The Baofeng UV-5RA is a hand held transceiver providing 5 watts in the frequency range of 136-174 MHz and 400-480 MHz. It is a compact, economical HT that includes a special VHF receive band from 65 - 108 MHz which includes the regular FM broadcast band. Dual watch and dual reception is supported. You get up to 128 memories. Other features include: selectable wide/narrow, battery save function, VOX, DCS/CTCSS encode, key lock and built in flashlight. Selectable frequency steps include: 2.5, 5, 6.25, 10, 12.5 and 25 kHz. RF power may be selected at 4 or 1 watts.
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If you compare the Baofeng UV-5R to the latest offerings from Icom, Yaesu, and Kenwood, you wouldn't think it's a 5-star radio. But when you look at the price they're asking for the UV-5R, 5 stars hardly seems enough. This is a fantastic value. For under forty-five bucks you get a pocket-sized dual band radio, complete with earphone/mike and a desktop drop-in charger. Heck, Icom gets almost as much as this radio sells for just for the charger! NOt enough? It'll also cover FMRS and GMRS frequencies, receive the FM broadcast band, and there's even a built in flashlight!
So you've got to figure there's a catch, right? And there is: Programming this radio from the front panel is a royal pain in the caboose. After studying helpful web pages- not the manufacturer's manual- I'm now comfortable programming single frequencies and repeater offsets in, but I still don't seem to be able to put the in memory properly. The manufacturer supplies a program that's supposed to make programming easier, but the word is that it's as confusing as the front panel controls.
Luckily there's a fix. A group of dedicated hams have created a program called CHIRP that's available for Windows, OSX, and Linux that's as easy to use as a spreadsheet. Just type in the frequencies, offsets, CTSS, comments, etc., and hit upload. Unfortunately Amazon doesn't allow web links in reviews but you can find it by googling CHIPS and UV-5R. You'll also need the USB Programming Cable for BAOFENG UV-5R UV-3R+ Two way Radio With Driver CD to connect the radio to your computer, too. If you're interested in learning more about this radio before your order one, a good place to start is the user reference at miklor dot com slash uv-5r.
In short: as of around mid December 2012, buy this one.
Best antenna for this: The Diamond SRJ77CA. Alternately, the Nagoya NA-771 SF if you are on a budget.
I was trying to figure out which version to get on here, frustrated by the reviews, so I decided to buy them all and report. I had read that the various versions are all the same radio, just the style and color vary: UV-5R, 5RA, 5RC, 5RE, 5R+, 5R Mk II, UV-E5, UV-5R Plus. This is true, so it comes down to which one is going to ship with the most recent firmware.
The firmware varies, but there does not seem to be much of a difference in performance. Holding "3" while you turn the radio on gets you the firmware version. I bought this mid-December, 2012 and got firmware version BFB295. I thought BFB293 was the latest but this is even more recent. The "UV-5R Plus" that I bought from Amazon for more money was BFB293, but I don't notice any difference at all in the functionality of the two.
For programming channels, don't bother trying to program directly to the radio - get the programming cable. You can buy the cheap connector, search for CHIRP software, and navigate that with some frustration. If you would rather spend a bit more and skip the frustration, look into the RT Systems connector and software which works perfectly without any frustration.
This can transmit on Multi-Use Radio Service (MURS) with no license required. It also transmits on General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) which technically requires a license. However, "bubble-pack pirates" persons who use GMRS without a license are common. It also transmits on the HAM bands and even some commercial and emergency frequencies, so be careful what frequencies you transmit on according to your licensing.
Construction? Much better than you're expecting. I have a $450 Yaesu VX-8DR, and this does 99% of what I used the Yaesu for day to day. It's not submersible, so don't take it into the bath tub with you, but at $44 it's practically disposable. The accessories are dirt cheap too. The volume can get much louder on a 5R than any other HT that I've used.
Update 12/28/12: I bought a second one, received on Dec-21-2012, this time it was the BFB293 firmware rather than the BFB295 that I received two weeks prior.
Update 1/4/13: I bought a different, earlier UV-5R variant that came with BFB297 firmware. These radios are all the same, it seems to be a crap shoot what firmware you'll get.
Purchased this HT hoping it would deliver as advertised and it did. 5RA with new 293 firmware. All items advertised,(including headset) were included in package. Could program this via USB cable(not included) by CHIRP and BAOFENG VIP software from my laptop with no problems. USB programming cable was ordered also on Amazon from other vendor for around $7 with $2 shipping China Post. Ordered radio and cable on same day and they both arrived on same day (china post shipped cable only took 6 days to East Coast USA). I am very pleased with this item and vendor. ... One note, the metallic front speaker piece in pictures looks silverish but when looking at it in person it is anodized, shiny black like the rest of the HT's frame. Very stylish!
ONE IMPORTANT NOTE: You need a license to use this HT on any of the frequencies it is approved by the FCC to transmit on. Ham frequencies part 97 and FCC reg. part 90 only. Even though it will transmit on FRS/GMRS and many other frequencies it is illegal to do so and interference to licensed users may result in confiscation, fines or imprisonment by the FCC and other authorities depending on what you do & how bad you tick them off. For more details see my comments section.
**EDITED UPDATE:as per comments for my review I will add that the picture shown has changed from a 5RA to 5R but the description has stayed the same. Hopefully it is just a mistaken picture. I also know a lot of people say it is hard to program by hand but after a week of daily use it is quite easy to remember what is what but I still use CHIRP and/or VIP software for major changes and frequency updates. I have no problem with my USB programming. I thought I did at one point but it turned out to be software related and not the HT's fault. After about 2 weeks now of use this HT is working just fine but I haven't looked at its harmonics yet. From what I gather, bad harmonics on TX is hit and miss to the individual radio. After two weeks of use, I can comfortably upgrade my 4 star to 5 star rating but will add an aftermarket antenna. With stock antenna I was able to pick up an Amateur satellite within an hour of first programming out of the box. PLEASE READ ADDITIONAL COMMENTS BY CLICKING COMMENTS TAB, THERE'S A LOT MORE INFO ON THIS RADIO AND PROGRAMMING CABLE SOURCE.