The BaoFeng UV-5R is tougher than the $25 price tag implies

UV-5R

I’ll admit it: I’m a bit of a handheld radio snob.

I don’t own many HT transceivers, but the ones I do own are manufactured by the “big three”–namely, Yaesu, Kenwood and Icom. For ages, these three companies dominated the handheld radio market.

A few years ago, several Chinese radio manufactures (BaofengWouxun, TDXone and TYT to name a few) started flooding the market with inexpensive handheld transceivers–radios that literally cost a fraction of those produced by the “big three.” Where a Yaesu dual band handheld might cost between $150-250 US, a Baefeng model might cost $25-50 US.

As one might imagine, these inexpensive transceivers gained quite a following in the ham radio community and with preparedness/communications enthusiasts.

I’ve read that many of these ultra-cheap transceivers are difficult to program and I’m sure that’s one of the factors that has kept me from purchasing one.

I also assumed that a $25 radio must be very poorly constructed. Seems I’m incorrect at least on this point.

Many thanks to Dave (K4SV) for sharing the following video from Chris (K5CLC), who put the popular Baofeng UV-5R through an “extreme” field test:

The Baofeng UV-5R is available at Amazon.com for a mere $25.80 US shipping included.

UV-5R accessories. Click to enlarge.

UV-5R accessories. Click to enlarge.

The UV-5R even comes with a number of accessories:

  • a ANT5 SMA-J flexible antenna,
  • BL-5 Li-ion battery (7.4V 1800 mAh),
  • belt clip,
  • wrist strap,
  • AC adapter (8.4V 600ma)
  • and drop-in charger.

Frankly, it’s hard to believe you get so much radio for the price.

Curiosity is getting the best of me and I believe I very well may purchase a UV-5R in the coming days. I’ll probably purchase the USB programming cable as well [UPDATE: several readers suggested this proper FTDI cable as a much better option].

Click here to view the Baofeng UV-5R on Amazon: I encourage you to read the numerous reviews–many of which sing its praises, others do not.

Readers: if you have the UV-5R, please post your comments about this little radio. I’m curious if you find it easy to use and if the battery life has held up over time.  Any tricks for programming it?

20 thoughts on “The BaoFeng UV-5R is tougher than the $25 price tag implies

  1. Mighty Mik

    Not a bad radio BUT i do wish there was better software for programming it. The factory stuff is useless, and the aftermarket stuff isn’t much better. I have the Diamond RH 771 antenna for mine.

    Reply
  2. Artem

    It’s quite easy to use, but there’s not so much on the programming. With programming cable you basically have more convenient access to device settings and saved frequencies list (and also there’s an option to unlock frequency range). With stock antenna performance is not that great, but it’s easy to find aftermarket one for better reception.
    All in all, for this price this radio is not that bad.

    Reply
  3. DL4NO

    Technology has come a long way since I bought my Kenwood TH-79E 20 years ago. These new radios are SDR transceivers, so comparatively little analog electronics is needed anymore. The rest disappeared into a few SMD chips.

    The burning test was interesting as it showed the inner values of the antenna. The load impedance of this thing would be interesting. But look out what you test; the antenna is not only what you consider it it be: Antenna i all that carries unsymmetrical currents!

    Reply
  4. Guy Atkins

    It so happens I’ve been taking a closer look this week at the UV-5R also, Thomas. It seems to be a very polarizing radio on Eham.net. I suspect some of the howls of complaint are due to “sour grapes” from the owners of much more expensive HTs made by the Big Three.

    Reply
    1. Jim

      Yep, that’s the same thing I am hearing on our local repeaters. Some guys just can’t get away from buying only expensive radios. My UV-5R works great and I use it as a scanner also.

      Reply
  5. Ken Hansen n2vip

    The Baofeng (et al) radios are by-and-large a decent value – low-cost, capable radios for dual band use. I got a BF-888 16 ch UHF-only radio because it only cost $17 shipped!

    To program the radios you’ll need a cable – you are best off to borrow a known-good cable from a friend, not to save money so much as to get a known-good cable.

    When you program the radio, disconnect the antenna – if a signal is received during programming you’ll need to start over again – not really a problem, but it can be frustrating.

    For software, CHIRP – free software, works well. It can download channels from Internet (based on band, state, county), and has presets for WX, FRS, GMRS, etc.

    Get a good antenna – either a mag mount for the car or a better rubber duck, like the SH771.

    There is a website with tons of info on them – miklor IIRC.

    There are also decent 10 watt mobile dual band radios from a company called Leixen – UV-898 I think – they are great, about the size of two packs of cigarettes, puts out decent signal, and can be installed in your (unused) ashtray in your car.

    A great low-cost antenna is the Ed Fong j pole on eBay, add 5′ of a particular PVC pipe and for $30 you’ll have a great antenna for base use.

    Reply
  6. Robert Kmetz KD9ERG

    I just got my Tech about a month ago and wanted something inexpensive to play with. the BaoFeng’s got pretty good reviews for an inexpensive radio. If you are thinking about getting the UV-5R and plan on buying a $30 antenna maybe take a look at the BaoFeng GT-3TP mkIII ($65 @ Amazon). It comes with an upgraded antenna. I got mine about a week ago and really enjoy it. I looked at the other radios and I got this one because of the looks and extra features. For me it was worth the extra $. The battery life is solid (2.5 days left on for 24hrs/day and using it constantly for 4 hrs those 2.5 days). The software is a pain. I could not get the BaoFeng software to work but got the CHIRP to work once i got the cable seated. You have to push it in very hard to seat, otherwise you will get an error message.
    I was able to pick up repeaters 30+ miles away on medium (4w) power. The radio is tri-power (1,4,8)w as well. Just my 2 cents…

    Reply
  7. Ed

    I’ve owned a UV-5R for over a year. I purchased a BF-8HP this year. I replaced both antennas with aftermarket and they both work like a champ. CHIRP is definitely the way to go for programming. Battery life is still excellent.

    Reply
  8. Jackie

    I own a UV-5R and like the author, I’ve owned much more expensive handheld transceivers. The UV-5R is absolutely a bargain for the price. However– it is tedious to program manually. It can be done but I recommend two things: 1) download the excellent CHIRP software and 2) get a programming cable. I highly recommend one with an FTDI chip. They are more expensive than cheapo cables on eBay and other sites, but an FTDI cable “just works.” No frustrating driver issues, no hassle. Worth the price.

    Also, the Miklor.com website is the absolute best place to find information on the Chinese handhelds. It’s truly the best single source of information out there right now.

    Buy away!

    Reply
  9. David B.

    A ham here in the Seattle area has put some of those Baofeng HT’s on a spectrum monitor and the picture ain’t pretty: spurious emissions well in excess of FCC standards. Seems you really do get what you pay for.

    Reply
      1. Ken Hansen n2vip

        Who knew cheap radios radios weren’t as good as more expensive radios? LOL.

        Seriously, when I read this I stopped worrying about spurious emissions/harmonics:

        “To put it into perspective, the 5W Baofeng UV-5R5 that I tested is 20 times dirtier on 70cm, whilst transmitting 1/10th of the power on its fundamental!”

        To put *that* in perspective, my $25 HT puts out 2x the ‘garbage’ your $1,000 radio…

        I’m kidding… Mostly.

        Reply
  10. Tom Servo

    I have the BF-8HP version and it’s pretty nice for the price, but one thing I didn’t notice when I bought it is these radios do not receive the aircraft (AM) band, which is a disappointment for me. The vast majority of ham activity is on HF in my area, so 2m and 70cm repeaters are always quiet. The local constabulary has long since moved to private, trunked, digital AND encrypted systems of various types so they are mostly unlistenable by any kind of scanners. The Coast Guard is active but encrypted, too, so that pretty much leaves local business activity and aircraft.

    The programming cable I ordered actually arrived just today and it opens up a lot of convenience with the CHIRP software, as well as allowing you to program the text fields and skip channels during scan; why these are not accessible from the HT itself is a mystery.

    The spectral purity is a concern as well, and I wonder how these are being sold if they didn’t pass FCC type acceptance. When I key up this little BaoFeng, I hear a buzz on my amplified speakers and other nearby radios freak out. This doesn’t happen with my old trusty Kenwood TH-79A, but it’s a dead radio because the display no longer works.

    Reply
  11. Thomas Post author

    One year at the Dayton Hamvention, the fellow running the ARRL VHF/UHF equipment testing booth showed me some of the results from the Baofeng. They were pretty bad compared with Yaesus and Icoms, but still within FCC guidelines (though barely).

    Based on comments here, I think the main barrier for me would be ease of programming. Seems like getting the correct programming cable and using CHIRP are key.

    Someone also told me that R and L sell the UV-5R, too, but I was unable to find it on their website. The same person told me quality between production runs have been known to vary greatly.

    One thing is for sure, though: whether they intended to or not, I think the super inexpensive Chinese HTs manufacturers have attracted more newcomers to the hobby. Many of the newly-minted hams I’ve met are happily carrying Baofengs.

    -Thomas

    Reply
    1. Ken Hansen n2vip

      At Dayton this year (first time attending) I bought a ‘Hi-Power UV-5R’ from R & L for $60 – it had an over-size battery (2,000 mAh?) and “8 watts” output.

      After Dayton, I reached out to R & L asking what the actual model number is and they confessed it was a ‘custom, one-off’ production run. When a customer makes a large enough order they can define radio features (battery, antenna, RF output).

      I suspect quality does vary by manufacturing lot, but these days if you buy new stock you should get a pretty solid $25 radio.

      For $100 (for radio, mobile antenna, SMAPL-259 adapter, programming cable and Heil headset) you can set a new ham up with a pretty solid hands-free mobile setup. Another $20 and you can add an improved Diamond/Nagoya antenna.

      A similar setup for a Yaesu dual-band HT would look like this:

      Radio: $150 FT-60r
      Antenna: $40 Tram dual-band mag mount
      Adapter: $5 SMAPL-259 adapter
      Heil headset: $28

      On the repeater, the average ham would be hard-pressed to tell which way a new ham went…

      Total: about $225

      Reply
  12. Olaf B

    Yooh dude…

    I wonder how much you got from the manufacturer after this “priceless recommendation”?!! 😉 (lol)

    By the way: I have one myself since Sept 2015 and ok ok…i have to admit:
    “ITS REALY SOLID AS A ROCK”!!

    Reply
  13. michael

    When the shtf no one will care about the FCC one way or another. in fact during WROL occurs the FCC is out the window. As long as you can have some radio that works without getting too fancy and heavy on the wallet then the Baofeng fills a niche that will only grow in times of need.

    Reply

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