I love the idea of not having to sit in a room with just a radio and the rest of my family doing things I'm missing out.
Now, I can haul my Maestro around if there is a station I want to work . Or, I can check into a net and keep one ear on it.
I simply love those capabilities...
I have several Wi-Fi AP's here, but the only one that works with the Maestro is the Apple AirPort Extreme. I get some dropouts, so I'm using a wired LAN connection instead. Wi-Fi is "usable" but I don't like the dropouts.
I've had good reports using the HANDHELD MIC (FHM-1). I'm curious about the "TONE" button on back with just "1" or "2" marked on it. I didn't see any explanation of that switch.
I have ONE COMPLAINT about the MIC: THE UP/DOWN BUTTONS DON'T WORK even though the Maestro Manual gives the pinouts for UP and DOWN. Maybe that hasn't been implemented in software???
Then, I have ONE COMPLAINT about the Maestro itself: the ON/OFF button on top doesn't seem to work consistently. I have to press it a few times before it makes connection.
The small SPEAKER does a VERY GOOD JOB for it's size.
I've turned down the backlight, and especially the KNOBS backlight to run them at about half brightness. That is fine for my basement shack.
For my current needs, maestro is not high on the priority list.
So what is the value proposition that Maestro brings to the operation function to put me over the edge and buy one? I am not convinced yet to pay 10X the price of a tablet because it's cute or because I can.
While traveling I had been using a very small Dell XPS laptop for quite some time. I kept my digital software on it, log book, remote hams RCForb software which lets me control rig, amp and tuner. It also gave me access to the internet, email and a host of other programs. I set up a VPN back to my home network and have been able to use SmartSDR with some success while traveling.
While the laptop has worked great, I have just gotten tired of hauling it around on short trips. This past month I've been to Alaska, Florida and North Carolina. Instead of hauling the laptop with, I've been using RCForb through my Android phone. It gives me access to the rig, amp and tuner. I have had zero problems with it so far. I use a Logitech wireless stereo headset which has fairly good performance. This headset is small and rests on your neck with earbuds. I can listen to music, answer phone calls, and talk on the radio via RCForb while connected to the phone or the laptop.
Now back to the Maestro. I've been playing around with it this afternoon quite a bit. Right now it is on my desk in the ham shack running a maximum of 2 slices (I normally have a minimum of 4 slices going). I am monitoring 50.125 and a frequency on 40 meters. Unfortunately I can't monitor any more frequencies than that with the Maestro. It seems to be just a tad cumbersome to use compared to SmartSDR on my desktop machine but that might be due to the fact that it is still really new to me. The speaker while loud enough is small and just doesn't sound as good as any of my other rigs, but then again, this is a portable device - one has to keep that in mind.
So how do I intend to use it? Good question. I don't think I will be using it in the shack as I much prefer a good sound system (or wireless headset), large screen and more than 2 slices. I will most likely use it a little bit this weekend for Field Day just to see how it performs. I'll also be using it a lot when I go out to the shop to work or out in the back yard I'll occasionally haul it into the living room so I can spend more time with the XYL while I wait for an opening, sked or net to start up. I do this now with a Jabra wireless headset.
Inside my truck I have a shack-in-a-box rig. It works extremely well into a 500 watt amp and Hi-Q screwdriver antenna. I use the truck to haul my 5th wheel camper. I don't have a separate rig and antenna for the camper but I usually have a good cell phone connection to the internet while camping. Until now I've been using my laptop to get back to the flex at home but now I'm thinking that when v2.x comes out, I might try the Maestro instead. When in the 5th wheel, a laptop is pretty handy though. Like I mentioned above, it performs lots of other tasks as well.
Some folks might do a lot of contesting which the Maestro would work well for. I guess to put it simply, Its a quick way to connect to a Flex radio and have access with knobs and a small screen.
So, that's where my Maestro takes up residence, on the test bench. I've had it a month but it hasn't found a place in my day to day radio operating. I'm not a contested nor a DXer so the first iteration of software probably wasn't targeting my interests in the hobby.
I am optimistic however, so I'm keeping my Maestro as it has great promise and because it works so well for analyzing almost everything radio within its frequency range.
Flex has a history of listening to their customers and then making things fit better as the product matures. I predict that happening with the Maestro and I can't wait.
Here are some examples of things I look forward to seeing:
1. All buttons made programmable to most every function available in the Flex 6xxx or Maestro. I spoke to Steve Hicks at Seaside about this and he said they limited the functions programmable to just a few and only for the F1, F2 & F3 keys. This was to make each station uniform so that operators could switch off and know how to use the Maestro right off the bat, presumably in a contest operation.
Hopefully I put the bug in his ear that a "factory default" could serve this purpose well and that a few programmable profiles could give the rest of us the ability to customize the interface to our own liking.
2. A faster boot. Sometimes the DX spot is gone before the Maestro is ready to operate. I almost never use my Alpha 87 due to it's 3-minute warm up. I almost always default to my lesser, 500 Watt KPA500 because of its instant on capability. This is an example. Like I said above, I'm not a DXer but catching a friend just as he's signing off is important to me.
With the Maestro I always have to manually select my one and only 6300 every time I turn Maestro on. Then I have to select the software version. I've never once selected an old version. These selections could be the automatic boot default. An exception sequence could be selected by holding a key during power up to account for unusual situations. Say when there are multiple radios on a LAN and I want to change from one to the other radio or when an older version of software is to be tested, Etc.
3. Get rid of the step buttons and make them memory buttons & improve the current memory selection via the touch screen. Right now you have to touch "Menu", then "Memory" then the memory entry of interest and then "Load". At that point the radio changes but your still looking at your memory list and have to touch "Exit" to get back to the spectrum screen. That's five keys to select one memory. It's cumbersome at best for quick memory selection. With memory buttons you could cycle through those entries quickly and have the added benefit of being able to see the spectrum around the selection. The current system can be retained for more complex operation.
As for the two "Step" buttons, using them is very burdensome having moving my hand back and forth from dial to button. With a good two or three speed tuning dial acceleration algorithm, step buttons are not necessary. I'm happy to leave them as is, if I can reprogram them as in item #1 above.
4. The battery. This needs a complete rework so that frequent changes are not necessary. I've already worn out the two Velcro straps that hold the battery in place and I've dropped the Maestro twice. Fortunately I haven't broken it, YET!
I had a discussion with Flex folks at Dayton. The stated reason for the current approach is concern over liability for lithium batteries. We all know that some of these lesser batteries have been volatile. It's a valid concern but one that many others have managed.
My hope is that Flex will find their way to a well engineered system with a carefully designed or selected battery that can't be easily modified or corrupted by the end user but that would limit potential liability to that which a reasonable insurance policy would cover the risk.
5. Networking. While it works just fine in my LAN, it seems to me that improvements are inevitable,. There are just too many other radio manufacturers out there with successful remote control and audio platforms so that we all know it can be done well and at a distance. I'm sure that it's just a matter of enough time for the Flex software engineers to get to this one.
Like I said, the Maestro is a wonderful piece of hardware. The software is very good for a first release. I think back to Windows 3 and remember how bad an initial release of software can be.
Even though I had to wait several extra months to get mine, I sincerely thank Gerald Youngblood and Steve Hicks for holding back the Maestro until the product was ready. Now, my hope is that it's going to be all about rounding out a few rough edges and delivering great new features.
What hardware radio manufacturer can do that without asking us to buy a new radio every few years?
On the other hand, at the weekend, I was working JT65 on one slice and chatting to various Museums on the Air on the other - both on 40m as I only have the singe SCU 6500.
I really like my Maestro but cannot believe how many fingerprints I need to keep wiping off the screen! Also, although I have four batteries (count 'em(, until I can use WAN remote, I only run the Maestro powered!