The term “Ham” radio is actually slang for amateur radio. It originated in the 19th century when telegraph operators who were new or did not do a good job were termed “ham-fisted,” and thus the “amateur” ham was born.
[toc] Today Hams are people who communicate through the use of a radio device and it is not limited to age, sex, race, occupation or anything. Hams can be teenagers and CEOs, they can be janitors and professors. The only connection between these “hams” is the use of a radio to communicate.
The main reasons why people choose to become radio enthusiasts (or Hams) include:
- Radio and communication technology attracts a lot of followers.
- You have unlimited access to anyone around the world.
- You can be involved in the community especially during emergency situations.
Amateur radio, although sound “amateur” is anything but amateur. It is a hobby filled with radio enthusiasts who can compete with the best professionals. Apart from the diverse capabilities found in the two million hams, there is also a number of regulating organizations, both national and international.
Being an amateur radio user requires you to conform to some requirements and obtain a license to operate a radio for ham use.
Amateur radios use frequencies to communicate, and frequencies are governed by regulatory bodies. Each country regulates frequencies differently, however, there are some internationally recognized standards and conditions. In the US, the radio frequency allocation is regulated by the NTA national telecommunications authorities, and globally it is coordinated by the ITU the International Telecommunication Union.
Amateur radio users and clubs can communicate using specific ranges, which are given out per license. The list of frequencies is called a band allocation and is set by the regulator. The modes of allocation are called a bandplan. The bandplan is usually determined by the individual amateur radio users and clubs between themselves.
Apart from the 220MHZ and 440MHz bands, you will be open to using the two-meter ham band for emergency communications as well as dual-bands that allow you to monitor two different bands simultaneously. There is also general coverage, this allows you to monitor AM, FM, and TV frequencies (just like a radio or TV). Advanced users will be able to access SSB and CW for Morse code.
The International Telecommunication Union through the radio regulations works in collaboration together with governments to regulate technical and operational characteristics of transmissions. The ITU and governments issue individual stations licenses with an identifying call sign
Under the ITU and government regulators sits the International Amateur Radio Union (IARU), which is the governing body for amateur radio operators. The IARU is organized into three areas, and the number of registered hams is around 2 million. This is split up between around 400,000 hams in region 1, which is Europe, the Middle East, CIS and Africa. There are around 830,000 hams in region 2 which is the Americas, and there are around 750,000 users in region 3, which is all of Asia, Australasia, and the Pacific Islands.
More on this subject in detail at Wikipedia.
There are three types of licenses available:
The Technician License
This is the beginner’s license, and it is based on a thirty-five-question quiz. After you have successfully answered the questions, you will be allowed to communicate over the 30 Megahertz frequencies and some HF bands too. A technician license will allow you to communicate locally and perhaps nationally.
The General License
After obtaining the mandatory technician license, to obtain the second level license called a general license, you will need to pass another thirty-five-question quiz. This license expands your reach, and you can start to communicate on international frequencies.
The Amateur Extra License.
This is the coveted Ham license that is most sought after. This can be reached after obtaining the general license and then passing another quiz of fifty questions. This license provides the user with access to all regulated bands and modes.
The quizzes include the basic concepts of electronics, radio equipment, antennas, radio propagation, RF safety, and the radio regulations of the government granting the license. If a group of hams wants to operate a club, then one individual with an amateur extra license must make the request.
All hams have a call sign, this is a mandatory requirement and comes with the license. The call name identifies which nation the caller comes from, which station they work from. In some instances, there are “vanity” call signs that users can request, and they are given so long as they conform to the call sign regulations.
Call signs have been allocated by the ITU and have been in a formal way for identifying users since 1927. Prefixes are assigned internationally, and the additional numbers and suffix are allocated by the national body where the user is licensed.
More on this subject in Wikipedia.
A transceiver is a transmitter and receiver in one body. It is rare to find separate units and all hand-held unit’s rate transceivers. The handheld models are usually limited to five watts of power. Some models will come with a higher power setting, so make sure you have a low and high-power switch in such a unit.
Most models come with a number of memory slots. If you are using your model for international uses, make sure you have enough memory slots, this should typically be over 100. Another feature you will want is a backlit display. Many users operate at night, and you will want to see the frequencies you are operating on. You might want a light toggle to turn on and off the backlight based on usage needs.
Newer models have USB cable access to PCs. These are the more advanced models and are very useful. I suggest you buy a model that has this option for better software control.
More on Ham Radio at Wikipedia.
Now that I have presented the case of Ham Radio let’s take a look at the best mobile ham transceivers that are suitable for all types of operators, from newbie amateurs to professional, experienced users. I do not give all the functions and features of each device since there are really a lot, and the user manual covers it all. I do give you the basic overview and a personal take on each model.
As a veteran hammer, (not Thor’s) I assure you that only the best models are covered here. There are many more models out there, and manufacturers constantly update old ones with new ones. This is like the mobile tech market, you get a new model once every six months, so keep reading up on this review article as I update from time to time. Currently, these are the your best choices.
The BaoFeng BF-F8HP is a versatile mobile ham radio that comes with 3 power levels; 1, 4 and 8 watts. It has a large 2000mAh battery unit and comes with a High Gain V-85 Antenna. This unit has accessory compatibility with all BaoFeng BF-F8HP and accessories.
This unit supports all amateur frequencies as well as narrowband 12.5kHz and Wideband 25kHz.
The BF-F8HP is semi-duplex since it can monitor two channels even though it only has one receiver. The BaoFeng BF-F8HP will monitor two different bands and provide priority to the first station that receives an incoming message.
The BaoFeng BF-F8HP allows you to listen to FM while maintaining radio frequency monitoring. The unit supports all CTCSS, DCS, and DTMF calling methods and supports most analog tones. This unit also sends DTMF tones and comes with an internal VOX function that enables a hands-free usage.
You can program the BF-F8HP with its 128 programmable channels. You can use the software package to add or remove channels from scanning list.
The BaoFeng BF-F8HP comes with a new 76-page user’s guide which makes learning how to use it much easier.
My take: This is a great starter model.
This is Yaesu’s 144/430 MHz 5-Watt FM Hand-held unit that first appeared on the scene in 2004. The FT-60R is a successful model and is still in demand. The fact that the Yaesu FT-60R is still in use is a testament to how advanced and durable is this model.
The Yaesu FT-60R provides a wide RX range, which is one of its great selling points. This unit receives from 108 MHz all the way up to 999.99 MHz. It allows you to eavesdrop on AM in the 125-127 MHz range which is reserved for traffic cops and airplane communications.
This model comes with a battery clip, volume control with analog potentiometers and a squelch dial as well as an individual up and down button on the keypad. There is one interesting feature that you need to take note of when the unit is plugged into the wall adapter — you will not be able to transmit since the wall adapter only gives 500 mA, and transmission requires 1.5A.
The Yaesu FT-60R comes with an amber backlight that can be set to three different modes; Key, Toggle, and 5Sec. This model comes with 1,000 memory channels and 10 memory banks. It allows you to assign as many channels to any individual bank as you might require.
My Take: This is a versatile model for experienced users.
Here is operators manual PDF.
Tytera MD-380 is a TDMA (Time Division Multi Access) handheld unit that operates in all the usual bands and modes as well as providing access to 12.5 kHz and 25 kHz. It has a 1 or 4-watt power selector and transmits over UHF 400 – 480 MHz. The unit has a tri-colored LED which shows Green when receiving, Orange when scanning and Red when transmitting. It also sports backlit DTMF keys.
The Tytera MD-380 comes with a 7.4V 2000 mAh Li-ion battery and 2 SMA type antennas. There are is a software package and programming cable to connect the unit to a PC or Laptop.
My take: This is a great starter unit, and if you are a new ham enthusiast or know someone that wants a starter unit, this would be a safe bet.
The Yaesu VX-6R offers a waterproof triple band 2M, 220 & 440 MHz. This unit can be submerged to 3 ft for 30 minutes. The VX-6R gives a wide receiver cellular blocked coverage at 504 kHz to 998.99 MHz. The power range is 5 Watts on the 144 and 430 MHz bands and 1.5 W on the 222 MHz band. The unit comes with 900 channels and 24 memory banks for channel allocation.
The Yaesu VX-6R comes with a compact 1500 mAh Lithium-Ion battery pack, and includes some interesting features, such as the new Emergency Automatic ID system (EAI), this is an especially useful feature as it automatically sets the unit to transmit your callsign and opens the microphone when you are disabled and cannot reach to press the PTT switch.
Another interesting feature is the (EPCS) Enhanced Paging and Code Squelch. This allows you to page and receive calls from a specific station that you set. Another great function is a ten memory one-touch memory recall button (just like a car radio system).
The VX-6R is especially compact, coming in at 2.3” x 3.5” x 1.1” and weighs a mere 9.45 oz. Yet, as it is so small, the design features oversized volume and squelch knobs for easy operation even while you are wearing gloves.
This unit comes with so many features and functions that you have to read the manual to fully assess its potential. This is a must by for any serious ham radio operator.
My take: This is a model for a more experienced user.
Here is operators manual PDF.
The Kenwood TH-D74A is a triband unit operating on 144/220/430 MHz. This unit comes with a built-in GPS, and Bluetooth support is D-Star compatible and provides APRS support. It comes with a built-in micro USB port as well as a microSD/SDHC slot.
The TFT display is color trans-reflective and provides excellent daytime and nighttime screen view. The Kenwood TH-D74A provides both voice and data modes and covers local and international bands using both simplex and diverse operation, single repeater relay inter-repeater gateway communications.
My take: This is a fine model for every level from leading brand Kenwood and provides the latest software GUI for easy to read pop-ups.
Here is support PDF.
6. Yaesu FT2DR C4FM 144/430 MHz Dual Band Digital Handheld Transceiver with 1.7″ Touch Screen Display
Another fine Yaesu model, the FT2DR is a tightly packed unit sporting a 1.7” hi-res screen with backlit display. This unit comes with great audio of 700 mW, a built-in GPS providing amazing sensitivity with 66 ch. The FT2DR gives you 1200 bps / 9600 bps APRS® function, as well as multiple dual watch and dual monitor matrix, features. This is an IPX5 water resistant model that includes the Yaesu standard Logging and Recording. The unit has a microSD Card Slot, and a 2200mAh Li-Ion battery.
The dual monitor is both analog and C4FM. giving you V+V, U+U, V+U. Since the unit’s audio is 700mW, you can use it in crowded or noisy environments. It operates in three digital modes and one traditional analog mode.
The Yaesu FT2DR gives you coverage for band ranges 500kHz to 999.990MHz, it also provides shortwave continuous reception, FM/AM broadcasts and analog TV stations. You can also get audio aircraft and public service channels; however, the unit is cellular blocked as expected.
My take: This is one model that I usually rave about and know that most serious operators like to have one of these strong units by their side at all times.
The Icom ID-51A PLUS 2 is a nifty, fashionable unit that provides D-Star HT. This unit covers 2 meters and 440 MHz and can receive two bands simultaneously, which are V/V, U/U, V/U. The Icom ID-51A PLUS 2 model comes with four power mode; 5W, 2.5W, 1.0W, 0.5W and 0.1 Watts. It is IPX7 waterproof and has an accurate built-in GPS.
What I like about this unit is its large dot matrix display, 128×104, and the 1,304 channels. The unit comes with a Micro SD card slot, and a built-in analog FM encode/decode CTCSS/DTCS. It also offers a voice recorder that records incoming and outgoing calls and has the standard AM/FM broadcasting receiver.
The Icom ID-51A PLUS 2 comes with many features and can be bought in five different colors, which shows that even the “fashion” detail has not been forgotten. This model sports a BP-271 Li-ion 7.4V 1150 mAh battery, comes with an SMA flexible antenna and comes with its own CS-51 Programming Software CD.
My take: This is a great buy for anyone that wants a steady, sturdy, highly visible and colorful unit.
The Vetomile V2017 is a TDMA unit that works with ETSI TS 102 361-1, -2, -3 digital protocol, and is compatible with Mototrbo Tier I & II. This unit works within the VHF 136-174MHZ and UHF 400-480MHz ranges and has both digital and analog modes. It includes a dual wait and standby as well as a dual repeater slot.
Vetomile V2017 includes a GPS and emergency call system.
My take: This is a great starter model, or as an additional unit.
The Wouxun KG-UVD1P/440 dual-band model provides two power levels, 5W 2 meter, and 4W 440MHz system. This model includes 128 alphanumeric memories with scanning and also gives 6 multi-frequency steps that are 5, 6.25, 10, 25, 50, 100 kHz.
The Wouxun KG-UVD1P provides you with 50 groups CTCSS, 105 groups DCS and a Digital and Analog CTCSS/DCS Scan. The tone is set at 1750Hz, and provides a DTMF encode, high-low power option as well as receiving on 25kHz/12.5kHz. This unit also receives FM on 76-108 MHz.
My take: This is a sturdy model, useful for everyday use in the hands of beginners and operators that aren’t seeking too many frills.
The Wouxun KG-UV2D is a great simple HT model that provides solid service to mainstream users. This unit has 3 different versions that all use the same model ID. The 2-meter models have a 136 MHz to 170 MHz range. While other models go from 216-280 MHz covering the 1.25 which is the 220 version. The 440 version operates on 70cm with ranges from 350-470 MHz, and 420-520 MHz
My take: This is a good quality radio and is useful in any situation. It’s a great little unit to bring with you to any hamfest. It is simple but can compete with most models due to its small compact yet versatile nature.
The Alinco DJ-V47T is the 440 MHz band model and transmits over the 420-450 MHz range and receives over the 420-460 MHz range. The units power output includes a 5W option using the external 13.8 VDC, a 4.5W high power battery option and a 0.8W low power setting option.
This unit is IPX7 waterproof rated. In fact, the Alinco DJ-V47T is designed for rugged use. It can withstand being submerged up to 3 feet in water for half an hour and has 200 memories. The unit has 7 tuning steps, that are: 5, 10, 12.5, 15, 20, 25 and 30 kHz, a backlit panel and a 500mW audio amplifier that gives a real kick, so you can use it in loud places too.
The DJ-V17T comes with an EBP-65 Ni-MH battery and EA-0141 SMA flexible antenna. This is a tight little model; its dimensions are 2.28” x 3.78” x 0.57”.
My take: This is sturdy model good for all levels.
Here is a Manual PDF.
The Kenwood TH-D72A is another small triumph from brand leaders Kenwood. This one comes with their high-performance SiRFstar III™ GPS receiver and is an APRS® compatible dual-band transceiver. This is a TNC compliant AX.25 protocol at 1200/9600 bps
The SiRFstar III™ GPS receiver can store up to 5 target points and will provide accurate real-time data on all stored points. You can store up to 5,000 tracked data points in the internal memory. This unit connects directly to your laptop or PC via the USB cable provided with the unit.
As expected this model is a robust waterproof and dust proof IP54 compliant model that has US MIL-STD810 (military specification) compliance with humidity, rain, vibration, and shock. Since it is a Kenwood unit, you get the Sky Command System II system that gives you access to designated HF radios from any remote location.
My take: If you are seeking a great unit for trekking and exploring, this is the one to take with you. It will not fail you, so long as you respect it and keep it powered up.
The Vitai VT-UV2 is a versatile and compact unit that provides access to 136-174MHz/350-390MHz/ 400-470M/480-520MHz ranges. It has 128 storage channels and a 5W power output. The talk range is limited to between 5 to 10 KM.
This unit gives you six channel steps: 5, 6.25, 10, 12.5 and 25KHz. It has 50 CTCSS groups and 105 DCS groups. It also comes with an FM radio receiver as well as a DTMF signaling system.
The Vitai VT-UV2 dimensions are 10.5” x 5.8” x 3.8” and weighs only 260g.
My take: Another great model from Vitai, best reserved for beginners or local users.
The Uniden Bearcat BC-246T comes with their TrunkTracking III technology that supports LTR Analog and Motorola, EDACS Trunking. As expected from Uniden, this model also provides some interesting new features including their proprietary Close Call™ RF Capture Technology. You can program up to 2,500 channels in any configuration and comes with a system banking feature, which means you can program and scan over 2000 systems simultaneously.
Another special Bearcat feature includes the Close Call™ RF Capture Technology which allows you to tune into any transmission even when you are operating in other modes, searching, scanning, or holding on a frequency. This model comes with great frequency coverage and includes VHF low, VHF High, VHF Air, UHF, 800 MHz Public Service and 1.24-1.3 GHz bands.
The Uniden BC-246T is compact, its dimensions are 4½” x 2¾” x 1¼”., and it comes with two NiMH AA batteries and a very informative user’s manual.
My take: its not called a bearcat for no reason, this sturdy beast is a great unit for any professional.
15. HYS 10W GPS Handheld Ham Radio 136-174Mhz&400-520 Mhz Long Distance Walkie Talkie 7.4V 4500Mah Transceiver
The HYS 10W is a GPS radio unit that has varied output powers for different modes, these include 10W, 5W VHF High, 1W VHF Low and 8W,5W UHF High and ,1W UHF Low. The unit provides 7 scanning steps that are 5KHz, 6.25Khz, 10Khz, 12.5Khz, 25Khz, 50Khz, and 100Khz.
The HYS 10W provides both F2D and F3E work modes and provides duplex, GPS and night mode. These models dimensions are 133.5mm x 57.5mm x 40mm, and it has 999 channel memories. The HYS 10W provides access to 12.5 kHz and 25 kHz channels and has both English and Chinese voice prompts. It also comes with a single tone pulse frequency including 2100Hz, 1750Hz, 1000Hz, 1450Hz.
My take: this is a great starter unit, and can also be used for great local access needs.
The BaoFeng UV-82HP is a 3-power model providing 1, 5 and 7W. The VFO/MR modes are software lockable. It also provides a software synchronized dual push to talk switch and comes with an 80-page comprehensive operators manual.
This unit comes with selectable tone bursts that include 1000hz, 1450hz, 1750hz, 2100hz. The 7W output mode gives this unit that extra punch we sometimes look for.
The dual PTT is a great advance in HT since it enables you to transmit over two frequencies via the PTT switch rocker. You basically push the switch up to transmit over one frequency and push the button down to transmit on another frequency. This is a great feature when dealing with emergency situations.
This is a semi-duplex model that works with one receiver, but allows you to monitor two channels, although the system will give priority to receiving incoming calls. The UV-82HP gives you FM radio broadcasting while monitoring and the unit support CTCSS, DCS, and DTMF. The UV-82HP will let you send DTMF tones, which gives you the ability to send ANI or remote commands that need DTMF tones.
This unit comes with 128 programmable channels, and you can operate it with the software provided, it also has an internal VOX.
My take: this is a great multi-purpose unit, versatile and easy to operate for any level.
The Bitech UV-5X3 is a whole new model. This is a tri-band model that supports VHF, 1.25M and UHF. It provides D-ANI and synchronized displays as well as audio gain level adjustment for the DTMF. This is an advanced 220 MHz model that provides the traditional VHF and UHF frequencies, as well as the US 222-225 MHz Ham band.
The UV-5X3 frequency range covers VHF 130-176, 222-225, and UHF 400-480 MHz, and supports both wideband and narrowband with 2.5kHz steps. This model also has a neat filtering scheme that gives you full power on every band.
The Bitech UV-5X3 also provides a DTMF gain adjustment that gives an adjustable DTMF audio to the transmitter for both the repeater control and the IRLP access.
This model gives 4 tone bursts that include 1000Hz, 1450Hz, 1750Hz, and 2000Hz and can be accessed by pressing the PTT together with a pre-allocated keypad key. The receiver can also identify a repeater tone being transmitted by a raced signal.
The unit comes with two antennas, and includes the standard A-V85 antenna, and a longer 220MHz band antenna. One antenna is a VHF / UHF 6 5/8″ A-V85 and the second antenna is for 220 MHz and is 6 3/4″. You will need to label your antenna since they are very similar in appearance.
The Bitech UV-5X3 comes with three color display options, and these are orange, blue and purple. You can format any of the three-color choices and these are set by alpha tags, frequency or channel number.
Programming is simple, and a manual programming guide is provided, once you get the hang of it, it becomes really fast and easy to remember.
My take: this model is really professional and in the hands of an experienced user will provide great results.