The Baofeng UV-3R – there aren’t many HAM radio operators left in my part of the world who haven’t got one. Less than $50 for a true dual-band hand held, it just seemed too good to be true. The big question was whether the phrase “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is” did apply or not. Well, it did, and it didn’t.
When I placed my first order, I ordered two of them. One was destined to be used on a daily basis, just like my other hand held transceivers, the second one was destined to be sacrificed to science. Science here means disassembling, connecting all kinds of testing equipment to it, without the intention to ensure its survival. This blog post is not intended to be an extensive Baofeng UV-3R review, nor a Bible, but the attached PDF file probably is. Download Baofeng UV-3R FAQ here.
Daily use, reception
Not too bad, actually, as long as you stay away from (commercial) towers that emit strong signals. My neighborhood, also known as ‘Intermod Alley’, is likely the worst place to be when a receiver doesn’t meet basic requirements regarding selectivity. If you live in a rural area, littered with strong VHF or UHF signals, you will be a very disappointed Baofeng owner. The receiver might collapse completely, making the HT totally useless. At my location the combination of intermod and hiss/noise is so bad that I even can’t receive the PI2FLD repeater, which is only a few miles away. This is a very strong repeater, with its antenna almost 100 meters above ground! My other Chinese hand held transceivers, such as the Quansheng TG-UV2, the Wouxun KG-UVD1P and the Feidaxin FD-268B manage these unwanted signals without a hitch.
The lowest setting of the volume is too high for indoor use. Changing one resistor solves that problem. It didn’t bother me, as I exclusively use these devices during outdoor activities.
Daily use, transmitting
The excellent modulation quality is something you wouldn’t expect at this price point, but some of the biggest names in the business really should take notice. However, there’s a catch with the earlier models; harmonic suppression or, more precise, the lack of it. While the UV-3R does a reasonably good job on UHF, the suppression on VHF is virtually non-existent. Even worse: the second harmonics proved to be as strong, or even stronger than the frequency in the display. Some mods are available for quite a while now, but these are quick & dirty at best.
Battery and charger
Battery life is average, as the capacity is just 1200mAH @ 3.7V. I can use the UV-3R for just two days at 2 Watts output. Original Baofeng spare batteries aren’t expensive by any means, but you should know that a Baofeng battery is identical to a Fuji NP-60 battery (minus the sense contact). Fuji NP-60 replacement batteries work just as good, some even better, and can often be found at one third of the price. I bought a few here.
The same applies to the charger, and I would advise every Baofeng owner to go to eBay, buy an intelligent charger and throw away the one that comes in the box. The Baofeng cradle doesn’t contain any intelligence at all, just two wires connected to the contacts. No exploding batteries have been reported, but nobody really trusts the thing – and for good reasons! If you buy a third party charger, make sure that you buy one that’s compatible with the Fuji NP-60, not the Casio NP-60! This is the one I picked up for less than $8.
Third party antennas
The original UV-3R comes with two separate antennas. Although they’re quite good, continuously switching antennas is a pain. I tested a bunch of popular after market dual-band antennas, made by Nagoya. The NA-701 (sturdy) and the NA-666 (flexible but easily bent at the base) proved to be the best performers. The NA-771 was really crappy on UHF, and so were other long (>= 40cm) versions. Some did slightly better on VHF though.
Don’t drop them!
Make sure you handle a Baofeng with care. The construction is ok, but dropping one can easily damage the circuit board, the display or crack the plastic case. I was lucky once, but other owners weren’t.
The Baofeng UV-3R Mark II
Recently the Baofeng UV-3R Mark II popped up in eBay shops, and I immediately ordered one. In camouflage colors, haha! The differences: volume problem solved (*), harmonic suppression on VHF is now reasonable (40-50dB down), a dual-band antenna is now standard, and it features a new dual frequency display. Forget the older version and go for the Mark II.
You get what you pay for. The new ‘Mark II’ version solves a few known problems and is worth every penny. I see this HT as a toy (just as the customs declaration often states, BTW). Don’t expect the UV-3R to match the performance of more expensive models. Nice as an addition to the collection though, that’s for sure.
(*) Not everyone has the same experience, it seems there are some differences from copy to copy.