I saw this sobering e-mail today from Doug Hendricks, KI6DS on QRP-L. Since that is a public forum, and Doug is addressing the QRP Community at large, I am going to re-post it here. It's a long post; but worth reading to the end. I will add some comments of my own at the end.
[QRP-L] Caveat Emptor, or my experience with buying a Chinese Rig
Last May, I decided to buy a modern, up to date transceiver with all the bells and whistles. I wanted something that I could take out in the field and it would have all of the operating aids available today. I looked at the KX3 and the KX2. Wow, nice radios, but oh my, the price. I can afford the radio, but can I justify spending over $1000 for a radio?
So, I decided to do some research. I found a neat radio on the web. It was the McHF from England. It is a kit, and it has a lot of smt parts. Then, while doing more research, I found a Chinese Radio called the RS918ssb. It is a commercial product made from the information provided by the McHF group, which is open source. There is nothing that is illegal about the Chinese taking the information from an open source project and making a commercial product, as long as they follow the open source guideline. The interesting thing was the price: $380 delivered. Wow $380 for an all band ssb/cw/data transceiver?? that puts out 15 Watts and has a built in touch screen with pan adapter. I thought about it for a week, went back and looked at the KX2 and the KX3. Contacted the company in China and asked a couple of questions, which they promptly answered. Larry was my contact person.
After spending a week mulling it over in my mind, I decided to take the plunge. But I used Paypal with my credit card to pay for it. I wanted to have some backup if the deal went south, and Paypal and Visa both have policies to protect the buyer. Feeling that I had adequate protection I placed the order. Larry said it would ship later that week and he would let me know when it shipped. When I didn't hear anything for a week, I emailed him. He said, oh so sorry, we had a production problem waiting on parts, but no worries now, parts are here. Radio will ship next week. 10 days later the radio finally shipped, after another round of emails and my threatening to cancel the order (in hind sight, that would have been a smart move).
The radio arrived, and boy did it look good. Nice case, small, and all of those features. Just what I wanted. Hey, I got this for $380, it has a pan adapter built in, and I saved a ton of money by not buying a KX2 or KX3.
Well, let's move ahead a week. I play with the radio on receive, go over to a friend's house to try it on his antenna for the first qso. We hook it up on SSB, and it sounds great. No problems. I take it home, put up my antenna at my new shack, (off center fed windom), and decide to make a cw qso. Plug in the paddles, make sure the swr is 1-1, and start calling CQ. No answer. I call for 10 minutes. Nothing. Oh well, band is very quiet. I'll try tomorrow.
The next day, I go out, decide to check in to the 9AM net on ssb. When I key the mike, the touch screen goes blank. What? I try to adjust the radio, nothing. I call Steve "Snort Resin" Smith. He suggests to check the current draw. I key the radio on 1/2 Watt power out. Screen goes blank, 525 mA of current draw. Then I change the power out to 15 Watts. Still screen goes blank and 525 mA of current draw. Uh oh. Problems in River City. My radio has a problem. I email Larry and tell him what is going on. It takes him 3 days to answer. He says I will check with engineers and get back to you. 2 more days, finally he answers one of several emails to him. He says to make sure power supply is adequate. I tell him it is 25 Amp supply, and it is adequate. No problems with power supply. Larry says I will check with engineers. 3 days later, no answer. I am not happy.
I email Larry and say the engineers can't fix my radio if they are in China and the radio is in California. I tell him there are 3 options: First, I return the radio and they fix it. Second, they send me a new radio and I send my radio back, third, they give me a refund. No reply from Larry for 2 days.
That's it. I am fed up with this. I file a claim with Paypal. No response from Larry. So I escalate to a dispute and ask for arbitration. Larry responds. I ask him what is going on? He says he wants to fix the radio. I say no, I am tired of dealing with this mess. I want my money back. He agrees to a refund, but I must sent the radio back, with tracking. I check with all the shipping companies. It costs me $153 to ship the radio back with tracking. I checked everywhere. That is what it cost me. So, I spent $153 to get $380 back, This is an expensive lesson.
I forgot one of the cardinal rules of buying something. What kind of service and support is available if something goes wrong. I just didn't think about it. I knew it, but I was so excited about the price, that I was blinded. I paid for the mistake. $153. I learned an expensive lesson again. Education costs. thank you Chuck Adams, who is fond of saying that.
How does the story end? I called Elecraft, and bought a KX2 for $1061 delivered. It has the built in tuner, battery and battery charger. That's it for accessories. Ordered it on Friday, delivered on Tuesday. Free shipping. Had a question 2 days later. Called the factory. Question answered. Took 5 minutes, not days of waiting on email from "Larry". And if I have a problem, I only live 45 minutes from the factory. I can drive my radio over there to get it fixed.
So there is my story. I tell it for information for my fellow qrpers. You decide if you want to buy a radio from China. But before you do, find out who is gonna fix it if something goes wrong, and remember, it is expensive to return a radio to China.
I will be the first to admit that I have been guilty of purchasing radios manufactured in China. Those have been VHF/UHF handhelds and a mobile rig. On that score, I'd like to make a comparison. To me, and this is just my opinion, buying a VHF/UHF radio, whether it be a handheld or a mobile rig is akin to buying a car, in that you expect to purchase more than one in your lifetime. Purchasing an HF radio on the other hand is akin to buying a house. It's a major investment; and for most of us, unless you have very deep pockets, it's an investment that you are going to be bound to for a significant amount of time. So in the case of HF rigs, it pays to get the best you can afford and that the product be from a manufacturer with a proven and reliable track record (of both merchandise and service).
For me (again, personal opinion. YMMV) the purchase of a VHF/UHF portable or mobile unit is of lesser consequence. I use them less (way less!) and I will try and get away with as much as I can in that regard. If the thing breaks or gets stolen or dropped, I'm not going to go into coronary arrest as if the same thing happened to my HF radio.
If you're a technical genius with an EE degree behind your name, then perhaps purchasing a Chinese HF rig is less of a risk for you. For us mere mortals, however, we might want to stay away from questionable sources.
72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!