Best Handheld Ham Radio Review | Top 5 PICKS
For the experienced prepper looking to add backup to communications equipment, experienced ham radio enthusiasts, or complete beginners to ham radio, you can’t go wrong with one of these best handheld ham radios. When searching for the best ham receiver you need to consider not just price but also its best features and bottom line. Amateur radio communication has not only gone portable, it’s also gone digital.
If you’re looking to join the ranks of ham operators, first choose from the types of ham radios we’ve outlined below. Next review the features to look for in the best portable ham radio and determine which features are most important for your communication needs. Finally, choose from one our top 5 picks for ham radio transceiver.
Types of Ham Radios
- Handheld Radios are as the name implies, designed to be carried while in use. This makes them great for on the go communications but their range and other capabilities are limited compared to other models.
- Mobile Radios are the ones most people are familiar with as these are the ones designed to work in vehicles such as semi-trucks and long-haulers.
- Portable Radios are similar to fixed station radios in that they are high-powered but they are designed to be lighter, easier to move, and work with limited power.
- Fixed-Station Radios are more expensive and typically require more experience to use. These are designed to be located permanently in one location.
The BaoFeng is one of the best dual band radios for its price range. Many experienced users are surprised it can be offered so inexpensively because it’s packed with the features one expects from a high-end ham radio. It’s a great ham radio for beginners to start out with but it’s also hearty enough for even the most experienced of ham radio enthusiasts.
- Three Power Settings (1W, 4W, 8W)
- Compatible with CHIRP software
- Good stock antenna
- Hits repeaters up to 12 miles away on low power
- Blacklight makes it easy to read numbers and keys
- Good indoor reception
- Great 1st ham radio for beginners
- 1500mAH battery is 30% longer battery life than the previous model
- The two-step process to save to memory
- Compact size
- An in-depth manual is great for beginners
- Packed with features
- CHIRP compatible
- 8 watts output power
- Dual band
- Dual Standby and Dual Display
- V-85 High Gain Antenna
- PC03 FTDI Programming Cable recommended for easier programming
The Yaesu Dual Band Handheld ham radio transceiver is the perfect general-purpose radio. Beginners to ham radio will find the instructions easy to follow and when used with the optional USB programming cable and software, programming goes smoothly. Experienced ham radio operators will love the reliability of the Yaesu.
- Great general purpose radio
- Prevent unintentional frequency change with locking mode
- 1,000 memory channels
- Water Resistant
- Solid cast aluminum body
- Top notch factory antenna
- Audio and range can outperform some Baofeng handhelds
- Long history of reliability
- More complex to program than other handhelds without the optional USB cable and software.
Ham radio operators in the market for a new handheld that is simply loaded with features that are commonly found in the best handheld transceiver will find them in the Kenwood. This great handheld does it all, including DC digital data. The battery life is incredibly good, and it includes an SD card for expanded capabilities.
- Built-in GPS
- Multi-mode reception/wide-band
- Bluetooth compliant
- External Decode Function
- Four transmit power selections
- 1.25m or 220 MHz bands less used than 70cm or 2m bands and is great for chatting at hamfests or using with a group of friends.
- D-STAR makes this handheld an ID51A direct competitor. Integrated GPS and easy change dstar configurations make hitting repeaters a snap.
- Easy to use software for programming
- Recording capability via SD card
- Dual-receive mode
- Dedicated tuning and volume buttons
- Color screen
- Included charger does not charge the battery while operating radio
- Speaker not as good as other brands
- Battery not compatible with other Kenwood models
- Screen scratches too easily with everyday use
This is the up and coming device for handheld transceivers and its audio accessories and cables are compatible with those from your old Baofeng or Kenwood style which means you save money if you are switching.
- 999 Memory Channels
- Intuitive programming
- Clear audio reception
- Hits repeaters up to 30 miles away
- Surprisingly good build quality for foreign make
- Dual Band
- Easy to Read Display
- 999 Memory Channels
- Cross-band Repeat
- 4-watt UHF and 5-watt VHF
- Easy to manually program
- Superb audio quality
- Compatible with audio accessories and cables for Baofeng/Kenwood styles
- Desktop charger included
- 1700mAH battery lasts about 8 hours; upgrade to 2600mAH battery
For those who are experienced with analog but have been wanting to make the leap to digital, the MD-380 TRBO Ham Radio is worth consideration. It’s an affordable way to dip your toes into the digital waters so to speak without giving up your analog comfort zone.
- Available Custom Firmware for expanded capability
- Affordable introduction to DMR
- Hits repeaters up to 25 miles away
- Most common DMR radio in use
- Big value for the money
- Good DMR entry radio
- Great audio reception (no hiss or static)
- Good transmit audio
- Programmable side buttons
- Full support of analog repeaters
- 2000 mAh Battery
- Included AC Charger
- 380 UHF Digital/Analog DMR
- USB Cable included
- Free firmware upgrade available
- Programming can be a bit complex
- Users recommend purchasing an aftermarket antenna for increased range
Ham Radio Features
Once you’ve determined the type of ham radio that will work best for you, determine which frequency bands you will be most likely to use. When you have these two things decided, you are ready to shop for the best ham radio by choosing the features you desire most.
- Antenna choice is critical to your ability to effectively communicate. Handhelds come with short, “rubber duck” antennas. You can boost your communication ability by using an adaptor or connector with a mobile whip antenna.
- Power Input and Output is the second important factor, especially when considering ham radios for preppers. Most radios require an external dc power supply. The power supply you use should be higher than the radio requires at full power.
Additional Ham Radio Features
- Memory Channels
- Digital Signal Processing (DSP)
- Squelch and Tones
- Filters and Receiver Performance
- Antenna Tuners
- Computer Interfaces
Tips for Using Ham Radios
Ham radio for beginners can seem overwhelming at first. But the ham radio community is a very helpful group of people. Just about any experienced Amateur radio operator, you communicate with will be willing to help you learn the basics and get you started. Below are some tips to keep in mind:
- Ham radio operators must obtain a license in order to operate legally.
- Local zoning laws may determine the type and mounting of antennas.
- The ARRL website can provide information on testing dates and locations.
- Find a group of people who are willing to “Elmer” you or mentor you.
- Only use ham radio for emergency communications during a crisis.
- Get your ham radio license and start practicing before you need to rely on it in a crisis.
- Make sure your power supply is compatible with your transceiver
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