Review: PSKer – an app with issues

While hanging out at the WD9BSA station the other weekend, we were playing with NBEMS via handheld tranceivers…well, OK, we were using Baofengs.  Tom had a copy of a program called PSKer on his iPad and said he’d been playing with that off and on.  So I downloaded it to my iPad for $2.99 to give it a whirl.  We both had our HTs directly connected to our iPads with appropriate 4-wire headphone/microphone jack cables, for what it’s worth (Tom’s is a semi-homebrew, mine is the “official” Baofeng APRS-K2 TRRS cable that BaofengTech has been selling lately; I bought mine on Amazon).

Bottom line, this app ain’t that great.

It seems to decode OK, but it’s supposed to be a transmitting app, too.  Which is fine, you can tell the Baofeng to transmit on VOX, and it does work — sort of.  Generally it cuts off the first few letters of the message, because it starts pumping text out immediately instead of waiting for the VOX to pick up.  And since it has no VOX delay feature, there’s very little you can do about that, short of padding the transmission with a bunch of leading spaces.

Before you blame this problem on the Baofeng, I’ll make the point that I have APRSDroid on my Android phone, and it works just fine with the same Baofeng.  But that’s because the guy who wrote APRSDroid actually knows what he’s doing, and took the time to include a “Frame Sync Prefix” feature in the connection preferences.  With that feature, you can add a “No-Op Preamble” that’s set in milliseconds (the recommendation is 3000, or three seconds), so that the software basically sends nulls to the speaker for three seconds to open up the VOX.  With the Baofeng’s VOX set to 1, that works perfectly.

I would guess that PSKer is really designed for the ham who doesn’t have an interface cable and is simply keying his HT and holding it up to the iPad’s speaker.  But it seems like a major shortcoming not to acknowledge that someone might want to use it with a cable hookup.

The other shortcoming, of course, is that the app doesn’t have a clue about NBEMS — no standard forms or anything are available for use with ARES or any other emergency services group.  But it’s cute if you want to send text back and forth across a big room on a simplex VHF channel.

There also appears to be no way to clear the screen short of stopping and restarting the app.  Come on.  Black Cat Software’s PSK31 Pad lets you do this by shaking the tablet.  It can’t be that difficult.  (Too bad Black Cat’s offering doesn’t support transmission, because they’d probably get the VOX delay thing right.)

If I were reviewing this on the Apple Store, I’d give it 2 stars; it’s a reasonable start, but it needs a lot of work if it’s to be considered anything other than a toy.  And at this stage of the game, it isn’t worth paying money for.

(I’m not reviewing it on the Apple Store, FWIW, because to do that I would have to install iTunes on my computer, and I categorically refuse to do so.)