The Baofeng UV5R – getting going on APRS

One of the motivations for getting one of these el(dirt)cheapo Baofeng handhelds was to investigate if I could make a small (tiny) APRS tracker for use on longish trips in the work vehicle. Several years ago, I had purchased a TinyTrak3 from Byonics for another project. This is a tiny PCB that employs a PIC microcontroller to encode position data from a NMEA compliant GPS and transmit it via a 2m radio, be it a hand held or mobile rig. The fact that you can now pretty much see all of the activity for APRS on a smartphone or tablet at aprs.fi pretty well eliminates the need to view APRS info on an external device that is hard wired to the tracker like say a Garmin GPS unit, and being limited to that units maps and features. The detail and info on a smartphone these days is amazing! as long as your APRS position is gated to the Internet via a digipeater then you’re good to go! this could also be used on a SOTA summit, spewing APRS data as you ascend your next peak in search of Goat glory!

The TinyTrak (TT) has evolved since the TT3 I obtained, and there are quite a few different kinds now. Alternatively, the OpenTracker is a similar concept and will also do the trick.

The whole thing came together pretty easy. In my case, I used a older a Garmin GPS 16 unit to supply the GPS data to the TT, but any serial GPS that outputs NMEA-0183 compatible $GPRMC or $GPGGA sentence data will be ok. The TT is very configurable in terms of supply voltage and GPS voltage, all jumper selectable. I would imagine that just about any serial output GPS could be hacked into service with the TT.

Interfacing to the Radio was relatively straight forward, as the Baofeng UV5R uses the same sockets on the side of the rig for Mic/speaker/PTT as many Kenwood H/H rigs. The Byonics website has a lot of excellent info on cables to and from the TT to your radio for those wishing to wire up something for themselves, or those less savvy could simply cheat and buy the cable!

My goal is to have the complete APRS tracker fit in to a kids lunchbox/tupperware style container that just needs an antenna and GPS connected and power to be ready to go. The unit could then be quickly deployed in a mobile situation or taken along on a SOTA summit.

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Cheap Chinese Handhelds…so what are they really like?

What if I told you…that you could get a dual band handheld transceiver for LESS than AU $40 DELIVERED to your door? Not a cheap nasty POS but a well made, high featured unit with a drop in charger, good capacity battery and a hands free mic/earphone all thrown in for that price as well? Horse Hacky! No! Enter the BAOFENG UV-5R…

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The Baofeng UV-5R – Good looking, well built…

Hang on, you say, 40 bucks?!!? Yep, you’d better believe it…Ok, “if it sounds to good to be true then it probably is” is a pretty good rule of Internet shopping these days, but if you’re prepared to bend just a little from what you perceive to be normal operating in the world of Ikensu HandHelds then one of these things may just fit the bill as a viable alternative or as a back up unit…even if you lost it or broke it, you’re only down $40′ not the hundreds you probably paid for your current handie…Oh, it’s got torch! gotta have a torch…

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$38 AUD delivered…

So what it like?…Have you ever held or even owned a modern Yaesu hand held like a VX3/5/6/7R series? an FT60? Then this thing has the build quality and feel of one of those units…it’s that good. I was completely thrown by this, and I spent a fair bit of time nit-picking over the construction. 10 out of 10 for that. The display is bright and clear, it’s easy to read and the backlight colors are pleasant to look at without burning your retinas! They are colour coded as well, light purple for operations, blue when RXing a signal and orange for TX!!! for $40. It’s dual band and out of the box it will tx from 136-174 MHz on its VHF band and from 400-480mhz at UHF…

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The unit is small and lightweight, but fits the hand well and oozes quality…

It’s honestly easier to tell you what it doesn’t have…It’s not waterproof! No inbuilt TNC…No inbuilt GPS, nor facility to plug one in…No dual RX different or same bands at once…no 23cm capability, no airband AM RX…no am band or short wave!!! It’s a $40 radio! It will however give you all the basic features you need to access a repeater like DTMF and CTCSS. It also includes a dedicated FM radio band which works very well indeed…

What’s in the Box?…what you see here is pretty much it. I had already attached the nice strong belt clip…the battery for my unit was charged and ready to go out of the box…the main knob turns the unit on and adjusts the volume ( think your first transistor radio) it’s audio I found very good, there’s plenty of it and its clean and articulate, handy for a hearing aid wearer like me. I wasn’t expecting that! PTT has a positive click feel and the keypad keys are close in, but still useable…remember, it’s $40!!! If you wanted to get a better antenna than the duck provided then eBay will serve you well, either that or get an adaptor so you can use one of the several hand held antennas that you’ve collected in your shack!

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Comes with everything to get you on the air…

Yes but is it easy to use?…absolutely! it’s actually much easier to use than my Alinco DJ-G7…all the buttons are clearly labeled and anyone familiar with the concept of a set mode ala Icom or Yaesu will have no problems operating it or changing settings. The only different concept is how a repeater is programmed in to a memory channel as a RX and TX frequency. once you get your head around that then it’s quite easy to add a repeater. The rig gets good on air audio reports and seems every bit as sensitive as my other “big brand” HandHelds, and their stock antennas. Plugging it in to a roof mounted 1/4 wave didn’t seem to overload it.

The manual that comes with it…is perhaps the worst I’ve come across with any bit of ham gear I’ve bought, but hey, as I’ve said a few times..$40!!! The saving grace is that there is a couple of free software apps available on the Internet to program the rig. You MUST order a USB programming cable when you buy one of these, it will be we’ll worth it! I used “CHIRP”, and had the Unit programmed with all my usual repeaters and simplex stuff within minutes. Very “Handy”! There are also lots of YouTube videos on programming these things…google is your friend! Importantly, the CHIRP software will allow you to program the unit for Amateur Band Tx only, so you can keep the ACMA happy…

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Liz thought it was great as well…especially since it was only $38!!! (another Radio?)

At the end of the day…it all comes down to what you want your handheld to do for you…if you want APRS and/or lots of bells and whistles then you might do better elsewhere. But if you just need a sturdy unit to take on your travels then one of these cheap Chinese handies might just do. I’d probably still take my waterproof VX6R out to a SOTA summit on a rain/wet activation, but this rig will come with me when it’s not!