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.
USB Charging Adapter
Perhaps one of the best accessories for the Baofeng radio is the USB charging adapter. This adapter plugs directly into the radio charging dock. With the USB adapter, you can even charge your radio from a desktop or laptop computer.
Since most vehicles now have USB ports, you can charge the radio directly from the vehicles USB power. This means that you no longer need a 120v power inverter in your car, just to charge your radio.
Battery Eliminator (Car adapter)
A battery eliminator / car adapter is a great idea, especially if you are spending a lot of time in the car. It plugs into the radio in place of the battery. The battery eliminator can even be used on an ATV or UTV vehicle since it plugs into a standard 12v DC socket.
In addition to saving your battery when in a vehicle, this option can also be very useful for a remote cabin or a house that is powered from a 12v solar array or that has 12v battery backups. In an emergency situation, where only a car battery is available, this option may come in very handy.
For a stationary digipeater or packet radio node, this accessory would provide a nice solution that allows the radio to be powered from a large capacity battery.
The radio should be turned off prior to removing the battery pack and replacing it with the battery eliminator.
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.
Antenna Extension Cable
An antenna extension cable allows the radio to be separated from the antenna. With this setup, it is simple to place the radio body in an internal backpack pocket and route the antenna outside of the pack. The extension cable can also be used to locate the radio in a locked cabinet with the antenna mounted in a good location outside of the cabinet.
The cable has an SMA-Female that screws onto the radio body and an SMA-Male that screws into the bottom of the antenna. This cable can be used with the excellent Nogoya NA-771 whip antenna or with the stock antenna that comes with the radio.
The mobile antenna mounts to any metal object via a magnetic base. This is a great option which provides a solid mount on a vehicle. The antenna is dual-band, meaning that it is tuned for both the 2m and 70cm ham radio bands.
As with any mobile antenna, it is important to ensure that there is a good ground plane. Typically, this means that the antenna should be mounted in the center of a flat cheet of metal. On a vehicle, the simplest location is often the roof of the car or truck. On an ATV or UTV, getting a good ground plane may be a bit more difficult as there are rarely large, flat metal surfaces. If there is no metal surface to mount the antenna on, it is simple to use a 2″ x 2″ piece of steel angle mounted to the frame of the ATV/UTV and then attach the magnet mount to the horizontal side of the angle.