If you enjoy communicating with other people then broadcasting amateur or ‘HAM’ radio could be a fun hobby. Ham takes its name from the initials of the first amateur wireless operators. Today, it’s a highly versatile way to gain and share information and requires a license to operate.
Ham radios are used to speak with other hams, listen to satellite broadcasts or tune into directions or informative updates. The best handheld ham radio should offer portability, affordability and a connection from the palm of a hand. So, let’s take a look at what’s available to buy.
The Best Handheld Ham Radio Reviews 2020
1. BaoFeng UV-5R Handheld Ham Radio Radio
- 128 Channels 50 ctcss and 104 CDCSS dual-band display, Dual Freq. Display, dual-standby, a/B band independent operation | High/low TX power selectable: busy Channel lock-out(bclo).
- Tri-color background light selectable: 0-9 grades vox selectable | FM radio (65.0Mhz-108.0MHz) | large LCD display.
- Keypad Lock: channel step: 2.5/5/6.25/10/12.5/25Khz | voice Companding: 50 ctcss/ 104DCS coder & tone searching.
BaoFeng Tech is a leading manufacturer of ham radios to the US, designing affordable handheld radios for licensed amateurs. This is a micro-miniature multiband FM transceiver offering 4 watts in the frequency range of 126-174 MHz and 400-480 MHz. This supports local-area two-way amateur communications and has dual watch and dual reception features.
First off, this is an extremely inexpensive unit. We’re pretty sure you couldn’t find another for such a low price. Despite this, it performs well for such a small unit. It really is a small and light radio one and fits very easily into any pocket. This could be a very good option for those just starting out on ham.
We found it didn’t take long to get a whole bunch of channels programmed into it.
The range is also good for such a small unit. We took it out across some hills and winding roads and still got range at 5 miles.
Sound wise, we couldn’t find much to complain about. It has some good features too. You can get FM radio at the push of a button or set an alarm. It did pick up NOAA weather alerts. There is also an LED flashlight, making it pretty versatile and multi-purpose. The buttons are also backlit which, for us, is a plus.
You may find this one proves to be difficult to program when you’re out using it. A cable and computer will most likely be needed.
We did get some accessories supplied but we found they weren’t the best. The headset seemed like it could break easily, and didn’t really fit our ears.
Overall, this is a super-small, super-inexpensive ham radio that has a lot of good features and solid performance. This could be a very good option for a newbie ham.
- Micro-miniature multiband FM transceiver offering 4 watts
- Extremely good value
- Small and lightweight, fits in any pocket
- Quick to program channels in set up
- Great additional features
- Better to program at home before usage
- Low quality accessories
2. BaoFeng UV-5R Plus Dual-Band Ham Two Way Radio
- Frequency Range: 136-174/400-480 MHz. FM Radio; Power output : 4 /1 watts; 50 CTCSS and 104 DCS.
- Comes with metallic rugged shell, more durable than previous UV-5R and UV-5RA. Cool and perfect for outdoor operation, car racing, off-road trip, emergency rescue.
- Easy to program some basic settings via keypad or connect with PC. Support CHIRP and CPS. Recommend cable: Radioddity PC001 FTDI programming cable (work with latest Windows, macOS, Ubuntu systems).
This is a UHF/VHF Dual band Amateur Radio handheld with 5/1 watts. It has plenty of features, comes in a range of color metal shell options. It also has a full HD color LED display.
This is a powerful ham radio with awesome durability. It’s still really lightweight like many others, but you get the benefit of the metal shell which feels very robust. With this, there is a clear advantage of having a range of colored shells to choose from. If you do need to opt for different colors within a team, say, this could be a good option.
There is also a flashlight LED at the top which could come in handy.
We found the antenna on this unit was excellent. Maybe even better than the usual UV 5R antennas. The reception was extremely strong, and the quality of sound came through with perfect clarity. The radio itself is extremely loud!
One real advantage of this unit is the color screen. It is very easy to read, which helps with usability. However, we did have some problems with programming parameters. We needed to skip around a lot of the menu settings. In the end, a color screen helped with this.
One other minor issue we found was the black rubber case that surrounds the metal is very thin. If you do plan to use this outside a lot, you’ll want to avoid dropping it. Otherwise it’s very sturdy!
In short, this is a very lightweight but solid handheld with the option to mix up colors. It has very good sound and reception thanks to a very good antenna. The color screen and LED flashlight are great additional features.
- Powerful unit with a harder but lightweight shell for durability
- Option to mix up colors to identify different radios
- Good antenna for solid quality sound and reception
- Color screen makes it easy to read
- LED flashlight a good feature
- Some programming proved difficult
- Rubber casing not as durable as others
3. BTECH UV-5X3 5 Watt Tri-Band Handheld Ham Radio
- BaoFeng Tech is the only authorized BaoFeng & BTECH Distributor to honor the Manufacturer Warranty. Only BaoFeng Tech offers warranty claims without shipping anything to China. You must insure that BaoFeng Tech is your selected buying option when buying to be able to have the full USA warranty.
- What's New: Tri-band Frequency Range Display Sync DTMF Decode Incoming ANI Display Remote Stun, Kill, Revive, Inspect, and Monitor Selectable Frequency Range Scanning Remove/Add Channels from Scanning Right in Menu
- Recommended Accessories: Pair UV-5X3 with the Nagoya NA-320A Antenna for all-in-one antenna option. The PC03 FTDI Cable is recommended for easy computer programming - Uses CHIRP Software
The BTECH UV-5×3 is a VHF 1.25M and UHF Tri-Band handheld transceiver. It claims to be the only radio in the series with new firmware features and menu updates. These include tri-band frequency range, display sync and DTMF remote decode.
Mainly for indoor or car use, this model is extremely good value for what you get.
It has fantastic usability and maybe good for entry level hams. The receive and transmit functions are solid and reliable.
The best feature with this is the display synchronization option, where you can link the top and bottom displays together. We really liked how one shows the frequency and the other the name of the channel.
Other good features include custom scanning lists, the ability to change the memory channels and the custom scan frequency range. With this, we could scan typical business bands which was quick and easy.
Also, battery life is excellent. We listened just to channels and it lasted for 3 days in total. This is pretty good in our experience.
One issue we found was that we couldn’t extend the receive/send frequencies.
It’s also worth noting that it also doesn’t include a triband antenna. So, if you want to be using the 1.25M band, you’ll need to switch to another antenna.
Overall, this is a fantastic option to get a tri-band for a super-affordable price. It is solid and reliable for use around the home or car. It has great features including custom scanning lists and a very good option to sync displays. The battery life is very good and should last a long time. This could be a good option to consider for entry-level hams.
- Great value for a tri-band transceiver
- Solid receive and transmit functions
- Display sync option is a great feature
- Custom scanning also strong feature
- Reliable battery life
- Inability to extend the receive/send frequencies
- May need an additional antenna depending on desired bands
4. Baofeng UV-5R5 5W Dual-Band Two Way Walkie Talkie
- The BaoFeng UV-5R is legal for use on amateur frequencies. The UV-5R is able to Transmit on Narrowband (12.5kHz) and Wideband (25kHz)
- The BaoFeng UV-5R has one built-in receiver but can "watch" two channels (semi duplex). Monitor two different frequencies (even on different bands (VHF/UHF)) and the radio will monitor both frequencies giving priority to the first station to receive an incoming call
- You can listen to the FM Broadcast radio, while still monitoring your radio frequencies in the background. Any incoming call will be given priority insuring you never miss an important call while listening to the radio
This UC-5R5 is a powerful ham radio that has updated software and a high-gain antenna. There are two power levels (Low-1w and High-4/5w) and a large battery. This is a compact, dual-band unit with upgraded features.
We found this was a pretty easily programmable UHF/VHF radio, which was refreshing. It’s also set up nicely that it’s easy to use. You just hit a button for FM radio and it was there, while we kept monitoring other radio frequencies.
We noticed the strong battery life, which is probably due to the lithium ion fast-charging batteries. This held up nicely for a few days.
It has some good additional features – LED flashlight and NOAA weather alerts.
Our favorite feature is the lock function. We found it reassuring to have this when there is always a risk of accidental channel-changing. With a camouflage design, this could also be a good option to take out hunting. So that’s exactly when you don’t want to switch channels!
Despite the longer antenna, we found some problems with the range distance with this unit. Generally, it wasn’t picking up longer ranges. This was compounded to some extent by a lack of a signal strength meter, which may have improved the model.
The sound quality also wasn’t the best we’d heard.
This is an upgraded ham radio with easy to use the software, improved features and long battery life. It’s easy to program and has a key lock function, which is potentially good for outdoor use. It seems to work well within a short range.
- Easy to program
- Nice to use with some helpful features such as FM radio button
- LED flashlight and NOAA included
- Key lock function very helpful
- Battery life is solid
- Struggled to pick up a longer range
- Not the best quality of sound
5. BTECH DMR-6X2 7-Watt Handheld Two Way Ham Radio
- DMR Tier 1 & 2 Compatible, MOTOTRBO Compatible, BaoFeng Tech is the only authorized BaoFeng & BTECH Distributor to honor the Manufacturer Warranty. Only BaoFeng Tech offers warranty claims without shipping anything to China. You must insure that BaoFeng Tech is your selected buying option when buying to be able to have the full USA warranty.
- The DMR-6X2 Allows for Front Panel Programmable Channels, but for advanced features software programming is recommended (Programming Cable Included), Requires Windows PC (free software available at: baofengtech.com/dmr-6x2), Programmable Side Keys, and Upgradeable Firmware
- Exclusive BTECH Firmware (Designed in the USA), Dual Slot DMR Radio (Tier 1 and Tier 2 Compliant); 4000 Channels, 10,000 Talk Groups, 200,000 Contacts, Large TFT Color Display, High / Med-High / Med-Low / Low Power Settings: (7W VHF/6W UHF, 5W, 2.5W, 1W)
A more expensive model than others we’ve looked at, the BTECH DMR-6X2 is built for amateur or commercial use. It comes with an SMA-Female antenna, accessory jack and programming cable. It also brings both dual-band analog and DMR radio features to its design.
Firstly, the sound quality of this unit is immense. The speaker is super loud and the mic is really clear.
Second, the display screen is very bright and enables fluid use. In fact, it was a solid user experience overall. We found it very easy to navigate using the buttons, maybe as they’re larger than others. It has a very solid and sturdy feel.
This is a very easy unit to set up and use. The programming software is straightforward and the instructions included were very helpful. This, combined with a really user-friendly interface, makes this a really easy-to-program radio.
Another of our favored features on this one is the addition of a GPS system. It’s awesome to have this included and elevates this one above others.
There was a small issue with the sound quality. The volume felt quite shrill and loud – it was a little painful on the ears at times. It may benefit from a tone adjuster.
We also found it larger and heavier than some of the other radios we’ve looked at. It didn’t seem to fit in the hand as easily as others.
Overall, this is a big, solid DMR radio, with a sound that comes through loud and clear. It has great functionality, enabled by a good display screen and buttons. It’s easy to program and includes GPS functionality.
- Good sound quality, very loud!
- Great user-experience, aided by large buttons and display screen
- Easy to set up and program
- GPS system included
- Bigger size
- Sounded shrill and harsh on the ears
- May be too big for some
6. TYT MD-UV390 Dual Band Handheld Two Way Radio
- I. Newest Dual Band TYT MD-UV390 DMR Two Way Radio, GPS Function, Large Color LCD Display, W/ Two Original Antenna include Package, Price Affordable For New DMR Choice.
- II. Updated software available for new features & (FREE software download at TYT official webesite), please contact us if you have any problem (programming, radio issue etc.), Compatible with Mototrbo Tier Ⅰ&Ⅱ. Complying with digital protocol ETSI TS 102 361-1, -2, -3
- III. Frequency Range:150-174/450-480MHz ,1W/5W output power. Dimension(H*W*D): 131*61*36mm, Weight: 258g
Here’s another dual-band DMR ham radio, this time from TYT. It comes at a very reasonable price, with two antennas, updated software and a large color LDC display. This also has a GPS function, power-on protection and a priority scanning. It also runs off 1,000 channels.
The most striking feature of this radio is the color screen. It definitely adds to the user experience and is clear to read.
It’s also a really nice size. It’s not too bulky or cumbersome – it fits neatly in the hand.
The software with this is OK and pretty straightforward. Once programmed correctly, we found this radio managed to work well on DMR. And in general, the programming was pretty simple to do.
When we tried this out on DMR Ham repeaters, we found this radio worked really well. It’s a good connectivity.
One downside is that you can’t program the radio while out in the field. You need the software upfront to get this done. However, as mentioned, the software is easy to use.
Another snag is the GPS – it’s just not quite up to it really. It takes a while to get moving and doesn’t work as smoothly as we expected it to.
Overall, this is a solid piece of hardware that fits in the hand and works well on DMR repeaters. It has a nice color screen and the software is easy to program. GPS feature is included and it’s a good price option.
- Reasonable price dual band DMR ham radio
- Good color screen
- Fits neatly in the hand
- Software is easy to program
- Good connectivity on DMR repeaters
- GPS is difficult to manage
- Need to program using software, not out in the field
7. BaoFeng UV-82HP High Power Handheld Ham Radio
The UV-82 series is BaoFeng’s most commercialized series. This is a dual-band handheld transceiver, running high, medium and low power settings (8W(VHF)7W(UHF)/4W/1W).
The design and build of this model is of a high standard. It’s a solid unit and doesn’t feel flimsy at all, with buttons and volume control that seem to work very well. The sound is clear and transmission was generally reliable.
The battery power on this is great. After a single day of use it had only lost a few notches of power. We also really liked that it has a battery voltage display. Additionally, you can easily check the battery reserve.
We also really loved its ability to listen to broadcast FM, just by the press of a button. You can also tune into NOAA weather updates by programing these from the keyboard.
However, the standout feature here is the Dual Push to Talk (PTT)/Dual Watch. This function enables you to track two frequencies at once and transmit easily. Oh, and the built-in LED flashlight is a cool feature too, especially its strobe abilities!
We found we had to firmly hold down a menu button to switch between frequency mode and channel mode. This took some getting used to but wasn’t a big problem.
One other thing was that we found it difficult to adjust the squelch on certain frequencies. For this price, you can’t expect to have it all.
This is a well-built, nicely-designed compact ham offering a reliable and solid experience. The battery power is solid and it offers some great additional features. The Dual Watch feature is worth considering.
- High standard build and functionalities
- Reliable sound and transmission
- Great battery power
- Numerous features including flashlight
- Dual Push to Talk/Dual Watch is the standout
- Switching between modes could be easier
- We did find squelch hard to adjust on certain frequencies
How To Choose A Handheld Ham Radio: A Buyer’s Guide
‘Hams’ is essentially another word for licensed amateur radio users. In the US, significant social scenes have developed around this type of listening experience. For others, it can be a highly versatile way to expand their interests and technical knowledge.
Ham radio works by accessing frequencies assigned by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Hams are able to transmit radio broadcasts while other hams or indeed ‘non-hams’ tune in to listen. This will be done using their own receivers – maybe handheld, maybe base or mobile transceivers. Ham radio can also be used to support emergency communication.
When it comes to handheld ham radios, they should be small, lightweight and easy for operators to use. Of course, you will also need to obtain an appropriate license if you want to don the airways.
We’ll show you now what you need to think about, before assessing the best handheld ham radio:
Most handhelds will be transceivers, which means they can transmit and receive radio signals. Your radio should have around 5 watts of power to reach local distances. ‘Repeaters’ are used to extend your reach farther than the limited range of VHF and UHF.
Nearby bands usually fall under VHF or UHF, or both. If you want to transmit on a nationwide band, you’ll probably use HF. Choosing a radio with dual bands means you should be able to monitor two at a time.
Most transceivers will come with some additional features, such as GPS or LED flashlights. You should also be able to pick up AM or FM radio frequencies.
In the end, the frequencies you end up using will depend on the license you’re able to obtain.
It should be fairly easy to obtain a license to use your ham radio. Once you have a license, it should last for 10 years. Do note, however, that if you choose only to listen or monitor other ham frequencies you may not need one.
You can start with a technician license by sitting an exam. Once you’ve passed, you should be able to access in excess of 30 megahertz, along with some HF bands.
From here, you can sit a further test to receive a general license. This should grant you the opportunity to engage in communication internationally.
Then, to secure an Amateur Extra license you’ll need to sit a much longer exam, so you’ll need to have developed some expertise. You could see these licenses as grades – as you pass one, your knowledge will improve. At each stage you can work to understand more about ham radios, before securing a comprehensive license.
Some models give you the ability to manually program the CB radio. Some modern units may include a cable you can connect to your PC to do this. Generally, this is an easier way to input the data you want.
However, some ham radios give you the opportunity to program directly to the unit. Give this some consideration if you intend on using programmable features often.
Being able to communicate effectively means having a strong antenna. Most handheld ham radios will come with “rubber ducks” – a rubbery, sometimes stubby antenna.
However, if you want to improve the quality of your transmission sound and clarity, consider an extension or replacement.
Your radio needs to charge well and often. Many will be sold with a rechargeable battery pack included. However, you’ll want to check it has an external DC or USB connector. Sometimes, handheld ham radio will offer dual power options. This can be useful to consider using replacement batteries.
If you’re using your radio at night or in inclement weather, you may want to think about visibility. Here, a flashlight can be helpful. Also, you may want to ensure the screen is visible enough for you to use. Some come with GPS facilities and emergency person alarms too.
And the winner is…
There’s a lot to consider when it comes to choosing the best handheld ham radio. You want to get hold of something that works well for your needs.
As a general all-rounder, however, we’ve chosen the clear winner as BaoFeng UV-5R Dual Band Handheld Ham Two Way Radio.
This handheld does everything you need. It sits in your hand nicely and is super-affordable. It’s a solid entry-level handheld that doesn’t fall down on any of the basics. Plus, it has great additional features.
Even if you’re not a beginner, you’ll probably still enjoy this one for a long time.