Sunday, February 19, 2012

A rig for £30 - the Baofeng UV-3R 144/433MHz dualbander

I’d had the chance to play with one of the Baofeng UV-3Rs a few weeks ago and quite liked it. Like most people, I’d seen them advertised in the UK amateur radio press at around £50. On e-bay you can get them for £20 plus £10 postage. I thought I’d plump for one of those and see what happened.

The radio arrived in about 8 days from ‘RadioBanker’ in Hong Kong, beaufifully packaged and with some nice stamps! It was neatly boxed and pleasingly presented. The box includes the transceiver, the battery, VHF antenna and UHF antennas , power charger and leads as well as an earpiece and microphone. Assembly was straightforward and just required the battery to be clipped into the body of the transceiver and the cover slid down and clipped in place. I’d opted for the jaunty blue model!

The rig fits neatly into the hand. Sorry about the grubby fingers - I'd been digging the garden!

Because I had put the battery into the transceiver, I did not need to use the ‘shell’ supplied for charging the battery and just plugged the lead from charger into the DC socket on the side of the rig and set it to charge overnight. The charger supplied was a wall-wart designed for UK 3-pin plugs, unlike some suppliers who, I understand ship a US type charger and adapter.

I’ve found that battery life was good. Not quite ‘charge and forget’ like some of the larger handhelds and bigger battery capacity, but certainly good for several  days operation during walks and monitoring whilst I was in the house – the battery life of 10 hours quoted by the manufacturer seems realistic.

The build quality of the rig is good. Clearly it’s not as good as rigs from the mainstream manufacturers (which are, after all, several times the price) and perhaps not quite as good as the Wouxun models. But it is entirely satisfactory. The ‘L/R’ button on the side of the rig as well as the p.t.t. button were absolutely fine but were of the type that made you wonder how they would last over time. The rig fitted nicely in my hand and also in my coat pocket, so ideal for taking out on a walk.

The manual? I should probably start by saying that if you are the sort of person that likes things to be ‘just so’ and for the manual to guide you effortlessly through the operation of the rig, then this is not the rig for you. The manual is one of the poorest that I have read. To me at least, it isn’t logically organised.
The ‘Getting Started’ section covers switching the rig on, adjusting the volume and that’s it. Then it’s onto the ‘Advanced operation’ section which is just a description, sometimes clearer than others, of the different menu items. One of the more mysterious items reads (sic), “ELAYM (Repeater Sound Response). The UV-3R comes with the Repeater Sound Response feature. When the feature is activated, the handheld transceiver will hear the sound from the repeater, that means the handheld transceiver is working via the repeater’. What?! Certainly the intent wasn’t clear to me. This is probably the most mysterious and cryptic description in the manual, but it is by no means unique. Incidentally, the ELAYM feature appears to be intended to suppress K tones from a repeater.

It all gets better from there. If you are happy to accept the manual as it is and work with the information provided you should soon get to grips with the radio. For example, though the manual says how to store frequencies in the memories, it doesn’t tell you how to recall them, but with some (not too much) experimentation, I discovered how to do this.

Programming the rig with repeater and simplex frequencies is reasonably straightforward once you master the menu system.  I found programming my most used frequencies into memory was the easiest way to use the rig, because the rig didn’t automatically sense repeater channels and apply repeater shift as some do. Not wanting to be fiddling around with changing the radio’s menu items with cold hands on a walk, then setting up the memories seemed to be the most convenient solution. Programming software and a USB lead 
is available, though I’ve not taken the plunge yet (it would double the cost of the rig!)

Having set up the rig with the local repeaters and a few simplex channels I made some experiments from within our house. The antenna on the UV-3R is quite small and I found that I couldn’t hear the 144MHz repeaters GB3WH and GB3RD (both about 15 miles distant) as well as on a ‘full size’ handheld such as my Icom E-92, but I could still get into them if I chose my spot. Likewise on 433MHz, GB3TD at Swindon could be heard weakly and accessed from the first floor of our house. So, if you are planning to use one of these handhelds inside your house to access repeaters or work local stations, you’ll probably need to be within 5 to 10 miles of them.

However, I was more interested in how the rig would perform when I was out for a walk in the Oxfordshire countryside. I ventured to our allotment which just happens to be on the ridge of the hills with a clear take off from west, through north to the north east. The 430MHz repeater GB3UK on Cleeve Hill in the Cotswolds is about 40 miles distant and I tried a call through it using the UV-3R. To my slight surprise, the repeater heard me easily and I put a call through it. Richard, G4ERP was operating mobile on horseback and responded to my call, as did Mike, G3TSO. Both Richard and Mike were able to confirm that the audio from the rig was good, although the deviation was just slightly low but in general the quality of my transmission was excellent. I could easily access the GB3DI repeater at Harwell and worked John G6LNU at Wantage. Rob G4XUT heard me on GB3TD and we QSYed to simplex and made a nice contact with me on the footbridge over the A420 to the south of our village and Rob at home – a distance of around 20 miles. Not bad for 2W and a small antenna! Experiments showed that the speaker/mike gave a better audio level than the internal microphone.

One issue discovered at this stage was the fact that even at bare minimum, the volume is quite loud. Sufficiently loud that if the rig is in your pocket and someone pops up on a repeater, their voice may be loud enough to surprise your walking companions or passers-by! Various modifications for this have been mooted from modifying the board to sticking some tape over the speaker. The supplied earpiece/microphone proves quite beneficial from this point of view too – the lowest volume setting seemed quite bearable through the earphone.

The UV-3R also features the capability to listen to F.M. broadcast radio, which the manual stated covered 87 to 108MHz. Somewhat intriguingly, when I first switched to F.M., it displayed a frequency of 65MHz! The tuning range appeared to be 65 to 108MHz for wideband F.M.. The tuning step is 100khz – so I was unable to tune to 70.450MHz (UK 70MHz F.M. calling frequency). However,  I did verify that I could receive my own transmission on 70MHz! Given that the receiver is set up for wideband F.M. and amateur transmissions are narrowband F.M., this will be of limited use, but it may prove a useful facility. Also, in Es season, it may provide the ability to listen to Eastern European broadcast F.M. – though presumably the small antenna may prove something of a handicap. The F.M. feature does what it is supposed to do, receive F.M. radio stations. Sensitivity seemed reasonable and I was easily able to receive our favourite local radio station from Oxford, Jack FM. I enjoyed that when a station popped up on the repeater that I was monitoring = even if I was listening to F.M., the rig would switch over to V.H.F./U.H.F..

A more serious, well documented issue with the UV-3R is that the second harmonic of the V.H.F. transmitter is not well suppressed and is only around 30dB down. Since I was planning to use the rig on 70cms, I didn’t really care. However, Steve G1KQH kindly provided a link to a site where a mod to improve the VHF performance is available. 

I enjoy having the UV-3R around. It is perfectly sized to fit in a pocket to take with you when you are out for a walkto the shops or on a hill. Good things about the rig are value for money, wideband receive coverage and excellent 433MHz performance. On the downside, the manual was very poor, especially for a beginner and the second harmonic of the V.H.F. transmitter gives cause for concern. Neutral points, but ones to be aware of, include relatively low power and small antenna will restrict the range and performance of the rig, balanced by reasonable battery life and easy portability.

For £30, I think this represents exceptional value – I’m delighted. And you can also get the rig in red, yellow, camouflage as well as regular black!


Anonymous said...

Nice review Tim. The 2nd harmonic for tx into WH (145.05 times 2) puts it at 290.1 Mhz, in the Military airband. Hmmmmm I dont want to bring down an aircraft using Brize !! But 2 Watts minus the 20 db must be flea power.

Have you done a review of the Wouxun so I oculd compare?
Richard G4MUF

Tim said...

Thanks Richard!

Also, if you use the VHF antenna it won't radiate so well on 290MHz, so the chances of interference are more remote.

I've not had a chance to play with a Wouxun 2m/70cm HT although did review the 4m/2m one. They're easy to use and great value - but at least twice the price of the Baofeng!

Power is higher on the Wouxun too.

Peter said...

So interesting I've started looking for a Baofeng UV-3R for myself.
Also I have two VX-1s with dead batteries and no chargers, any ideas where to obtain replacements??


Tim said...

Hi Peter,

I can see some replacement batteries on eBay. I'm guessing there are chargers available too.


Anonymous said...

A very interesting review, and very pertinent. I also have one of these little rigs, purchased nearly a year ago in prep for my foundation licence. I couldn't agree more about the so called instruction book; for anybody with little or no experience of setting up a programmable (amateur) radio, as opposed to the broadcast band unit in the car or military 'point & click' stuff this is a total nightmare!!! I spent three days trying to figure out certain aspects of the set up for 2m repeater use, became very dishearten with it all and almost chucked it in a draw and forgot about it - chalking it down to experience. However, my nature is not to allow anything to beat me so I persevered, having had a good look around the net as well. I found that in some cases the hand book was completely wrong and the instructions to push this button combined with another did not have the desired effect - much fiddling later I had a set of home made notes that I now refer to if I want to mod the radio settings. As for performance - absolutely brilliant on 2m - I've not had the chance to use it on 70cms as there is very little activity around here (Exeter). Battery performance on my unit is excellent, I spent a pleasant hour or more the other night in the a beer garden of my local rag chewing with another amateur on simplex and he was impressed not only by the quality of the audio etc. but how long the battery seemed to last!!! He headed off for cocoa at 2200hrs and the unit was still showing a charge of over 3/4 full - which mightily impressed me as well!

These units have now been well and truly superseded by the UR-V5 etc. which is a bit of shame because if they had a better written handbook then it would be the 'definitive' starter unit for Foundation licence holders, doing everything you could want in one small, neat and more importantly inexpensive package.

One small gripe - I took the plunge because I like this radio, and purchased both a speaker/mike and the programming cable - neither work properly!!! Annoying considering that they cost, together, as much as the radio! The mike will key the radio up once, then refuses to do so again??? I found some references to this problem on the net and it seems to be a software fault on early units like mine.... There is no update for this so be aware if you're thinking of getting hold of a secondhand one. The programming software came on a blank commercial CD - an obvious copy, the USB to radio cable looked the business but every PC I've plugged it into, having installed the drives refuses to 'see' the radio when attached. According to a colleague at Exeter Amateur Radio Society this is to do with the fake chips the manufacturers have used in the lead. Apparently windows interrogates the interface built into the USB plug, detects the fake and refused to connect. My colleague tells me I can download a driver to overcome this problem, but having figured out eventually how the whole thing works for myself don't feel the need to do that right now.

Cheers, Skip. Exeter. M6TGT.

Tim said...


Good to hear from you and thanks for your comments. Couldn't agree more about the manual! It's well worth persevering with the rig as you say.

To some extent, it's a different beast to the UV-5R. I like the UV-3R because you can just stick it in a pocket and have it with you all the time - the UV-5R is a bit bigger.

I've not tried the programming lead, but I've heard that there are some leads with the 'fake' Prolific chip in it - but there is a driver around which gets around it.

Re the speaker mike - I know that there have been some RF feedback issues with some external microphones. Have you tried a ferrite ring on the cable, just in case it's that rather than software?

All the best,



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