A few years ago, the Baofeng UV-5R set a new price point for an entry-level handheld transceiver and quickly became the “easy choice” for a newly licensed Technician. It is a very impressive piece of technology for the money (about $30).
However, it is well known that the UV-5R struggles to meet the FCC Part 97 emission requirements. The ARRL lab has published the results of testing a large number of the Baofeng radios and many of them do not meet the FCC spec. Also, the receiver performance is not that great, primarily with respect to adjacent channel and out-of-band rejection. In other words, it is easily overloaded by strong radio signals.
In response, Yaesu created a low-cost radio using similar technology as the UV-5R but with (supposedly) higher quality. This radio escaped my attention when introduced but some recent reviews caught my eye. In particular, the QST review of the radio includes a detailed lab test report. (The ARRL does a good job with these test reports.) The review basically says that this radio performs well, especially considering its price class. The price of the radio is currently about $70, so it is more expensive than the UV-5R, but under $100.
Evaluating the FT-4XR
So I went ahead and purchased an FT-4XR to try it out for myself. The main question on my mind is should I recommend the FT-4XR as a good choice for a new radio amateur. I am a license class instructor for our radio club (W0TLM), so I often encounter new hams that are looking for advice on what radio to buy.
My general impression of the FT-4XR is that it looks and feels like a quality product, giving a better first impression than the Baofeng. It fits nicely in my hand and just felt good.
The usability of the FT-4XR is on par with the Baofeng, but a notch down from something like a Yaesu FT-60. In particular, the FT-4XR loads up the keys with multiple functions: press quickly for one function, press and hold for another function, use the “function shift” key for a third function. Yikes! None of this is labeled so you have to memorize all of this or carry a quick reference card with you. Not a huge problem because these are mostly features that are not used frequently or maybe not at all. This means that the FT-4XR is a radio that needs to be set up via programming software to get the desired memories in place. Then, you just choose the right memory / channel. Not any worse than the Baofeng and similar to many, many radios on the market these days.
The standard FT-4XR manual is adequate but not great. There is an “advanced manual” available on the Yaesu.com web site that may help. The USA version of the radio does not allow transmit outside of the ham bands. This is probably a good thing, especially for a new user. Some people may see this as a disadvantage compared to the Baofeng, which usually transmits over a wider range of frequencies.
I trust the ARRL lab tests but I wanted to measure the transmitter to see the harmonic performance up close and personal. The spectrum analyzer measurement below shows the transmitter with very clean harmonics on 2m, just as I would expect from Yaesu. If you look carefully, you can see a tiny third harmonic just poking up out of the noise floor. (Sorry about the poor graphics, I just took a quick photo of the screen using my phone.)
The 70 cm harmonic performance is also very solid, as shown below.
I also checked the power output, transmit frequency, FM deviation and receiver sensitivity on both bands. Very solid performance. Again, nice job, Yaesu!
One thing I found disappointing is that the radio operation and accessories are not consistent with other Yaesu radios. I’ve got a decent collection of Yaesu handhelds, speaker/microphones, antennas, programming cables, etc. None of these work with the FT-4XR. In particular, the FT-4XR uses the male SMA connector (same as Baofeng) and requires a new type of programming cable. However, for the first-time buyer, this doesn’t matter and it is no different than buying a Baofeng.
Some other reviews that you may want to consider:
Back to the main question:
Do I recommend the FT-4XR as a good choice for a new radio amateur?
The answer is YES, this is a better radio than the Baofeng UV-5R and it actually meets FCC Part 97 requirements. If you are considering the UV-5R, scrape up a few more bucks and get the FT-4XR.
If you want an even better radio, I’d suggest moving up to something like the tried and true Yaesu FT-60, about $160. It has a more robust receiver and is easier to use.