Baofeng UV-5RA Review – Can a $50 Ham Radio Be Any Good?

The Baofeng UV-5RA is a dual band handheld covering both the 2 meter and the 70 centimeter bands.  If you are so licensed, then you can also use this radio as a commercial radio under FCC’ Part 90 otherwise called Private Land Mobile Radio service.  For both uses, you must have your license in order to transmit with the radio.  I will only be covering the usage on the Amateur Radio bands.

Specs

This radio has two power levels, 1 Watt and 4 Watts.  It has 128 memories for programming repeaters and simplex frequencies.  It is also FM only as most handhelds are.  For more on the specs, check out this page at Universal Radio.

Dual Band, not Dual Watch

Most dual-band radios from the Japanese companies will also include the ability to use what is called dual watch.  Dual watch allows you to tune to 2 frequencies and monitor them at the same time.  I typically will do this many times during the year.  During weather events, I may monitor both the weather net frequency as well as the ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Service) repeater in case they activate.  This is very handy feature to have, and these Baofeng radios aren’t really capable of this. They ARE dual band, but they do not have a true dual watch.  You can listen to two repeaters at the same time, but if one is active and the other becomes active you will not hear it.  Also, when a channel is active, the radio switches the push to talk to that band.  So while you may want to transmit on the one that is idle, you won’t be able to.  While this is not a deal breaker for any radio, it’s not ideal.  What I do is turn the dual watch feature off and only monitor one frequency.  This generally works well, but if you need true dual watch, then this radio isn’t for you. 

How does it sound?

Through many conversations held over this radio, I have had good audio reports.  Some local repeaters also have an echo test like Skype has, and I was able to bring it up on a local machine; I can actually hear myself, and I sounded at least as good as I did on my Yaesu VX-7R. So from the audio standpoint it works well on both transmit and receive. The receiver is good enough to pull in all the repeaters that I can on my other radios.  That said, it does not do as well as I would like in RF thick environments like a downtown metro area on certain frequencies.  The good thing for me is that the repeaters I need aren’t affected.  Your mileage may vary on this; all handhelds have this issue to some degree, some just are worse than others. 

Rubber Ducky Must Go

The default antenna is called a rubber duck by most hams.  It is enough for a lot of uses, but if you are on the fringe of some repeaters then you will want to replace this with a better antenna. I bought an adapter so I could use the antenna I bought for my car with this radio. As a result, repeaters that were weak came in much better, and my signal was much more solid on transmit as well. This isn’t an issue just for the Baofengs as it affects almost every handheld radio I’ve owned in my years in the hobby.  I still use default antennas for some situations.

If I am traveling on the bus or walking around a hamfest, some of the longer antennas would just get in the way. Typically I am just monitoring or using simplex to talk to friends at the ‘fest, so we’re less than a mile from each other, and there’s really no need to use the big antenna.  It’s those cases that the duck is enough, but if I am checking into a net where I need to have a solid signal I put the better antenna on the radio just to make sure that my signal is understandable.


About the Author

Joel McLaughlin
Joel is a consultant in the IT field and is located in Columbus, OH. While he loves Linux and tends to use it more than anything else, he will stoop to running closed source if it is the best tool for the job. His techno passions are Linux, Android, netbooks, GPS, podcasting and Amateur Radio.