Design - 9/10
Features - 9.3/10
Range and Sound Clarity - 9.4/10
Price - 9.2/10
There is a certain thing about Baofeng products that always gets us excited here. The Baofeng UV-5R is a good, reliable, and inexpensive dual band walkie-talkie that is commercial grade. These radios are work-horses that should exceed the needs of almost all small to medium local radio use cases. They are durable, have great range, and are feature packed.
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The retail packaging contains a belt clip hand strap, earpiece, a drop-in charger, as well as an 1800 mAh battery. The keys on the device are fairly easy to press, and have good enough travel too. There is a large volume knob that is integrated with the power switch, so you will not turn off the device by mistake.
The build quality is quite solid. This device has survived 3-4 drops so far, and it is still working fine. However, dropping these on a regular basis is not something that I would recommend.
Right out of the box, you get 128 channels that you can use/store. The walkie-talkie features AM/FM capabilities as well. There is a LED flashlight, which can be used as a strobe light as well as an SOS light. The LCD can be customised to use any out of three colours that are available. The display is fairly easy to read, and it is backlight as well. There are lights that come on when there is radio traffic being transmitted but you can set it to not activate those lights, if you are looking for stealth mode.
One of the features that I particularly appreciate is how these are able to work with all different sorts of radio setups. The setup can be a bit of a pain, but once you get a basic understanding of the radio frequencies and the codes, you can make these work with any site, no matter what their kind of setup is. The BaoFeng UV-5R will be compatible with almost every basic radio that you can find on the market. So, if you deal with situations where you might need to travel and work, this will sure come in handy.
The speaker is rated at 700 mW, and can be fairly loud. Some Baofeng models come with 1W speakers too, but this is fine as well. The audio output is loud enough to be made out with ease.
One of the key features of this device is that it has both frequency and channel modes. Thus you can use this device to monitor a channel in the background while listening to another channel, say FM radio stations. So, if a broadcast takes place on the frequency you are monitoring, it will stop the playback and play whatever is being transmitted. Just for fun, I have successfully heard the police frequencies. Please do note that broadcasting on those ranges is illegal and may carry penalties. One thing to note is that it will not scan all the frequencies in its memory while listening to FM radio, and the device is limited to only being able to monitor 1 channel while listening to FM.
Here’s what’s on the inside
However, if you are like me, and you have trigger fingers, then you know that you see a big red button saying “do not press”, and you go on to do just that. One cool thing about this little walkie talkie is that you can set it to transmit(TX) on one frequency and receive(RX) on another. This is per memory channel, this you can set it to listen to your police department, and transmit to a marine channel, which is legal to transmit to. So, you just set your TX value to the marine channel, and the RX channel to the police channel. One of the safe marine channels is channel 68. So, even if you press the Push To Talk(PTT) button, nothing bad will happen, you will just transmit to a channel that is rarely used.
Configuration without a cable
I find a lot of amazon reviews where they mention that they used a programming cable and the open source CHIRP software to set up their walkie talkie. While this is indeed possible, you can set up and use this walkie talkie even without setting it up with a programming cable. The process is not as difficult, however the manuals provided in the box suck big time. You will find better instructions on a lot of YouTube how-to videos.
This has its downsides as well. For example, one option the software has that is not available through manual programming is to disable a stored channel for the scan function. Thus, if you have a NOAA weather channel as a stored channel the scan function will always stop and stay on that channel, unless you click that option in the software. My workaround solution for this is to input the weather channel in “frequency” mode, but not store it as a working channel in “channel” mode. Then, if I want to listen to the weather I switch to frequency mode. When I’m done with weather I switch back to channel mode and start my scan again of channels saved in memory.
Battery lasts a very long time after a single charge. The battery lasted 18-19 hours when in scan mode. I typically leave this on for over 8 hrs a day in ‘channel scan’ mode and/or FM radio listening, and the battery indicator has never registered anything less than a full charge. After 8 hours of my use it takes about an hour to completely recharge with a green light. The 1800 mAh battery has aged fairly well too.
UV-5R with orange backlight
For such a small device, the Baofeng UV-5R packs a lot of punch and maintains great power and good range. Pretty much any VHF/UHF channels other than the Marine ones listed above require a FCC license to transmit. The microphone hole is too small for adequate TX, but there is a fix for that on YouTube as well. The solution is to…drill out a bigger hole! It works great after that. This problem was fixed in a later revision of this product is what I know. The radio is not FCC certified to operate on the GMRS/FRS frequencies. It is also over the legal power limit for FRS.
GMRS requires a license to legally operate (even the GMRS radios you buy at the big box stores – just read the manual). The license is $85, last for 5 years and covers your entire family. There is no test involved in getting the licence. All you need to do is to fill out an application and pay the fee. Even with a license, this radio can’t be used legally for FRS/GMRS as it is not FCC certified for that purpose.
There are several cosmetic variants of the Baofeng UV-5R. These variants have no differences from the UV-5R besides their cosmetic design along with the possible removal of the ‘Band Key’ (no longer required in Gen. 2). Variations include the: UV-5R v2+, UV-5RA, UV-5RE, UV-5R+ (Plus), along with several other lesser produced variants. Some of these variations may also no longer work with case specific accessories such as the original UV-5R batteries. For the price it’s a quality that cannot be beat.