The BaoFeng UV-5 is a neatly engineered little radio. And it is little: 55mm (wide) x 150mm (L) x 27mm (D) approx (measured at widest/longest parts and with no antenna). The plastic moulding is good and belies the price tag.
Before we proceed to operating/programming, a quick tour of the unit is in order.
The tri-colour LED backlit dual frequency display sits above a small speaker that provides good clean audio. The mic aperture is positioned to the left of the speaker (viewed from the front) and just below the RX/TX LED and orange VFO/MR button. Same side and from the top is the Call button, PTT (Push To Talk) and MONI (monitor) button. On the right side is the combined SP (speaker) MIC (microphone) socket – accessed via an attached flexible plastic cover.
The Call button has two modes, one push facilitates the FM radio on/off and a longer press activates Alarm mode (flashing LED and audible siren alarm, which can activate Dual Tone Multi Frequency or alarm signalling on another transceiver via MENU 32 (select from options: Site, Code or Tone).
PTT is self explanatory and end of transmissions can be assigned a Roger Beep (MENU 39).
The MONI button opens up the squelch if set higher than “0” (long press) and a short press activates the LED flashlight, a quick secondary press/release and the unit enters LED strobe mode.
The numeric keypad is illuminated and button presses are solid and reliable.
The BAND button switches between upper and lower VFO’s in frequency mode.
I had read that the user manual was not well translated (see PDF manual download at bottom of review) and programming the radio without the USB cable/software was a pain and I agree with the latter – it is a bit long winded – though the user manual was not as bad as expected. Sure, its not overly intuitive and actual programming instructions are not included (oddly enough!), but things click into place after a while. In fact, I didn’t even look at the manual to start with as just playing around, switching between channel mode and frequency mode, entering frequencies in VFO (Variable Frequency Oscillator) enabled me to get to grips with the basics fairly quickly.
Only a couple of button presses are required to start using the radio. The most commonly used being VFO/MR and A/B. Anyone familiar with radios will appreciate that VFO is for tuning frequencies – these are entered manually via the numeric keyboard and MR pre-programmed channels ready for scanning or operating on (TX). A/B is for switching between the upper and lower VFO readouts VHF top, UHF bottom – though this can be changed to display VHF/VHF or UHF/UHF. Up/down buttons are used for VFO tuning as opposed the rotary knob which is dedicated to on/off/volume control.
The BaoFeng UV-5 is a menu driven system – this is the place to enter operating parameters. There are 41 menu items (numbered 0-40) and secondary labelling on the keypad enables some of the more common functions to be adjusted without remembering all 41 items. For example, press “MENU” then “0”/”SQL” to activate squelch control, press “MENU” again so the upper arrow symbol switches to the lower display (down arrow) and adjust the range (0-9) using the up/down buttons adjacent to the MENU button. The only thing that makes remembering menu items difficult to start with are some weirdly abbreviations like “ABR” which is backlight illumination time and “TDR” which is dual watch, but it all becomes second nature after a while.
As mentioned in Part 1, I ordered the official BaoFeng VIP software and USB cable, which is essentially a serial com port device with USB functionality (via an inbuilt chip), as most computers don’t have older style RS232 serial ports anymore. I also downloaded a copy of CHIRP and having compared the two, decided to use CHIRP as it offers significantly more than VIP does. Notably, copy/paste/insert/delete capability, more in depth settings control and 7 character alphanumeric channel naming as opposed 6. In fact some of the functionality can only be achieved using software (such as channel names and channel skip) so its a vital purchase whatever version you decide to use.
The only thing that VIP can do that CHIRP currently cannot is assigning an individual BCL (Busy Channel Lockout) to a channel, so I use VIP for that purpose. Incidentally, if VIP is used to assign a BCL, CHIRP will not overwrite the command if that channel is not amended – cross-programming harmony – what a bonus! For anyone not familiar, BCL prevents TX on a busy channel – when busy the PTT button will be deactivated (it just beeps when pressed) until the frequency is clear.
I have read some horror stories about getting the UV-5 to communicate with the software (both VIP and CHIRP), but must say I didn’t experience any issues at all. Most problems seem to arise from either not pushing in the Kenwood style two pin connector in hard enough or the installation of Windows 7/8 drivers. I used Windows XP and didn’t need to install a specific driver as the generic (Prolific) serial port driver was already installed – if for some reason your set-up lacks this you will need to install it. I’m sorry to say, much that I’d like to help, I have no experience with Windows 7/8 and its driver requirements, thus can only suggest searching online for assistance – there are numerous resources and forums available such as the BaoFeng UV-5R Yahoo Group.
One of the finest resources for newcomers to the UV-5R is Miklor.com. A very detailed and user friendly site covering every aspect of this radio from manual programming to simplified menu operation – I thoroughly recommend bookmarking this site for future reference as I won’t be detailing manual programming (i.e. non software) in this review.
Also be sure to check out UV5R.net – an excellent site full of photo style instructions.
When you turn your radio on for the first time and select Channel Mode, you’ll note there are a bunch of random frequencies and tones assigned – these are factory test frequencies and need to be deleted. This can be done via MENU 40 (Reset All), or simply overwritten with a .img file upload via CHIRP (or .dat file via VIP). As I primarily use CHIRP for uploads, all future references will be made in that respect.
Although the manual doesn’t make this clear, it is possible to scan for Continuous Tone Coded Squelch System (CTCSS) and Digital Coded Squelch (DCS) when a users tone is unknown. This can be accomplished in channel mode (MR) or VFO. When an active signal is received press MENU 10 for DCS or 11 for CTCSS, press MENU again so that the small down arrow is displayed, then press */SCAN once – don’t hold longer than a second or it will revert to conventional channel/frequency scan. As the system scans, the codes will scroll on the display and only stop and open the squelch when the correct one is found. I have used this on a number of occasions and it works flawlessly.
Dual watch is always useful to have especially if you purchased this model for receive functionality alone. Its a simple enough set-up. MENU 7, on/off. Dual watch monitors VFO A (upper display) and VFO B (lower display) for signal activity and remains on the active frequency until the transmission ends. The up or down arrow will flash to denote RX (either A or B) and priority can be given to either A or B via MENU 34 (default setting is off). Combined with the two frequency mode allocations, a flick between VFO/MR enables the monitoring of 4 different frequencies.
The majority of these radios will be purchased for amateur radio usage, but from perusing the forums, it would appear its a very popular secondary scanner, due to the decent PMR band coverage. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have all the capabilities of a modern scanner despite being able to scan the 128 memory allocations (numbered 0-127). Scanning is bi-directional (0-127 up, then repeat or reverse mid-scan using the down button) and is slow even by 1980’s standards. There is no way to search pre-set ranges (e.g. 156-159MHz) or input frequencies into separate banks, because there aren’t any – so its an all or nothing approach. Channels can be skipped during scan, however this is a software option and not available in the otherwise concise and well thought-out MENU system.
For monitoring a couple of frequencies in TDR mode or for general band searching and confirming tones its ideal. After all, this is a transceiver not a fully fledged scanner so I won’t be too harsh on its semi-limited monitoring capabilities – it does what it does and it does it remarkably well. VHF/UHF reception surpasses a regular scanner in my opinion.
Step sizes 2.5/5/6.25/10/12.5/25/50kHz cover all global variations.
Using CHIRP to program the UV-5R is ultra easy. CHIRP is a spreadsheet style platform so its a case of entering data in order, left-to-right, starting with frequency, channel name, tone mode and so on. If no CTCSS/DCS is entered that is about it, barring setting wide or narrow mode (25kHz or 12.5kHz), TX power (high/low) and scan include/exclude (Skip). Upload to radio and you are done.
If CTCSS/DCS tones are required, first set the tone mode and then tone settings according to requirements. There are 50 CTCSS and 105 DCS tones to choose from – just remember to set-up all your radios with the same codes! One of the most interesting aspects is that the UV-5 can be set-up to use Cross mode tones (CTCSS, DCS or a combination of both), one for receive and another for transmit, combined with split frequency operation (transmit on one frequency and receive on another). This really is a versatile radio.
If you don’t hold a licence to operate this radio I strongly advise setting any stored channels to receive only. This can only be done via CHIRP – select option Duplex and set all programmed channels to “off”, this will prevent the PTT from accidentally activating.
Repeater set-up is straightforward too. Programming requires an Output frequency, a repeater Input Offset and Duplex setting, either +/-.
For example: 70cm Repeater, GB3LW, Central London, UK, the Output frequency is 433.150 and the Repeater Input is 434.750, CTCSS 82.5Hz.
There is no requirement to add the actual Input frequency (just the Output) as the radio will handle the Offset.
So with 433.150 entered as the Output, 1.600000 should be entered in the Offset column. Because the Input is 1.6kHz higher, Duplex mode should be set to the plus “+” symbol.
In addition, as GB3LW uses CTCSS tone 82.5Hz, TONE should be selected in Tone Mode, not TSQL.
Once uploaded, plus/negative +/- symbols are displayed to show that this is an Offset channel as well as CT for CTCSS on the input frequency, (if DCS, that would be displayed). To monitor the Input frequency press */SCAN once and the letter “R” (for reverse) is displayed, press again to return to Output frequency. If MDF-A/B (MENU 21/22) is set-up to display FREQ then the actual offset frequency will be shown – useful for determining that the correct repeater Offset has been entered. Obviously, this is not available in MDF-A/B CH or NAME modes.
Talking of MDF mode, I prefer to uses names (apha tags) wherever possible, however if a user is unknown I enter the frequency as the NAME rather than use CH or FREQ, that way you get the benefit of the named frequencies and the unknown users frequencies. If a NAME is left blank it will revert to a CH number which isn’t so useful, especially if all 128 memories are used. My current set-up displays MDF-A as NAME and MDF-B as FREQ – best of both worlds.
The following characters, digits and special characters can be used for name tags:
Alpha: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Numeric: 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
Special: ! @ # $ % ^ & * ( ) + – = [ ] < > ? , . /
CHIRP can also be used to display personal start-up messages and unlike alpha tags which are capitalized by default, upper and lower case can be entered. PONMSG can also be accessed by MENU 38 either Full or Message. Full basically boots the display with no message, whereas message displays what the user has entered in CHIRP, Settings>Other Settings. An additional message can be stored and this is displayed when “6” is depressed and held while the unit is switched on. All messages are limited to 7 characters per line (2 lines each per message).
TXP (TX Power) can be set to High (4W) or Low (1W). Tests indicate maximum power output can approach 5W on VHF and slightly less than 4W on UHF.
TX reports are positive, but you’ll need to speak closely to the mic to get decent audio coming out at the other end – this is a business radio rather than a dedicated Ham handheld and designed primarily for noisy workplace environments. VOX (MENU 4) is provided for handsfree operation.
As both VHF/UHF are line of sight, due in no small part to the curvature of the earth, maximum TX range varies dependant upon location, buildings/trees, height above sea level, power output, antenna, propagation and all that good stuff. Its no better or worse than any other handheld operating a maximum of 4W. I’ve heard reports of over 20 miles in optimum conditions, but would suggest 5-6 miles is a good start, significantly further if you can get into a repeater obviously. Let me know in the comments section how far you have managed to QSL, especially point-to-point!
Summing up… this is an amazing radio for the price and the battery life is better than expected providing many hours of continuous use before recharging – even if it was more costly it’d still be a worthwhile investment be that for monitoring local frequencies or as a Ham starter radio. The voice confirmations are a great addition to any radio let alone one so cheap! The BaoFeng UV-5 really does have the wow factor.
I wouldn’t recommend this unit as a standalone scanner – it simply isn’t versatile enough – but as an addition to an existing set-up it is perfect. For example, I currently have one unit dedicated to the VHF Marine Band (TX locked).
Noteworthy downsides, yes, there are a few:
1. The S-meter. Not really of any use at all as it doesn’t differentiate between signal strength – its either on or off.
2. The rounding down of manually entered frequencies in VFO mode. For example using 12.5kHz step size and entering 165.0125 the radio actually tunes to 165.000 (duh), meaning a press of the “up” button to get on frequency. 10/20/25/50kHz steps sizes input okay its just 2.5/5/6.25/12.5kHz that it doesn’t like!
3. I don’t dig is the way the unit scans frequencies with tones. I was hoping that multiple users (on a single frequency, but with different tones) would be ignored during scan and only the correct tone assigned frequency would break squelch. Nope, when a carrier is detected scanning stops on the first one! In my locale I have up to five users on one frequency all with different tones so when it detects a carrier the radio lights up blue (RX mode), but no audio, because the squelch doesn’t open unless its the right tone of course. So then you have to stop scan and manually scroll through users until the audio appears (arrgh!). A big fat “F minus” is awarded there. The only solution is to have a single non tone assigned frequency in scan and skip all tone frequencies (compounded by the fact that skipping channels is a computer only operation and cannot be done on the fly via the MENU). Not perfect by any means, however further monitoring can then be accomplished out of scan mode.
Despite these niggles I still love them!
Both the UV-5R and UV-5R+ Plus are in regular use in my shack and barring the cosmetic differences they perform identically. If I had to choose beween the two I’d pick the basic UV-5R as I prefer it’s toned down stealthy appearance, though I’d imagine the Plus version with it’s metal faceplate would take more of a beating before something cracked or fell off (the UV-5R display frame, for example, is a simple press fit design and prone to knocks in the field). There are numerous “R” variants out there, but as they all use the same internals/firmware (just ensure it is BFB297) it is simply a matter of choosing the design/colour that appeals visually. Budget is a mute point really as their all similarly priced, regardless of case styling.
For BaoFeng UV-5R spares check out 409shop.com.
There is more to the UV-5R than meets the eye – a truly excellent bit of kit!
BaoFeng Firmware Ver. BFB297 Specification/Features
- Frequency Range: 136-174/400-520.9975 MHz TX/RX
- FM Radio (65.0MHz-108.0MHz)
- High/Low RF Power (4W/1W)
- Wide/Narrow Band (25KHz/12.5KHz)
- 1750Hz Tone Burst
- Channel Step: 2.5/5/6.25/10/12.5/25/50KHz
- Dual-Band Display, Dual-Standby
- Large LCD/Tri-colour background light
- 128 memory channels
- 50 CTCSS and 105 DCS
- VFO & Memory channels scan
- A/B band independent operation
- Shortcut menu operation mode
- LED Flashlight/Emergency Alert/Alarm Mode
- Low Battery Alert
- Battery Saver
- Transmitter Time-out Timer
- Keypad Lock
- Monitor Channel
- 0-9 grades VOX selectable
- Busy channel lock-out (BCL)
- Roger Set
- Voice confirmation
- PTT & ANI ID
- PC programmable