Thursday, May 05, 2011

Baofeng in my shirt pocket

Only a few days after I had ordered the little Jin Ma Tong JMT-227 145MHz transceiver from China, news began to appear of a new miniature Chinese transceiver from Vero Telecom called the UV-3R which was a dual band (136-174 and 400-470MHz) transceiver. Eventually these began to appear from eBay sellers under the Chinese brand name Baofeng. The price was an astonishing £25 plus postage from Hong Kong. I ordered one from the seller hk360radio and it arrived in just over a week.

The Baofeng UV-3R comes in a colourfully printed box. Together with the radio the box contains the battery (Li-ion 3.7V 1500mAH), a charger with two-pin socket and adapter for UK mains sockets, two antennas (one for VHF and one for UHF), an earpiece/microphone similar to a mobile phone hands-free kit and a manual written completely in mostly pretty good English. There is also a blue carrying strap carrying the seller's name which is so cheap and nasty it is unlikely anyone would use it.

Not mentioned in the manual's list of included accessories but also supplied was a cradle that can hold the radio while charging the battery externally. Why you should wish to do this when you can charge the battery installed in the radio I have no idea. There are no charging contacts on the radio, you have to charge it by inserting the small barrel connector into the socket in the side or by taking the battery out. There is also a short cable with one of these barrel connectors on each end, the purpose of which no-one figured out yet.

The UV-3R makes the JMT-227 look a quality product. This is the first new electronic product I've had that didn't come with a peel-off protective film over the display. The plastic casing is extremely thin and the plastic belt clip that can optionally be attached looks as if it would easily break. To be fair, the flimsiness of the Baofeng may not be due to cheapness but to save weight. The radio is extremely small and very light, just 125 grams (5 oz) with battery inserted and antenna attached.

The provision of two separate antennas for VHF and UHF may be a cost saving measure or it may be for efficiency reasons (a single band antenna is usually more efficient.) However it is not convenient for a user who wishes to make regular use of both bands. The antenna connector is an SMA female, as used by all the Japanese ham radio manufacturers. Frequent changing of the antenna will result in wear of the connector and ultimately a poor contact as the centre pin of the antenna rotates in the socket. Some eBay sellers are now supplying this radio with a single, dual-band antenna. This is something to look out for when buying.

I had originally intended fitting an SMA to BNC adapter to the Baofeng as I have with all my other handheld radios but the UV-3R is so small and light that it seems inappropriate. I doubt that the radio is ruggedly enough constructed to take the stress of using one of the larger BNC antennas in any case.

Confusingly, the rotary switch on top of the radio must be pulled up before it can be rotated. Once you have realized that, the UV-3R is easy to use and easy to program the simplex channels and local repeaters into the memories by hand. There is free programming software available on the web. Programming cables are becoming available to buy on eBay but it isn't necessary to use the software, unlike with early models of the UV-3R which had very limited menus that did not allow the changing of things like step size or power level except through the programming software. (This is something to bear in mind if considering buying a used one.)

But this radio is evolving rapidly. The manual that came with mine describes 12 different menu settings but the radio actually has 18. Every setting you would want to change can now be set through the keypad. The settings are also stored in the memories - even the selected power level, so that I can have the radio use low power whenever I use it to communicate with my Echolink node. Perfect!

The one thing it does not seem to be possible to do without the software is to program cross-band splits, such as listen on UHF and transmit on VHF. This could be useful for working FM satellites. But I am not very bothered about this.

All the usual RX and TX tones are supported for repeater access. A 1750Hz tone burst is generated by pressing PTT + VOL. The radio also receives Band 2 FM. The quality is not very good, but on the plus side FM reception is interrupted if a signal is received on the currently selected amateur frequency.

The performance of the little radio seemed to be well within spec. On a fully charged battery the output power on 2m was 2.6W while on low power it was 320mW. (At 433.50MHz the respective measurements were 2.4W and 1.2W.)

The sensitivity is also excellent. The box and some advertisements claim the UV-3R uses DSP. As no schematic is available I have no idea. All I can say is that the received audio is very clear and pleasant and that the signal to noise ratio receiving a distant repeater on the UV-3R with its short VHF antenna was better than on the Kenwood TH-D72 with its dual band antenna standing in the same place.

Newer versions of the UV-3R including this one now have an S-meter on receive, though it works in coarse steps. I also checked the strong signal handling performance of the receiver the same way I did recently with my other hand-held transceivers. It was on a par with the VX-8GR and the JMT-227, at the poor end of the spectrum.

The transmitted audio is very good, if slightly lower in level than some of the ham rigs. One local said my audio sounded "just like my normal audio." The LED on the front of  the radio is supposed to glow red on transmit and green when a signal is received. Mine does not glow red, although the S-meter goes full scale to indicate power out. This appears to be a fault, but not one worth sending the radio back to Hong Kong to fix. However, this perhaps tells us something about the level of quality control you can expect for this price.

I have recorded an audio sample off-air, together with one of the Kenwood TH-D72 for comparison:
The earpiece/hands-free mic supplied with the radio is not useful. I had some trouble with the audio but the main problem is that after you press PTT the radio locks in transmit. This appears to be due to RF feedback into the earpiece/mic cable as it doesn't happen on the low power setting.

Using the supplied VHF antenna I can access from indoors a repeater 50 miles away. Not bad for such a tiny radio running 2 - 3 watts. Several people who have bought the UV-3R have commented favourably on the performance of the supplied single-band antennas. I tested the VHF antenna and found an extremely sharp response curve with a perfect 1:1 SWR at about 143.5MHz. At 145MHz the SWR was 1.5:1. The antenna has a high Q which no doubt accounts for its surprisingly good performance for its size. It's a pity the resonant point isn't exactly on 145MHz but that would be difficult to achieve with a mass produced antenna.

It isn't perfect, but all in all I am pleased with the tiny little Baofeng UV-3R - for the price. However there are indications that where quality is concerned you are getting what you pay for. If I was a UK dealer thinking of importing a batch to sell I'd think twice. I think fussy British consumers would send quite a few back because of niggling faults like the non-working TX indicator or the problem with the headset/mic. But if you don't mind taking a bit of a gamble on buying a radio from Hong Kong then the UV-3R would be a good bet for £25.


Anonymous said...

I'm surprised you didn't mention how much this radio looks like Yaesu's VX-3R (seem as though Baofeng's name isn't a coincidence). Aside from fewer buttons on the face, I'd probably assume that it's a Yaesu from a distance.


Alex Hill said...

That was my first thought too Brandon.

Could be a contender for a a low cost igate for APRS. Ideal for WOTA. Only prolem could be finding a wifi on top of a fell!

Even so it looks like a bargain and excellent back up for being out and about

Unknown said...

I've never had a VX-3R so I'm not familiar with it.

I suspect the problem with trying to use it ans an APRS IGate is that it has a battery saver which can't be disabled that would cause it to miss the start of the first packet.

If someone would make a similarly small self contained tracker with GPS and Li-ion battery that plugged into the speaker/mic port it would make a nice tracker.

Anonymous said...

Here is a post I read recently from someone demonstrating the use of a Yaesu VX-2 as an iGate:

Perhaps the battery saver feature would not be an issue when connected to DC in.

Alex: when you refer to WOTA, do you mean Wainwrights On The Air, or the Who's On The Air database?

Unknown said...

Perhaps, though I've no indication from the manual or anywhere else that the socket on the side is for anything other than charging, so the radio may not know the difference between an external supply and a fully charged battery.

WOTA is Wainwrights On The Air where we come from. :)

Alex Hill said...

Shame about the igate, still it does look like a handy little thing.

Brandon, as Julian said WOTA is Wainwrights. We like nothing better than going up hills in the lake district and being blown off by the gentle breeze and soaked through ;-). Some us us a more adept than others (I tend to leave stuff I need in the car) and we could do with an igate somewhere other than the western side where we have 3. I was planning on sneaking one into honister slate mine when no-one was looking...

James said...

Is this one band at a time? I assume so with the separate vhf/uhf antennas. Shame about it being sma-f.. I have a Puxing PX-2R which has the more familiar sma connector on it. I was thinking about getting the Ronson RT-26V or TYT TH-2R for 2 meter operation but maybe I'll get one of these and have both bands in one. I fancy building a WA5VJB cheap yagi and having one radio for receive and one for transmit.

Julian, have you tried a tiger tail for either band? I wonder if it would be effective with these radios.

arguendo said...

Thanks for such an interesting blog Julian, well done. The UV-3R is available to buy with a dual-band aerial for a fiver more, 73, Len, G3XXQ

Sivan said...

It looks like the same company is working on a dual-band *full-duplex* handheld transceiver (5W). They wrote to me that the engineers are still working on the full-duplex radio, so it's not available yet.

junk said...

You mention 18 options on the menu.

Mine also has 18.....

What is...
14 ~ Save
15 ~ TOT (Time out Timer?)
16 ~ ScanM (Scan Memory)
17 ~ Relaym
18 ~ BCLO



MichaelB said...

Hi All

18 ~ BCLO ( Busy Channel Lock-Out )



linxdev said...

I have experienced the same problem with the headset. I've not been able to find an alternative design so for now I'm having to stick with it. I did solve the problem of RFI at high power. I installed a bead at the connector end. Two turns worked but I used 3 to be safe. Now, the PTT works great.

Chris k4fh

G1EFU said...

You say that to activate the tone burst you press PTT+VOL. My instruction book says PTT+F/Alert
do they both work.

Unknown said...

No, a lot of people have been confused by the instruction book as regards the tone burst.

Anonymous said...

Julian, mine came today and I thought it had no LCD film cover, but someone on the UV-3R Yahoo Group told me to look closely and indeed it did. The screen is nice and clean now.

BillB said...

I received mine this past week, and I am disappointed with receive and transmit using the new dual-band antenna supplied. I could not receive FM broadcast stations, and transmit and receive on 2 meters was almost a no go. I tried my Icom T90A antenna, and it worked very well. I would have preferred the dual set of antenna previously supplied.

Paul Ross said...

I have used it for LEO satellites without any problem. The receiver is at least as good as my Wouxun or Yaesu FT-60R. You do need the software, of course.

/paul W3FIS

Unknown said...

I may be dumbest person ever but I can program the memory channels just fine...but I can not recall any of them. what is the trick to opening up a memory channel?

Unknown said...

Dave, I recommend you join the UV_3R Yahoo group and download the excellent FAQ. It will answer all of your questions about this radio.

Julian, G4ILO