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Updated July 18, 2023

Best Handheld Ham Radios (Updated 2023)

Singling out the best handheld ham radios can be quite challenging, especially if you are a first-time buyer.

The market is flooded with high-quality radios that boast of advanced features and the latest technology.

If you are looking to buy a ham radio for an emergency or adventure, we are here to help you answer the question what is the best handheld ham radio? We have compiled a comprehensive list of what we believe are the best ham radios in the market to help you make an informed decision.

The idea of owning a ham radio in this digital era may sound far fetched. In fact, many people believe that ham radios are no longer in use, but that isn’t the case at all.

These simple communication gadgets are still essential and can come in handy at the least expected time. 

Top Three Best Handheld Ham Radios

1. WOUXUN KG-UV9D Plus – Our Top Choice
2. Baofeng BF-F8HP – Runner-Up
3. YAESU FT-5DR – Best premium handheld ham radio

Types of Ham Radios

  • Handheld Ham Radio: They are small and lightweight. The handheld transceivers allow ham operators to communicate on the go; due to their low power output, handheld ham radios typically have a range of only 5 miles at the most; their range can be increased by a nearby ham radio repeater
  • Mobile Ham radio: Designed to be used from an operator’s vehicle or a ham shack; their 200-mile range is mostly due to the increased power available through either a home wall connection or by a connection through a vehicle’s battery via a 12-volt outlet or power adapter
  • Base station: The largest of ham radio setups, generally have a range of several thousand miles; typically powered by household current, through an outlet, or a special 12-volt battery connection; these ham radio types cover the whole spectrum of radio frequencies, though some are set up only to operate in the high-frequency ranges.

Best Handheld Ham Radios Comparison Table

Feature/ModelWouxun KG-UV9D PlusBaofeng BF-F8HPYAESU FT-5DRBAOFENG UV-9R PlusYaesu Original FT-65R
AwardOur Top ChoiceRunner-UpBest Premium Handheld Ham RadioBest Budget Handheld Ham Radio
Pros-Remarkable build quality -Waterproof – Good audio quality-Easy to navigate menu -Quick switching to cross band repeater modes-Affordable-Good sound quality -Great battery life-Easy to use-Upgraded chipset -Better antenna-Loud and clear voice quality-Uses same battery and accessories as other Yaesu models -Works with C4FM digital communication-IPX7 waterproofing-Clear and crisp display-Attractive pricing-Decent sound quality-Feels good in hands-IP 67 waterproof-Inexpensive/affordable-Commercial grade built and splash proof-Good quality speaker-Manual keypad programming straightforward and intuitive
Cons-Display backlight and contrast issues-May need a USB cable and computer to configure-Increased power output not very significant-Larger and bulkier than previous models-Learning curve for use-Some misrepresentation of features and capabilities -Requires specialized programming cable-Programming cable not standard-Basic user manual, programming manual needs to be downloaded
Key Features-Large digital display -Two cross band repeat modes-Transmits on two bands-2000 mAh Li-ion battery-Three power levels-Dual watch receiver-FM broadcast capability -2000 mAh battery– Dual-band ham radio-Two independent receivers-Touchscreen-2200 mAh Li-ion battery– Basic design -360° rotatable belt clip-Dual band, dual display, and dual standby-2200 mAh Li-ion battery– IP54 rating-1-watt speaker -Computer and keypad programmable -1950 mAh lithium ion battery
Ratings-Features: 9/10-Value for Money: 9/10-Audio Clarity: 9/10-Overall: 9/10)-unctionality: 9.5/10 -Reliability: 9/10-Value for Money: 9/10 -Battery: 9/10-Overall: 9.5/10-Functionality: 8-Reliability: 7.5- Value for Money: 8- Battery: 7.5 – Overall: 7.5
Additional Notes-Good for cross band repeat -rogramming cable sold separately-Popular among beginners and experienced users -Comes with accessories options– Compatible with Yaesu fusion series-Long charging time for battery– Misrepresentation of power and battery in some cases -Special cable needed for programming– Suited for outdoor use-Option to upgrade battery

Top 11 Handheld Ham Radios Reviews

1. Wouxun KG-UV9D Plus – Our Top Choice

Pros

  • Remarkable build quality
  • it’s Waterproof
  • Good audio quality
  • it’s Easy to navigate menu
  • Quick switching to cross band repeater modes.

Cons

  • The display backlight and contrast leave something to be desired.

Wouxun KG-UV9D Plus would not usually count as a budget option. However, for radios that can offer good cross band repeat, this Handheld Transceiver is a viable option and one that does its job rather well. 

Wouxun KG-UV9D
https://www.wouxun.com/radios/two_way_radio_KG-UV9D.aspx

The defining factor for Wouxun radios is their quality. This one’s no different. Its build quality is stunning. Though it’s all plastic and rubber, it feels great in your hands and appears capable of handling some impacts.

Wouxun KG-UV9D Plus is a handheld transceiver with a large digital display, followed by a speaker, and a keypad. The buttons are easy to work with, the backlit display shows relevant information, and the voice quality is amongst the best you’ll find in an HT. 

There is a problem with the display though. Eventhough it tries to show all information nicely and with plenty of detail. Unfortunately, it isn’t all that clear and can be difficult to read in many situations. Even the smaller display of the similarly priced Yaesu FT-65R is a lot clearer than the Wouxun. 

However, the way it shows information definitely puts Wouxun KG-UV9D Plus in the lead. The menu and various functions are very easy to access and intuitive. Even a new user could understand the functioning of this radio with relative ease.

Even moving to different modes, including cross band repeat is easy. In fact, the radio offers two options for cross band repeat. The relevant options are available under the TYPE-SET menu. These are:

  • Talkie: In this mode, the radio works as a conventional handheld transceiver.
  • DIR-RPT: The radio works as a directional cross band repeater. The display will indicate that the device is in repeater mode, and also that the speaker is disabled. 
  • TW-RPT: With this selection, the HT works as a two-way cross band repeater. The display will indicate that the device is in repeater mode and that the speaker is active.

For most instances, just selecting the menu will work. However, it is necessary to setup cross band repeat before using it. To achieve this, you’ll need to use the VFO made and set the desired frequencies for cross band in slot A and slot B, through the TYPE-SET menu.

The radio can receive transmissions on seven bands, though it transmits only on two bands. Users can set up some preferences and specific options by programming the radio, though the programming cable will need to be purchased separately.

It has a transmit power of 5W (high) and 1W (low) and it draws power from a 2000 mAh Li-ion battery that can be charged through the included cradle. Have in mind that there is some confusion due to some sellers suggesting that the radio battery is 3200 mAh. Nevertheless according to Wouxun’s documentation, it is 2000 mAh.

Our Ratings

  • Features: 9/10
  • Value for Money: 9/10
  • Audio Clarity: 9/10
  • Overall Rating: 9/10

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2. Baofeng BF-F8HP – Runner-Up

Pros

  • Affordable, best ham radio for under $100
  • It has good sound quality, transmission power and reception is decent
  • Battery life is great
  • It is easy to use
  • Upgraded chipset
  • It comes with a better antenna

Cons

  • You may need a USB cable and computer to configure
  • Increased power output does not make a significant difference

The Baofeng BF-F8HP is the editor’s pick for the best handheld ham radio. It is also the best handheld ham radio for beginners due to its affordability, ease of use and popularity among beginners as well as experienced hams.

BaoFeng BF-F8HP
https://baofengtech.com/product/bf-f8hp/

It is a powerful handheld radio as it boasts of three power levels i.e low- 1 watt, medium-4/5 watts, and high-7/8 watts.

With this radio, it is possible to monitor two channels simultaneously, thanks to its Dual watch receiver, also known as semi-duplex. You do not have to worry about not having enough power when you have the 2000Mah power battery as your back up.

BaoFeng BF-F8HP best handheld ham radio
https://baofengtech.com/product/bf-f8hp/

Why get bored when you can listen to the radio while monitoring radio channels?

Thanks to its FM broadcast capability. The best thing about it is, it can accommodate a total of one hundred and twenty-eight channels that are programmable and can be put to memory. There is the option of adding or removing channels, hence you get to choose what you want to listen to.

BaoFeng BF-F8HP best handheld ham radio
https://baofengtech.com/product/bf-f8hp/

In addition, incoming calls will always be given priority over the FM broadcast radio. This ensures that you do not miss any radio calls while on the radio.

This is a ham radio that even a beginner can comfortably use.

BaoFeng BF-F8HP best handheld ham radio
https://baofengtech.com/product/bf-f8hp/

This Baofeng radio is frequently bought together with:-


3. YAESU FT-5DR – Best Premium Handheld Ham Radio

Pros

  • Voice quality is loud and clear.
  • Uses the same battery and accessories as other models in Yaesu’s fusion series.
  • Works with C4FM digital communication.
  • Has IPX7 waterproofing.
  • Display is clear and crisp.

Cons

  • Larger and bulkier than previous fusion radios.
  • Has a learning curve, even for people well-acquainted with the use of ham radios.

Yaesu FT5DR is a competent addition to the company’s fusion radio lineup. The dual-band ham radio can work with VHF and UHF bands, with the capability to listen to two frequencies simultaneously.

There are two independent receivers to work on these frequencies. Two LED indicators above the display present visual feedback for the working of the A Band and B Band.

As you look at the Yaesu FT5DR, it’s impossible not to draw parallels with the lower model, the Yaesu FT3DR. Both radios have a similar design, features, and general functions. It’s often said that Yaesu developed the FT5DR because the global chip shortage made it difficult to source the parts for the 3DR.

Thankfully, rather than throwing together a radio with what was available, Yaesu took the time to make improvements on the radio. Yaesu FT5DR has better voice clarity, works better with Bluetooth, and a relatively cleaner look.

YAESU FT-5DR
https://www.yaesu.com/indexVS.cfm?cmd=DisplayProducts&encProdID=8FA58F426C671235EA5791EE6814FF48

Shape and Size

It is slightly larger and bulkier than the FT3DR, but the 5DR has a cleaner profile. This is especially visible with the buttons on the side of the radios. The FT3DR has something of a bulge with the buttons, while the 5DR is sleeker. It’s a small change but it works very well for the aesthetics.

Differences aside, both these radios belong to the fusion lineup and share overlapping features. Related accessories, including the battery, are compatible between these models.

Battery Life

Speaking of the battery, while the 2200 mAh Li-ion battery looks sufficient, it’s a good idea to get another battery pack. The charging times can be painfully long and it’s usually better to swap batteries rather than waiting around for the pack to charge.

Though the battery takes its sweet time charging, it does a good job when it is in action. The battery can last a day even when transmitting at the maximum 5W output RF power. The 5W output is fairly standard for handheld ham radios like the FT5DR and this radio seems to handle it beautifully.

The received audio also appears better and louder due to the use of a powerful 1W speaker. A key feature of the FT5DR is its implementation of digital communication, where it’s worth comparing this radio to its close competitor, the Icom ID 52A.

Icom’s offering is slightly longer and bulkier than the FT5DR, though it maintains a similar overall form. A quick difference between the two is that the Yaesu ham radio has a touchscreen, while Icom 52 does not.

The bigger question in choosing between these ham radios is whether you want fusion or D-STAR.

YAESU FT-5DR
https://www.yaesu.com/indexVS.cfm?cmd=DisplayProducts&encProdID=8FA58F426C671235EA5791EE6814FF48

Systems

Yaesu’s implementation of the digital amateur radio employs C4FM communication with APRS (Automatic Packet Reporting System). Icom uses D-STAR to accomplish the same. This means both these ham radios transmit and receive data for information like GPS coordinates, texts, and images.

However, the APRS with Yaesu’s implementation generally works better than Icom’s D- STAR. Yaesu’s use of C4FM also provides excellent features like Automatic Mode Select (AMS), Digital Group ID (DG-ID), and Smart Navigation.

When using features like Smart Navigation, users can track their location or route and save it to a micro SD memory card. Similarly, you could use the micro SD card to store pictures you intend to send or receive.

A lot of data can go into the memory card. Yaesu FT5DR will also accept software updates through its micro SD card.

Since so many features find their place in this expensive package, we expect it to be strong and rugged. The FT5DR doesn’t disappoint on these points. The ham radio has an impressive build quality. It’s rated IPX7, which means it’s waterproof and can spend a few minutes submerged without being damaged.

Though it does a lot of things right, this radio is not without its flaws. An important one is the learning curve for using this. If you haven’t used a fusion radio before, it will take a while to get used to this ham radio.

Ratings

  • Functionality: 9.5/10
  • Reliability: 9/10
  • Value for Money: 9/10
  • Battery: 9/10
  • Overall Rating: 9.5/10

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4. BAOFENG UV-9R Plus– Best Budget handheld ham radio

Pros

  • Attractive pricing.
  • Decent sound quality.
  • Feels good in hands.
  • IP 67 waterproof.

Cons

  • Some misrepresentation of features and capabilities.
  • Requires specialized programming cable.

Baofeng UV-9R Plus is an entry-level radio with rugged construction. The highlight here is the IP67 waterproofing, which means the radio can survive being submerged in water. 

Baofeng UV-9R Plus waterproof
https://www.baofengradio.co.uk/baofeng-uv-9r-plus-ip67-waterproof-uhf-vhf-walkie-talkie-8w-two-way-radio-earpiece/

That’s a rarity at this price point and adds another value element to this radio. As with most devices at this price range, Baofeng UV-9R Plus may not be the most resilient. However, at the very least, you won’t have to worry about the radio getting bricked should you be caught in the rain. 

Much like its price point, Baofeng UV-9R Plus has a fairly basic design. There’s a large speaker at the top, followed by a small screen, with buttons rounding up the front. On its back, the radio has room for a 360° rotatable belt clip. 

Baofeng UV-9R Plus best handheld ham radio
https://www.baofengradio.co.uk/baofeng-uv-9r-plus-ip67-waterproof-uhf-vhf-walkie-talkie-8w-two-way-radio-earpiece/

The sides are pretty well crafted and it’s easy to get a good grip on the radio. On the top, you’ll find the antenna, LED flashlight, and the dial to change channels. It’s really easy to use no matter the situation.

The physical interface is fairly simple and conventional. Although, it is still well-proportioned and made in a way that the radio is easy to hold and manage in your hands.

Comparing Features

Baofeng UV-9R often gets compared to the Baofeng UV-82. Both radios look rather similar and have high RF power. 

The claimed output for both radios is 8W, with similar battery capacity. To be specific, the UV-9R Plus draws power from a 2200 mAh Li-ion battery, while the UV-82 is powered by a 2800 mAh battery.

Baofeng UV-9R Plus best handheld ham radio
https://www.baofengradio.co.uk/baofeng-uv-9r-plus-ip67-waterproof-uhf-vhf-walkie-talkie-8w-two-way-radio-earpiece/

Practically speaking, both radios are similar in how they work. The UV-82 has the edge because it uses Baofeng’s standard programming cable, while the UV-9R Plus requires a special cable, which adds to its cost and usability.

One factor that tips the balance in favor of the UV-9R is its waterproofing. Baofeng UV-82 has no notable water resistance qualities.

Another point of comparison for the radios was the power output. Though both claim 8W RF output now, the claims used to be much higher (and taller) until about a year ago. 

For example, in some cases, Baofeng UV-9R Plus was sometimes advertised with a claimed RF output of 18W and a battery of 8000 mAh. This was, and with some sellers, still continues to be, a misrepresentation of the capabilities of this radio. 

Baofeng UV-9R Plus
https://www.baofengradio.co.uk/baofeng-uv-9r-plus-ip67-waterproof-uhf-vhf-walkie-talkie-8w-two-way-radio-earpiece/

Battery and Significant Functions

With the filing of this radio with the FCC, the power and battery claims became more reasonable. Although, it’s still not exact. 

Though the high power level is claimed as 8W, the RF output practically still hangs around 5W. In my opinion, the power output isn’t the bad thing here. The problem lies with the exaggeration, even if it’s been reduced to be more reasonable.

Baofeng UV-9R Plus
https://www.baofengradio.co.uk/baofeng-uv-9r-plus-ip67-waterproof-uhf-vhf-walkie-talkie-8w-two-way-radio-earpiece/

As such, the low and high power options available are 1W and 5W.

Baofeng UV-9R Plus is a dual band radio with dual display and dual standby functions. It can also work for relay forwarding. The sound quality for this radio is fairly decent and does justice to the large speaker area. 

Its battery power is sufficient to keep this radio running for a day of work. Should the battery start running low, you can use a battery saving feature to stretch out the time by a little bit. Similarly, the presence of the low battery warning ensures your radio won’t suddenly quit on you.

Other notable features include priority scan, VOX, and emergency alarm. 

A very annoying feature is the event in which you’d like to program this radio. It needs an additional specialized programming cable to work with Chirp, which is an additional expense and a needless complexity.

Ratings

  • Functionality: 8
  • Reliability: 7.5
  • Value for Money: 8
  • Battery: 7.5
  • Overall Rating: 7.5

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5. Yaesu Original FT-65R

Pros

  • It is inexpensive/affordable
  • It is commercial grade built and splash proof making it suited for outdoor use with less common PTT and belt clip design features
  • Good quality speaker
  • Manual keypad programming straightforward and intuitive

Cons

  • The programming cable doesn’t come as standard so make sure you buy this if you want to use the programming software
  • The user manual is good but basic, meaning the programming manual has to be downloaded

The Yaesu FT 65R is a less expensive version of the highly rated FT-60, and the features are more basic too on this more compact model. However, this dual band radio, which comes with weather alert and FM radio, is still a solid, comfortable handset of reasonably quality with an IP54 rating meaning it is relatively robust outdoors. It is one of the best handheld ham radios around.

The PTT button sticks out at a slight angle which may feel awkward to some but great to others, so this design feature comes down to personal preference. It has a 1-watt speaker with good audit quality and a clear, audible microphone. 

FT-65_front
https://www.yaesu.com/indexVS.cfm?cmd=DisplayProducts&encProdID=79E6683CC766565D2CB197C293AB6219

You can extend the operating time by a few hours by upgrading the rechargeable 1950 mAh lithium ion battery to a 2500 mAh battery.

The transceiver is computer and keypad programmable, but the programming cable isn’t included and has to be bought separately, however, once obtained, the handset can be programmed with a range of software. It comes with a basic but user-friendly manual though you have to download the more comprehensive programming instructions. 

Menu navigation using the keypad is relatively straightforward and intuitive, and the keypad includes four programmable keys to quickly access to your most used settings, which is fairly unique among the ham radio handsets reviewed.

The back lit LED screen seems basic with a default display setting showing a single VFO and battery status, but it can be configured to a dual band display.

It has the standard VFO/programmable memories as well as weather scans and you can set it to auto turn-off after a set period of time to preserve the battery. It comes with a stout antenna which is interchangeable.

FT-65_side
https://www.yaesu.com/indexVS.cfm?cmd=DisplayProducts&encProdID=79E6683CC766565D2CB197C293AB6219

If you’re tired of belt clips that snap or detach the battery from the handset, the transceiver comes with a sturdier belt clip design than many other models and the clip attaches to the body of the handset rather than a more standard attachment to the battery.

Overall, the functionality, reliability and quality compared to other models make it highly suited as a first ham radio for a ham radio operator starting out, as well as intuitive, easy-to-handle handset for the more experienced.

This dual band ham radio comes with VFO mode or you can scan by pre-programmed memory. Menu navigation and keypad programming is relatively intuitive, and the keypad includes 4 programmable keys for quick recall. Sturdy and compact, it is well suited to outdoors, especially with power saving features and the option to upgrade the battery.

Check Out Our Review of Best Long Range Two Way Radios

6. AnyTone AT-D878UVII Plus

Pros

  • Works well in digital as well as analog mode.
  • Good Bluetooth connectivity.
  • Front face programmable.
  • Built-in GPS.
  • Multiple and programmable power levels.
  • Powerful battery.

Cons

  • Only IP54 water resistant.
  • The implementation of APRS is somewhat buggy.

AnyTone AT-D878UVII Plus is one of the better known DMR radios. This versatile radio is feature-rich and although not cheap, it does offer good value for money. Available features include built-in GPS, Bluetooth, and the ability to transmit and receive APRS transmissions.

AnyTone AT-D878UVII Plus best handheld ham radio
https://anytone.org/wp/product/anytone-at-d878uvii-plus/

The ability to work with APRS is kind of a big deal here. AnyTone AT-D878UVII Plus model series is one of the first (perhaps the first) radio manufactured in China to include APRS. Conventionally, this technology shows up in radios manufactured in Japan, for devices within the Yaesu ecosystem.

The radio does a decent job of TX and RX using APRS. It’s not ideal, and can be annoyingly buggy at times, but it can get the job done. 

Previous Model Upgrades

Though it is the newer model, AnyTone AT-D878UVII Plus is pretty much the same as AnyTone AT-D878UVII. These handheld radios have the same appearance, dimensions, and interface.

AnyTone AT-D878UVII Plus best handheld ham radio
https://anytone.org/wp/product/anytone-at-d878uvii-plus/

The important difference here is that the Plus model gets room for 500,000 contacts. That’s a significant upgrade over the 200,000 contacts in the previous models. 

The higher number of contacts is a functional necessity for DMR radios. The number of contacts in the worldwide DMR database is more than 200,000 at this point. While the older models will continue to function, they will lose some contacts.

On that note, for whatever reason, the company has chosen to go with this weird naming scheme. This radio’s model name is AT-D878. Everything else represents iterations of the product. I think it would be more sensible to give the device a product name that’s easier for the customers. 

AnyTone AT-D878UVII Plus best handheld ham radio
https://anytone.org/wp/product/anytone-at-d878uvii-plus/

The radio is compatible with DMR Tier I and Tier II. So, it shouldn’t have trouble communicating with any DMR radio on the market. 

Functionality

While it works on digital transmission, the handheld radio works as an analog transceiver as well. As a dual-band radio, AnyTone AT-D878UVII Plus works with VHF and UHF bands. Shifting between digital and analog modes is quick and pain-free.

The radio works on an impressive 3100 mAh battery. That’s enough to provide the radio with a lot of juice and it makes good use of it. 

The maximum RF output power on VHF is 7W, though users can also choose 5, 2.5, or 0.2W. Similarly, UHF has max TX power at 6W, though 5, 2.5, and 0.2W are also available. 

AnyTone AT-D878UVII Plus best handheld ham radio
https://anytone.org/wp/product/anytone-at-d878uvii-plus/

On that note, 5W is usually the max RF output for handheld ham radios. While more power seems alluring, it’s likely not a healthy choice. Smart money is on using low power and letting a good antenna or repeater do its job. 

An interesting thing here is the Bluetooth PTT. It’s a button on a small strap that allows the user to speak on the radio without actually handling it. The button’s a nice touch for going hands-free, though the DMR radio supports other means as well. 

You could connect any Bluetooth headphones or headset with the radio for communication. 

Additional Features

There are other interesting features as well, like built-in GPS and front face programming with VFO channels. The presence of FFP allows users to add repeaters and other frequencies directly to the handheld radio, without first going through programming.

Even with the FFP, there’s a lot to learn and understand about this handheld DMR radio. Though increasingly popular, it’s still a new technology that people are still getting familiar with. 

AnyTone AT-D878UVII Plus best handheld ham radio
https://anytone.org/wp/product/anytone-at-d878uvii-plus/

To that end, the company offers a “training course” that includes tutorials, support, training, and guides. Anytone’s (or BridgeCom Systems) proclaimed value for this course is $97. 

I’m not a fan of the idea. Providing support, manuals, and guides is the responsibility of the seller/manufacturer. Attaching a monetary value to it, even if it’s offered for free, is a terrible practice.

Rating

  • Functionality: 9/10
  • Reliability: 8/10
  • Battery: 9/10
  • Value for Money: 8.5/10
  • Overall Rating: 8.5/10


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7. Baofeng UV-5R

Pros

  • A handy all-round radio that is durable and extremely strong
  • It has good frequency range – 5 to 15 miles depending on obstacles
  • High two colors LED definition display
  • It has Dual Watch Receiver
  • Group Tones supported
  • Rechargeable battery
  • Has an FM radio
  • Power saver feature

Cons

  • Programming not intuitive, manual programming could be a lot better
  • VFO function has no copy memory channel
  • Selecting channels is slow
  • Scanning is a little slow
  • No copy to the memory channel
  • No voice prompts

With the BaoFeng UV-5R, BaoFeng sets the bar for affordable amateur ham radios. It’s not only one of the most affordable ham radios on the market but also one of the most versatile amateur radios.

Baofeng UV-5R
https://baofengtech.com/product/uv-5r/

All these qualities have made it an incredibly popular amateur radio and a great starter ham radio for amateur operators. Without further ado, let’s get started with our BaoFeng UV-5R review

UV-5R is an inexpensive and versatile dual-band two way (VHF/UHF) ham radio for amateur ham radio operators.

Main Features

Frequency Range: One of the reasons the Baofeng UV-5R is such a successful ham radio series is the wide frequency range that covers the ham radio frequencies and beyond.

It is a dual band two way radio that scans and transmits in the 136-174 MHz VHF frequency range and 400-520 MHz in the UHF band. Both bands work on both RX and TX and can transmit on narrow (12.5kHz) and wide (25kHz) bands.

Baofeng UV-5R
https://baofengtech.com/product/uv-5r/

Although it has one built-in receiver, it’s a dual watch receiver that allows you to monitor two channels simultaneously. You can even monitor frequencies on different bands – VHF and UHF.

FM Radio Broadcast: In addition, the it is equipped with a 65-108Mhz receive band that broadcasts FM radio stations. It has 128 memory channels that you can program and name via the computer software.

This means that you can tune in to your favorite FM radio station as you wait for transmissions. Of course, priority is given to any incoming call so you can rest assured you won’t miss an important transmission.

Check This: Best Baofeng Radios

Transmission Distance: With 1 up to 4-5 watts power settings, it is far from being the most powerful handheld ham radio. Despite this, the range of transmission is surprisingly good for such a small package.

Operating with a fully charged battery and set on the maximum power mode, it can transmit as far as 20km. The two power levels allow you to choose how far you would like to transmit. Beyond this, the radio is repeater capable.

Battery life. The included 1800mAh Li-Ion battery pack can power it for 12+ hours and you can extend this duration with the battery saving mode. The low battery mode lets you know when it’s time to recharge the battery.

Audio and Clarity: Given that this is a budget ham radio, the clarity doesn’t compare to more expensive models. That being said, the reception and speed are good enough and transmissions are loud and clear.

This is thanks to a 700mw speaker output, an audio processor that optimizes the audio quality in accordance with the reception conditions, and an anti-interference feature.

Baofeng UV-5R
https://baofengtech.com/product/uv-5r/

Group Tones Support: As for support for analog tones, this radio supports CTCSS, DCS, and DTMF calling methods. You can even set them to call by group tones. For tone calling, the UV-5R works with the latest standards. This means that you will be able to send Caller ID or remote commands that require DTMF tones.

Programming: Now, this BaoFeng radio is not exactly the easiest to program ham radio via the in-built keypad. The instructions are vague and the process requires a great deal of patience.

Thankfully, programming it from a computer with using a usb cable is a much more pleasant experience. All you have to do is download the free CHIRP software and purchase the PC03 FTDI programming cable. While at it, you will also be able to rename channels, boot the display, and accomplish other functions easily.

Ease of Use: Measuring in at 8.3 x 6.5 x 3.7 inches and weighing a mere 15.2 ounces, this radio is as compact as an iPod. It fits comfortably in the hand and easily fits in a pocket for on the go use.

Thanks to the voice-operated transmit (VOX) function, you can operate it hands-free while fishing or driving. The large display with backlight is easy to see and read even in low light conditions.

Build Quality and Extra Features: When it comes to construction quality, the this radio has a rugged build that can take a lot of abuse. You can take it hiking or camping with confidence that it can handle what the great outdoors will throw at it.

Extra features such as the emergency alert, LED flashlight, a belt clip and siren can come in handy in an emergency or survival situation. An integrated Kenwood 2 accessory connector bumps up the value this radio provides.

Finally, the UV-5R is an all-inclusive package that includes everything you will need to get started right out of the box.

Here is what you will get:

  • A rechargeable lithium Ion battery pack
  • a belt clip, a removable flexible antenna
  • a C-ring earpiece, a drop-in battery charger
  • an AC adapter
  • a wrist strap
  • user manual
  • one-year manufacturer warranty.

8. TYT MD 380-DMR/Moto TRBO Ham Radio

Pros

  • The audio is of high quality
  • It is easy to use
  • Lightweight

Cons

  • It sometimes drains the battery
  • A bit difficult to program

It has a single band coupled with a dual mode capability. The receiver in this radio is one of the most sensitive receivers we have on the market today. The quality of the audio is quite high compared to other similar gadgets with superb frequency response. The thing about the TYT MD 380 that makes it unique is its multi-color display with remarkable resolution.

The speaker is not only loud, but is clear enough too, and is powered by a 5-watt transmitter which is more than sufficient. Its programmable keys are located on the side. Their main purpose is to scan all available channels

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9. Tri-band Yaesu VX-6R – Submersible Amateur Ham Radio

Pros

  • The audio is of high quality
  • The battery performance is not so bad
  • It is easy to program

Cons

  • The speaker is not loud enough
  • The keypad is a bit too small

First and foremost, it is easy to use. With an output of 5 watts and a total of 900 alphanumeric memory channels, it is no doubt one of the most sought after ham radios. It features a triple band and possesses wide receiver capabilities.

VX-6R
https://www.yaesu.com/indexVS.cfm?cmd=DisplayProducts&ProdCatID=111&encProdID=4C6F204F6FEBB5BAFA58BCC1C131EAC0

Other additional cool features include a severe weather alert system. This comes in handy when you come across harsh weather conditions. Features an Emergency Automatic ID. This proves to be very useful.  In case of an emergency and for one reason or another, you are unable to press the switch. This feature will identify you as the authorized user and you will be able to make your call.

Check Out How the Best Radios to Help in an Emergency:

10. Baofeng-UV82C Dual Band Baofeng Ham Radio

Pros

  • Affordable
  • Great battery life
  • Much better antenna
  • CHIRP programming
  • Enough power output

Cons

  • Alphanumeric programming only possible via the software
  • No clock

This is one of the best baofeng radio models. With a v-85 antenna for optimum performance, this is one of the best ham radios on the market today. It has a switch known as a PTT switch. This comes in handy when you opt to transmit on two frequencies.

BaoFeng UV-82C side
https://baofengtech.com/product/uv-82c/

It also comes with a dual push to talk button. In addition to this, it has the capability of receiving two frequencies at the same time, at different bands. This is made possible by a feature known as a dual watch receiver.

So why else do we consider it as one of the best portable radio? To start, it boasts of FM broadcasting capability with the incoming call given first priority. This comes with a total of 128 programmable channels that can be programmed via software or manually.

BaoFeng UV-82C side
https://baofengtech.com/product/uv-82c/

The software considered best for this is CHIRP. It may take a while to learn how it works. But once you get the hang of it, it is a piece of cake. You will need a USB programming cable to make this happen. This enables you to program alphanumerically if that is what you prefer through the use of this software.

BaoFeng UV-82C side
https://baofengtech.com/product/uv-82c/

Lastly, its power settings can either below (1W), medium (4W), and high (7W).

11. Retevis Ailunce HD1 DMR Radio

Pros

  • High, medium and low power modes
  • Ability to download and store DMR database contacts according to your preferences
  • Digital and analogue functionality, including messaging
  • Long battery life when using standby mode
  • Screen remains functional (doesn’t freeze) during transmissions
  • Dust and Waterproof to a rating of IP67

Cons

  • Non-standard software for programming requires overcoming a learning curve and you must check you get the cable as it doesn’t always come as standard
  • 500 mW speaker may distort when turned up more than halfway
  • Receiver sensitivity and audio quality does not seem as good as other models

The Ailunce HD1 DMR is a digital mobile radio built with radio ham operators in mind and is the first ham radio from Retevis. It has some features that set it apart from other ham radios including a larger 3200 mAh battery, higher wattage output and GPS functionality, but has some downsides that seem to be improving with firmware updates and hopefully future design improvements.

The 10-watt power outage gives it some extra range, and the large battery apparently lasts for days on standby, though the LCD display is effectively blank in this mode. However, with speaker output of 0.5 watts, the sound has a tendency to distort as the volume is turned up. In addition, the receiver sensitivity seems much lower to comparable handsets earning it a reputation as “deaf”.

Retevis Ailunce HD1 DMR Radio front best handheld ham radio
https://www.ailunce.com/hd1-dual-band-dmr-amateur-radio#A9131B-J9131P-US

This largish handset is designed with a GPS locator and tracking capability, and has a waterproof rating, so you’d think it is suited to those ham radio operators who are outdoor enthusiasts as well. However, functionality issues such as poor receiver sensitivity, lags in responsiveness of the selector knobs, and distortion, pull down the reliability rating of this model. You may be better off with something like the Tri-band Yausu VX6R if you want something you can rely on in survival or emergency situations.

You can program using the keypad or via computer, however the programming cable does not have a standard connector and does not automatically come with purchase. 

The software is similar to that of other radios but different enough to require a bit of a learning curve to get the hang of it. It is not compatible with that of other radios, so you have to set up from scratch if you want to replicate settings you have in other models. It has the capacity to store 100,000 contacts, which you can filter and select according to your requirements from the DMR database directory. 

Retevis Ailunce HD1 DMR Radio
https://www.ailunce.com/hd1-dual-band-dmr-amateur-radio#A9131B-J9131P-US

This is a nice-to-have addition to your ham radios if you are a DMR enthusiast. Be aware though, of the functionality issues if relying on this handset alone for ham radio communications or in an emergency situation, especially as it is pricier and more complex to program than many other models.

This DMR ham radio comes with VFO mode enabling you to program and save by frequency, which is handy if you’re using it in analogue mode. It comes with a promiscuous mode, enabling you to listen and talk to multiple talk groups. Combined with GPS functionality and extended battery life, this waterproof handset is designed for outdoor use. 

Buyer’s Guide – Best Portable Ham Radio

Dual Band

This feature will give you the ability to monitor two different frequencies simultaneously. The dual-band function makes it easy for you to select the frequency you would like to transmit on. You should also be careful with the antenna that comes with the radio. A genuine antenna should have no problem, but the ones not bought with the radios are sometimes not compatible with the dual-band feature.

Programming

There are two questions you should ask yourself, can the radio be programmed manually as well as via the software. If it can be programmed via software, it is prudent to confirm that the programming cable is available and functioning. For a portable radio to be programmed manually, there needs to be a functional keyboard.

Rechargeable battery

After using the portable ham radio for a few hours, it should be recharged. It is paramount to confirm before making a purchase that it has an external DC connection. This will make the work of recharging easier and ensure that the radio has enough power for it to operate at all times.

A well-arranged user manual

In other words, find a handheld ham radio with a manual that is easy to understand. This comes in handy when you try to operate your device, but does not work in the manner you expected it to operate. When something like this happens, it is advisable you look for an easy manual that will help you get going in the shortest time possible.

Speaker quality

Sometimes the audio quality of the ham radio is directly affected by the nature of the environment. If you are trying to listen to your radio in the city or on a busy market, it might be difficult to understand whatever is said via the radio. This is why it is important you look for a device with a good speaker and an external earphone jack. If the outside world becomes too noisy, you just plug in the earphones and receive the information on the radio loud and clear.

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person holding a radio
https://www.pexels.com/photo/a-shot-of-walkie-talkie-in-hand-10349990/

Types of Licenses for Ham Radio Operators

There are three main types of licenses for ham radio operators.

a) The Technician License

This license is normally issued to beginners. It is considered an entry-level license and you only need to pass one exam to attain this license. Once you get this license, you gain access to a frequency above 30mHz hence can communicate locally.

b) General License

To attain, you will need to pass an exam with a total of 35 questions. Needless to say, you need to have attained a technician license or passed the Technician written examination. With this license, you will have access to all amateur radio bands and operating modes.

c) The Amateur Extra License

This is a higher-level license, therefore, it requires passing a more difficult exam with a total of 50 questions. Before sitting for this exam, one of the requirements is you must have passed previous license class written examinations. With this license, you get to enjoy all operating privileges on all bands and modes.

With those few points on what you should look for and need when getting the best ham radio, it is time to take a closer look at our handheld ham radio reviews. These are the best picks.

How Does a Ham Radio Work?

Typically, ham radios use a wide range of frequencies for communications. Non-hams can “listen in” to hams via radio scanners or their own receivers. Ham radio utilizes a variety of frequency bands across the entire radio spectrum. The frequencies are usually allocated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and are only meant for amateur use. Many ham radios operate well in the frequency range just above the AM broadcast band.

Many ham bands are found in the radio frequency that ranges between 1.6MHz to 27MHz. During the day, 15MHz to 27MHz provides a good band for all long-distance communications. However, during the night, the band ranges between 1.6MHz and 15MHz offers a good band for long-distance ham radio communications. These bands are commonly referred to as short-wave radio bands.

Unlike the frequencies used by television stations and FM radio stations which are line-of-sight and limited to up to 50 miles, the short-waves usually bounce off the ionosphere from the transmitter antenna to the receiver antenna. Thus, the higher the frequency, the shorter the wavelength.

While some ham radios use the Morse code, other use voice. The Morse code signals are much more reliable since they can still get through even when voice transmission can’t.  It is also good to note that these amateur radios use radio modems to communicate in various networks.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Do you require a license to operate a ham radio?

A license is not required to purchase ham radio or listen/monitor to the many amateur (ham) radio frequencies. You will, however, require a license from  Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to transmit on amateur radio frequencies in the USA. There are 3 levels of licenses for amateur and one needs to pass simple multi-choice questions, no detailed “Morse” code kind of knowledge.

How long is a ham radio license good for?

In the US, a ham radio license is renewable after 10 yrs.

How much does it cost to get a ham radio?

The cost component of using a handheld ham radio is made up of two items:-

  • Fees to obtain a license which is set by and payable to the volunteer examiner coordinator. The amount is usually small. At times some VEC do not require a fee.
  • Cost to purchase the ham radio depending on budget and preference from as low as $23 for a BaoFeng UV-5R

boat radio
https://www.pexels.com/photo/person-in-brown-long-sleeve-shirt-standing-beside-a-two-way-radio-7930673/

CONCLUSION

To sum it all up, it is important to get the right best amateur ham radio for you. It should fit in your budget and at the same time meet your expectations, at least most of them. Take your time before making a decision on the type of radio you are going to buy. Most importantly, understand what you are buying with regard to its features and limitations. This will avoid a lot of frustrations in the future. –

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Paul Dudley
 

Paul is the owner and founder of WhollyOutdoor.com . His passion for ham radios and fishing lead him to create this site. He loves playing with his radios and doing many other outdoor activities