My recent purchase of the Baofeng UV5R+ Dual Band Transceiver was twofold; 1. Given my interest in ham radio, I wanted to purchase a dual band handheld transceiver to cut my teeth on and 2. Hurricane Sandy. I live with my family on the Jersey Shore, and Hurricane Irene in 2011 was a huge wake up call to us; both in terms of what we were not prepared for and what we didn't know that we WERE capable of. I knew the cell phone coverage in our area would be horrible, so to that it was imperative that we have some secondary form of communication, Ham radio seemed like the logical option. But as Hurricane Sandy rapidly approached, the decision process was moved from the next 6 months to 2 days. Budget was a key to me, so truthfully the decision on the Baofeng was made for me by its price; $60 delivered!
I ordered them (I purchased 2) from Amazon.com on Friday and I paid extra for overnight delivery so the package was delivered early AM, Saturday, the weekend of the storm. The order was packed well, the shipping carton was more than adequate for the units and the unit's box was quite nice; a set of interlocking plastic trays, nicely done. Included with the UV5R+ was a rubber duck antenna, 1800mAh Lithium Ion battery, cradle charger, wall wart, belt clip, wrist strap, headset and owners manual. Not knowing anything about this type of radio other than selling Icom, Yaesu, and Kenwood transceivers retail about 25 years ago, I didn't know that not having a programming cable would be a huge minus! And I would come to regret not ordering the cable with my purchase, but before we get ahead of ourselves, on to its form.
Holding the UV5R+ in my hand gave me the impression of a well built 2-way radio, it feels sturdy. The battery attaches with a strong click and the antenna, though small, appeared somewhat capable for a rubber duck. I typically like a cradle charger as an accessory not as a primary charger, and given that there is no place to plug a charger into this unit, it makes it a tough job to recharge this unit in a vehicle. That is a big minus! I used an inverter to do it, but otherwise there doesn't seem to be a good option to recharge this unit in a vehicle. The buttons depress with confidence, so entering frequencies manually was a breeze. In addition to 2 meter and 70 cm, the unit also has an FM radio which proved very helpful during the storm for updates and for my sanity as well. There's also an LED lamp that is a strobe light; again another feature that was great during AND after the storm as well.
To repeat, I had planned on getting into amateur radio over the winter but Hurricane Sandy forced my hand to make a purchase sooner. So I had no prior training or, as I was informed by a very nice gentleman at a radio shop in NJ, any licensing. I met him because after closer inspection, even with the owner's manual in English, it was still nearly impossible for me to manually program the channels and since I regrettably didn't order a cable to use my computer to do the job I needed one and had to find one locally, since Sandy was fast approaching. I found his shop on line; I contacted him and was told he had the specific cable for me. When I got there, he proceeded to ask me for my call sign which I didn't have and wasn't asked for one when I bought the units.He then went on to tell me how sellers on both Amazon and eBay are ruining it for legitimate resellers by flooding the market with these cheap units, (I guess he can't buy them because they are marked "Exclusively for online sales on eBay or Amazon marketplaces," hmm...)I explained to him my purpose for owning these units and need for using them right away to use the unit on low power, and he suggested that I use only the FRS frequencies and steer clear of ANY OTHERS that had any communication going over them, which I ultimately complied with. I did tell him that at the end of the day, if I have to use these as a matter of life or death, let the FCC write me a fine, but hey, FCC, please don't bother. For what it's worth, along with the cable I also purchased Gordon West's Technician Class Exam book and although this review is on the Baofeng, I have to say that his studying materials are just great. They're all you need to pass the exam, whether you purchase his books or CDs. And in the aftermath of Sandy and the Nor'easter, I studied for and passed my Technicians Class exam with 32/35 and have since received my call sign, but I digress...
The cable I bought is a "Prolific chip" cable, not a knock off. From what I had learned, this was the cable that others try and copy. So you can imagine my surprise when after installing the cable on the right COM port, and downloading Baofeng's software, and then proceeding to try and program my units - no matter what I tried, I just couldn't get Baofeng's software to recognize the radio. If the software doesn't recognize the radio on the COM port as it is plugged into PC, you can't do a thing with it. Then I tried "Chirp," and it worked perfectly, the first time. I was able to program 17 FRS and GMRS frequencies and 5 NOAA frequencies. Frankly, I can't imagine trying to program manually this with the directions in the enclosed manual. Since then Chirp also helped to set the proper offsets and CTCSS tones for my local repeaters. It's a great utility for programming as well as a good resource for additional channels you can easily cut and paste within the application; so it's super easy to program your handheld with CHIRP is the take away from all of that. As a post script to programming software; when I had more time I did some more research on the Baofeng software and found out that the UV5R+ has the 291 firmware which requires their "VIP" software. After downloading and installing it, it functioned after the second attempt to read from the radio, which is normal. However, I still found the Chirp software to be a more robust platform for programming channels, although the Baofeng software allows for hardware programming. So it's good to have them both.
FunctionIt could easily be the perfect storm of a few things, like; the cheap-o rubber duck antenna, or our mostly using them from within a vehicle, also given the frequencies we were using - but the range was no better than our little Kenwood FRS units, though they DO look quite a bit cooler. The supplied headset was laughable; I'd have taken a car charger over it in a heartbeat! The built-in mic and speaker worked very well, we were coming in loud and clear, when we received each other. Power/volume knob works well and the display and voice prompts are logical and make sense even for a novice like me and the case is rugged; I dropped mine a few times, no issues. FM Radio was awesome and the LED light was so damn useful! The unit has variable color LEDs to light up the LCD screen during; transmitting, receiving and monitoring. Running through all the menus on the unit seemed quite logical and all the requisite functions are there. Again, I am barely a novice, so you pros may have a differing opinion than me, but for my purposes, it suits me just fine.
As for battery life: Look, I come from the world of smartphones, I'm used to recharging my iPhone at least once during the day just so I can get through the day, so I was very surprised to find that throughout the entire 2 weeks that we were dealing with both Sandy and the Nor'easter that followed, we didn't have to recharge these units once! As a matter of fact one of them is still running on its initial charge, now that's impressive to me! And I took mine with me every time I left the house, and it stayed on whenever it was with me. My wife had hers with her most of the time as well and other than range issues, not a single problem.
All in All
Overall I found the Baofeng UV5R+ to be very easy to navigate through and a very useful tool while trying to locate gas stations that were open, and if they were open, how long the lines were. We lost electricity for over a week so the long battery life was one less thing to worry about. They were also a key tool for staying in contact with my parents. They are elderly and cell service was so bad by us, so I was able to give them one of the Kenwood FRS units that we also own and since they live less than a mile from us, they worked great in reaching me with my Baofeng UV5R+.
Now, after familiarizing myself with the science behind amateur radio while studying for my exam, I know what I would need in order to optimize the performance of the Baofeng UV5R+, most of which is not too costly. One of which was upgrading the antenna to a Nayoga 701-C, huge difference. So I know even more that I will get my money's worth from my purchase. I'm very much looking forward to my entry into the fray of amateur radio, it's a very useful skill and a fun hobby and hopefully I can get my wife and kids to get their Technician Class licenses as well. If so, then I can see these Baofeng units getting much use in addition to seeding a whole new crop of radios in my house.
So, though it may not be digital, or the top of the line in terms of function and price, the Baofeng UV5R+ has most of the bells and whistles you'll need in an entry level handheld VHF/UHF transceiver. Worst case scenario, it's a very ably functional 2-way FM radio you can easily toss into your bug out/in bag and it won't break the bank. With a few dollars spent on a 12v adapter and magnetic mount car antenna you'd be "great to go!"