Monday, July 23, 2012

Baofeng brothers

Back in February I bought a Baofeng UV-3R+. It came after an unusually long wait for products from China, in March. In that time, eBay vendors had begun advertising the new Baofeng UV-5R which had double the output power and a key-pad that could be used for DTMF. To add insult to injury the price of the 5R was less than I paid for the 3R+.

As the months passed the knowledge that the UV-5R could still be bought for an absurdly low price niggled away at me, until eventually I gave in and ordered one. Unlike its little brother the 5R got here in little more than a week. So now I have two Baofeng HTs. A ham can never have too many radios, especially at this price!

Baofeng UV-3R+ and UV-5R
After I sold my original UV-3R to make way for the Plus I had a few regrets. The original had the advantage of being lightweight and tiny. Although the Plus was only a few millimetres larger and a few grams heavier the difference felt more marked. It lacked the cuteness of the earlier model. But the drop-in desk charger was a nice standard accessory. The accessory port was the same as used by Kenwood and Wouxun, enabling some standardization. It is a nice little radio but functionally almost identical to the original 3R.

Baofeng UV-5R unboxed
The UV-5R is quite a big improvement over its little brother. It isn't a lot bigger or heavier than the 3R+ but the extra size and weight gains you double the output power (4W compared with 2W) and a keypad which supports both frequency entry and DTMF. The latter makes the radio much more useful on Echolink.

The 5R feels solid and well built like the 3R+. In fact it feels like a radio that cost three times the price. I think Baofeng has hurt sales of the basic handhelds made by the Japanese "big 3." Only rigs with ham radio specific extras like supporting D-Star or APRS will be able to justify a higher price. As neither of those things are useful for the typical Chinese business buyer of these radios I can't see Baofeng starting to compete in that area. So Yaesu, Icom and Kenwood can breathe a sigh of relief.

Other things I like about the UV-5R are:
  • 4W maximum power out
  • Alphanumeric names for memory channels
  • Backlit keypad - a classy touch
  • DTMF - ideal for Echolink
  • Analogue volume control with proper on-off switch .
I like the way the display (and keypad) lights up when a signal breaks the squelch and stays lit for a few seconds after the signal has finished. If you have more than one handie in use this feature lets you know which radio received the call. My Wouxun also does that.

There are a lot of other things to like, such as the voice announcement (my ham rigs don't have that) and the fact that accessories and spare parts being really cheap. The same computer interface cable works with both Baofengs and the Wouxun. Headsets and speaker-mics work with two Kenwood radios as well.

Judging by the comments of some buyers in the user groups, "Baofeng quality" is still an oxymoron. You are taking a chance that the radio you receive will not have any faults. Sending the set back to Hong Kong But if you are prepared to take that risk (or pay a bit more and buy from a local dealer) then the Baofeng UV-5R is worth a lot more than you pay for it.