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Which version of the 5RA should you get?
, December 14, 2012
This review is from: Baofeng UV5RA Ham Two Way Radio 136-174/400-480 MHz Dual-Band Transceiver (Black) (Wireless Phone Accessory)
In short: as of around mid December 2012, buy this one.
Best antenna for this: The Diamond SRJ77CA. Alternately, the Nagoya NA-771 SF if you are on a budget.
I was trying to figure out which version to get on here, frustrated by the reviews, so I decided to buy them all and report. I had read that the various versions are all the same radio, just the style and color vary: UV-5R, 5RA, 5RC, 5RE, 5R+, 5R Mk II, UV-E5, UV-5R Plus. This is true, so it comes down to which one is going to ship with the most recent firmware.
The firmware varies, but there does not seem to be much of a difference in performance. Holding "3" while you turn the radio on gets you the firmware version. I bought this mid-December, 2012 and got firmware version BFB295. I thought BFB293 was the latest but this is even more recent. The "UV-5R Plus" that I bought from Amazon for more money was BFB293, but I don't notice any difference at all in the functionality of the two.
For programming channels, don't bother trying to program directly to the radio - get the programming cable. You can buy the cheap connector, search for CHIRP software, and navigate that with some frustration. If you would rather spend a bit more and skip the frustration, look into the RT Systems connector and software which works perfectly without any frustration.
This can transmit on Multi-Use Radio Service (MURS) with no license required. It also transmits on General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) which technically requires a license. However, "bubble-pack pirates" persons who use GMRS without a license are common. It also transmits on the HAM bands and even some commercial and emergency frequencies, so be careful what frequencies you transmit on according to your licensing.
Construction? Much better than you're expecting. I have a $450 Yaesu VX-8DR, and this does 99% of what I used the Yaesu for day to day. It's not submersible, so don't take it into the bath tub with you, but at $44 it's practically disposable. The accessories are dirt cheap too. The volume can get much louder on a 5R than any other HT that I've used.
Update 12/28/12: I bought a second one, received on Dec-21-2012, this time it was the BFB293 firmware rather than the BFB295 that I received two weeks prior.
Update 1/4/13: I bought a different, earlier UV-5R variant that came with BFB297 firmware. These radios are all the same, it seems to be a crap shoot what firmware you'll get.
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