What is the best handheld ham radio?
Although some people see them as outdated, ham radios have actually become more popular over the years. In fact, research has it that there are approximately 3,000,000 licensed ham radio operators across the globe. And as these numbers increase, so does the number of ham radios in the market. So whether you are an experienced ham radio user or a newbie starting as a ham radio operator, we all face the same challenge; finding the best handheld ham radio that is worth every dollar on its price tag.
Well, we went ahead and put together comprehensive reviews of what we believe are the ten best handheld ham radios for both pro and amateur operators. So, let’s dive in, shall we?
Comparison Table – Best Handheld Ham Radios
Top 10 Best Handheld Ham Radios
1. Baofeng BF-F8HP (UV-5R 3rd Gen) 8 Watt-Dual Band Two-way Ham Radio (Most Powerful Ham Radio)
Our top pick, as the most powerful handheld ham radio, is the Baofeng BF-F8HP (UV-5R 3rd Gen) 8 Watt-Dual Band Two-way Radio. The Baofeng company was founded in 2001 and has since been one of the leading manufacturers of high-quality ham radios, and this particular one is no exception.
Launched back in 2014, the Baofeng BF-F8HP is a new and improved version of the Baofeng UV-5R model. It is packed with renovated features that make it better and more suitable for pro and amateur ham radio operators.
This ham radio is made of robust plastic material that is waterproof and dustproof, making it very long-lasting. It weighs about 214g, and measures about 10.5 inches long, 2 inches wide, and 2 inches high, so it’s very lightweight and portable.
The Baofeng BF-F8HP is a dual-band ham radio, meaning that it operates on two frequency capabilities; the Very High Frequency (VHF) and the Ultra High Frequency (UHF). Its VHF ranges between 130 and 176 MHz when programmed while its UHF ranges between 400 and 520 when programmed. By operating on both frequencies, this ham radio works perfectly in both areas that have obstructions like buildings and open areas.
What’s more, with this ham radio, you can comfortably monitor two channels simultaneously, thanks to its Dual watch receiver, better known as semi-duplex. Another feature that, according to most Baofeng BF-F8HP reviews, makes this ham radio stand out is its antenna. The Baofeng BF-F8HP features a very powerful 7-inch V-85 High-gain antenna that effectively captures and transmits frequencies, making it possible to obtain crisp, clear signals.
The radio also features a very high output power of 8 watts with three power settings, including 8 watts for high, 4 watts for medium, and 1 watt for the low power setting. Thanks to its high power output, this radio can cover up to a maximum range of 25 miles depending on the available obstructions. It also comes with a durable 2000mAh battery that is guaranteed to last you for a very long time. What’s more, the medium and low power settings also help in saving battery power. Pretty impressive, right?
But wait, there’s more. The Baofeng BF-F8HP ham radio also allows you to listen to FM radio, thanks to its FM frequency capability that ranges between 65 and 108 MHz. The radio can also accommodate up to 128 radio channels that can be programmed and put to memory. The icing on the cake? You can actually add or delete channels, allowing you to save your favorite ones.
The radio also features a CTSS( Continuous Tone Coded Squelch System) and a DCS( Digital Coded Squelch System) that filter out unwanted transmissions from channels, making them more precise. It also features a tri-color display with selectable orange, purple, and blue colors that makes it possible to see the information on the display regardless of the time of the day.
Although the radio does have a traditional programming software, it also features a CHIRP programming software that allows you to easily program it on Linux, Windows, and Mac.
The manufacturers of the Baofeng BF-F8HP ham radio know too well that not everyone is tech-savvy. That is why they have included a 76-page instructions manual containing a step-by-step guide on how to operate and customize the radio according to your personal preferences.
- It is very affordable.
- It is very easy to operate.
- The radio operates on two frequency capabilities for better performance.
- It features a powerful 7-inch V-85 High-gain antenna that guarantees crisp and clear signals.
- It comes with a durable 2000mAH battery that lasts for a very long time.
- It also features CTSS and DCS systems that lock out unwanted transmissions from channels, making them more precise.
- It also features a very versatile CHIRP programming software.
- It has very high power output.
- It is not water-resistant.
- It does not come with an FTDI programming cable, so you have to purchase one separately to program it on a PC.
2. Kenwood TH-D74A Ham Radio (Premium Pick)
Next up is the Kenwood Original TH-D74A ham radio, which we chose as the best premium handheld ham radio and the second most powerful handheld ham radio. Kenwood company is one of the most reputable companies known for producing ham radios that are guaranteed to take ham radio operation to another level. This one is no exception.
For starters, the Kenwood Original TH-D74A has a very robust but simple design. It’s also very lightweight, so you can easily carry it with you whenever you want to. It is built with high-quality material and has an IP54/55 rating, meaning that it is highly dust and water-resistant. It also features a TFT display that is well organized and uses both backlight and reflective light for optimum visibility even when it’s dark.
The Kenwood Original TH-D74A also features Tri-band functionality that enables it to operate on three frequencies; 144, 220, and 440 MHz for maximum efficiency. Another over-the-top feature of this ham radio is the Automatic Packet Reporting System (APRS). This system allows you to have two-way data transmission with the help of packet communications. In other words, you can send and receive text messages, weather updates, and GPS coordinates. What’s more, it also features a D-star compatibility system that allows you to send text messages, access the internet, and still access call signs.
Although the Kenwood Original TH-D74A does not have a higher power output than the Baofeng BF-F8HP ham radio, it has more power output levels, including; 5watts being the highest, 2watts, 0.5watts, and 0.05watts. It also comes with a durable 1800mAH lithium-ion battery that is guaranteed to last for 15 hours, depending on its usage. Some Kenwood Original TH-D74A reviews recommend that you set it to the lower power output levels, to make the battery last longer.
The Kenwood Original TH-D74A also has a DSP voice processing and recording that plays a critical role in improving its sound quality by enabling you to adjust the sound according to your personal preferences. What’s more, this feature allows for voice recording. However, the manufacturers recommend choosing which band you want to record to prevent the device from capturing all the sounds projected by the speaker. It’s audio is also crisp and clear, so listening to calls is a breeze.
Another remarkable feature of this ham radio is the IF filter that filters out unwanted noises in signals, ensuring that you have crisp and clear reception. It also comes with a GPS and Bluetooth that offers easier programming using the APRS software. What’s more, It also has a micro SD slot that allows you to store a ton of audio recordings, GPS coordinates, to mention a few.
It’s only downside is that most customers have mentioned that it’s pricey. But if you are willing to pay some extra dollars for high-quality ham radio, then this is your perfect choice.
- It is very durable and lightweight.
- It features an APRS software that allows the user to have two-way data transmissions.
- It features a D-star compatibility system.
- It has high levels of water and dust resistance.
- It also features a TFT display that has both backlight and reflective light for excellent visibility.
- It comes with GPS and Bluetooth.
- It features an IF filter.
- It has excellent audio quality.
- It is expensive.
- It is not beginner-friendly.
- Some customers have complained that the instructions in the manual are not clear.
Best Handheld Ham Radio For Survival
Besides being fun and exciting gadgets, ham radios are beneficial communication devices, especially when you are in places where other communication gadgets like cellphones don’t work. Well, we picked the Yaesu FT-60R Dual Band Handheld 5W VHF/UHF Amateur Radio Transceiver as the best handheld ham radio for survival. Apart from being beginner-friendly, the Yaesu FT-60R has specific features that makes it perfect for this category. So, let’s take a look at the features, shall we?
It’s hard not to notice the robustness of this ham radio. Although it does not have high water and dust resistance levels, it is built of high-quality material, making it durable. It also features an LCD Alphanumeric display with lighted keypads, making it easier to operate it even in the dark.
As the name suggests, the Yaesu FT-60R is a dual-band ham radio, meaning it operates on two frequency capabilities, therefore offering comprehensive frequency coverage. The frequencies can cover ranges between 122-148MHz and 430-520MHz, respectively. However, some Yaesu FT-60R reviews have pointed out that it can receive signals at 108-520MHz and 700-900MHz, making it even more suitable for survival. It also has a lock mode that prevents any accidental frequency changes. What’s more, the device also features an Auto-range Transponder System that notifies you when the transceiver is out of communication range.
The Yaesu FT-60R also features 1000 memory channels programming options. This allows you to scan as many channels as you want, and once you discover your favorite ones, the device will enable you to program them in any of the ten memory banks. The ham radio also allows you to save most of your favorite frequencies in the DTMF autodialer, which automatically dials them whenever you want to. It also has impressive audio quality and has a squelch system that filters out any unwanted noises. What’s more, it also has a squelch knob that allows you to adjust it to improve the audio quality.
Another feature that makes this ham radio unique is the Emergency Automatic Identification Feature (EAI). This feature sends out your caller ID when you are about to transmit. It also automatically activates the microphone even when you cannot press the PTT button, making this ham radio very useful, especially during emergencies. It also features an Enhanced Paging and Code Squelch (EPCS) that allows you to page a specific station, so the transceiver receives calls from that station only. This helps block out any unwanted transmissions from interfering with your reception.
Want to get updated with the latest weather forecasts? That is possible, thanks to the NOAA weather channels that give you the newest NOAA weather updates. What’s more, the device also has a one-touch function that grants you instant access to the local weather channel.
Last but not least, the Yaesu FT-60R comes with a 1400 mAH battery that is guaranteed to last for a long time. It also has a tri-power output of 5watts, 2 watts, and 0.5watts that do a great job of improving the gadget’s performance and saving battery power.
- It is very beginner-friendly.
- It is durable.
- Features an Emergency Automatic Identification that is very helpful during emergencies.
- Offers a wide frequency coverage.
- It has 1000 memory channels programming options.
- It has excellent audio quality.
- It is not waterproof.
- Some customers have reported that the antenna is not that efficient.
Best handheld ham radio for beginners
We picked the Baofeng UV-82HP High Power Dual Band Radio as the best handheld radio for beginners. Sure, it’s not a premium ham radio, but it is very easy to use and has fantastic features that makes it perfect for newbies. The Baofeng UV-82HP is the second generation of the UV-82 series, and upgrade from the previous UV-5R model.
Judging by its looks, you will notice that it has a slimmer and sleeker design compared to other Baofeng models. It’s also very durable and lightweight, making it one of the best portable ham radios. It also has a tri-color display that is well organized and easy to see, regardless of the day’s time.
While it is possible to program the Baofeng UV-82HP manually, it also features software that is compatible with CHIRP, making it easier to program the device on a computer, with the help of an appropriate cable.
Like other dual-band ham radios, this device operates on two frequency capabilities ranging between 136-174 MHz and 400-520 MHz. What’s more, it also comes with a V-85 High-gain antenna that perfectly captures and transmits frequencies, making it possible to obtain crystal clear signals. The device also has a semi-duplex feature that enables you to watch two channels simultaneously.
It also comes with a durable, 1800mAH battery that lasts for a very long time. What’s more, the gadget has a very high power output with three power settings, including; 8watts being the highest, 5 watts for medium, and 1watt for low. These power levels, especially the medium and low ones, do an excellent job of saving battery power. Some Baofeng UV-82HP reviews have pointed out the device can cover up to a maximum range of 50 miles while using the maximum power output of 8watts.
Thanks to its fantastic FM Broadcast Capability, the Baofeng UV-82HP can have 128 memory channels programming options. This allows you to add or delete channels from the scanning list. It also has superb audio quality, thanks to it’s one of a kind speaker. This speaker projects audio loud and clear, which is very helpful, especially during windy days. The gadget also has a squelch system that effectively filters out unwanted audio noises, therefore improving its quality.
The gadget also comes with a Push-to-talk button(PTT) that enables you to transmit on two frequencies. All you have to do is push the button up to transmit on the first frequency, and push it down to transmit on the second frequency.
Finally, the Baofeng UV-82HP comes with extra features like the CTSS/DCS and DTMF calling methods, a built-in LED flashlight, to mention a few that makes it the perfect handheld ham radio that it is.
- It is very affordable.
- It has a very easy user interface.
- The radio is compatible with CHIRP programming software.
- It has a fantastic speaker.
- Offers comprehensive frequency coverage.
- Some customers have pointed out that the antenna is prone to interference.
- Its selectivity is low in areas with many radio frequencies.
Best Cheap Handheld Ham Radios
If you’re looking to purchase a high-quality handheld radio without having to break the bank, then you are in the right place. We have reviewed two great ham radios that we guarantee will not disappoint you. First up is the Baofeng UV-5R EX 5W dual band ham radio. According to most Baofeng UV-5R EX reviews, this one is actually the less known version of the UV-5R generation. While it has the same capabilities as other UV-5R models, this particular one has a different look than the typical UV-5R style, not forgetting how affordable it is.
For starters, the Baofeng UV-5R EX has a sleek and stylish design, compared to other ham radios from the UV-5R family. It is very lightweight and comes with a belt clip that makes it portable. It also features a tri-color display that easy to see even when it’s dark, and like most other Baofeng ham radios, this one comes with an LED flashlight.
The Baofeng UV-5R EX operates on two frequency capabilities ranging between 156-174MHz on the VHF and 400-520MHz on the UHF. The gadget also comes with a 5.9-inch antenna that does an impressive job of capturing and transmitting frequencies, providing clear signals. Like most other Baofeng models, this one has 128 pre-programmed channels and a semi-duplex feature that enables you to watch two channels simultaneously.
The Baofeng UV-5R EX ham radio also features a CHIRP programming software that allows you to program it on a computer easily. Another noticeable feature of this ham radio is the VOX (Hands-Free Mode), which enables you to use it even when you are busy with your hands. Its audio quality is impressive, thanks to the auto squelch system that blocks out unwanted noises.
The gadget’s battery is quite impressive. The 1800mAh battery can last up to 48 hours, which is a very long time. The ham radio also has Autopower saving that helps in saving battery power. The ham radio’s highest power output is between 4.9 and 5w, which is very common in other Baofeng models. It also has the FM radio, with a function that allows you to scan for stations or enter the proper frequency of your favorite radio station.
- It is very affordable.
- It has a sleek and modern design.
- The radio is easy to use.
- It is compatible with CHIRP programming software.
- It has excellent audio quality.
- The antenna base is very narrow, so most other antennas cannot be attached to it.
- Some customers have pointed out that other UV-5R batteries are not compatible with this ham radio.
Next up is the Baofeng GT-3TP Mark III Two-way Radio Transceiver. According to most Baofeng GT-3TP Mark III reviews, this ham radio is basically a re-packaged Baofeng BF-F8HP with a sportier look. So, like most other Baofeng ham radios, this one is definitely high-quality, only that it’s cheaper.
The Baofeng GT-3TP Mark III has a fascinating design, compared to most Baofeng models. It’s very lightweight and has a tri-color display with a backlit keyboard that is easy to see, regardless of the day’s time. It operates on two frequency capabilities, ranging between 136-174 on the VHF, and 400-520 on the UHF when programmed. It also features 128 pre-programmed channels and a 28cm antenna that works perfectly in capturing and transmitting frequencies for clear signals.
This device is also compatible with CHIRP programming software for easy programming. What’s more, it compatible with most Baofeng UV-5R programming cables. It also comes with a 3800mAH extended battery that lasts for a long time. Like most other Baofeng ham radios, this one has a maximum power output of 8watts with three power output levels, that do a great job saving the battery power and improving the gadget’s performance. The gadgets openings are covered making it water-resistant and immune to extreme weather conditions like fog.
It’s 0-9 level Auto-Squelch, does a fantastic job at filtering out any unwanted noises, therefore improving the audio’s quality. The Baofeng also comes with extra features like the LED flashlight, VOX (Hands-free mode) feature, to mention a few that make it perfect for a handheld radio that is this cheap.
- It is affordable.
- It has a durable battery.
- The radio has excellent audio quality.
- It is easy to use.
- It comes with CHIRP programming software.
- Some customers have pointed out that it’s charging cradle overheats to the extent of producing smoke while connected.
Best Digital Handheld Ham Radios
It’s no doubt that there are a lot of Digital Mobile Radios out in the market. However, almost none of them can beat the quality and performance of these four DMR radios we have reviewed.
First up is the BTECH DMR-6X Dual Band Two Way Radio. Judging by its looks, you can definitely tell that this is high-quality ham radio. It has that solid feel and a fantastic design that is guaranteed to impress you. The gadget features a 1.77-inch full-color TFT display that perfectly displays all the necessary information for easier visibility. It also has different display color options that are very helpful when using the device during different times of the day. For instance, there is a blue theme that is perfect for daytime, and the black contrast theme prevents you from straining your eyes while using the device at night. The screen also has a display hold feature that enables the details of a received signal to remain on the screen until the next signal is received.
The BTECH DMR-6X operates on VHF and UHF frequencies, ranging between 136-174MHz on VHF, and 400-480MHz on UHF. It has an FM radio capability, so you can listen to the radio whenever you want to. What’s more, it also comes with a 6.25-inch SMA female antenna that works perfectly at capturing and transmitting frequencies.
The device has a large internal memory that can store up to 4000 channels, 10,000 talk groups, and 200,000 contacts. What’s more, the internal memory allows you to enter multiple scan lists per channel. It also has the latest software, making it easy to program it on a computer. And that’s not all. The BTECH DMR-6X comes with two batteries that are 3100mAh and 2100mAh, respectively. The first battery can last for up to 34 hours, while the second one can last for up to 19hours. It also features four power output levels that do a great job of saving battery power. The gadget has excellent audio quality, thanks to the squelch system that blocks out unwanted noises.
Last but not least, the BTECH DMR-6X comes with extra features like the Startup code plug, digital simplex repeater, to name a few that boosts its overall performance.
- It is easy to use.
- It has a large internal memory.
- It features a great display.
- It is waterproof.
- It is expensive.
Choosing the Best handheld Ham Radio – Buying Guide
It’s pretty clear that all these and many other handheld ham radios have amazing features. But just how do you choose the perfect handheld ham radio? While most people mainly focus on the price, choosing a ham radio depends on many other vital factors. So, let’s delve deeper, shall we?
- Overall structure and ruggedness
While in your quest to find the perfect handheld ham radio, it’s essential to pay attention to the ham radio’s overall structure and durability. A high-quality ham radio has an attractive design and can be able to fit in your hand perfectly. It also should be very lightweight and have the appropriate accessories like a belt clip that makes it portable.
Durability is also a very significant factor when choosing a ham radio. A good quality ham radio is built with sturdy materials and can withstand bumps and scratches. Although most people do not put it into consideration, the IP rating of a ham radio is also a significant factor to consider. This is because it defines the level of sealing effectiveness of the device against water, dust, and other foreign materials. If a ham radio’s IP rating is indicated in the description, it is important to look it up and see what the number means. This helps you have a rough idea of how durable it is.
Before purchasing a ham radio, it’s essential to check how it’s programmed. If it is programmed via a computer, ensure that it comes with a programming cable, although some ham radios do not include one in the package, so you have to purchase one. If it is programmed manually, ensure that its keypads are working perfectly. However, most ham operators prefer ham radios that can be programmed both manually and via a computer.
- Memory slots
A good quality ham radio should have an adequate number of memory slots. This is because the more channels you program, the more memory slots you will need.
- Frequency coverage
Frequency coverage plays a vital role in determining the performance of a ham radio. Most people prefer ham radios that operate on both VHF and UHF frequencies. This is because the VHF experiences less interference, so it tends to beat the UHF when it comes to coverage. On the other hand, UHF has excellent bandwidth and better audio quality compared to the VHF. However, keep in mind that the type of license you have determines the range of frequencies you can operate on your device. So it’s essential to know your license restrictions before purchasing a ham radio.
As we have seen in the reviews above, dual-band ham radios tend to perform better since they operate on both VHF and UHF frequencies and allows you to monitor two frequencies simultaneously. It’s also essential to pay attention to the antenna. A good quality antenna can perfectly capture and transmit frequencies, to get a clear signal.
- Audio quality
While choosing a ham radio, it’s essential to go for one that has a high-quality speaker that delivers loud and clear audio regardless of the available distractions. The device should also feature an excellent filter system that filters out unwanted noises.
- Battery life
We all know too well that a battery is the heart and soul of a ham radio. Without it, then the device is as good as useless. That is why when choosing a ham radio, go for one that has a high capacity battery that is guaranteed to last for a long time.
- Power output
Most ham radios have a maximum power output of between 5 and 8 watts. However, when buying a ham radio, it’s essential to choose one with more than one power output level. This allows you to adjust the device to a setting that suits your needs.
Final thoughts on Best Portable Ham Radios
Well, there you have it. With this comprehensive guide, you will be able to make an informed decision on which handheld ham radio suits your needs.