BaoFeng UV-5RA Quick Review

Got my $44 (the UV-5RA is now around  $30 at Amazon) Chinese built ham radio.  For the price I couldn’t pass it up just to see how good a ham radio this cheap could be.

Update 2014-05-11 It has been a little over a year since I first wrote this and BaoFeng has released several versions of this radio,  UV-5RE, UV-82, FB-F8+, UV-B5, GT3, UV-5R+, etc.  More or less that radios are all the same so I’d stick with whichever is the cheapest. The UV-82 style is a little larger so some find it more comfortable, personally I prefer the smaller size of the UV-5RA.  If you need part 90 compliance it’s a good idea to make sure the model you’re interested in is part 90 certified.  See: http://www.miklor.com/COM/UV_Certification.php

Also, since my original review there are now more accessories available.  Including AA and AAA battery packs.

BaoFeng Legal Operation Q&A (added 2014-05-11)

I see a lot of misinformation about what this radio can be used for legally in reviews so I want to clarify how this radio can and cannot be used in the United States.

Q. Is this a walkie-talkie?  Can I just pick a random frequency to transmit on?
A.  Absolutely not.  You could easily be transmitting on frequencies allocated to local businesses, public services, or emergency service channels and quickly have the FCC knocking on your door with a very large fine.

Q. Can I use this on FRS (Family Radio Service) band?
A.  No.  The radio is capable of transmitting on these frequencies, but it isn’t legal to do so for three reasons.  1. The lowest output settings on the Baofeng exceeds the  500 milliwatt limit set by the FCC for the FRS band.  2. FRS radios must have permanently attached antennas.  3. FCC only permits radios that are part 95 certified for FRS, which the BaoFeng is not.

Q. I have a GMRS license.  Can I use this on the GMRS (General Mobile Radio Service) band?
A. No.  The radio is capable of transmitting here, but once again it is not legal to do so because the BaoFeng has not been part 95 certified for GMRS.

Q. Can I use the BaoFeng to transmit on MURS (Multi-Use Radio Service)/Business Band?
A.  No.  The radio is capable of transmitting on MURS channels, but the BaoFeng is not part 95 certified for MURS use.  Some part 90 certified radios that operate on MURS were grandfathered in without having to be part 95 certified, but only for certain radios licensed before November 13, 2000.

Q. I have an amateur radio license.  Can I use this on Ham radio bands?
A. Yes.  If you have a valid ham radio license you can use this radio on any of the amateur radio frequencies you’re allowed to transmit on as long as you’re communicating with other licensed amateur radio operators.  Just follow your normal rules for ham radio.

Q. I am on a boat.  Can I transit on Marine VHF bands?
A. No.  FCC requires Marine VHF radios to be part 80 certified which the BaoFeng is not.

Q.  I have an FCC license to operate on certain frequencies, can I use the radio for that?
A.  Yes, you’ll have to check your specific license for your business/organization but in general if your radio is part 90 certified and you have an FCC license you can use these radios.

Q.  I work/am volunteering for an event with my Fire Department, Police Station, etc.  Can I use the BaoFeng for that since it’s part 90 certified?
A. No.  You should use whatever radio you have been issued instead of the BaoFeng.  Even if they gave you permission to use your own radio (which they should not as it’s a liability for them) it’s a bad idea.

My Thoughts on Legal Frequencies for the BaoFeng

Basically you can not use these radios without an FCC license.  I think the FCC rules are a little strict (you would literally have to buy four radios if you want to transmit on FRS/GMRS, MURS, Ham, and Marine bands) but the rules are the rules.  The best license to get is an amateur radio license.  But if you are starting a prepper group and want to issue a radio to all your members your best option is to get an FCC license.  A local license will require going through a frequency coordinator, or if you can file for an itinerant license yourself, I believe this is around $160 for a 10-year license.

Anyway, on to the review…

Not nearly as refined as a Yaesu or Icom, but it has all features you need in a dual bander.  Here are my first impressions after using it for a few days.
Baofeng Front with display lit

Pros

+ Hardware quality.  Feels solid and rugged.  Volume knobs feels like it should be on a more expensive radio.
+ Radio feels small and compact, a little smaller than the FT-60.
+ Excellent alphanumeric display.  Not something you see on a sub $200 radio.
+ supports DCS codes and DCS squelch.
+ PL tones and squelch for repeater access
+ Color coded backlight. orange = radio is transmitting, blue = receiving signal, purple = normal.  This is completly configurable if you want a different color scheme.
+ No transmit lockout on non-ham frequencies.  Can transmit on anything within 136-174MHz and 400-520MHz.  So it can TX on marine/frs/grms/murs/noaa, etc. so you have to be careful not to since it’s illegal to do so, but that means it’s a great radio for emergencies.
+ Dual watch (can monitor two frequencies simultaneously).
+ Wide (25KHz) and Narrow (12.5Khz)
+ 4 Watts output on VHF and UHF, good output for a radio this size.
+ Battery is long lasting. Still at 3 out of 4 bars after a couple of days and I haven’t even broken the battery in yet.
+ Comes with headset, can do VOX
+ Spare parts and accessories are inexpensive (extra 1800 mah Li-ion battery $13, car adapter $10, speaker mic $17, USB programming cable $10).
+ Free open source CHIRP software works great making it easy to program
+ LED light.
+ Can listen to FM radio
+ Dual band, can do U+V, V+U, U+U, V+V.
+ DTMF keypad
+ can lock keypad.
+ Part 90 certified, this means it’s legal to transmit on part 90 frequencies (if licensed to do so) making it a great radio for dual purpose ham/business.
+ 2.5 kHz steps, most ham radios, even the very expensive rigs can only do 5 kHz.
Baofeng Side
Cons
– Only 127 channel memories.  Wish it had more channels.
– S-Meter doesn’t show signal strength on receive.  It’s either receiving or not receiving.
– Very SLOW Scan.  I didn’t wait for it to finish, but it might have taken 30 minutes to scan the entire 2M band.
– Antenna has a reverse SMA termination
– It’s possible, but tedious to program channels directly on the radio.  You can’t modify any setting on a channel, you have to delete it first, then program it again.
– Can’t find a AA battery pack adapter.
– No way to lock out PTT button from accidental transmit.  Workaround:  In “channel mode” you can disable transmit on specific channels, so I programmed all the frequencies I don’t ever want to transmit (e.g. Police) with transmit disabled.  I basically set my channels 1-65 to disable transmit, and 66+ to enable transmit and I programmed in some frequencies on both so I can monitor without worrying about transmitting but still switch over to the corresponding channel with TX allowed if I want to talk.
The following are not really cons since they are typical cons of any radio below $250.
– No AM mode, so can’t monitor air traffic or tune AM stations.
– No automatic NOAA weather alerts when there’s an emergency tone
– Not waterproof
– No alarm on receiving signal with a certain DCS or PL code.
Baofeng Front
Ben’s thought:  This is a great dual 2M/440MHz, a little quirky but for the price there’s no reason not to buy one or two to have on hand in your disaster preparedness kit.  You can buy enough radios to equip a family for the price of one radio from Icom or Yaesu.
Where it excels is when you have memories pre-programmed in, it’s probably not a good radio if you need to program it on the field or scan.  For $44 I prefer this radio over an Yaesu FT-60R ($160) or Icom IC-T70A.($190) as long as I didn’t need to use it for scanning.
If money isn’t an issue for an all around hiking/outdoor radio that you want to depend on after it’s been submerged in water I would suggest something like a Yaesu VX-6R ($225 with current rebate).  The VX-6R would be easier to program in the field, waterproof, can monitor AM radio and air traffic, fast scan (can scan the entire 2 meter band in seconds).  It can be modded to open up 6M (this voids the warranty) making it pretty close in featureset to the Quad Band VX-7R ($370).  The 6M band also has some characteristics of HF, sometimes (like in high solar activity) it’s possible to talk long distances, and you can do other fun things like bouncing signals off the moon.
That said, if you don’t need the features, or want to get started on a cheaper radio the BaoFeng is a more affordable way to do so.

14 thoughts on “BaoFeng UV-5RA Quick Review”

  1. dear dr ben, I’ve looked through your post three times now!& no where do u state how to modify the radio for 6mtr! your post only mentions getting a better battery pack! since it’s my intention to use this on a ‘base’ samlex power supply! I’m planning on getting the 12vdc battery by pass pack! so please, what do I clip??

  2. Great review! I was just wondering for the no-transmit workaround, you said, In “channel mode” you can disable transmit on specific channels, so I programmed all the frequencies I don’t ever want to transmit (e.g. Police) with transmit disabled.” Were you able to do this manually through the radio itself or through the software?

    1. Thanks Justin. I did this through software–with Chirp. I believe the latest versions of Chirp have a transmit off option for each channel which programs in the impossible offset for you. I believe you can do it on the radio directly but I haven’t tried.

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