Discovering the Baofeng Dual-Band Ham Radio
For the past 2 years I have been watching the Baofeng Dual Band Ham radio on Amazon. I checked back every few months to look at the price and the growing list of customer reviews. As time went on, the list of positive reviews grew.
When I first found the radio on Amazon, the price was ~$80. That was about 2 years ago. Then, last year, the price dropped to around $49. This last month, May 2013, the price dropped to $35 and that was the kicker for me.
At $35, this radio was now the price of a single Motorola FRS radio. Finally, the radio was becoming very, very intriguing. Most of the reviews on Amazon were positive. For $35, there is not much to lose in just trying it out. With that in mind, I ordered it.
Versions the radio
I ended up ordering the UV5RA. It turns out that there are several versions of the radio available including the UV5R, UV5R+, UV5RA, UV5RA Plus and UV5RAX+. From the research I have done, the various models are pretty much the same from a functionality perspective. What does appear different, and is not very clear from the sellers on Amazon, is that the model numbers do refer to slight variations or revisions of the radio. It also appears that the firmware version can be different, even if you order the same model number.
- UV5RA Plus
Unpacking the radio
I received the radio in the standard 2 days with Amazon Prime. It came packaged in a nice box with good internal protection for the radio and accessories.
Upon opening the box, I learned that the radio was actually the UV5RAX+. Hmmm… that is different, but not sure how… oh well.
What’s in the box
- Ear/Mic piece
- Charger base
- Charger wall-wart adapter
- Small instruction manual
Initial thoughts on the radio
After pulling the radio and accessories out of the box, I was pretty amazed. The radio feels very well built and solid. It is small. Very small. In short, I love the form factor. After charging the battery, I programmed up one of the local repeaters and discovered that the radio worked just fine. The receive section has a surprising low noise floor and the transmitter works great. Wow. All this for $35…
I have only had the radio for a few days and will be using it more over the coming weeks. I’ll update more on the radio as I gain more experience with it. In the meantime, get the radio. It is a great value for the money.
There are a lot of accessories for the Baofeng radios at excellent prices. Here are my favorites:
USB Programming Cable
The USB programming cable is MUST. This is the only way to program alpha numeric names into the radio. It comes with software, but I recommend the open source CHIRP software. CHIRP supports many brands and models of radios and allows you to easily copy settings from one radio to another.
CHIRP can be downloaded from http://chirp.danplanet.com/projects/chirp/wiki/Home. It is excellent software and supports Baofeng, Wouxon, Yeasu, Alinco, Icom, Kenwood, TYT and many other brands of radios. Since CHIRP is open source software, it is free. If you are a programmer, you can even contribute bug fixes to the codebase. This is a great way to contribute to the community.
Handheld Speaker / Microphone
Many folks who have owned a walkie talkie, FRS radio or handheld two-way business band radio will tell you that a handheld speaker/mic is a must have accessory for a radio. The speaker/mic allows you to mount the radio OUT OF THE WAY in your backpack, fannypack, belt clip or tactical vest.
Using a speaker/mic also protects the radio from accidental drops since you are only using the mic and not unclipping and reclipping the radio. You can also clip the mic to your shoulder strap or shirt for convenience. It’s a pretty nice accessory and while not fully necessary, it does make the radio a lot more usable.
The radio does include an earpiece speaker/microphone, but I have found that embedding a 2-way speaker in the ear can be irritating while working.
Battery Eliminator (Car adapter)
High performance antenna
Some reviewers say that the included antenna is not that good. They are probably right, but I have not yet verified their claim. In any case, it is pretty typical in my experience that the antenna included with any handheld ham radio is usually not that great. Upgrading the stock antenna to a higher performance antenna can make a HUGE difference in operating distance and clarity.
With the stock antenna, I have been able to barely access a mountain-top repeater from 30 miles away. There is a lot of noise with the stock antenna and the signal is not that great. With the upgraded antenna, the repeater comes in loud and clear.
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By Chris Barr
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