Choosing A First Handheld Radio

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 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 article: Yaesu FT-65R Product Review.  The 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 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

The post Choosing A First Handheld Radio appeared first on The KØNR Radio Site.

Bob Witte, KØNR, is a regular contributor to and writes from Colorado, USA. Contact him at [email protected].

7 Responses to “Choosing A First Handheld Radio”

  • R. L. Henderson KG5OED:

    I have a Yaesu RT-65 and I like it real well alltho it is hard to program with the manual and yes, it is made in China. 73

  • John Cundiff W3JBC:

    I have had a Kenwood dual band HT for 30 years. it was 450 dollars nnew.
    Antenna connector broke inside the radio. ohm meter reads open.
    I shipped it to Kenwood in VA.
    Kenwood returned it saying it was tooo old.

  • Dan N5NOQ:

    Well Bob your thoughts caused this ole man to do some thinking. I wanted a ham ticket from way back in 1959. But because of the code requirement and the cost of equipment it did not work out. Fast forward 49 years, early retirement and time and no code. I was able to get my tech ticket, no elmer, or anyone to help and money still tight I did like many other I did like many do I got on the air with a Baofeng. Yes I looked at the ht’s on the market but from what I found was I could buy a mobile or a house rig for what most ht’s cost. I was not sure that I would stay in the hobby so I went cheap until I figured out that I was going to stay active. I finally found an elmer and a club to help but did I get the high dollar ht NO. I kept the cheapie and even bought a tyt md-380 because that was hot at the time and there were folks to help me understand how to program it and use it. So the question is if I was to do it over would I go the other direction? Nope, I have nothing to regret from the direction I took. And that’s my opinion. Oh,49 years later I still can not tell the difference between a di and a dah.

  • KD0TLS Todd:

    So… you say you don’t want to “bash” Baofengs, but then you reject *every* Chinese-made radio (e.g. AnyTone, PuXing, Leixen) with a single sweep based on your opinion of Baofeng. And then you bash Baofengs.

  • KJ4DGE Greg:

    While all that is said and well stated it still leaves newbies with just one option, Yaesu. Radioddity has redesigned many of the TYT and Baorfeng line inside and out and offers a bit more radio as in their GA-510 model. The past of cheap Baofeng 25 dollars radios with harmonics and other issues is pretty much coming to an end. Battery life, more power and good workmanship as in the GA-510 and others is competing with the void left by ICOM and Kenwood leaving the market. It pays to look around some more before you buy something these days.

  • Frank , EI7KS:

    You all might be shocked ,but I still use an ancient Yaesu FT727R 2 band handheld FM radio ,I acquired in 1985 (second hand) for a nowadays phenomenal price of equiv US$230
    The back-up battery has long ago been exhausted ,but it has the advantage that with 2 key codes the radio can be used for both the european (12.5-25kHz) and the US (10 -20 kHz) channel spacing .
    The battery packs are obviously of the NiMH type , but the 12V model pack can accommodate 3 LiIon cells ……so that will be a next (homebrew) activity ,charging the future pack by using a required cell balancing circuit (cheaply available from the usual eastern on-line suppliers)

    I also have 2 Baofeng units ,but I agree with others that nearby channel rejection
    is perhaps not all that good .

    Frank , EI7KS

  • KD0TLS Todd:

    “Adjacent channel rejection”? Seriously?

    I live in a major metropolitan area with all available repeater pairs in use. It’s rare when two repeaters on the same *band* are keyed up simultaneously, but now we’re creating FUD over the possibility that two repeaters on *adjacent pairs* are in such heavy use that using a BaoFeng will result in unacceptable performance?

    If I were going to pretend to be a mentor (instead of merely parroting conventional wisdom), I’d look at the situation my ‘student’ is presented with. Rejecting a radio based on a fictional scenario that will likely never be encountered is poor mentoring.

    BaoFengs are not great radios. Many new hams don’t *need* great radios. Many don’t need HTs at all. If they find a vibrant, active community they will be more likely to upgrade. If they find people more obsessed with the *brand* of the radio being used than what the person is *saying* on that radio, then they’ll likely toss whatever radio radio you suggest into the junk drawer.

    We keep pretending that the problem with retaining new hams is *technical* in nature — i.e. they are just Dumb People who can’t figure out how to get on the air.
    The sad reality is that the issue is usually *social* in nature, and we address that by telling new hams to *accommodate* the people who are most vocal about advocating unconstructive narratives — like BaoFeng FUD.

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