Trying Out a Chinese Radio

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I consistently get a lot of traffic on my Cheap Chinese Handhelds page.  There, I have a fairly comprehensive listing of all of the cheap VHF and UHF handheld radios that have become available in recent years.  When I started that page a couple of years ago, these radios had just started to appear at what seemed like insanely low prices.  At that time, you had to order directly from retailers in China.  None of these radios was certified for sale in the United States.  Therefore, it was not legal to sell them in the U.S., nor was it legal to use them for public safety or commercial uses.  It was, however, always legal to buy them, and it was also legal for licensed hams to use them on the ham bands, as long as the individual ham realized that he or she was solely responsible for any spurious emissions.

In the last couple of years, two things have happened.  First of all, many (but not all) of these radios have been certified for use under Part 90 of the FCC rules.  This allows them to be sold legally in the U.S., and it also allows them to be used legally by commercial or public-safety users.  Also, the Part 90 certification gives some assurance (but certainly not a guarantee) that the radios comply with the spurious emission limits for hams under Part 97 of the FCC rules.  They will easily transmit out of band, so I routinely warn buyers of such radios that if they use them to listen outside of the ham bands, they should program a corresponding transmit frequency inside the ham bands, to avoid transmitting out of band if the push-to-talk button is inadvertently bumped.

The other fairly recent development is that these radios have shown up on Amazon, being sold by third-party sellers. And most recently, some of these are now being sold directly by Amazon.

The reports I’ve read about these radios have generally been favorable. They are still insanely cheap, and they appear to be well made. Most of them seem to consist of a single chip, and are essentially software defined radios. (So they’re not one tube radios, but at least they are one IC radios.) The near universal complaints about most of these radios are the poor quality of the instruction manual, and the difficulties with programming. I’ve only seen one of these radios in person, one owned by another K2BSA staffer at the National Jamboree. From what little I saw of his BaoFeng UV-5R, I was quite impressed at the value for the money. And there’s a wealth of information about this radio on the internet, and programming software is readily available. Therefore, the poor owner’s manual and programming difficulty are both non-issues as far as I’m concerned.

Despite the popularity of my web page showing the available radios in this category, I don’t actually own one of the darn things. I decided to change that so that I can give a proper review to one of them. Therefore, I decided to order the same model, a BaoFeng UV-5R, which is pictured here.  It’s listed as being both sold by and shipped by Amazon, and shipping is free. It appears to include a drop-in AC charger (with plugs for both American and European outlets). According to the FCC database, it is certified under Part 90. (Copies of all of the certification documents regarding this radio, including the full users manual, can be found at this link on the FCC website.)

Amazon recently raised the limit for free shipping (unless you are an Amazon Prime member) from $25 to $35, and the cost of the radio was just under the $35 limit. Therefore, I added to my order one of the programming cables. I’ve never programmed a radio using a computer before. To the extent that it’s necessary, I’ve managed by using the radio’s keypad. In fact, since I use FM so rarely, I normally just use the VFO dial or enter the frequency directly.

I needed something to put me over the $35 limit, and I was mindful of the horror stories I’ve heard about programming the radio from the keypad. Also, it appears that the correct repeater splits for North America aren’t pre-programmed into the radio, as is the case with radios from Yaecomwood. Therefore, the cable might come in handy, and I ordered one of those as well.

From my earlier experiment involving Amazon Mechanical Turk, I had the money in my Amazon Payments account. Therefore, I’ll get the radio without even incurring any out-of-pocket expense. The total price, all of which I earned from taking surveys, transcribing business cards, and writing marketing fluff, was under $40. Amazon promises that it will be here between November 18 and 21. When it gets here, I’ll put it through the test and see how well it performs.


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