The Standard Horizon HX290 is part of a total revamp of the Standard Horizon lineup. It is an affordable entry level marine VHF handheld radio that floats and features glow-in-the-dark gasket around the case.
The HX290 ships the radio, AC and DC charger cables that plug into a drop-in cradle for standup charging, an FNB-110LI battery pack housing an 1170 mAH lithium-ion battery, belt clip, removable antenna, hand strap, and owners manual.
The charger uses a drop-in cradle that will hold the radio or the battery alone and fully charge a depleted battery pack in 6 hours. This charger shows a red light to indicate charging and green for a fully charged battery.
This Standard Horizon marine handheld VHF radio is constructed on a die-cast metal chassis which is covered and protected by a polycarbonate outer casing. The accompanying battery pack contains both the battery and a glow-in-the-dark strip.
When the two components are mated the completed unit measures 2.3-inches wide, 5.2-inches tall, and 1.9-inches deep. Overall height with the antenna in place is 11.2-inches. Ready for action, but without the belt clip installed the HX290 weighs in at 10.4 ounces.
Radio Controls and Operation
All HX290 functions are controlled with eight front-mounted pushbuttons. A twist knob on top of the case turns the radio on or off and adjusts the audio volume. The push-to-talk switch is side-mounted.
The addition of a rotary volume control is welcome upgrade for this new release floating handheld. An optional external speaker or microphone jack and the antenna also sit on the case top.
One button control is available for transmitter power selection of 1- or 5-watts, up or down channel changing, weather channel selection, choosing a channel preset, quick selection of channel 16 or 9, and some scanning options.
Some operational highlights include the ability of the 16/9 key to select either 16 or 9 or the last selected working channel.
Squelch is set by pressing the SQL key and then adjusting as desired using the up/down arrows. An onscreen icon lets you know where the squelch is set. Holding the SQL key lets you go to zero squelch to try and pick up a weak incoming signal, releasing the button returns you to the previous setting.
You can set up to 10 channel presets, arrange them in order as desired, and then select them using the PRESET key and the up/down arrows. Switching between channel groups is accomplished by holding the 16/9 and pressing the CLR key to change group. A set menu controls screen backlight mode, audible beep, scan type, and weather alert settings.
Scan modes include Dual Watch, programmable, or priority. Scan on the HX290 can be set to monitor from as few as two up to and including and all channel scan. In memory mode it scans in numerical order and in priority is scans between the priority channel and each set channel. The HX290 can use all US, Canadian, and International channels as well as receive 10 NOAA weather channels and weather alerts.
This radio has a keypad lock to prevent inadvertent channel changing. Setting the lock to on disables all keys except the PTT, SQL, and the lock key.
A transmitter timer limits the time of a single continuous transmission to 5 minutes. You will hear an audible warning a few seconds before the transmitter times out. Once this happens the radio automatically disable the PTT key for 10 seconds.
In the dark a glowing strip located in the top of the radio is visible and should make locating this handheld a bit easier under tough conditions or if the radio hits water at night.
This radio is waterproof and carries an IPX8 rating meaning it can be submerged to a depth of 1.5 meters for 30 minutes without sustaining any damage. It carries a 3-year warranty on the radio with a 12-month warranty on the battery.
Performance and Battery Life Testing
I tested the Standard Horizon HX290 using the supplied lithium-ion battery pack. An alkaline battery tray, model FBA-42, sold as an option holds 6-AA batteries and can be used as an alternative power source.
Here is what I originally reported relating to floatation with the optional alkaline battery pack installed: Depending the AA batteries used the radio may or may not float.
After a report from a reader indicating that the HX290 would not float with alkaline batteries I inquired with Standard Horizon. They are now stating that the Standard Horizon HX290 will not float when using the optional alkaline battery tray.
I measured 93 dBA of audio output while listening to a weather channel broadcast and rated the audio performance good overall.
The Standard Horizon HX290 segmented display screen has a diagonal measurement of 1.7-inches making it is fairly large for a marine handheld VHF radio. The selected channel number is shown in large easy to see numbers with alpha shown on the side when appropriate.
Onscreen icons indicate transmitter power output, busy, scan mode, key lock, priority channel, squelch level, and channel group. Battery level is on the top right and shows a filled battery shaped icon when full. As the battery charge drops the battery icon empties too.
The HX290 passed both the drop and submersion tests with no concerns at all. During our battery life test it managed to operate for 10 solid hours. Even at that point is still had a little life left to make a quick call.
The Standard Horizon HX290 demonstrated good performance during our review. This radio has all the basics you would expect in an entry level radio plus features like channel preset and a glow in the dark inset. With a bargain price near $100 I would rate this one a buy.