Friday, August 2, 2013

On the reputation of FlexRadio

I've come to purchase a 6700 largely from a position of ignorance regarding how FlexRadio are as a vendor with post-sales customer/product support.  The big draw for me was the sheer potential of the architecture.  However, with V1 not even released at the point I'll receive the hardware I'm placing a bet on FlexRadio - that they'll as least live up to the expectations they have created via their marketing and that they'll stand behind their product and support their community of users.

I've only recently taken any real interest in Flex.  Their prior designs/products in the Flex 5000 and 3000 caught my eye but never really appealed because they weren't radio appliances that you could say were 'true to themselves' in design.  Rather, the design resulted in a collection of compromises and while a number of club members (and then the club itself) owned a Flex, there was a constant litany of complaints that seemed to be have their roots in these compromises.

Nevertheless, I wasn't expecting to find just how badly some prior Flex customers (of course the vociferous ones that choose to emote on web forums!) regarded the company given their perceived treatment and their judgement of the extent to which Flex delivered on its promises in prior product generations.  Clearly, in these peoples' minds, the 6x00 series of products represents just another cycle of hype to be followed by a lacklustre product with missing features and defects that will never be fixed.

At the moment, I have no way to get any objectivity on this issue.  I have no problems believing that a small company like Flex have had their fair share of issues and 'project bombs' over the course of their 10 years of operating.  From what I've gathered from club members getting a PC environment configured to work well with Flex/PowerSDR has been a big challenge - particularly for those with only marginal experience with PCs and Windows (and I'm no fan of Windows myself, with all its vagaries with IO, devices, registry etc., let alone trying to get pseudo-realtime processing done!).  Clearly, the 6x00 is a completely different beast to the 5000, 3000, 1500 etc.  The whole point of the 6x00 is that it's a radio and signal processing appliance, with the PC merely providing command and control, with perhaps a 'breakout' for other interfacing capabilities too.  So, I would expect that a whole slew of problems emerging from the old architecture would simply not be present in the 6x00 - but of course, there's still a huge amount of software that has to work well in order for the result to be a great experience, let alone being a game changer.

Personally, I'm in no hurry for Flex to deliver every possible feature that might be possible or muted for this radio.  I'm quite happy to own a radio that starts off doing basics well and then grows better in depth and breadth over time.  To me, V1 represents the "doing basics well" mark.   At this point I'd expect a very good receiver and solid reports on my transmissions.  Post V1, I'd expect further improvements in signal processing and more operating features.  Implicitly, I'm hoping that Flex consider this new radio to be an important product and one that they're motivated to grow out to its fullest potential.  Presumably, they will continue to have radio projects beyond those intended for amateur use (e.g. government and commercial contracts) and their continued investment in the platform will be somewhat dependent on their own measure of the upside potential of the product with continued investment.  If this platform is as good as it looks and they see growing market traction as they move through a solid V1 and onward, then I hope things will continue on the right side of the curve and we should see a remarkable product.  Indeed, if I'm honest, I want this to be continually evolving and improving device, in contrast with classic 'black box' radio products where some defects might be fixed but the feature set remains essentially static.  I'm hoping for near continuous refinement and enhancement of the product up until it becomes clear that a step-change in the hardware power is fundamentally required to go any further.

Of course, if naysayers are right and for whatever reason the product putters forward with a lack of pace and a waning commitment from Flex, then this too will likely be my last Flex purchase - but for now I'm untarnished by any prior experience and of course naturally at this point I'm very much looking forward to being delighted and turned into a 'raving fan'.  Flex have the advantage of my confirmation bias for a little while anyhow ;-)

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