The Chinese manufactured BaoFeng (pronounced BowFung) UV-5R series FM transceiver has become a bit of a sensation since it was first released back in 2012. Originally conceived as a run of the mill commercial two-way radio, resultant internet exposure has seen it become one of the most talked about radios, primarily due to its feature set and price point.
Looking through the specification of the latest firmware release BFB297, its no wonder why. Wide/Narrow FM, full transmit and receive functionality (semi-duplex, plus multiple CTCSS/DCS tone options including cross) across two bands 136-174.0000 (VHF) and 400-520.9975 (UHF) means its suitable for a wide range of applications including the ever popular 2m and 70cm radio amateur bands. There is even a broadcast WFM radio (65-108MHz) with station scan functionality (press SCAN while in WFM radio mode to jump instantly to local stations).
Incidentally, firmware Ver. BFB297 is a bit of a misnomer as while that is what is displayed on the unit when “3” is pressed and held during start-up, the actual firmware could be higher as BaoFeng seem to have stopped updating the firmware readout – both my models are actually BFB307 (this was gleaned thanks to the latest version of CHIRP, Other Settings menu option).
I suppose at this juncture I should pull out the review disclaimer! Of course, users are required to hold a valid licence to transmit on any, or all, of the above radio spectrum and checks should also be made to ascertain the certification of this model against usage on certain bands/frequencies even if a valid licence is held. Regulations vary from country to country so make sure you are operating legally!
That said, if you plan to use it for receive (RX) only, then no licence is required and it is 100% legal. Talking of which, transmit (TX) can be disabled on any or all memory channels using CHIRP software (more on that in Part 2). I highly recommend downloading CHIRP as it offers a lot more functionality than BaoFeng’s original VIP software does.
Funnily enough, I stumbled across the BaoFeng UV-5R, on YouTube. I saw it in use as a scanner and wondered what the heck it was. A quick search turned up the model number and I was sucked into ebay and ordered a couple. A couple I hear you cry? Yes, I should mention these radios are cheap with a capital “C”. In the United Kingdom they sell for as little as 30GBP each or under $50 in the US. What a bargain!
I ordered a UV-5R and a UV-5R+ Plus and also a USB serial programming cable/BaoFeng software CD and an original speaker/mic. Operationally, these models are identical (they use the same firmware, but differ externally. The BaoFeng UV-5R is the basic black plastic cased version which affords a slick military look, whereas the UV-5R+ has a shiny metal front plate secured with Torx screws (giving it a somewhat retro facade). Both have a cast metal frame inside the radio itself – most noticeable on the Plus version as its not powder coated like the standard R – this adds overall toughness and heat sink properties.
There are numerous other versions (UV-5RA/RB/RC etc.) currently available. These are purely case revisions. The most colourful variants belong to the UV-5R+ Plus Qualette series – available in yellow, blue, red and camouflage. They also have a slightly longer antenna – 17cm versus 12cm as supplied with the standard black UV-5R/+ Plus.
The only word of caution when considering which model to purchase relates to aftermarket accessories, namely the larger 3800mAh battery, which is known to fit the UV-5R, but not the +Plus version without modifying the battery itself.
Each radio comes with a SMA antenna, a drop-in charger (a US or EU style plug depending on country, UK 3 pin adaptor supplied with mine), a 7.4v 1800mAh Li-ion battery (model BL-5), belt clip, lanyard, earpiece/mic and user manual. The contents are bagged up and neatly packed into two plastic trays (one above the other) within a factory security sealed box (if purchased from Sain Store).
I purchased both from NextBigThink (a company owned and run by Sain Store/Sain Sonic), because they ship from UK stock which not only saves time (tracked delivery 2-3 days), but is free from additional taxes upon arrival.
When the radios arrived I was keen to see the quality and quickly unwrapped the kit. Surprisingly, not bad at all. The plastic casing is hard yet durable. Maybe not up there with more costly Japanese models such as Icom or Yaesu, but they hold their own visually. On closer inspection the metal finishing on the UV-5R+ Plus could have been better as the frame around the LCD was decidedly jagged. I’m not sure what type of metal is used, but from the roughness it appears to be base metal as opposed aluminium. In comparison the UV-5R was just about perfect in appearance despite it being the cheaper (very slightly I might add) of the two and made entirely of plastic!
The metal cased UV-5R+ Plus is also a fingerprint magnet and the glossy shine will definitely attract plenty of fine scratches even with careful use. But for the price so what! These units are verging on disposables. I would imagine the fit and finish of individual units will vary from batch to batch, but overall you should expect to receive a decent enough looking transceiver for about 1/8 of the cost of a Japanese model with added extras (enhanced RX/TX spectrum, cross tone support and lots more beside).
The 7.4v battery comes part charged and while the manufacturer states it should be charged for 5 hours prior to use, I couldn’t resist a fiddle so clicked a battery in place (standard push and slide up style). The UV-5R series uses an old school analogue rotary on/off volume switch rather than a digital on/off button which is a nice touch.
A clockwise turn switched the unit on and the display illuminated purple (there are 3 user selectable LED colours: RX blue, TX orange and purple for waiting and all other operations including start-up) accompanied by an opening WELCOME message, followed by two beeps and an English voice (or Chinese voice if set to that) confirming “Channel Mode”. How cool – actual voice confirmation which extends to all menu/function operations (including channel numbers when switching up/down) so this unit can be used without even looking at it!
The small 12cm long antenna uses a reverse SMA connection (i.e male-to-female as opposed the more common female-to-male), so an adaptor will be required to use it with regular SMA or BNC whips. The RX/TX operating range (FM/136-174/400-520MHz) is printed within the base rim above the screw thread end.
So far so good! Time to start delving a bit deeper. There are a ton of additional features to explore: tone scan, alarm mode, repeater offsets, scanning, dual watch… impressive stuff for the price.