Inexpensive VHF/UHF handheld transceivers from China have catapulted from obscurity to mainstream in our market in just a few short years. American hams were obviously too busy chest-bumping each other the first time they saw a $40 dual-bander for sale to recall that FM repeaters are dead. Or at least that’s what amateur radio enthusiasts tell each other and every journalist who comes calling with questions about our fading hobby.
Everyone wants a bargain, and at these prices you can afford to buy a half-dozen of them and so what if a few of them fail? I mean, other than the fact that radio amateurs take pride in being Johnny-on-the-spot when all else fails — why not trust the safety and well-being of yourself and your community during a disaster on a dirt cheap handi-scratchy?
Bob Witte, K0NR is a VHF enthusiast, columnist and FM guru. He wrote recently that he is frequently asked by new hams if they should buy those cheap, Chinese handhelds, and as you might expect, he has some wisdom to share that makes good sense.
I’ll admit to having purchased one during the forty-dollar crap rush (now they’re thirty-dollars) era and was fairly unimpressed with it, other than the dirt-cheap price tag, and ended up giving it away.
(As a side note to giving them away — these have become the lousy fodder “proudly” offered as door prizes by really cheap radio clubs).
Buying on price is rarely a smart idea. But I think it goes beyond just cost, value, and even performance.
Kenwood, Yaesu, Icom and Alinco have invested plenty in amateur radio. The Chinese have not. At least not yet. Perhaps they will in time, though with this sort of predatory pricing it’s difficult to imagine them being so profitable that they feel compelled to sponsor the next big DXpedition.
These four all seem to have a lot of skin in our game. The Chinese do not. At least not yet and I think that makes any decision about whether or not you should buy a Chinese handheld pretty simple.