth you know that you will not be going back to a non-Bluetooth model anytime soon. Some pilots feel the same way about portable radios too, allowing you to connect to the radio wirelessly using a Bluetooth enabled headset.
If you want a Bluetooth model, Icom is your only option. The Icom IC-A25N and IC-A16B are two models to consider.
While you may be stuck with Icom if you’re looking for a Bluetooth radio, if you’re looking for a model with GPS you can choose one or the other – though are not exactly spoilt for choice. Only the FTA-750L and Icom IC-A25N come with GPS capability, though the latter does not come with any form of ILS Navigation.
Neither manufacturer lists the range of any of their models. What you can typically expect, though, is all radios to work at the very least within 5 miles. It’s common for transmissions to be readable at 10 miles, and higher end models should have no issue having readable transmissions all the way up to 20 miles. At 25 miles you are asking for too much, regardless of price.
Aviation radios either have Dot Matrix or LCD displays. Generally, Icom models have LCD displays and Yaesu radios have Dot Matrix displays. LCD displays are considered easier to read.
So, there you have it. We said at the start that it isn’t easy to choose between these two brands – and we’re standing by that. It really comes down to which brand/model is more inline with your personal preferences, as well as the purpose of use – a drone pilot may have a different preference to a commercial pilot, for example. What we will say, though, is that you can’t go wrong with a model from Yaesu or Icom. Each company’s radios are trusted by pilots worldwide for good reason.