I, Too, Bought the Baofeng

The Baofeng UV-5R
The Baofeng UV-5R

The amateur radio and the scanner scene was turned on its end in recent years by the introduction of a very cheap Chinese-made two-way radio from a company called Baofeng. This company makes two-way radios for all kinds of applications, but at the top of my list is its use as a public safety scanner and amateur radio transceiver.

The radio I bought is the UV-5R Plus. Some thoughts…

The LED on top of the Baofeng between the antenna port and the volume knob is a flashlight.
The LED on top of the Baofeng between the antenna port and the volume knob is a flashlight.
  • Programming the radio and interfacing with it are poor compared to most other radios. The menu system seems to have been developed in China by non-English-speakers, then awkwardly translated into English in the manual.
  • Audio is tinny but loud enough.
  • Through some legal loophole or mistake, this radio will transmit on any frequency in its range, 136-174MHz VHF frequencies, which includes 2-meter amateur radio, government, and public safety (which is some police and fire around here,) and 400-520MHz UHF frequencies, which includes a bunch of government frequencies, the entire 70-cm amateur radio band, and another huge swatch of public safety frequencies.
  • This radio is sometimes marketed for sale as a Family Radio Service (FRS) or General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS). GMRS supposedly requires a license.
  • The radio is great-looking, but plasticky enough that time will tell how it ages with regular use. It came with an awkward-looking SMA male antenna, but I like compact antennas with compact radios, so I use a BNC adaptor and a 2.5-inch stubby, which seems to work pretty well.
  • It uses a proprietary lithium battery and custom drop-in charger, so when it dies, the radio may die with it, since batteries probably cost five times what the radio cost.
  • The three-color display lighting changes when it’s receiving, transmitting, or in use, and you can program which color means what.
  • The Baofeng is small enough to fit in the front pocket of the safety vest I wear at crime scenes, fires, and car crashes. It is easier to hear in that pocket at those noisy scenes.

For some reason, YouTube has gotten ahold of the Baofeng scene. Some of it is that the gun community, one of the most entitled-feeling in America, buys these things thinking they will use them when they have to “bug out” when society crumbles. Beware: if you tell them they need a license to transmit on amateur radio frequencies, they will throw you under the bus, claiming, incorrectly, that they don’t need a license since the airwaves aren’t government property. They are bullies, and they are wrong. If you are an amateur radio operator and hear these guys on the repeaters, notify the club administrator at once.

I bought this radio to see what all the fuss was about, and it is mostly that: fuss. It’s not a great radio, especially compared to “real” gear like Motorola, Kenwood, Yaesu, Alinco, and Icom. And this radio can’t hold a dim candle to the ultimate handheld ham radio, Radio Shack’s excellent HTX-202/404. Still, I don’t regret getting it for the absurdly low price of $36.

The Baofeng sits next to a quarter for scale. As you can see, it is quite small.
The Baofeng sits next to a quarter for scale. As you can see, it is quite small.

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