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Cheap HTs

posted Dec 30, 2013, 10:08 PM by Charles Boling
Some hams insist that when choosing a first radio, you should get an expensive one, and never get an HT, because QRP and a rubber duck couldn't possibly do anything useful.  I, however, aside from being a tightwad, am of the opinion that (1.) if you can get 80-90% of what you're likely to want for 10% of the price, that isn't a bad deal at any time, and (2.) if you're not really sure what you want, you should strongly consider picking up something cheap so that you can learn what you like and don't like, before spending a ton of money on a radio that you may not like that much.  You can get a cheap (but nice!) Chinese dual-band HT for under $30 shipped these days, which for most people is an amount that they can throw away without too much pain.

Below is some quick info that I've emailed to various people in the last year or so who were shopping for radios.  Baofeng, etc. are coming out with new models that complement/replace old ones at a pretty fast pace, and it can be tough to keep track of the minor differences between them.  Here's a page that compares 3 popular Baofeng models, and there is a lot of other info on the Internet.

-------- Original Message --------
Date: Sat, 14 Sep 2013 23:10:59 -0700
From: Charles Boling

> Speaking of Ham Radio stuff... what's your opinion on the Baofeng UV-B5?

Well, I thought enough of it to buy it for a friend in UT. :-)   I don't
know how he's liking it now, but a month or so after I sent him one for
his birthday he seemed to be liking it.  He had been out of ham radio
for about 15 years, and my last visit rekindled a bit of a spark, but
his old radio was dead.

Anyway the radio seems a bit better than the UV-5R, which Bro. Morrison
in my ward bought (and his audio promptly died).  Here's some info on
radios in general:

-------- Original Message --------
Date: Fri, 15 Feb 2013 08:34:10 -0800
From: Charles Boling

Eek!  I'm such a flake.  So sorry for not getting this to you.  I was
going to compose a nice set if info just for you, but I think I'd better
just pass on what I sent to my mother and call it good. :-)

Quickly, this is the radio I showed you:
    BaoFeng UV-3R Mark II
This is one that's a little newer, bigger but better:
    BaoFeng UV-B5   

Details below.

Let me know if you have questions; I promise to answer them in
significantly less time than 2 months...

-------- Original Message --------
Date: Mon, 17 Dec 2012 12:25:48 -0800
From: Charles Boling

The question of "where" to purchase mostly comes down to "who has the
best price?", and is very much secondary to "what" to purchase.

I'll ignore the question of whether or not a ward should buy radios,
which wasn't asked. :-)

> They just need to be capable of 5-10 miles in range just enough to
> reach across our Stake.

Your stake is actually closer to 50 miles across, but that's mostly
Alpine Heights ward, so we'll just ignore that portion. :-)   Your ward
is, of course, very small, less than 10 miles from corner to corner, and
quite flat, easily covered with HTs.

Factors to consider in radio purchases:
- Price (including accessories)
- Price/availability of replacement parts
  (really only a factor if they're regularly used)
- Range (transmitter power, receiver quality, antenna)
- Size
- Ruggedness
- Familiarity / ease of use

The price of the radio is really the only factor that's both objective
and independent of expected use case.  Small size can be good or bad,
and may be more or less important than ruggedness.  Familiarity & ease
of use is highly subjective, and the people who would have a strong
opinion here the same people who are NOT going to be using them because
they already have their own.  For basic use, properly pre-programmed,
almos any radio will be about the same there -- turn the knob to switch
channels, press the button to talk.

I'll present 4 radios with typical prices, based on my personal
experience.  First a word about the first topic: Chinese vs. Japanese.

Most radios available in the last 20 years are Japanese.  The 1st 3
models are Chinese.  USA isn't really even in the race.   Some hams like
to hate Chinese radios.  Usually, they're the same ones that hated
Japanese radios 30 years ago, and the issues w/ China vs. Japan is very
similar to Japan vs. USA was 30-40 years ago.

The Japanese brands (big 4: 1.Yaesu, 2.Icom, 3.Kenwood, 4.Alinco) are
well-established.  Most models are old and, while not exciting, have
most of the bugs worked out.

The Chinese brands, being newer, are sometimes less polished but more
innovative.  Low price is primary aim, and they do well at that game.
Quality Control is sometimes an issue, but the 2 brands I mention here
are fairly well respected.  One advantage of the Chinese brands is that
they're usually type 90 certified, which means, unlike the Japanese
ones, they're legal for public servants to use on commercial bands
(police,fire,etc.) as well as the ham bands. Those who would use them in
such a way will probably be using their own radios instead of yours
anyway, though.

All 4 radios listed below are dual-band, which I consider to be a
necessity in your area.

$40-45 BaoFeng UV-3R (Mark II or III):
I love these, for 3 reasons:
1. They're tiny and lightweight
2. You can buy 3-6 of them for the price of one of other brands.
(Batteries for the Mark II also start @ $3, vs. $50 for some models)
3. They come in more colors than black -- harder to lose bright yellow.
On the other hand, they're not mil-spec rugged or waterproof, they have
no numeric keypad (not much of an issue when you're using preprogrammed
frequencies anyway).  Lack of a separate volume control knob is slightly
annoying (same knob is used for both tuning and volume).  With only 2W
power and a small antenna (antenna makes more of a difference than power
output!) these aren't long-distance radios, but they're great for either
an urban setting (like your ward) or where you want extreme portability.

$60-65 BaoFeng UV-5R
This is like a 4W, cheaper version of the Wouxun described below.  Not
quite as rugged, but quite comparable.

$105-175 Wouxun KG-UVD1P (or UV2D,UV3D,UV6X,etc.)
Wouxun has been producing commercial radios for a long time, and
disrupted the market when they started marketing to hams.  This radio,
with a full 5W output, is very similar to the Yaesu described below.
Not tiny, but not a brick either.  Good general-purpose radio.  Newer
versions have more features but steeper pricing, and offer little
additional benefit for your use.

$145-165 Yaesu FT-60R
A popular radio in the Portland-area em-comm crowd, it's been around
since 2004, it's not exciting, but is really the benchmark for other
radios.  I don't doubt that Wouxun had their eye on it when they
released the KG-UVD1P.  Competition from Wouxon and others has forced
the price of this radio down, in spite of the high value of the Yen
compared to the $USD.  While this radio *can* be broken (or lost), it
has proven over the years to be a solid design that is pretty reliable.

My recommendation?  Hard to say.  "Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM"
and something similar could be said of the Yeasu rig.  I used to
heartily recommend the Wouxun instead, but that was when the price gap
was $99 vs. $165 or wider -- as the gap narrows, the choice is tougher.

In an urban setting like yours, I'd be tempted to go for the $40 radios;
you can get a lot more for your money, and if I've got lots of bodies
that need radios, I'd rather have 10 radios in use than 3 radios that
are twice as good.  I expect that the radios you buy will be mostly used
in a small area, whether inside your ward or out; they're not going to
be used by the "key players" that are going to be inter-stake or
stake-wide hubs.  If 2 people can't hear each other directly from Amboy
to Orchards, sometimes that's a *good* thing; it cuts down on noise, and
what's important is that they can both talk to the mobile/base command
station that they need to.  If range is important, I recommend borrowing
some people and actually doing some testing to compare the real-world
performance of the different radios.  (Even if nobody else in your stake
participates, this is pretty easy, since you own one model and I own two

I'll go ahead and paste from a couple of emails I sent to someone else
who was trying to decide recently:


> He recommended that I strongly consider the Yaesu FT60R.

My $.02 -- or maybe $.04 (isn't worth what it used to be):

For handi-talkies, the FT-60 is always a pretty safe recommendation.
It's been around for a while (8 years) and has proven itself to be a
good solid radio.  Not terribly small, but not huge, and pretty rugged.
 At $145 from HRO, it's not a bad deal.

My personal leaning -- being a tightwad myself -- is towards a cheaper
radio from China instead of Japan.  Wouxun really disrupted the U.S.
market when they took their commercial radio line, and created one
versatile enough to work well for amateur use as well.  The KG-UV1D (or
later revisions, like the 3D or 6D) offered pretty much everything any
other decent amateur HT offered, PLUS was legal to use on the commercial
bands (great for firefighters, etc. that want one radio for both, came
with some accessories, and sold for 40% less than the competition.

Nowadays, the prices have converged a bit (HRO sells the KG-UV3D for
$120, though you can still find the 1D out there for $100).  The two
radios are about the same size, with similar features.  There are minor
differences, e.g. Wouxun has dual-receive w/ dual-display, flashlight
and FM broadcast receiver, but the Yaesu has a wider receive range
(including AM aircraft band).

Whatever radio you get, you will likely want to get a programming cable
for it (unless you want to be stuck having someone else program your
radio for you, in which case you just get whatever radio they have);
while you want to be able to change radio settings on the fly in the
field, programming a ton of memories via the keypad is painful, and it's
a whole lot easier keeping the config on the computer and just dumping
it to the radio when you want to update channel programming.  Some
radios come with cables, others don't, and they are available at various
prices.  Some have good-quality free software available for programming
them (true for both of the models we're discussing), others stick you
with $50 proprietary software.  Keep that in mind when comparing price.

The new darling of cheap HTs (there are lots of Chinese radio brands,
but a lot of them are still junk) is Baofeng.  In addition to the $40
shirt-pocket radio (The UV-3R -- I take mine to church in my breast
pocket, and just bought 4 more for my kids) they have the UV-5R for $50,
which is a direct competitor to the Wouxun & the FT-60. The Baofeng's
receiver isn't as selective as the others, and there could be a few
spit-n-polish issues (just a guess, and I'm not saying that the Yaesu
doesn't have annoyances too) -- but when you can buy 3 of them for the
price of one from Japan, you have to wonder if it's not worth trying one.

In GENERAL, Chinese radios will have more features, and the mainstream
Japanese brands will have higher quality-control.

All the blabbering, and I haven't even talked about HTs vs. mobiles!
Most people choose an HT for their 1st radio, and if you only have one,
obviously that's the most versatile (unless you like walking around with
a big radio and car battery strapped to your hip).

The disadvantages of an HT compared to a mobile unit (either in-vehicle
or on your desk at home) is that it typically only has ~1/10th the power
output (5W vs. 50W), and if you hook it up to a decent antenna, it's
suddenly not as convenient to hold with this stiff coax cable hanging
off the top of it.

The advantage of a mobile unit in-car is that it's always there and the
battery is always charged (unless you leave your lights on).  At home,
it requires an AC power supply of some sort, and for emergency use, a
battery (you can either run your radio off the supply if it's beefy
enough, or just use it to charge the battery) which means extra expense.

Where you live, you have great coverage of Woodland and Ridgefield, but
not so nice to Longview (see attached coverage estimate) -- without a
great (external) antenna, an HT really won't cut it.  But, it's better
to test than guess! I should stop by your house sometime and test
propagation to a few places.  Of course, when you're on the road,
reception depends where you are, what repeaters are available, etc.


My biggest annoyance with my Wouxun (I have the 1D; subsequent versions
may have improvements, but I haven't checked) is that switching from
memory mode to VFO mode (where the tuning knob & keypad directly change
the frequency, instead of moving between pre-programmed memory channels)
requires going into the menus to do, and you can't hit a button to copy
the current memory to the VFO.

This wouldn't be much of an issue to someone who runs their radio from
memories 100% of the time*, but I often switch back and forth, starting
from a memory preset but wanting to tweak something temporarily.

*Note that in an emergency, you often do want to change to something you
didn't program into a memory, either to match what another group is
using, because all your planned frequencies are in use, or whatever else
happens to fall apart, taking your careful plans with it.

In that case, it's nice to be able to more easily switch between VFO and
memory mode (or be able to quickly add a memory), which I think you can
do a bit easier with the Yaesu.  Then again, it's also nice in an
emergency to be able to monitor two different frequencies real-time and
switch between them at will, as the Wouxun does.  Now you're starting to
understand why some radio nerds have 17 different HT's -- nobody's ever
designed the perfect radio for them; they hate them all for one reason
or another.

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Re: HT Comparison
Date: Mon, 14 Jan 2013 14:58:08 -0800
From: Charles Boling <>

On 12/17/2012 12:25 PM, Charles Boling wrote:
> $60-65 BaoFeng UV-5R
> This is like a 4W, cheaper version of the Wouxun described below.  Not
> quite as rugged, but quite comparable.

An update to this radio:  They have no come out with the latest version
of this radio, called the UV-B5, rated for 5W, and reputed to have a lot
of bug fixes and improvements. Last I checked they weren't widely
available yet (awaiting FCC part 90 approval?), but 409shop has them for
$53 shipped.

In pairs, only $42.50 each! (note that last I checked, Ali would ship to
OR, but not WA.)

A review: