Once again, I was asked by a new ham “which handheld transceiver should I get?” This is a frequent and valid question that comes up. Often the question gets framed as “Baofeng or something better?” I say “something better.” I am not writing to bash Baofeng radios or the people that use them. The radios are an incredible value on the low end of the market…amazing what they can do for $30 or so. Besides, I own several of them. I just think that if you have a few more $$ to spend, you can get a much better radio. What’s wrong with these low-end Chinese radios? Out of spec harmonics on transmit and poor adjacent channel rejection on receive.
Digital? Probably Not
The other question that usually surfaces is “should I get a digital radio?” Here “digital radio” means D-STAR, Yaesu Fusion or DMR. My answer to that is “No,” unless you have a specific reason for going digital. Adding digital to a radio results in two things: 1) a higher price and 2) a more complex radio. Actually, the price difference may not be that significant, especially for a DMR radio. However, the complexity factor is always there.
What is a specific reason for going digital? You already know that there are digital repeaters in your area that you want to use, you have ham radio friends already using digital or you are technically-oriented and have researched the topic to know that it is something you want to try. If one of these things is true, then go for it.
Oh, you do need to know which digital format to get. No radio does them all and the industry is fragmented between D-STAR, Fusion and DMR. I find this very disappointing but life is sometimes like that.
Narrowing It Down
So narrowing the topic down, we are looking for an affordable (under $100) dual-band handheld that is not a cheap Chinese radio (Baofeng, etc.) and is not a fancy digital radio. My opinion is the quality ham radio manufacturers are pretty much Alinco, Icom, Kenwood, and Yaesu. The price points on basic handheld transceivers keep changing, so be sure to check the date on this post and do a little price shopping.
The Alinco DJ-VX50 is about $100, so not too expensive, but I am not seeing any eham.net product reviews on it. Also, it seems to be out of stock at several vendors, so I am not sure of its production status. Icom and Kenwood have exited the low-end handheld market, so nothing to consider there. This leaves Yaesu as the only “brand name” player in this space. I have been recommending the Yaesu FT-4XR as a good alternative: see What About the Yaesu FT-4XR? at about $80. I recently noticed that the Yaesu FT-65R has come down in price to about $85. With this price difference, it probably makes sense to go with the FT-65R. (I really wonder about Yaesu’s product line strategy at this point. Why are there two similar radios priced so close together?)
Here is a quick comparison of the two radios: Yaesu FT-4XR vs FT-65R, which is right for you? Conclusion: FT-65R is probably better for most people. Also, check out the HamRadioSchool.com article: Yaesu FT-65R Product Review. The eham.net product reviews are generally positive on the FT-65R, but there are a few negative themes that surface. Some people are reporting radio failures that may indicate a manufacturing issue with the product. (It is made in China.)
The Good Old FT-60
The other theme that surfaces is that the FT-65R is not a complete replacement for the venerable FT-60R. Joyce/K0JJW and I have a couple of FT-60Rs that we really like and frequently use. Yaesu still sells this older model because it is so popular and, frankly, it is a really solid radio. The HamRadioSchool.com review of the FT-65R mentions several things that people tend to like on the FT-60R that were left out of the FT-65R (e.g., dedicated VFO and Squelch knobs.) The biggest complaint I hear about the FT-60R is that it has an old-school NiMH battery (the FT-65R has lithium-ion).
My conclusion is to recommend the FT-65R to newcomers to the hobby. At ~$85, it fits most people’s budgets. There is some risk that you will outgrow it down the road and want a more capable handheld for digital or APRS or whatnot. In that scenario, the FT-65R will still be a good second/backup radio. (Ya gotta have more than one, right?)
That’s my opinion. What y’all think?
73 Bob K0NR