Love it or hate it, the Baofeng UV-5R has become the de-facto prepper-standard radio, and really for one reason alone- its low cost. Ranging between $25-35 in most online outlets, the Chinese have essentially cornered the market for getting on the air locally, cheap. And there’s a lot of advantages to having inexpensive equipment to outfit a homestead, small team, or even a region with those basic dual bander radios. As we cover in the RTO Basic Course, you’re creating infrastructure where there might be none. With that said the Baofeng leaves a lot to be desired. You are not getting a quality piece of equipment for its cost and for some that’s not a problem- they don’t expect to. But recently there’s been another brand to hit the market, Quansheng’s UV-R50, competitively priced at $25, and after having a pair in hand for a bit now I think they offer an improvement over the old UV-5R for the needs of most folks.
Quansheng is a brand that might sound familiar to long time followers of mine; the mostly-unknown TG-UV2 has been frequently pictured in use and is the standard radio around the Scout homestead. It’s much more durable than the Baofeng while having the same two prong Kenwood connection. Receiver quality is excellent and on par with my Yaesu VX-6R with plenty of signal rejection and no birdies that I’ve been able to find over three years of use. The manual programing scheme is reminiscent of Icom and is pretty simple to operate. There’s no menus, only simple button combinations. Hot weather, cold weather, wet weather, its performed fine. But the downside is twofold- cost, at ~$80 each, and the programing software, which is proprietary. Despite the radio being on the market for nearly a decade, the developers behind Chirp never seemed to get around to this one. And while its not the end of the world, having Chirp compatibility is a big advantage in the Baofeng column. And I can’t confirm that the model has been discontinued, but the numbers of them showing up on Ebay are dwindling along with the open-source software being pulled from Quansheng’s site- not good signs.
I got asked in several emails and during class about a new radio Quansheng brought to the US market. At $25 it can’t be worse than the UV-5R, so I picked up a couple for T&E and I must say, I’m presently surprised at the cost / quality ratio. While I was expecting a rebadged Baofeng chipset in another molded plastic case, its got a few advantages over its similarly priced competitor. And make no mistake, that IS what this is, a rebadged Baofeng, but with some significant improvements.
The first noticeable change over the Baofeng is build quality. The little radio is slightly heavier in the hand and made of higher impact plastic. Whether it is or not is anyone’s guess, but having a more sturdy feel is certainly welcome. Removing the battery I noticed an orange rubber gasket, and there’s a thin membrane inside the radio. I highly doubt its enough to claim any sort of water proofing, however it’s better than nothing. Another advantage is with the screen itself- the LCD is recessed into the body of the radio unlike the original UV-5R, which means it works a bit better in cold weather. As many preppers up north have come to find out, the screen on the Baofeng has a tendency to freeze.
Above all else, the performance exceeds what I’ve seen out of even the recent firmware versions of Baofeng. A common problem with all of those is signal rejection. If there’s traffic on nearby frequencies or a higher electrical noise environment, the UV-5R leaves a lot to be desired due to its nearly non-existent filtering. Users know this from the radios breaking squelch when there’s no radio traffic. The Quansheng, at least in my completely unscientific tests, doesn’t suffer from any of these issues. Using them side by side there’s a noticeable difference in reception quality and that unwanted signal rejection. For $25, not bad.
One of the most useful features of this radio is not even advertised- it monitors both frequencies (or channels) on the display simultaneously (aka dual watch). Other inexpensive Chinese radios do this too, but its either an option in the menus or its somewhat useless due to poor filtering. This is not a problem with the UV-R50. What this means to the end user is that in a tactical environment, you could set up several to have a transmit (TX) frequency on top and receive (RX) on the bottom, so that bubba trying to eavesdrop would only hear one half of the traffic. It’s a manual way to have a cross-band repeating feature and a technique we practice along with a few others in the Advanced RTO Course. Again, at its cost, its offering a lot.
The radio is not without some drawbacks. While a different brand, it apparently uses the Baofeng firmware architecture, it is not yet Chirp compatible. I doubt it’ll be long though. And with that architecture comes the familiar Baofeng layout- which may be a good or bad thing depending on your own preferences. But what I will note is that if you & yours have been using them for a while, the controls and menu will be the exact same. You’re still not getting the greatest build quality in the world, and even though I think it’s a step up from its peers considering the cost, it’s not what I’d call ultra-rugged. But…you shouldn’t expect it to be.
Quansheng is really shining with this one. I haven’t seen a lot about it, but it has all of the advantages of Baofeng and represents a step forward in bang for the buck. It does all the same things, uses all the same connections and accessories and looks like, so far, it does it better. With improved filtering and build quality it offers the strengths that many argue in favor of the UV-5R while gaining quite a bit, but keeping the same price range. If you’re just now starting out or looking to improve your current equipment but still can’t justify spending on the major brands, the UV-R50 might be for you. I plan on picking up a few more, just in case.
Looking for training in off-grid and tactical communications? Wanna know the practical application for all this stuff in the real world? I can help you out. March 23-24 in NC, June 15-16 in Montana. Got a lot of other good courses up also, ranging from wilderness survival to small unit tactics, intelligence gathering and combat tracking. Contact me for details.