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Best Handheld Ham Radios of 2016

If you’re interested in radio and are looking for a new hobby which can bring you hours of education, socializing and fun, ham radio is well worth getting into. People of all ages talk on ham radio around the globe. Ham radio is portable and you can set it up literally anywhere you can imagine. During times of emergency, it can be incredibly useful and may even save lives.

If you are thinking about buying a ham radio, there are a lot of features you will need to evaluate in order to make the best purchase decision. We have saved you some time by putting together a comparison table for the top ham radios.

Baofeng BF-F8HPBaofeng BF-F8HP
Yaesu FT-60RYaesu FT-60R
Yaesu VX-8DRYaesu VX-8DR
TYT MD-380TYT MD-380
Kenwood TH-D72AKenwood TH-D72A
Icom ID-51A PlusIcom ID-51A Plus

What is a Ham Radio?

“Ham” radio is also known simply as amateur radio, and it is exactly what it sounds like. It is the private noncommercial use of designated radio frequencies. Ham radio can be used for socializing, experimenting with wireless communication, emergency communication, and more.

Ham radio is an incredibly diverse world. If you get into this hobby, you will meet people of all ages and nationalities—colloquially known as “hams.” The 23-year-old plumber down the street might be a ham—but so might the 52-year-old CEO who lives uptown. Her 10-year-old son may also be a ham enthusiast.

Ham radio operators communicate through many different means. While voice is obviously most common, they may also use Morse code, radio teletype, packet, PSK, and even pictures.

Ham Radio Benefits

Why is ham radio exciting? Here are some of the top reasons cited by ham enthusiasts:

  • It is a fascinating hobby if you are interested in radio and communication technology.
  • You can communicate from literally anywhere in the world, even the peak of a mountain or the middle of a desert.
  • Ham radio is incredibly useful during emergencies. Ham radio operators can coordinate rescue and supply missions when other communications fail.
  • You get to join a community of more than two million users around the globe.

Licensing Requirements

Licensing is a requirement for CB radio, but the process has been streamlined over recent years. It is now easier than ever to get involved and progress up the rungs.

There are three types of licenses currently offered:

  • The Technician License. This is the entry-level license. To obtain it, you must pass one examination with 35 questions. You get access to all frequencies over 30 megahertz as well as some HF band privileges. For the most part, you can communicate domestically and locally.
  • The General License. This license requires you pass another 35-question exam, and allows you to take part in international communication. The Technician License is a prerequisite.
  • The Amateur Extra License. You must pass a 50-question exam for this license. It confers all operating privileges on all modes and bands. The General License is a prerequisite.

What Is a Transceiver?

A transceiver is quite simply a transmitter and receiver combined into a single unit. The majority of modern radios fall under this category, including ham radios.

Frequency

The ham radio frequencies you are permitted to use depend on which of the licenses above you have under your belt. Not all radios work with all frequencies, so make sure that you buy one which will offer you the frequencies you want to access.

Power

Most handheld ham radios are limited to around five watts of power; you may find higher-powered options if you choose a base model. If you purchase a handheld, make sure it has high- and low-power settings you can manually adjust as per your needs.

Bands

For emergency communications, you will generally be using the two-meter ham band. The 440 MHz band is another that you will likely make plenty of use of. There are a couple of band-related features you may want to consider. One is dual band, which allows you to monitor two frequencies at the same time. Another is general coverage. This feature allows you not only to use ham radio bands, but also pick up AM, FM, and TV frequencies. Advanced features for bands include SSB and CW (Morse code).

Memory Slots

If you are going to be communicating locally and/or for emergencies, you may get away with a few dozen memory slots, as you would typically find in older and smaller ham radios. If however you will be using your ham radio for national or international communication, weather, or other applications, it is smart to purchase a model with 100-200 memory slots.

Backlit Display

If you will be using your ham radio at nighttime or in dim environments, you may want to purchase a model that includes a backlit display. Remember, emergencies sometimes happen in the dead of night. If the power goes out, you may be stuck operating in the dark. You should have the option to toggle the display light on and off so that you can conserve power when you do not need it.

Programming

This is the ability to manually program the CB radio. Most models allow you to do this using a keypad and the CB radio display. Some newer high-tech models include a cable you can hook up to a computer. This gives you access to programming software which makes it a lot easier to input what you want.

User’s Manual

Usually when you purchase a new product, the quality of the user’s manual isn’t the top thing on your mind. But with ham radio, it is actually very important. Ham radio does have a learning curve, and if you are a beginner, you will need as much guidance as you can get.

Even if you are a ham radio veteran, you may still sometimes hit a button by mistake and find yourself in a mode you do not want to be in. Rather than having to experiment to get the radio back into the mode you want, it is helpful to be able to flip to a user manual which will tell you quickly and easily how to get back to regular operation.

Unfortunately a lot of these manuals are written overseas and may be in poor English—not something you want to be struggling with to understand a technical device. A good idea before purchasing any ham radio is to download the manual online and check it out. If you like the radio but not the manual, run a search to see if there are user groups that can help you online or in your area.

BaoFeng BF-F8HP: High Power, Low Price

BaoFeng BF-F8HPIf you’re looking for a budget handheld ham radio, check out the Baofeng BF-F8HP first. Surprisingly, even though it’s inexpensive it’s quite powerful. The speakers and mic are quite good. Plus, it’s compatible with any uv5r ham radio accessory.

Good

  • Lots of power. With this little device, you get 7.4 watts of power on VHF and 6 watts on UHF.
  • Compatible with all wide range of accessories. The BF-F8HP can use any uv5r ham radio accessory.
  • Built in flashlight. This feature allows the BF-F8HP to function as an emergency radio.
  • Inexpensive price. For the amount of features you get, the BF-F8HP is surprisingly cheap.
  • Improved audio quality. BaoFeng listened to customer feedback it received after the debut of the UV-5R. Incoming signals are easy to hear and loud.
  • Improved antenna. The antenna that comes with this ham radio is quite effective.
  • Large, customizable 3 color display. The display is large, bright and easy to read.

Bad

  • No water resistance whatsoever. If the BF-F8HP gets wet at all, it’ll fry.
  • The holes in the plastic case don’t line up with the accessory jacks. You may have to widen the holes with a knife if you want to plug anything in.

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Yaesu FT-60R: a Well-Built, Water Resistant Ham Radio

Yaesu FT-60RThe Yaesu FT-60R is the perfect ham radio to take on a camping trip. Most portable ham radios are made out of plastic, but this one features a sturdy aluminum case. It’s also resistant to rain. Plus, it beeps when the batteries get low.

Good

  • Solid, well-built construction. The aluminum case won’t crack if you drop it.
  • Beginners can easily figure it out. If you’re new to ham radio, you won’t be confused.
  • Great battery life. One charge lasts several days.
  • Inexpensive price. The FT-60R is cheap compared to most ham radios.
  • Water resistant. Light rain and drink spills won’t damage it.
  • 5 watts of power. Even though it’s not as strong as a high end ham radio, it’s still quite powerful.
  • Audio alarm tells you when the battery is low. This feature comes in handy when you’re out and about.

Bad

  • The stock antenna is not very powerful. But, it can be swapped out for a better one.
  • The volume knob is hard to use because it’s positioned in an awkward spot.

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