Move Over Baofeng, Xiaomi Want To Steal Your Thunder

To a radio amateur who received their licence decades ago there is a slightly surreal nature to today’s handheld radios. A handheld radio should cost a few hundred dollars, or such was the situation until the arrival of very cheap Chinese radios in the last few years.

The $20 Baofeng or similar dual-bander has become a staple of amateur radio. They’re so cheap, you just buy one because you can, you may rarely use it but for $20 it doesn’t matter. Most radio amateurs will have one lying around, and many newly licensed amateurs will make their first contacts on one. They’re not even the cheapest option either, if you don’t mind the absence of an LCD being limited to UHF only, then the going rate drops to about $10.

The Baofengs and their ilk are great radios for the price, but they’re not great radios. The transmitter side can radiate a few too many harmonics, and the receivers aren’t the narrowest bandwidth or the sharpest of hearing. Perhaps some competition in the market will cause an upping of the ante, and that looks to be coming from Xiaomi, the Chinese smartphone manufacturer. Their Mijia dual-band walkie-talkie product aims straight for the Baofeng’s jugular at only $35, and comes in a much sleeker and more contemporary package as you might expect from a company with a consumer mobile phone heritage. Many radio amateurs are not known for being dedicated followers of fashion, but for some operators the sleek casing of the Mijia will be a lot more convenient than the slightly more chunky Baofeng.

This class of radio offers more to the hardware hacker than just an off-the-shelf radio product, at only a few tens of dollars they become almost a throwaway development system for the radio hacker. We’ve seen interesting things done with the Baofengs, and we look forward to seeing inside the Xiaomi.

We brought you a look at the spurious emissions of this class of radio last year, and an interesting project with a Baofeng using GNU Radio in a slightly different sense to its usual SDR function.

[via Southgate ARC]

56 thoughts on “Move Over Baofeng, Xiaomi Want To Steal Your Thunder

  1. I’ve used a Baofeng at a race. It got the job done, but it was not a nice piece of kit. Personally I own a Kenwood D74 and I really like it. It’s 20x as much, and I will probably still buy a cheap chinese one to throw in my backpack for hiking.

  2. This…is a product announcement. Apparently I *might* need to pay $15 extra, to get a radio whose only apparent distinguishing feature is a rounded case? Is this Web 2.0? sure, this *could* be really awesome. Maybe the frequency ranges are wider, maybe it has built-in usb connectivity, maybe it addresses some of the problems in the Baofeng. But does it need to be here, if we don’t have any information?

    1. To clarify, for anyone who actually wanted to know some details, this is from the linked banggood article:

      VHF frequency 136-174 MHz.
      UHF Frequency range 403-470MHz.
      8 Days standby time.
      Up to 17 hours of talk time.
      Cost price around $35
      Pictures a USB charging port, which is nice, hopefully programmable via usb as well, since the pictured interface is in chinese.
      Antenna connector looks like SMA maybe?

      1. It’s also an absurdly unreliable connector. Barrel jacks and the like are good for tens of thousands of cycles and will take a lot of stress. Many micro usb connectors fall apart after a few hundred cycles – the cables certainly barely last that long.

        1. The cable is designed to wear out instead of the connector on micro. On mini the connector wears out.
          I’ve never had that issue with a micro port (wasn’t soldered properly on my n900 though lol)

      2. My Hytera PD365 FM+DMR 70cm handheld also does MicroUSB charging.
        That was one of the reasons for buying it.

        That Xiaomi rig just looks like a baofeng in a round case with cheap bluetooth module.
        If I ware to guess it’s bluetooth low energy so that it cna work with apple gear without getting certified by apple.

    1. So if one manufacturer has poor harmonic filtering on one series of products, then another manufacturer’s yet-to-be-released product with no other similarity than being made in the same country must also have the same crap filtering?

      1. I’m serious. If ICE can block counterfeit goods from entering the country, they should be able to keep this junk out. These radios don’t have FCC approval, so they are flat out illegal to offer for sale in the US.

        It’s all fun and games, until one of these cheap pieces of junk interferes with aircraft or public safety comms, and someone ends up dying.

          1. And I don’t think ICE gets involved with standards compliance. Look at all the noname AC adapters and USB LiPo packs that Amazon resells from their local warehouse with missing or fake UL compliance. Fire and shock hazards should be a bigger concern than a few thousand HTs that emit 100mW spurs.

          2. This is true, read the rules you can see there are only technical standards for actually operating. These are not rules on what you can use; including DIY, imported commercial, or government surplus radios, to build a station.
            And even if the radio splatters on TX like a dropped tomato we are hams, damn near any radio a real ham(code or no) gets ripped apart and examined for hackability or at least fine tuning. If it came cheap form China consider it a kit almost ready to use.

          3. It’s up to the operator to make sure they are OPPERATING within the limits of the rules and regulations.

            The only problem is way too many licence holders wouldn’t have a clue how to test and rectify the problem. Or care for that matter.

        1. Apparently you haven’t been into a Walmart or dollar store lately. They sell lots of “cheap pieces of junk” in the electronics aisles with crappy design that have burned down many a house.

          These cheap chinese radios are getting a lot of new hams into the hobby, spurious emissions and all. Lots of people (myself included) cannot afford to dip their toes into the water with a high-dollar HT from the Big Four who price their radios like they’re made out of gold-plated unobtanium. Obviously there is a market for affordable radios and there’s nothing wrong with the current batch that can’t be worked out with just a little more effort on the part of the manufacturers. Which they will certainly do once the competition starts heating up.

          Here’s a proposal: instead of lobbying to legally ban suboptimal radios from the marketplace so that nobody can buy them, why don’t we act like hackers and figure out how to improve them instead?

    2. Well the Xiaomi’s published specs certainly fall within the law, so until it’s been released/tested I think it’s a bit much to proclaim they are illegal…

      “Spurious Radiation:7.5uW and less”

  3. Banggood now shows the price at $88, and it includes a “Location Sharing” feature when paired to a smartphone.

    I’d pay $88 if it also includes bluetooth audio.

  4. The user interface is only chinese according to several sources. It can be paired with another talkie and have it configured for the same frequency and subtone by means of bluetooth 4.0. It can also send position reports generated from an app in your phone, and sent to the talkie via bl 4.0, but it doesn’t seem to be compatible with aprs, just a proprietary system. The specs say nothing about configuring via usb; that connector seems to be only for charging. It also has FM radio with RDS.

  5. “and comes in a much sleeker and more contemporary package as you might expect from a company with a consumer mobile phone heritage.”

    Sure. If that mobile phone heritage is from 1999.

    I am wondering why there isn’t a “Smart HT” yet. Why not an Android touch screen device ham radio? Make it a VHF/UHF transceiver with full HF receive capabilities. Transmit on HF might be cool too but not sure it’s that important on frequencies where any reasonable sized HT antenna is essentially a dummy load.

    Anyway… APRS, OpenDV, other digital modes, SSTV… all built in as Android apps!

    1. I’d rather have something with a minimal interface that can link to an Android phone over Bluetooth or Wifi. That way you can replace the Android part and keep the radio. It would be best if all of the usual interfaces could run over that connection. Control and audio at least. Maybe it could have a simple SDR function too.

    2. There are a few smart handies.. But they’re just a baofeng strapped to an android phone, with minimal interaction between the two. All it does is replace the control buttons with an app. Apps can’t add more modes as they’re not SDRs, unfortunately.

  6. Spurious emissions is this like the neon sign power supply that completely drowned out the police radios?

    what was the police thinking of using radios in a day in age with cell phones?

    1. A lot of police departments have gone to cell phones. The problem is that in an emergency the cell system does not have a enough capacity with everyone trying to contact friends and family, etc. Apparently there are now methods of reserving the cell system for first responders in an emergency. Of course disasters can knock out the cell systems as 9-11 and Katrina proved.

      1. Fortunately there were amateur radio volunteers available to pick up the slack form centralized government radio and landline communications systems and provide comms for emergency services.

    2. You mean like T-Mobile, who are currently disrupting Dallas 911 service (causing hour long waits at times) because something is misconfigured in their system?

      A police department needs complete control over their communications. They need a resilient system that can survive power outages that can’t be shut down by incompetence or malice outside their own service. Also, cell phones are radios — do you think they connect to the tower via pixie dust and rainbows?

      Most cop-to-cop communication is already via cell phone. They use cell phones, they use texting (an officer had me text him a relevant photo once), they use email (ditto), and in situations where it is warranted (one to many communications, like dispatching or calling backup) they use radios.

      They use radios because they work, especially in situations where cell phones do not. The times that the cell phones aren’t working is when the police need to communicate the most.

    3. Having worked an event using radio for the local ham club, I learned first hand that radios and phones apply differently. We had one ham have their radio go out, and he switched to his cell phone for reports.

      It was a nightmare for me as net control. One of the things that makes radios work is that everyone can hear everything. You share the channel and you take turns. I was invariably taking two reports at a time when one person switched to cell, telling people to hang on and wait. I can’t even imagine an emergency situation with multiple people using phones. Radios definitely have the advantage there.

    4. Because radios work when cell phones do not. The police often use cell phones for one-on-one comms, but cell phones aren’t set up for one-to-many communications, and are much more susceptible to radio interference than FM radios.

      Most importantly, in a mass crisis, where police comms are most vital, you don’t want the cops to try to talk to each other and get a busy signal because the circuits are full, or to get no signal because the local cell tower has been flooded/bombed/burned.

  7. So, I’ve had a passing interest in getting involved with some radio fun, but money is short. So what can I do with this? What fun can I have? Does it have an English menu?

  8. Bought a Baofeng just to see what the hype was about, after being a longtime Yaesu fan.

    Terrible user interface software, harmonics both up and down when scoped, sporadic issues with random junk getting through the squelch, and the SMA connector has started un-seating itself from the board after about a year of light handling (riding on the belt, tucked in a backpack, etc.)

    To be perfectly fair, its got some features that are nice, and the battery life is good. but my trusty Yaesu VX-7R is still my go to.

  9. I dont have my license yet so Ive never even tried transmitting yet.

    My baofeng is a really cheap multiband receiver. Currently set up as weather radio monitoring NOAA everywhere I drive to. Also scanner frequencies of the local airport and the community alert stations. for the 25 bux I paid, its a scanner/weather radio with potential for more.

    I did get the longer antenna and the AA battery pack mod.

    My buddy set up his to replace the cheap FRS radios his scout troop uses. Not sure of the legality of that but it worked well enough plus all the weather and scanner functions as well.

    as others have said, cheap enough to start with.

    Make sure to download the English manual created by the cheap chinese radio community. CHIRP is also your best new friend if reading manuals is not your thing.

  10. These are just RDA/AT1846 IC based radios: bad selectivity, prone to overload, no tracking filter or preselector… same as other chinese walkies. Maybe they have implemented better low pass filtering at the PA output, added a 18650 cell and BLE module, all enclosed in a nice but ultrasonic welded, impossible to open without damage.

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