30 days with the UV-5X3

25 Sept 2016

Over the past month, I have had the opportunity to put the BTECH UV-5X3 to use through regular every day use. I am also currently testing it with a few antennas (including the new Nagoya NA-320A tri-band antenna), the results should appear on my Antenna Testing page within a few days of posting this article. Just for a point of clarification, this is the BTECH UV-5X3 tri-band handheld, not their "UV-50X3" mobile unit, as I know some people can be confused by the similar naming.
I have been using various other handhelds from different companies over the past few years and found this 5X3 model does stand apart from many others. Due to the new electronics and IF filtering inside, this model takes a step above the regular Baofeng quality, which puts it on par with better quality transceivers such as those from Anytone, Alinco, Broadcom, and so on, and maybe one step below the big names like Yaesu, Kenwood and Icom. One of the major complaints of the baseline Baofeng models such as the UV-5R and others is intermod (wide sweeping signals or resonant multiple signals breaking the squelch causing us to hear static and noises).
This is a common issue in high RF environments such as bigger cities, many newer cars, but also is common in my area where there is a large military presence (Eglin AFB and the Eglin Reservation that spans from Pensacola to Panama City) where they use all kinds of radio frequencies for their testing and use. There was around 5 or 6 days over the past month where I purposely went for a drive to areas well known to have intermod break the squelch on the regular Baofengs, and even sometimes on my Anytone OBLTR-8R. In a fairly unscientific test using the included V85 UHF/VHF on the 5X3, the NA-701 that lives on my OBLTR-8R, and a UV-5R with NA-771, all sitting side by side on the passenger seat of my car, I drive through several of these areas with the intermod breaking squelch on several frequencies in the 146.500 to 147.100 range on the UV-5R, and then the typically worst area I was able to pull to the side of the road to see how wide it is. In this specific bad area with the UV-5R, it was essentially useless on anything in the 146.600-147.200 range, whereas the better filter of the OBLTR-8R and 5X3 allowed them to clean up the signal some and only be seriously affected on certain specific frequencies, I found 2 of the worst at 146.750 (+/- 30khz) and 146.900 (+/- 100khz). Apparently there is some yagi beam, or higher power RF signals in that area or in a line from one spot to another that crosses the road in these areas, I happened to stop in one such bad spot. Most of the time as you drive it is not a big deal, they can be picked up by the radios breaking squelch for a few seconds then it is gone. As it is military land, they probably have all kinds of interesting stuff being tested. The worst area was near a pull out at N30.593791, W-86.435497. Luckily in radios with better filtering and better (and proper resonant) antennas, such as my UV-2501+220 or the 5X3 when connected to a Nagoya UT-72 on the roof, the intermod is much less of an issue and we hear fewer squelch breaks. Intermod is minimized some when the UV-5R is connected to the resonant roof mount antenna, which points to some filtering issues inside the 5R.
Still, even when scanning solely the 220 section, the squelch never broke once meaning they are not using anything in the "resonant multiple" ranges like 110 or 55MHz ranges. This brings up one of the excellent new features of the 5X3, the new VFO scanning capability. Most radios including the higher end models (such as my Yaesu FT-2900, Kenwood TM-261, and so on), when you are in VFO mode and press the scan button, it starts scanning upward from the currently displayed frequency, and when it reaches its upper limit, it continues on from the bottom of its frequency limit and continues on up. This new "scan range" option in the 5X3 I believe is a game changer, it allows you to enter the frequency range you with to have it scan (within the programmed frequency limits). For example I like to scan the 220 band as I drive around, so in VFO mode I hold down # (scan), it displays RANGE ---:---, I enter 222 for the first 3 digits, then 224 for the last 3. This means it will scan from the low end of the first number (222.000) to the high end of the second number (224.995), depending on the STEPS setup in the menu (I typically use 2.5K). If it is outside the programmed allowance, it will cancel the entry and not scan (example 219:225 will not scan since lower limit programmed is set to 222.0 MHz).
Another major bonus is that this model will work with all accessories made for the UV-5R/BF-F8 series radios. This means the 3800mAh battery, chargers, antennas, programming cables and so on will all work with the UV-5X3 as well. Of course the tri-band nature means it is suggested to get a proper tri-band antenna. In my case, unfortunately I had just got the new tri-band Nagoya NA-320A a few days before writing this so I was not able to get decent testing with that antenna (yet, watch for coming review of it), although I did go to a local amateur radio club gathering and was able to use it a few times on the local 144 and 440 repeaters with clean and clear signals. This means over the past month, anytime I wanted to use 220, I had to remove the V85 144/440 antenna and screw on the included 220 antenna. This brings up one minor annoyance with this model as sold, it comes with 2 antennas, the standard V85 which is good for 136-174MHz and 400-520MHz (according to the underside of the antenna), and a separate 220 only antenna which is good for 222-225MHz (according to the underside of the antenna). Of course this is much preferred as the 220 antenna and radio is actually setup and resonant for the North American 1.25m band (222-225MHz). This is one of my complaints with the UV-82X which is setup for the Asian 1.25m band, in the 240-250MHz range. Also its included dual band antenna is (according to the ring around the SMA connector) for 136-174MHz and 240-250MHz, which according to my testing has found this antenna is not really good for either band since its resonance is likely somewhere in the middle around 200Mhz. This means it suffers greatly on both bands resulting in weaker signals out and high SWR on both bands (as soon as I get a proper PL-259 to SMA adapter - on order -, I will test it).
Despite these minor issues, the BTECH UV-5X3 is a very solid radio and the upgraded electronics inside put it a step above anything else with the Baofeng name on it. I have made some solid and clear contacts up to 20 miles away on VHF with the included V85 antenna, which in my area due to miles and miles of thick pine tree forest, is typically reserved for mobiles with external antennas using 10W or more. Anyone looking to buy any of the currently available Baofeng or BTECH models, I would strongly suggest spending the few extra dollars on the 5X3. $60-70 here will get you a model on par with many of the $130-200 radios from other companies, and allow you to start making use of the 1.25m 222MHz band. If you do not want to switch around between the 2 different antennas and do not mind a VERY long antenna on your short handheld, pick up the Nagoya NA-320A, or the shorter Anytone tri-band antenna used with their tri-band AT-3318UV-E radio. If you like using magnet mounts on your vehicle, there is also the Nagoya TB-320A (notice the "TB" instead of "NA") for use with a NMO or SO239 base/mobile mount (it includes the SO239 to NMO adapter).

If you're interested in buying any of these, here are some simple links to the mentioned items, the UV-5X3, NA-320A, and the mobile TB-320A.

I appreciate you looking over this information, and if you have any questions or comments, feel free to join me in the Facebook Baofeng "BARN" group and let me know, or send me an email at km4fmk -at- afo -dot- net.
Thank you and 73!