The VX-3R handheld is an excellent little radio, and I love it. On the other hand, it does have limitations, and I probably wouldn't recommend it as anyone's first radio or only radio.
This radio is extremely small, which is it's main selling point, and the main reason I got it. I wanted something with a lot of capabilities that would easily fit in my pocket or my briefcase. You do trade size for performance. If you are willing to accept this (and this is what I expected), then you will be very happy with an extremely small radio that does everything it does remarkably well for its size. If you merely want a radio that works remarkably well, then you'll probably be disappointed. But if you want a small radio, you'll be quite satisfied. It's a small radio, and for a small radio, it's quite good.
Despite the tiny buttons, the radio is remarkably easy to operate. If you're familiar with other similar radios, you'll probably have it on the air without resorting to the owner's manual. And after a few days of playing with it with the manual, you'll find that most of the functions are very intuitive. If you have large fingers, you will find the buttons somewhat difficult to operate. In my case, I usually wind up using the corner of my finger nail. For most people, this won't be a problem. But if you do have big fingers, beware of the issue.
This radio is a full-featured transceiver for 2 meter and 70 cm FM. And, as far as I can tell, it works as well as any other handheld on these bands. Keep in mind that the full power is only 1.5 watts, compared to 5 watts for most handhelds. For most purposes, there's no practical difference. But on the fringes, it could be a factor. Frankly, I don't use FM very often. I want to carry the radio with me for emergency use, as a backup to other radios. For my purposes, it's more than adequate.
The main selling point for this radio, however, is the fact that it has extremely wide-range receive capabilities, from 510 kHz through 999 MHz, with some cellular frequencies in the 800 MHz range blocked. I'll do my best to review the various bands, and how well it performs:
AM Broadcast. Apparently, the main advance this radio has over the VX-2R is that it has an internal bar antenna for AM reception. You can also hook up an external antenna. With the internal antenna, AM reception is quite poor, although I can get most of the local stations. I live in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, and it gets all of the local stations that I normally listen to. Reception is about the same as the cheapest AM radio you can buy. For my purposes, it is adequate.
With an external antenna (my ham antennas), reception does improve somewhat, and I can get a few strong out-of-town stations at night. However, the receiver is quite prone to overloading, and a strong local station will be cover up many, but not all, weaker stations. In a remote area without any strong local stations, I suspect it would perform moderately well on AM, but the performance would never be stellar.
FM Broadcast. A number of other reviewers have commented about how poor the reception is on the FM broadcast band. I don't think this criticism is really warranted. As far as I can tell, FM reception is as good as any inexpensive FM radio. I wouldn't use this radio for FM DX'ing, but as far as I can tell, I get good reception on all local stations. The rubber duck antenna isn't ideal, but usually moving the radio slightly finds a "sweet spot" where reception is good. With external headphones, FM reception is in stereo.
The FM broadcast band starts at 76 MHz, and also includes TV channels 5 and 6. One limitation this imposes is that between 76-108 MHz, the receiver will only receive wideband (broadcast) FM signals. This isn't an issue in the Americas, since that frequency range is used only for TV (channels 5 and 6) and FM. In some areas of the world, 76-88 MHz is used for narrowband FM public service radios, and these could not be received well. On frequencies outside of the broadcast bands, the user can select the mode (AM, FM, or wide FM), but on AM and FM, the mode cannot be changed.
he VX-3R has an interesting feature that you can listen to the broadcast frequencies, while the radio is simultaneously listening on other frequencies. It can even be scanning other frequencies. When a signal is received on one of the other frequencies, it will switch from AM or FM, and you can hear the other receiver. Note that when using this feature, the "broadcast" radio can only listen to the AM or FM broadcast bands (or TV channels 5 and 6), and the "other" receiver must be on a non-broadcast frequency. In other words, you cannot listen to a non-broadcast channel (or other TV channels), and also scan other non-broadcast frequencies. (On the other hand, you can listen to any frequency, and continuously monitor one other priority frequency.) This isn't a big limitation for me, but it is one thing to keep in mind.
Shortwave (1.8 - 30 MHz). For the size of the radio, shortwave reception is remarkably good, and you will be able to hear shortwave signals. However, it really is quite poor, and if this were your only shortwave receiver, you would be sorely disappointed. The main limitation, obviously, is the very small size of the antenna. However, when I hooked the radio to my outdoor ham antennas, the result was that the receiver was overloaded by a strong local AM station, and as far as I could tell, shortwave reception was completely impossible. I suspect that in rural areas far away from other transmitters, shortwave reception might be adequate, but I haven't been able to test it.
My best results came from placing the radio next to a telephone or other electrical device, and the wiring inductively couples to the radio and forms an antenna. So you can use the radio for some shortwave listening, although it's not particularly convenient, since the radio is invariably in some awkward location.
I suspect that the best antenna would be a wire several feet long, although I haven't tested for the ideal length. I think much longer than a few feet would overload the receiver.
On the shortwave bands, the radio tunes only in 5 kHz steps. You can set it to tune in 12.5 Khz steps to fill in a few gaps. However, as a practical matter, the receiver is so non-selective that if you're going to receive a signal, it doesn't matter if the dial is off by a few kHz. Most strong shortwave signals are heard at three spots on the dial, e.g., a station on 6060 would be heard on 6055, 6060, and 6065.
The radio does not have a BFO, so it cannot be used for CW or SSB reception. I did some experimenting with a signal generator, which I set to the radio's IF of 450 kHz, and attempted to use it as an external BFO. I did hear a few CW signals, so I might at some point build an external BFO, and it will probably provide very marginal CW reception. However, SSB reception would be virtually impossible, since it's unlikely that the signal will be on exactly the right frequency.
30-76 MHz. I don't think there are very many signals on the 30-50 MHz range in this area, so I haven't done much listening there. Our baby monitor is on 49 MHz, and I have used this receiver there. It seems to perform about as well as the receiver that came with the monitor. Above the 6 meter ham band are TV channels 2-4, and the receiver performed adequately for local channels, until the analog channels went QRT.
Air band (108-136 MHz). Air band reception seems to be quite good, both with the built-in antenna (placing my hand over the antenna seems to enhance performance on this band) and with my 2 meter outdoor antenna. Overloading with an external antenna doesn't seem to be much of a problem on any of the VHF or UHF bands. With the rubber duck antenna, I get fairly good reception of aircraft, and can marginally hear the tower and ATIS broadcast from the airport about 10 miles away.
VHF high band (136-174 MHz). Reception in and near the 2 meter ham band (144-148 MHz) is quite good, both with the rubber duck and with my outdoor antenna. As far as I can tell, it's about as good as any other 2 meter handheld. My best DX was what I'm pretty sure was a satellite on 149 MHz, with the rubber duck antenna. Outside of the ham band, the performance seems to decline. The State Patrol dispatch frequency, which should presumably give good reception in the area, was relatively marginal.
Our local NOAA weather channel on 162.55 MHz gives good reception. However, on most other receivers, I can hear a few other stations in outlying areas on other frequencies. I can't hear them on this receiver.
According to the manual, the radio can be set to receive the alert tone broadcast by the NOAA stations. However, the exact functioning of this feature is not described. I think the radio needs to be tuned to, or scanning, the NOAA frequency at the time. In other words, I don't think you can be listening to another frequency, and still have the alert feature functioning. But again, the manual is not clear on this, so I'm really not sure how it works. I did notice that when I turned on the alert feature, the scanner went through the NOAA frequencies while scanning other frequencies. But there was no indication that it was doing so while merely receiving other frequencies. Some Wednesday, I'll test this feature, but haven't had a chance to do so yet. The manual was generally quite good, but this was one deficiency.
TV high band (channels 7-13) and UHF TV. Before the shutdown of analog TV, reception on all of the local TV channels was quite good. There are still a few low-power TV stations, as well as Canadian and Mexican stations, so the ability to receive analog TV audio might be of some use to some users. However, of course, it will not be able to receive any digital channels. Reception is generally quite good, although a few stations require the radio to be moved to a "sweet spot" with the rubber duck antenna. I programmed all of the local TV channels into memories to make them easier to find, since most people don't have the frequency memorized. I do know that TV channels are generally 6 MHz apart, so if I'm in an area with different channels, it should be relatively easy to change the frequency (in other words, if I want channel 12, I'll just tune to channel 11, and then tune up 6 MHz).
222-419 MHz. I haven't found much to listen to in this frequency range, so I can't comment too much on the quality of the receiver. One nice touch, however, was the fact that the 222 MHz amateur band repeater splits are programmed into the radio, even though it won't transmit on this band. (They did the same thing on duplex marine band frequencies). This allows you to push the "reverse" button to listen on the transmit frequency, even though you can't actually transmit there.
420-469 MHz. As on 2 meters, the reception on this band is quite good in and near the 70 cm ham band. Since most public service frequencies of interest are close to the ham band, it does seem to provide good reception. With the rubber duck antenna, I did have fairly good reception of the security at a casino about 30 miles away, so I would say that the performance is quite good. The external antenna doesn't seem to cause much overloading, although the local NOAA weather station does break through at a few spots on the dial.
470-802 MHz. This is UHF TV; see above.
803-999 MHz. (Cellular frequencies blocked.) As far as I can tell, reception is fairly good in this band. Apparently, the Muzak people use frequencies in this range, so one of the abilities of this receiver is the reception of 3 channels of elevator music.
There are undoubtedly other capabilities of this little radio. For example, it has the Yaesu (apparently proprietary) "APRS" system, which can allow you to keep track of whether two radios happen to be within range. It has an "internet" button which transmits a DTMF tone at the beginning of your transmission, which is apparently used on some internet-linked repeaters. It will even send random morse code (or methodically teach you the letters by sending them and then displaying them) for your learning pleasure. I suspect most of these features were something to do with leftover computing power. They're interesting, but I doubt if I'll use them much.
It does have an "emergency" feature which makes a loud siren tone, flashes the light, and transmits something on a UHF frequency (defaulted to 446.0 MHz, but can be moved to another UHF but not VHF frequency). It's not particularly useful, but I suppose it could be useful in some situations if you are using that channel to communicate with someone who's aware of what the beacon sounds like. I believe there is some capability for another station to activate the transmitter remotely, which could be useful in some conceivable situations. However, that feature does need to be set up on the two radios beforehand. Don't worry--Big Brother can't use this feature to track you or anything like that.
One cute little feature is the ability to turn on the LED light as a fairly bright white light, for use as an emergency flashlight. It's not ideal as a flashlight, but it does the job.
There are pre-programmed memories for NOAA weather frequencies, VHF marine band frequencies, and SW broadcast frequencies. One quaint little touch reminded me of receivers from the 1930's. At that time, many manufacturers printed on the dials of their shortwave receivers the names of various cities, with the implication that to hear London, you would simply move the dial to the spot where it said "London". Of course, frequencies change often, and these dials were out of date even before they left the factory. But Yaesu brought this quaint tradition to the digital age, and labeled the memories for the shortwave frequencies with "VOA", "BBC", "DW", "JAPAN", etc. I've actually used these memories to scan quickly from band to band, and sometimes there are stations on these frequencies. But so far, I haven't found a station that happened to be at the "right" spot on the dial. Eventually it will happen through pure chance, though.
The radio comes with an extremely small lithium battery. I believe it said that it was about 1 amp hour (at about 4 volts). This is about 4 watt hours, which means that if the transmitter is 50% efficient, it would last for about one hour of transmit time. I did use the radio all day on a number of occasions for receiving, and I didn't deplete the battery. One optional extra is an external battery pack that takes 3 AA alkaline batteries. Rechargeable batteries are not advised in this battery pack. My plan is to keep the external battery pack, along with alkalines, with me for use in an emergency. The 12 volt charger was rather expensive (over $30, IIRC), so I haven't invested in one of those yet. But I do plan to get one, since that will make the radio much more versatile in an emergency.
One big advantage of this radio is the fact it takes the same battery as many popular cameras. Therefore, replacements for the rechargable battery are available at a very reasonable price. For example, all of the following batteries available on Amazon can be used. As you can see, there are numerous manufacturers and distributors, so the price can vary considerably, so it pays to shop around. The links below are constantly updated with the current price.
Again, in summary, I really like this little radio for what it is. I wanted an extremely small radio to put in my briefcase. It's quite good as a transceiver, and has some potential as a general coverage receiver. Again, for me, it would be quite disappointing as a first radio or as an only radio. But for what it is, I really like it!
The VX-3R should be readily available from most amateur radio dealers, but if you do want to order it online, it is available from Amazon.