Baofeng UV-5R (III)

Baofeng UV-5R Review

Baofeng UV-5R Average Price: £19.99

Review ᆞ Written by Sai (M7TEM)


Disclaimer of Transparency

This article is not sponsored in any way shape or form. I have not been paid to recommend anything over anything else. This article is entirely based on my own experiences and nothing further. I am not affiliated with, receiving kickbacks or rewards from any of the products or services that I am writing about in this article, nor am I using affiliate links to something like Amazon. If any article I write is ever sponsored, or not, in this case, I will disclaim it before the introduction as always.

This is part of my wider series on creating a budget shack. You can see the introduction article by clicking here.

Introduction

Picture of the UV-5R by Baofeng.
Featured Image: Baofeng UV-5R(III)

The Baofeng UV-5R is an extremely capable radio for its price point. They are easily the cheapest VHF/UHF radio on the market right now, that I know of. You can rest assured that you’re not going to break the bank buying one of them. There are a few things to bear in mind and consider when purchasing these radios. If you’re an amateur and you’re wanting a cheap mobile unit to go on the air with – this is the radio for you.

If however, you’re not an amateur and you’re looking at this radio to keep in contact with your children whilst they’re playing outside (For example) then please look for another radio, such as a legal PMR446 radio. See the section “Non-Amateur Use” for more information. If you’re thinking about going for your “Ticket” as it were, and you want to listen, then – again – this is a good radio for the job.

About the Radio and Review

The Baofeng UV-5R has many variants, some are clearly marked as being a variant by having a suffix at the end of the model number. Others aren’t. However, some of it is no so clear. Typically speaking the radio has a frequency range of:

  • 65MHz-108MHz (Recieve Only)
  • VHF: 136MHz-174MHz (Recieve and Transmit)
  • UHF: 400MHz-480MHz (Recieve and Transmit) 

With a frequency stability of around 2.5ppm. They usually have a channel memory of 128 slots where you can store frequencies into your radio. You can also label channels with up to 7 characters to allow for easier identification.

They’re not massive or heavy radios; coming in at 58mm x 110mm x 32mm (Width, Height, Depth) and 130 grams.

The UV-5R is advertised as a radio that has an output of 1W (Low) to 4W (High). But there are deviations to this. I have also seen 8W versions carrying the same model number which is perfect for Foundation Licence. Some of these have received positive reviews for actually being undersold. One such that I’ve seen on tested had 9.9W maximum output on UHF.

The radio has a standard SMA (Male) plug for antennas on the top of the device which requires an SMA (Female) antenna or adapter. Generally, the radio comes with “Rubber Duck” antennas that work well enough. You might want to certainly consider looking at better antennas for it.

Replacement batteries are readily available from many online sources. So if your battery doesn’t hold as much charge as it once did, or you’d like some spares and backups these shouldn’t be too hard to track down and buy, cheaply.

The UV-5R also seems to come with a flashlight, a single cool white LED at the top of the device. The LED is quite powerful for its size and is useful in a pitch. It has two modes other than turned off; that’s solid on and flashing. Again, this could be useful if you need to grab someone’s attention and you’re trying to show where you are.

It can receive FM Radio (as in general broadcasts) by pressing the “call” button quickly. It goes into FM radio mode which is receiving mode only. You can press the “band” button to switch between 65MHz to 76MHz and 76MHz to 108MHz, and it’s very good at doing that.

The scan feature is incredibly useful on the UV-5R and you scan either your programmed channels or put the radio into VFO (Variable Frequency Oscillator) mode and scan the frequencies. There is some weird stuff out there.

The range is something that will vary greatly depending on where you are, how built up the area is, how high off the ground you are and so on. I live in East Anglia in an area that is quite flat, all things considered. From my QTH, which is about 10 meters (or 33 feet) above sea level. From here I have been able to do the following.

  • Open up the repeater GB3OV (~3.1 Miles / 5KM away) and just about get in on high power. Yes, the Baofeng is repeater friendly.
  • I’ve also spoken to someone simplex who was just outside RAF Wyton (Near Wyton-on-the-Hill) from my location. Which 30 meters (or 98 feet) above sea level.
  • I have also been able to speak to people via Simplex in Huntingdon on low power both way. This is only about one and a half miles away (~2.4 Kilometers).
  • I once spoke to a chap in St. Ives, which is about 4.35 miles away (~7 Kilometers). But he was standing on a hill flying a kite with a radio on it at low power. I had to use high power.
  • I have been able to hear someone who was transmitting on 25W from my QTH from St. Neots which is 7.23 miles away (~11.63 Kilometers), I wasn’t an amateur at the time so I did not respond to him.

So it’s got a pretty good receive on it for the price you’re paying, and a fairly competent transmit. The radio does get warm quite rapidly for long, constant overs. How hot this can go, as of yet I haven’t pushed the limit of. But be mindful about this.

The menu is pretty intuitive; you have access to a wide range of settings such as; squelch levels, frequency step, transmission power, VOX settings, bandwidth, time out, CTCSS, DCS, disable/enable roger bleeps and so on. You could, although it won’t be as easy as doing it on a computer, program the radio from the handset itself too. This is a lot of features for a cheap radio, and I for one am glad that they’re there.

The radio is fairly sturdy when you don’t take into account the clip. I’ve had clips that have broken on me for no apparent reason, the radio has dropped several times from around one and a half meters up, onto solid concrete, tarmac, and that type of pavement that if you fall on it, you’re coming away with some nasty scrapes. Each time the radio has seemed to hold up well and not broken. It’s a radio that seems to be able to take a fair bit of abuse in my experience and come away relatively unscathed. 

This is a personal thing but, the Baofeng I purchased from eBay came with a USB Charger, whereas the one from Wish came with a wall-mounted charger which I wouldn’t trust to save my life. Whilst both feel cheap and light, the USB charger is a fantastic option. Just… Don’t expect it to charge the battery very quickly. 

That’s not to say that the Baofeng UV-5R is without fault – there are plenty of them, as you can see a little further below, but on the whole, it’s a pretty good radio. Whilst you get more than you pay for, in my opinion, you need to be aware of their limitations, and there are a lot of things to consider here.

Lamentably: It is widely and regarded by many as “Junk” and “Disposable” which is a bit of a perception problem.

Programming the Radio

If you go for a UV-5R you should seriously consider going for one that has a programming cable with it. The radio will come either not programmed at all, programmed with PMR446 frequencies or a bunch of seemingly random frequencies depending on where or who you get it from if you buy it online. In which case, unless otherwise specified, you will almost certainly want to reprogram your radio, which is where the programming cable comes into play.

Reprogramming is quite easy and can be done with a piece of software called CHIRP which works on Windows, Mac (OS X) and Linux. 

It’s very simple to program up as well, you input the frequency, what you’d like the channel to be called (Maximum of 7 Characters), select what kind of tone mode (CTCSS/Tone, TSQL, DTCS, Cross, or no tones at all) and if it uses a tone, what tone it is, whether or not it’s “Duplex” which applies for repeaters, and if so what is the offset of that repeater, whether or not you want it to be Narrow FM or normal FM and of course what power level you want to use for it. You can also choose to ‘skip’ it which will skip that channel during scan operations.

I would say programming the UV-5R is quick, easy and I’d go as far as to say that it’s required.

However a word of caution: Don’t have the radio set to a frequency that is likely to cause interference, turn your Baofeng onto low power, and remove the antenna first – because at least in my experience, the UV-5R transmits when reading/writing to the radio, or just whilst it’s connected into the computer in general, like due to a grounding issue triggering it to key up. Furthermore; make sure you backup the original image, when you download it off the radio in case what you write back to the radio isn’t valid or there is an error in transmission. 

Non-Amateur Use

If you are living in the United Kingdom, are unlicensed and you’re just looking for cheap radios, or “Walkie-Talkies” to say for example: 

  • Keep in contact with your friends who live close by.
  • As part of a neighbourhood watch.
  • Have children that you want to keep in contact with whilst they’re playing outside. 

… And have no idea what a frequency band plan is, then this radio is not what you’re looking for. You’d be looking for a PMR446 radio, and I will explain why here. The seller, most likely, won’t tell you this. They may even mislead you into thinking that you can use these right out of the box. This is not the case – at all. Under the Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006 depending on the specific offence committed, where in the UK it is committed and so on, both imprisonment and large fines are possible.

This isn’t a problem with the radio itself, but the misinformed people who buy them, and the sellers who do not inform the buyers of what may or may not be required. Strictly speaking – to be completely legal and what have you, you cannot transmit on these radios at all without some kind of licence, as far as I am aware. 

Not even on License-Free 446 Frequencies: As the regulations by Ofcom state that the radio must not be able to transmit over 0.5W (500mW) and the antenna must not exceed the ERP (Effective Radiated Power) of 0.5 watts (500mW). Whilst you’re less likely to get into trouble transmitting with these on 446.0MHz to 446.2MHz on low power, you do so at your own risk. I cannot and do not recommend it.

This issue is further complicated by the fact that in the VHF band, you have a range of typically 136MHz to 174MHz and in the UHF range, you typically have 400MHz to 480MHz which affect a swath of legitimate users. This is why I believe that education is extremely important so that buyers can make an informed decision, and understand the risks that they may be operating illegally. When I purchased my first set from Wish – I had no idea that I wasn’t allowed to transmit on certain frequencies. Nor did I know that I couldn’t use these on 446. 

Thankfully it was whilst I was waiting some 6-8 weeks for the radios to arrive that I started researching into what I bought and quickly found out that it was illegal and soon squashed any thought about using them for what I was going to use them for, but not everyone is going to do the research first.

If you fall into this category, I want to help you get into radio or be able to use it legally. I will make an article on shopping for a fully legal, proper PMR446 radio. I will also be addressing some of the advertising and marketing drivel that get used with it if this is what you’re looking for.

If you’re not from the United Kingdom, please check with your country as well as local state laws, if they apply. 

Downsides and Things to Consider

One of the biggest problems with the UV-5R is the variability, most likely from knock-off sellers, and copy-cats. It seems that no two Baofeng UV-5Rs are the same. Take a look at the table below to see the frequency ranges on my two Baofeng UV-5R’s, and what was advertised versus the frequencies they can use. I have not tested if they can be transmitted on, for obvious reasons. This is why I wrote such a lengthy statement on non-amateur use. Because sellers are misleading the general population who are buying these radios thinking that they’re walkie-talkies that they can use out of the box with no licence. And it worries me a little.

Radios and BandsVHF1.25MUHF
Baofeng UV-5R from Wish
(As Advertised)
136MHz – 174MHzNot Accessible400MHz – 480MHz
Baofeng UV-5R from Wish
(Actuality)
127MHz – 177.9975MHz Not Accessible 383MHz to 525.9975MHz
Baofeng UV-5R (III) from eBay
(As Advertised)
136MHz – 174MHz200MHz – 260MHz400MHz – 520MHz
Baofeng UV-5R (III) from eBay (Actuality) 136MHz to 173.9975MHz 200MHz to 259.9975MHz 400MHz to 519.9975MHz

And the cheaper of the two was easily the Baofeng UV-5R (III), Triband from eBay. What I am demonstrating here, is that the one I bought from Wish (My first one, incidentally) is pretty wildly out of spec.

If these things seem to vary, and their marketing can’t be correct on the frequency ranges, then are they telling the truth about the power output? Both radios in my case were advertised as having 5W output, whereas the manual and the official Baofeng website says 4W. I had this suspicion that it’s going to be marketed to being more than it is, but I was wrong, this is just as varied.

The two Baofengs that I own seem to output the following:

Radios and BandsVHFUHF
Baofeng UV-5R from Wish
(Low Power)
0.3W2.5W
Baofeng UV-5R from Wish
(High Power)
0.4W4W
Baofeng UV-5R (III) from eBay
(Low Power)
3W2W
Baofeng UV-5R (III) from eBay
(Low Power)
8W6W

Caveat (I): This is the data collected after one test using a Reace Transceiver Tester (Model: UH-74) in PWR mode.
Caveat (II): I will not transmit on 1.25 Meters for the eBay radios, so this wasn’t tested.

So I’m going to coin the term “Baofeng Lottery” right here, then. Sometimes you might get one that is on spec, you might get one that is below spec, or you might get one that is beyond spec. That seems like a lottery to me.

One of the limitations with this radio is best demonstrated in Lewis’s (Ringway Manchester M3HHY) video on YouTube, where he attempted to get into a repeater in the Isle of Man from Blackpool Tower by transmitting at the top of the tower, because “height is might”, indeed. On paper, this should have been an amazing place to transmit from, however in practice… Transmitting near other radio transmitters such as at the top of Blackpool Tower is going to overload the front end of the radio and de-sensitise it, meaning you won’t be able to hear anyone coming back to you, or at the very least it will be very heavily interfered with. You can see a perfect demonstration of this from the link above. As he points out in the video, you get what you pay for.

There have been a few counterfeiting problems with the batteries that I have seen and witnessed. Some of the higher capacity batteries (AKA; Extended Batteries) such as the ones that claim that they are 3800mAh are just the normal batteries with some lead weights at the bottom of them to make them seem heavier than they are and use the same cell/cells configuration as the original battery which is ~1,800mAh (Something I take with a huge dump truck of salt as well). There is also plenty of counterfeit antenna’s which I will cover in another article. I highly suspect that the extended battery I have is such a fake, but have not been willing to take it apart as it seems to be potentially destructive.

Are there counterfeit UV-5R’s kicking around? Oh undoubtedly for reasons that should be obvious.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that the radio has two receivers built into it when looking at the screen and seeing the two channels or frequencies. You might think that the radio is listening to both at the same time, but it’s switching rapidly back and forth between the two if you’re using TDR. Chances are – you’re going to want to get a better manual than the one that is provided, I know I sure as hell did.

The volume knob can be very easily turned if it rubs against clothing, it freely turns from low to loud.

The PTT button can be so easily pressed as well, causing unintentional transmissions. Also the button you press on itself is pure plastic, which can be uncomfortable if used for prolonged periods.

It is not waterproof or dustproof, but then at this price, I don’t expect it to be.

The clip is subpar, quite frankly. I’ve had one that just broke, outright, under the weight of the radio itself when I’ve been mobile. Dropping the radio onto the concrete floor. I do not believe that you should rely on the clip, but then if the radio breaks it’s pretty cheap to replace.

Don’t expect the external microphone/speaker or the microphone/earphone hands-free kit that comes with it to be better than what’s in the radio. In my experience, it isn’t, and might as well be binned or salvaged into something useful.

Lastly, you’re going to pick up a lot of crap, excuse the language there. From what I understand these radios are using some kind of SDR like transceiver which means they’re going to pick up things that they shouldn’t, on actually clear frequencies.

Conclusion 

I like this radio, it’s a fairly competent analogue radio, and a must-have if you’re starting to get into radio but are on a tight budget. It’s fairly solid and it seems to stand up to quite a bit of abuse. 

There does seem to be a “Baofeng Lottery” going on where one radio will be better or worse than another, and neither of the ones I have is within specification – which is not necessarily a bad thing. You have to be careful about which site and which seller you buy it from. 

If the question: “Does it work?” was asked the answer is yes. It’s a radio that works, and generally speaking, it works reliably well.

If the question, however, was: “Is it just as good as (insert high-end branded radio here)?” Then the answer is quite likely not. You need to limit your expectations and remember you get what you pay for. 

At the end of the day, if its the price you’re worried about then I don’t think you can get better for cheaper. I don’t think you can get the same for cheaper either. This is a cheap option that performs well, gets people interested, and is a very capable performing radio. There are a fair few downsides but none of them is particularly deal-breaking, especially when it comes to the price. 

Update: After posting this article, I was informed separately that the reason for the Baofeng from Wish’s exceptionally low power on VHF is probably down to a fault with the VHF Transister. This is likely to be a factory fault because I have never used this to transmit on VHF before testing.

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