When I first spotted the Baofeng UV-B5 I was slightly more interested than normal. I kinda liked the ‘no frills’ design with the rotary encoder on top. I never got used to the system of pressing Up and Down buttons for changing frequencies or channels, and this model promised to address this issue. Its sibling, the UV-B6, is technically identical but features a flashlight instead of the alarm button and rotary encoder. The choice is yours.
For the rest I expected the UV-B5 and UV-B6 to be more of the same: never perfect but value for money, with all the pros and cons we got used to. One of the cons – one I slowly started to accept as something inevitable – is a design based on SDR and DSP. SDR is considered cutting edge technology and cheap to produce, but so far the implementation was flawed. Most of these radios lack a decent front end or produce a lot of phase noise. As a result these radios are overloaded in a heartbeat. The Wouxun KG-UVD1P and the Quansheng TG-UV2 are well known exceptions to the rule, but their price reflects this. You get what you pay for.
Something changed. From the moment I switched on the Baofeng UV-B5 it was clear that engineers in China heard our cries and did something about these crappy front ends. First of all I never lost the signal of our regional 70cm repeater while walking through my house, a trick not even the Wouxun or Quansheng can pull off. Only my Yaesu VX-177 and Icom IC-U82, both expensive mono band HTs, are capable of doing that. Secondly, I never lost signal outside either. That’s not something I can take for granted here. My QTH is known as ‘Intermod Alley’ and for good reasons. Most receivers are overloaded immediately here, making it impossible to listen into any 70cm signal below S9+20.
Look & Feel
While the UV-5R never feels comfortable in my hand due to its square shape and sharp edges, the UV-B5′s rounded shape makes the radio fit like a glove. It reminded me of the comfort associated with the Baofeng BF-666S/777S/888S series, and both models certainly share some design features. They’re identical in size, the batteries have a similar shape and both radios share the same great belt clip. The batteries are not interchangeable though, and the belt clip has a little problem. The M2 screws which come with the radio are way too short, making it impossible to attach the belt clip to the body of the HT. Fortunately I had a few longer ones in stock.
At the left we find three keys, but only two of them are functional: PTT and Monitor. When both keys are pressed simultaneously a 1750Hz burst tone is transmitted. The third key has no function on the UV-B5, on the UV-B6 this key acts as a switch for the flashlight. Baofeng could have used this key on the UV-B5 to activate the LCD backlight, but they didn’t. Pity. At the right we have the standard Kenwood compatible 3.5mm and 2.5mm jacks for speaker/microphones and programming cables. The UV-B5 / UV-B6 software (download here) worked right out of the box, but don’t forget to click the red button to change the language from Chinese to English.
On top we find a rotary encoder which can be used to change frequency, channel, or menus and underlying parameters. A conventional on/off/volume pot is located at the right. When the volume is completely turned down there’s still some audio present, but you’ll have to put your ear close to the speaker if you want to listen to the conversation.
The stock antenna (SMA-F) is sturdy and does a remarkably good job. Replacing it with a Nagoya NA-701 or the $3.79 antenna didn’t improve performance at all, which means that there’s no need to shop for a replacement.
Batteries are rated 2000 mAh, but at this stage there’s no way for me to verify these claims. As is usual with Li-Ion batteries, you need to deplete and charge the battery at least three times in a row before maximum capacity is reached. After that you can charge the battery whenever you want. An intelligent desktop charger is part of the package; charging takes about 5 hours when a battery is fully depleted.
The UV-B5 offers 99 memory positions in total, plus an additional 16 channels to store FM stations. You can overwrite memories without the need of deleting them first.
Baofeng manuals have a reputation of being incomplete and impossible to understand. This one is actually quite decent: all features, menus and parameters are described in detail. No funny ChinEnglish either, just plain English with few grammar problems. The manual is not without errors though. Some things are repeated twice on the same page, and according to the manual you must hold the Monitor key if you want to change the volume. That’s not the case.
Operating and programming the UV-B5
In VFO mode you just type in the frequency you want and you’re done. Contrary to the UV-5R there’s no ’rounding down bug’ to deal with when entering a frequency which doesn’t end in a 0 or 5. This happens often when a UV-5R is set to either 12.5KHz or 6.25KHz channel spacing. On the UV-B5 the frequency is correctly predicted and set without having to enter the last digit(s).
Contrary to many other radios you can program all of the UV-B5′s parameters without having to use computers and software. This includes adding alphanumeric descriptions to the memories and setting ANI codes. However, a description cannot be longer than 5 characters. Because many call signs are six characters in length, this feature isn’t as useful as I hoped for. Programming with software doesn’t change things.
A total of 29 menus reside in this HT. Most of them are common across similar HTs, only the Compander and the Name function stand out. The compander is a noise reduction system which does a nice job when you’re dealing with weak signals. It works both ways: RX and TX. When used with stronger signals some distortion is introduced. The Name function, of course, is there to access the (crippled) system for adding names to memories.
Nothing fancy here: you can choose between High and Low. Measurements done with fully charged battery at 145MHz and 435MHz respectively.
Power Output VHF:
High: 4.0 Watts
Low: 1.8 Watts
Power Output UHF:
High: 2.9 Watts
Low: 1.7 Watts
This is less output than the manufacturer claims, from the looks of it the power output is identical to the UV-5R. Fine with me.
Excellent reports. Modulation is loud, bright with no distortion.
Looking good: harmonic suppression 2nd order -59dBm on VHF, -53dBm on UHF.
Excellent. Please be advised that the tolerance of most RF generators in this range is +/- 1 dBm. Even in the worst case scenario this would translate into a perfect score.
This is where the UV-B5 shines. For now this is the HT to compare others with – the receiver is at least as good as the Wouxun KG-UVD1P and outperforms the Quansheng TG-UV2. Overloading is not impossible, but far from easy – almost unreal for an HT this price.
The Baofeng UV-B5 is close to perfect. The only two niggles are the 5-character limit for alphanumeric descriptions and the belt clip screws which are too short. For the rest: best value for money to date. Needless to say, I’m keeping this one.