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Review: The Impossible Baofeng HTs

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I bought my first ham radio handheld (“handied-talkie” or HT) back in 1977. The Standard Radio SR-C146 had five crystal-controlled channels and weighed two pounds. (No wonder they called it a “brick.”) No TT pad, no CTCSS. I don’t recall what I paid for it new, but I’m thinking $350–and that didn’t even include a charger. (I built a charger for it from scratch!) That would be about $1400 today. It was a really big deal, and I used it for almost ten years, until I bought an Icom HT at Dayton in 1986.

In truth, I never used HTs all that much except at hamfests. I’ve had 2M mobiles in various cars, and for the past 18 years or so have used an Alinco mobile rig as a base. I still have the Icom in a box somewhere, but the case is cracked and it’s been in the corner of my mind to get a new HT for almost ten years.

Then Bob Fegert mentioned the Baofeng dual-band UV-82 HT, which now sells on Amazon for $37 brand new. (I actually paid $35.) In 1977 dollars, that would have been…ten bucks. So I ordered one. While cruising the Web looking at reviews and commentary on the unit, I happened upon the Baofeng BF-888S. Amazon had those for $15. $3.85 in 1977 funds. So I bought one of those as well, just to see what a $15 HT could do.

Both radios put out 1W or 4W selectable. The UV-82 covers the 2M and 70cm bands. The BF-888S covers only the 70cm band. Well, actually not only the ham bands, which is an issue worth a little discussion here. Many commenters on the ham boards loathe these radios, for a simple reason: They claim the ham radio positioning is only a ruse, to get around FCC type acceptance.

The problem is that for use on the several business bands, the Family Radio Service (FRS), the General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) and the Multi-Use Radio Service (MURS), a transceiver must meet certain FCC requirements and pass tests to ensure that it meets those requirements. This is called type acceptance. A type-accepted radio will transmit only where its type acceptance allows. There are other requirements that aren’t about frequency. FRS radios, for example, may not have removable antennas. Ham radio gear, on the other hand, does not require FCC type acceptance at all.

These are software-defined radios. Within a broad band of frequencies dictated by the output power amp, they can receive or transmit anywhere you want them to. A free program called CHIRP allows you to create a special-purpose database of frequencies and other settings, save it as a file, and then squirt it into the radio through a USB cable. It’s nominally illegal to use a radio like the BF-888S on FRS or GMRS, but a quick Web scan shows that it’s evidently done quite a bit. The type acceptance process takes time and money, so a radio pitched for amateur use can cost less.

The flexibility of using CHIRP to set frequencies and settings allows these radios to also act as scanners and receive public safety and weather channels. It’s possible to disable transmit on any frequency, which I did for the weather channels. (One of the downsides of the display-less BF-888S is that it’s not always obvious what frequency you’re tuned to. Mistakes are possible, and in this case may be rule violations that may cause interference.)

As 2M and 70cm radios, they’re pretty good. I can hit all the repeaters I usually reach from here, just using the “rubber duckie” antennas. Audio is clean and strong. The UV-82 has a better receiver: Weak local signals will break squelch on the UV-82 when they won’t budge the BF-888S.

There are some downsides:

  • Neither radio has a squelch knob. Squelch levels are parameters that you set from the keypad (for the UV-82) or in CHIRP. This can be annoying if your noise level rises and falls for some reason, or if a weak signal is right on the edge of squelch. (The BF-888S has a button that turns squelch off while pressed, which is better than nothing.)
  • The chargers are flimsy and almost weightless. I’m not sanguine about how long they’ll last, and they certainly aren’t physically stable. Nor are the chargers or charge voltages the same for the two radios.
  • The antenna connectors are SMAs. I had to order some SMT-UHF adapters so that I could use my discone antenna up in the attic.
  • Both radios “speak” a channel number when you move up or down the channel set. With the BF-888S this is the only reliable way to know where you’re sitting, as the numbers on the channel select knob are almost invisible.
  • The UV-82 has a broadcast FM radio feature, which works fairly well but is not easy to use, especially if you switch stations a lot. (It is a little weird hearing classical music coming out of a ham radio HT.)
  • Although it would be very useful, I don’t think it’s possible to control (rather than simply program) either radio through the USB cable.

Both radios have white LED flashlights built-in, for what it’s worth.

So. I’m sure a Yaesu or an Icom HT would be better in a great many ways. However, Icom HTs don’t cost $35. Given how little I use HTs, the price was irresistable. How well they will serve over time is an open question. They seem rugged enough to withstand a certain amount of outdoor rough-and-tumble. If they break (or if anything weird happens) I’ll certainly tell you here.

So far, recommended.


  1. Tom Roderick says:

    Good review Jeff. I plan to order the UV82X since we now have a 220 repeater on a hill top about 4 miles from me at maybe 800 feet above average terrain.

    When I got back on 2-meters in 2010 for the first time since the early 1980’s I went from an IC-2AT with no tone to a Yaesu FT270R and I am STILL getting used to some of the differences. The 270R does not have a squelch knob either and the level has to be set by menu or external software. However, it too has a squelch off button just below the PTT switch. I also have a mobile rig and a dual band rig in the shack. One idea that I plan to try since most of the repeaters I use retransmit the PL tone is to enable the tone squelch function for those repeaters.

    My main use for the HT is, like you, at hamfests, but also at Public Service events and things like Field Day set up. The UV-82X would make a good backup HT for those events or it might even be good enough for the primary.

    I am looking forward to some updates on Contra after you have used it for a while.

  2. Bob Fegert says:

    Best short review I have seen for this radio..well done!

    The UV-82 does have an open-the-squelch button, it’s on the side and marked [M] just press and hold for a second and it opens the squelch.

    The push-to-talk button is actually two buttons…press the top and xmit on upper VFO and press the lower for lower VFO.

    If you hold down the [F] button you will set off the annoying siren mode…I did that at a local restaurant by mistake and caused a short Why does an HT need a siren!?

  3. Bob Fegert says:

    If you open the radio and look at the front of the board you see an IC marked RDA-1846S. This is the actual transceiver…its output goes to an amp, just above it on the board, to get the 4 watt output. You can see the RF transistors in the output section. The RDA-1846 is less than two dollars in small quantities from China sellers and looks useful for all sorts of low-power rf tasks…a complete radio on a chip.

    A microcontroller on the board sends control signals to the RDA-1846S using I2C. I’m thinking you could simply snoop on these signals and thus learn how to use your own uC to control the radio.

    Here is a PDF on the RDA-1846S

    I’m researching the radios for a project I have in mind.

    The radios have no S-meter that actually works but the receive signal strength can be requested from the RDA-1846S over I2C and could be displayed for a custom project.

    It should be possible to use a cheap ARM Cortex M0 to control the radio over I2C. This would give total control over the radio and open up things not possible with the stock UV-82 setup.

    The RDA-1846 in this radio seems capable of operating on may be able to operate on many other frequencies as well. It easily receives on 88-108mhz and almost certainly could transmit there as well even though that range is not reported in the data sheet as usable….hmmmmm

    I read that it is possible to edit the .dat files with a hex editor and do things like set frequency steps not allowed by the original Baofeng programming software… it may be possible to program a channel in the FM broadcast band by hex editing the .dat file..I wonder?

    This cheap radio is not only a great HT it is a wonderful geeks plaything. The RDA-1846 is also used in some cell phones… so I think there is more ability in the chip than is detailed in the available data sheets.

    My idea is to put the UV-82 circuit board into a case with a normal SO-239 connector and remote mount it in the skirt of a discone antenna and control and power the rig remotely. It would be amazing if it turned out it could cover a very wide range of frequencies like say 6 meters to a Ghz … it’s use in cell equipment suggests a high upper frequency limit and its ability to receive FM suggests a much lower bottom frequency than the stated 136mhz.

    I think that the key may be as simple as using a custom controller to direct the RDA-1846S.

    1. Wow. This is worth an entire Contra entry, which I’ll write once I learn a little more about the chip. I envision a cape/shield for one of the popular embedded boards, ideally the Raspberry Pi. I know a couple of people with the RF smarts to design such a board, and I hope somebody eventually does. There could be a receive-only board, and a more elaborate board for transmitting with an RF power amp on it. Or, the power amp could be on its own board stacked atop the board with the RDA-1846 on it.

      I like 6M and equipment is scarcer for that band than many. Being able to lash up a custom 6M transceiver would be damned fine, and this would be an ace way to do it.

  4. Bob Fegert says:

    I forgot the link to the RDA-1846 programmers guide. Seems pretty straightforward.

  5. Mike Brown says:

    My first HT was a Standard, too (not counting the tube Motorola portable rig, which was the size and weight of a lunchbox with a full thermos and used the big lantern batteries). I built a drop-in charger out of a 3×5 card box and a couple of springs for contacts.

    I picked up one of the earlier Baofeng models for the same reason you did – I couldn’t resist a dual-band HT for $35. On top of that, it’s bright yellow, so I’m less likely to mislay it than the Yaesu HT I’ve had for about 18 years now. The biggest problem I’ve had with the Baofeng is that the USB/serial chip in the computer cord seems to be a bootleg version, and getting a driver which will work is a real headache. I’ll go through the download/reboot/rinse/repeat cycle half a dozen times, get Chirp to talk to the radio once, and then Windows “updates” to the official driver which doesn’t work and I’m back at square zero.

    1. Bob Fegert says:

      I made my charger for the Standard using two small pieces of 2×6 lumber.

      I routed out the holes to drop the radio into and then glued the two pieces together. I think I used two of the springy contacts from an old portable radio’s battery compartment to make the charger contacts…I don’t remember anything about the charger circuit except it seems I had a 78xx regulator in there somewhere.

      After I gave the wooden charger a few rubs with some sandpaper and a coat of black spray paint it looked pretty decent… and was heavy and solid.

      To cure the weightlessness of the Baofeng charger I used Velcro to stick it on a heavy piece of paving stone about 6″ square. It won’t fly off the desk now when I sneeze.

      1. The charger I built was in a Minibox, and doubled as a bench supply for TTL lashups before I built a more elaborate breadboard system with its own supply. The HT dropped into a rectangular hole nibbled/filed in the top of the Minibox, with two 4-40 machine screws point-up on a strip of scrap Plexiglass down under the hole. I don’t recall the circuit clearly, but I don’t think the charger part was more than a series current-limiting resistor. The bench supply used a 5V TO-3 regulator on a finned heat sink, because I had it in the junkbox and finned heat sinks are cool. I gave both the HT and the charger to the late George Ewing WA8WTE in 1986, after I bought my 02AT. I bought another Standard a few years ago, but it needs some tinkering and time hasn’t allowed. I also don’t think there are lithium-ion inserts for old Standard battery packs, which would be much better than *!^^&%&! nicads.

        1. Bob Fegert says:

          I think my charging circuit was a 7815 set up in constant current mode providing just a good trickle charge to the nicads.
          A small transformer, a bridge, a cap, a pilot lamp and a fuse.
          I had an extra bit of space bored out of the bottom 2×6 and that’s where the chargers guts were hidden…all parts except the 7815 were just out of the junkbox. I eventually gave the radio and charger to some wide-eyed kid that just got his ham ticket.

          I peeked inside the Baofeng charger…there ain’t much in there…a smart charger IC of some sort.

          I don’t know enough about RF design to make a decent Pi board around the RDA-1846. But it’s an excellent idea… I want one!

          Sounds like a great Kickstarter idea.

  6. Coincidentally, my UV-82 arrived from about half an hour before I read this post. I haven’t stuck it on the charger yet because before I fire it up I need to renew my ham license. The one I had expired in, IIRC, 1971.

    I finally made it up to 22 WPM CW with a bug back in the late 60’s, and I was depressed the other night when we were watching the TV series Jericho. The opening used Morse at maybe 5 WPM and I couldn’t copy even that. Really depressing.

    1. Bob Fegert says:

      The Morse ability will come back quickly for you.
      Get one of the several fine freeware Morse practice programs and just start listening.

      Just Google the phrase “freeware Morse practice program”

      1. Gary Frerking says:

        There are apps for that 🙂

        Having a CW trainer app on your smartphone is incredibly convenient, as long as you can ignore strange looks you get upon leaving a public bathroom stall.

        73 de KC3PO

  7. […] engineered for heavy daily use. Coincidentally, about half an hour after it arrived I came across this article by my friend Jeff Duntemann, a long-time ham operator who also has nice things to say about […]

  8. Erbo says:

    Just put in an order for the UV-82, along with the “good” ($20) sync cable and the car battery eliminator. The whip antenna I bought for my Yaesu ought to work with it, as well as the adapter that lets me put the antenna out the car window. (I’ll also need to go by HRO and get an up-to-date repeater directory…)

    Perhaps we should call this thing “the Raspberry Pi of HTs.” 🙂 And yes, I think designing a Pi HAT around the RDA-1846S would be a good idea…I just don’t know enough RF design to put all the supporting circuitry around the chip. It might even make a decent packet radio setup, if you run the audio from the transceiver into the Pi and do a software codec. The new CPU in the Pi 2 might be powerful enough to make that work.

  9. […] out of the picture since 2007 and young people are coming to hamming through the Maker movement. ($35 HTs sure don’t […]

  10. Ted Long, MD says:

    Picked up a few sample RDA-1846’s last Sept., and have been deciding what to do with ’em. After Raspberry dropped the price on “B”‘s to $35, the light bulb lit up. The result is “SPuD”..the Shirt Pocket Micro Digipeater. A software TNC/APRS digipeater running FBBS, Qmail, mailx/aprsd on Wheezy, A 32 GB. MicroSD, & 10 W. MOSFET PA. The USB-2 port feeds a cheap hub, which services a keyboard, LCD monitor, and an IP tether to a cheap Android phone. Next step is to get thttpd and webmin up, and maybe ircd and eggdrop. The 1846 is the Ham maker’s dream!

    1. Very, very cool. How far along is the project? Do you have a page on it? This is something about which I want to see more!

  11. […] Review: The Impossible Baofeng HTs – Jeff Duntemann's Contrapositive Diary __________________ WD0GSY BC-396XT, TENTEC PARAGON, ANYTONE 5888,VX10, VX7, VX3,TERMN-8R, F8-HP, GT3, UV-5, UV-3R, UV-8D, AOR-8000, 396XT, 780 XLT, Austin Spectra and Condor Antennas […]

  12. Gary Frerking says:

    Watching with much interest – the Baofengs, the RDA-1846… there’s a ton of potential here.

    One thing I heard about the Baofengs is that the receiver front ends were so wide open that they actually work better with the included antenna than a better replacement HT antenna or external antenna. Jeff, I assume you would have said something about that if you noticed problems in that area?

    73 de KC3PO

    1. I would if I had noticed anything, but I didn’t. Granted, I didn’t do much weak-signal work; we’re talking about significant repeaters within line-of-sight. I put my attic discone into the UV-82 and it sounded just as good, which probably means the discone wasn’t quite as good as it should be working into the UV-82.

      Everything changes here in Phoenix, though I’ve been so busy hanging shelves etc. that I haven’t been on the air yet.

      BTW, did you choose that call? If so, nice one!

      1. Gary Frerking says:

        I didn’t realize you moved back to Phoenix!

        Yes, I did choose this call… and thanks! I was on the hunt for a 1×2, but got tired of that hunt pretty quickly. Stumbled across this one and couldn’t resist.

  13. Gary Frerking says:

    This tickled a memory of mine about a previous Kickstarter I considered supporting –

  14. […] when I reviewed the Baofeng handhelds, there was some discussion in the comments about the RDA-1846S SDR chip. Gary Frerking pointed me […]

  15. Juan Viejo says:

    We bought a couple of the BAOFENG GT-3 transceivers for use only on the 2 meter and “440” amateur bands. No FCC type approval/acceptance for use in any radio service. Lets see how it works out as a ham band walky-talky.

  16. […] all cheap ham radio transceivers come from Baofeng. (See my entry for February 14, 2015.) I stumbled on a dual-band $69 mobile rig from Leixen that has promise, and can be programmed with […]

  17. BobCov says:

    Hey, guys. I pulled some “trashed” BF-888s and a BF GT1 radio out of the trash at work the other day along with their chargers. The BF-888s work fine, but they cannot talk to the GT1. When I key the 888s on the same channel the GT1 is on, I do not get the green light, except sometimes on Ch16. But never any audio. Is it possible to totally reset the GT1 without a programming cable in case somehow it has some incompatible modes set in it?

    1. Can the GT-1 talk to any other radio at all? I’ve never had a GT-1 and don’t know anything about it. A quick scan online shows that it can be programmed with CHIRP, though some of the more exotic features like scrambling are not supported. My suggestion is to download CHIRP and see if it will talk to the GT-1. I’ve not heard of any reset feature that doesn’t require a cable of some kind, but since I don’t have the item itself here I can’t say for sure. You should probably buy a cable to talk to CHIRP. I’m pretty sure the same cable is used on the 888, which I do have, though I really only use the UV-82. I bought the 888 just to see what a radio that cheap would be like. I also had this crazy notion of building it into a sort of steampunk HT, but that project isn’t going to happen real soon.

      If you figure it out, please post back and let us know how it went!

      1. BobCov says:

        Hi, thank you for your reply. I tried talking to other 888s, but I did not think of taking it to work and trying to talk with other GT1 radios. I have a feeling though, that it will not talk and that is probably why it was in the trash.On the other hand, because it lights up the transmit led and I once got the green receive led to flicker, and there is no damage that I can see to the antenna or mount,I really think it is bad programming. I do not have the cable because in Germany, they want too much for it. I did get the FM broadcast radio running the other day. Cute. At the end of the day, these are too cheap to put too much effort into, but I like to make things work and recycle them if I can instead of adding to the landfills.

        1. BobCov says:

          Update: I have another 888s which acts deaf and dumb like the GT1, except on Ch16. It acts normally. The GT1 can talk to it on CH16 but the GT1 cannot hear it on 16, even with the squelch turned off. I suspect these radios are totally miscalibrated and need factory reset.

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