Most helpful positive review
229 of 234 people found the following review helpful
Great little radio!
on January 20, 2013
I am a licensed ham radio operator, and one that is always looking for an inexpensive way to enjoy my hobby. One day a ham friend of mine told me about these Baofeng hand held transceiver (H/T) radios and said they were selling for under $50. Knowing what advances have been made in the technology of software-defined radios, I knew something like this was an intriguing possibility.
My friend let me borrow one of his Baofeng UV-5R radios for a couple of weeks. I was really impressed with what this radio can do. For its price, it is one of the best deals ever in the history of ham radio!
I chose to buy a slightly updated version of this radio, the UV-5RA, which is also apparently known as the UV-5R+. Cosmetically, the UV-5RA has a much more solid case, with some interesting trim features. The display has slightly different, generally warmer colors than the UV-5R. In all other respects, the radios are pretty much the same.
To me, the most important thing about any kind of radio transceiver is RF performance, both transmit and receive. Although I haven't done any measurements, the radios RF performance is satisfactory for general purpose use. The front end of the radio is understandably not as good as the 'name brand' radios costing five times as much, but it definitely holds its own with them. Receive sensitivity is as good as typical name-brand radios. Off-channel rejection is not quite as good. But for general use with repeaters, the tone squelch feature makes up for this. One 'feature' you may or may not like is the display lights up every time the radio unsquelches, even if it is still tone squelched. I haven't played with the squelch settings that much to see if this can be improved. The display light can be disabled if desired. There is plenty of receive audio, something often lacking in inexpensive radios.
I haven't transmitted too much with this radio, as I live in an area that is very hard to 'get out of' even with higher power. But the radio works fine for the repeaters I can hit. One criticism this radio has received is poor audio quality on transmit. I have not experienced this problem. (Having a rich, heavy 'radio' voice probably helps in this regard.)
One rather quirky feature of this radio is that the antenna connection is an SMA male. Although SMA adapters are not hard to find, this is (in my experience) opposite of all other radios on the market that use an SMA antenna connection. This will also limit the possible choices for an aftermarket antenna, something many hams add to their H/T radios.
This radio has all the basic features that most hams need. It can do all the common analog and digital tone squelch functions on transmit and receive. It can monitor two channels at once, on any combination of VHF and UHF. The display can show either the frequency or a name for a channel. And the radio can apparently hold over 100 channels of memory, although I have only loaded about 25 memories. For manual tuning, the frequency can be entered directly at the keyboard, although all other parameters (offset, tone squelch, etc.) have to be manually entered in a menu system. There are some scanning features, etc. in the radio, but these are not nearly as extensive as on the more expensive radios. For me, this is not a problem, as I rarely use these kinds of features to begin with.
The major criticism these radios have received is that are hard to program. They really aren't all that hard to program, although there are a lot of steps to go through for each channel. But because most hams do not frequently reprogram their radios, this should not be a big deal. The programming cable and software are highly recommended, and make it easy to 'clone' these radios. (If you are like me, you will want more than one of these radios, anyway!) On the other hand, because these radios are so programmable, handling things like odd repeater splits, etc. is very easy. The radio does not know the 'band plan', so you will need to know the expected split on a repeater system while programming.
These radios are also part 90 certified, so they can be used on commercial and public service frequencies. Although I have not tried to do this yet, I am occasionally in situations where having a part 90 radio that can transmit (and is easily reprogrammed without software) comes in handy. These radios can also do the new narrowband FM modulation that is now required on many commercial/public service radio systems in the US.
Battery performance is simply amazing. This is certainly one of the most surprising features. I can listen for days on a single charge, even with some occasional transmission. The battery pack is removable and swappable, so it is easy to carry a spare, if you transmit a lot. DC adaptors are available for situations where you may wish to power the radio from a power supply or car power.
There are a couple of very nice extra features, that make this a hard-to-not-like radio. One is a built-in FM receiver. Besides being able to use the UV-5R/RA as a 'transistor radio', the ability to listen to FM broadcast is useful during emergency communications. The other handy feature is a built-in high brightness LED that is intended to be used as a flashlight. Although not focused, this light is very useful and easy to use.
The bottom line? If you are a very active ham who uses their H/T a lot, needs extensive scanning features, or needs state-of-the-art RF front end performance, then one of the name brand units will probably be a better choice. But if you are less active, or want backup radio(s), or something just to monitor a local repeater, these little radios can't be beat. I have two already, and will likely buy a couple more!