Best Ham Radio for Beginners: Reviews of 2018
The idea of having a ham radio in 2018 doesn’t sound too farfetched. In fact, it can be both fun and educative at the same time. So, how would you start your journey of being a ham radio junkie? Let’s find out.
Before entering a comprehensive discussion on ham radios, one must understand something clearly. A ham radio is something that amateurs like to use. In short, the amateur operators, who love to play with such instruments, tend to be known as ‘Ham ’s.
In the United States, amateur radio operation certainly a lot popular than it used to be. Not only because it is a fantastic hobby, but also because it may save your life someday. In a nutshell, when all communications fail, ham radios may be your last resort for help.
So, what do we have to offer here? Well, apparently, there are a great number of ham radios available in the market. And to make your decision making easier, we have gone through a huge number of products.
In the end, we ended up with a few choices which might be intriguing to you. So, if you are starting out as a novice, this is the place to be right now.
Buying a ham radio: Some tips for novices
With all the usual chitchat out of the way, it's probably time for us to make use of the time at hand. Clearly, we are talking about hooking you up with some useful tips on how to actually buy a ham radio for the first time.
As you may know, there are a lot of suggestions out there. In fact, people will try and coax you to buy new hardware even if don’t have any idea whatsoever.
But we take it as a challenge to guide you in the proper direction. So, here are some of the tips that you should probably remember before buying a ham radio.
1. How much are you willing to spend?
The first and foremost tip that you should probably remember is how much money do you have in your pocket. Apparently, there is a catch to it.
The rules are obviously simple in most cases. And it is the fact that the more you have, the larger the possibility of you buying a product that you may not like.
So, what’s the solution then? It’s really simple.
Cap your budget to a certain amount. If you do so, you will probably end up with some obvious choices. Getting to a higher tier will restrict you because the amount that you are willing to spend is limited.
But you can also buy some used hardware and get started. A recommendation like this usually comes with warnings related to the hardware. But its probably the right thing to do if you don’t have small to no experience handling radio gear.
2. Why do you need a ham radio?
It is probably better to decide something like this before even making any plans! it is really simple to make the decision ones you decide why do you need a ham radio.
If you are someone who is engaged in emergency communications, then your needs may differ from someone who only wants do something casual. (Emergency personnel may have some idea about this stuff anyway!).
Also, you have your users who just want to get started with home HF operations. Or maybe, you’re someone who probably needs something portable to move around with.
In short, your needs come first. For this very reason, you may want to be a bit critical before spending some cash.
3. Bulky or portable? Which one would you prefer?
In case you are wondering to get started and get your hands on something a bit more advanced, you should probably stick with stationary transceivers. It will certainly help you cover more ground.
But if you just want to be able to move around, then you have two options. Firstly, you may want to consider handheld transceivers. Mind you, they are bulkier than you’re average smartphones. But you will have the option of being more flexible.
Your second option should be portable transceivers, which are basically small antennas. These are kind of a sweet spot between having a bulk array and portability, which will probably come in handy in many cases.
4. How much range and power do you need?
When it comes to transceiver reach, as a beginner, you may want to stick with VHF and UHF. Part of the reason here is that they don’t require any specialized equipment, which is probably nice for a novice.
But when it comes to range, you may be stuck in your locality.
HF bands will allow you to reach greater areas. But as expected with this type of setup, you will need to spend some extra cash for some heavy equipment.
Now for a beginner, we would advise you to stick with a handheld radio with something about 8-watts of power. In fact, this will give you some more experience if you plan on upgrading in the future.
These are some of the tips that you may want to remember. They probably aren’t adequate. But for a novice, it is obviously more than enough to get started.
Now, let’s dive into the products.
1. BaoFeng BF-F8HP (UV-5R 3rd Gen) 8-Watt Dual Band Two-Way Radio (136-174MHz VHF & 400-520MHz UHF) Includes Full Kit with Large Battery
Our first product in this handheld ham radio reviews is the BaoFeng BF-F8HP. The BaoFeng BF-F8HP is an 8-watt dual band two-way radio. Apparently, it comes with a full kit and a battery, which certainly makes the BF-F8HP a decent choice to get started.
In case you are wondering about the features, then we would like to start off with build quality. The BF-F8HP features a better durable shell than its predecessor. Moreover, the casing feels more durable in the hand and does feel a bit premium.
Along with an improved chipset, the BF-F8HP lets you chose between 3-power levels (1-watt, 4-watt, 8-watt). Also, you get a 2000-MAh battery which will probably offer around 25-30% more battery life depending on your workload.
Apart from the high gain V-85 antenna, you are getting the new concierge service, which allows better usability. In fact, the included user manual helps you a lot to get the in-depth experience you are looking for.
Finally, the updated firmware and backward compatibility options will obviously enhance the overall userexperience. But you should keep in mind that the firmware and concierge services may be limited to selected models.
2. Baofeng Black UV-5R V2+ Plus (USA Warranty) Dual-Band 136-174/400-480 MHz FM Ham Two-way Radio
Our next contender for the best ham radio for beginners is also from Baofeng. The UV-5R V2+ packs a lot of features when it comes to amateur radios. In fact, it’s right there with the top players featuring the best handheld ham radio for beginners.
So, what’s new about this ham radio? First of all, the upgraded metallic build-quality is worthy of praise. Also, the user manual offers an extensive and in-depth discussion about what you can expect from this device.
Then you have the firmware and software upgrades, which are right in line with some of the premium models out there. The power output is close to 8- watt, which should be plenty for a novice. Moreover, the overall usability is good.
Another feature to mention here is the frequency coverage. For a newbie, the 480 MHz frequency range should be more than enough. Also, the battery capabilities are great, once you get the recommended batteries with extended power.
Finally, the two-way UV-5R V2+ comes in a variety of colors. Moreover, you have a good number of included accessories, which would probably be enough for you.
3. BaoFeng UV-5R Dual Band Two Way Radio (Black)
When it comes to the best beginner ham radio setup, BaoFeng clearly has a lot to offer. In fact, in case of handheld radios, the UV-5R from Baofeng does live up to the promise.
In case of features, the UV-5R does make some good promises. At first, this handheld transceiver offers two power modes, Low (1-watt) and High (4-watt). Variable power modes are always welcome, especially when it comes to such a rugged casing.
The UV-5R has a frequency range of 136-174 MHz and 400-480 MHz, which is probably not bad for a novice level device. Apart from the usual, the overall usability is decent.
Then you have the option to change your channel name to this device. Using the PCO3 FTDI, you can easily achieve this, which makes this radio a smart choice.
This dual-band, the dual-display device does have a good battery. A 1500-MAh is probably enough for a beginner. But in case of heavy usage, you may want to stay away from this radio.
Finally, the auto keypad lock feature is a convenient feature to appreciate. In a nutshell, this dual-standby device has a lot to offer.
4. BaoFeng Walkie Talkie UV-5R Dual Band Two Way Radio with one more 1800mAh UV5R Battery one Car Charge one Hand Mic. and one TIDRADIO NA-771 Antenna ham radio
Our 4th contender is also from Baofeng. As you may have already noticed, we have several products featuring the Baofeng brand. What it really shows is the overall reliability that the brand has to offer.
The UV-5R is a dual-band, two-way walkie-talkie that probably comes with some intriguing features. As always, the build quality is on point. Also, the software does serve you well enough. As a beginner, you may want to have a closer look at the product because of the overall usability.
One particular feature that we would want to mention at first, is that it comes with an additional battery. So, you would probably be fine with one battery in the charging dock and the other one in operation.
The frequency range is also worth mentioning in this ham radio. In fact, the maximum sending and receiving frequency of 480 MHz is probably enough to get the job done.
Another feature to mention here is the long TIDRADIO NA-771 antenna which comes in handy in case of long-range communications. Also, the keypad is easy to use and does help while programming your radio. Furthermore, it is one of the best budget options so far.
5. TYT TH-9800 Quad Band 50W Cross-Band Mobile Car Ham Radio Black
The TYT TH-9800 is our 5th contender for the best beginner ham radio setup. So far, we have come across some dual-band radios. Also, the power consumption and battery backup were a bit on the lower side.
But the TH-9800 is a quad-band 50-watt radio that offers a good amount of breathing room for intermediate users. So, if you’ve had some experience with some entry-level ham radios, then you may want to check it out.
First of all, the twin-display quad-band radio features a twin display. The build quality is ok, but the Crossband receiver mode makes it standout. Also, the 800 alphanumeric memory channels make it a more appealing product.
Among some of the obvious features that you may find is the twin volume receive and the volume/squelch controls. Also, you can tune the radio at multiple levels. Moreover, the inclusion of a full keypad microphone is an added bonus.
Among the accessories, you are getting a 12V DC power cable, mounting bracket and SO-239 antenna connector on the radio. Moreover, the built-in fan helps keep everything cool inside.
6. Baofeng Walkie Talkie UV-5R5 5W Dual-Band Two-Way Ham Radio Transceiver
Our 6th contender, to no one’s surprise, is again from the makers at Baofeng. The UV-5R5 is one of the best ham radiowhich is currently available.
The feature set is intriguing. For this reason, a newbie should probably have a better look at this product.
First of all, let’s get the basics out of the way. The walkie-talkie has a rugged, appealing design. The ergonomics on this device is worthy of some praise as well. So, no problems in the design department whatsoever.
But wait, there’s more. The antenna of the radio is highly capable of reaching good distances.This small formfactor device is effective up to 5-kilometers, which is convenient. Moreover, the device is capable of setting a wide range of frequencies.
Finally, this dual band, the dual display device is capable of handling 128 channels, which is more than enough for the average consumer. Also, the 12-hour rechargeable battery should serve you just fine.
7. BaoFeng walkie talkie UV-82 8w High Power Dual Band Radio: 136-174mhz (VHF) 400-520mhz (UHF) Amateur (Ham radio) Portable Two-Way radio
Coming in at number 7, we have the UV-82 from Baofeng. Now, this radio made its way into our list because of the features it has to offer, which are not bad at all.
Now in terms of the overall performance, it is somewhat similar to the UV-5R. From the overall build quality to the operating ease, there are some similarities. In fact, it does come with two batteries, which makes your job a lot easier while operating with the device.
But what’s changed here is the frequency. The UV-5R is capable of reaching 136-174 MHz and 400-500 MHz, which frankly, is not that big of a performance jump.
In the end, it can still store 128 group channels. The display function can either be set up by the keypad or programmed by your computer. Also, this dual band, dual channel radio is capable of reaching longer ranges with the long TIDRADIO NA-771 antenna.
8. TALKCOOP KT-8900 25/20W UHF VHF Mobile radio 136-174/400-480MHz Mini Car Radio Amateur Radio
Coming in at number 8, we have the KT-8900 from TALKCOOP. TALKCOOP has been on the market for sometime now. In fact, for the last few years, they have been focusing on creating radios for novice and intermediate users.
The KT-8900 can work in both high(25-watt) and low power(20-watt) modes. Also, it offers a good amount of communication space. The frequency range for this radio is 136-174 MHz for VHF and 400-480 MHz for UHF. So, this ham radio has the basics covered.
But the key features of this device are just right for the price range. It can store 200 channels. You do have the option to change the channel names.
Then you have the Push-to-Talk identification, which is probably something for the intermediate users. Furthermore, remote stun/ kill options are available. Moreover, the FM radio and Auto lock features make this device really appealing.
9. BaoFeng UV-82HP High Power Dual Band Radio: 136-174mhz (VHF) 400-520mhz (UHF) Amateur (Ham) Portable Two-Way
Our 9th contender for the best beginner hand radio setupis the UV-82HP from Baofeng. This portable two-way radio does have some cool features which will offer a good amount of usability for our novice readers.
As always, Baofeng products never come with mediocre designs. So, no worries there. Also, something to notice here is that the product comes with 3-operating modes: High(7-watt), Medium(5-watt), Low(1-watt). Moreover, the dual push-to-talk button comes in handy in many cases.
As always, the software and hardware on this radio are user-friendly. They both come upgraded. So, you get the latest experience out of the box. Also, the frequency range is decent.
Finally, the radio quality is immaculate in terms of usability. As a matter of fact, this handheld dual channel unit is a nice choice for beginners and intermediate users.
10. Baofeng 2-Pack UV-5R V2+ *UV-5R V2+ Plus* Dual-Band 136-174/400-480 MHz FM Ham Two-way Radio
The UV-5R V2 Plus is our 10th contender on this review list. It is probably worth mentioning that it is the big brother of the UV-5R V2. So, it comes with all the regular features. But they have an evolved state and offer better performance.
First of all, the design is compact and rugged. The device has the usual frequency range like its little brother. So, in terms of usability, there should be no problems. Also, the latest dual display will make your experience a lot better.
Then you have the in-depth user manual that most manufacturers tend not to include with the product. But Baofeng is different. So, they include all the necessary details, along with the latest software and firmware upgrades.
Finally, the radio is compatible with UV-5R 3800mah and 3600mah extended battery packs. So, the radio should probably give you a nice amount of uptime.
How to use a ham radio?
Using a ham radio is fairly simple. In fact, anyone with a bit of common sense can get right into it.
Now there are some certain steps you need to follow before you get to use your ham radio. Don’t worry, we will try and help you to get through each and every step to the best of our knowledge.
Now, these steps are not only for beginners. In fact, they will help you down the road as you progress with your hobby.
1. Getting a license
This part is fairly easy. In fact, you probably won’t have to spend a lot of time getting acquainted with the all the stuff you need to know.
There are a lot of usable material out there that you can get your hands on. In fact, you are at liberty to choose whichever type of material you feel comfortable with.
Now there are different types of licensing. Apparently, each one comes with its own privileges.
For example, the licensing required for Technician-grade will allow you to transmit only about a hundred watts. But with a General-grade license, you can get access to higher frequencies and use up to 1500-watts. But if you want a bit more, you may want to get the Extra-grade license.
2. Getting the right equipment
If you don’t have the right equipment, it is probably safe to say that you don’t have the best ham radio. So, before getting started, you may want to get your hands on the right equipment.
The things you will need will probably include a transceiver, a power supply, an antenna, an antenna tuner and a microphone key.
You may need these equipment’s if you plan on having something a permanent. But as a novice, and we would recommend it that you go with a handheld option.
QSO basically means that your word on the ham radio will get a response from another amateur radio within your designated area.
In order to get a response, you may want to choose the correct frequency (something close to 1:1). Then you check whether or not the frequency is in use.
Now, we are not going to be talking in depth about this part. However, you may find more in our upcoming contents.
4. Logging your contact
Once you’ve made contact, you may want to log in your contact. It is possible both manually and online. But we prefer you do it online.
Now that you’ve logged in your contact, you may want to send a QSL card to someone you’ve made contact with. It will confirm that you’ve made contact with that person. It is better to do it online which shouldn’t take a lot of your time.
Finding the best ham radio for beginners is always a hassle. And if you have no idea what you are doing, then you should probably read what we have to say first.
Throughout the review, we have tried to give an in-depth insight into each product. Also, we have tried to make some points on how to by a ham radio and the process that will allow you to use it.
In the end, our only hope is that you would not make any rash decisions and keep alladvice in check. We hope you find what you’re looking for.