Yaesu FT-65R Product Review

Yaesu has recently come out with the follow-on model to its venerable FT-60R HT, the new FT-65R. In the category of basic HT’s, the Yaesu FT-60R has been one of our favorites for years. We have often recommended it to our classroom students as a first radio for the new Technician Class operator, as it provides solid dual band (2m / 70cm) performance in a rugged package without excessive bells and whistles to confound the newbie. We were interested to see if Yaesu had actually improved upon an already-solid product with the new FT-65R. With a few caveats, our opinion is that the FT-65R is a worthy successor to the FT-60R, and we will recommend it to our students for that critical first-radio purchase.


Yaesu’s FT-65R Hand-held Transceiver

We picked up a new FT-65R at Ham Radio Outlet, Denver, in March 2017 and put it through the paces.

First Impressions:  For some stalwart Yaesu HT fans the FT-60R will give a poor first impression as “too Chinese,” sacrificing some of the older brother’s rounded feature styling and small illuminated keys for more “Baofeng-like” sharp angles and larger unlighted keys. The FT-65R is, in fact, made in China with Yaesu Japanese design. But the reverse SMA antenna jack may be more than some loyal fans can stomach. At least it doesn’t speak Chinese to you when you press the keys!

We found, however, that beyond those surface features was a well-conceived, simple-to-operate, and in many ways improved Yaesu basic HT that preserved some of the best features of the FT-60. Although we did not conduct destructive testing, the FT-65R gives an impression of rugged reliability at a mere 9.17 ounces, nearly 4 ounces less than its older brother. It is slightly narrower than the FT-60R in all dimensions, making a comfortable fit into the palm and sporting a more-than-adequate belt clip. Within a day of intermittent use I found myself appreciating the size and weight, as well as the simplified but comfortably familiar keys and menu structure.

Features:  Perhaps the most standout <ahem> new feature of the FT-65R is the PTT button. The button protrudes from the upper left side of the HT, tilted up at a slight angle that ergonomically accommodates either thumb or forefinger activation. The button is raised from its encasement surround, in contrast to the older FT-60’s mildly recessed PTT design. While this may slightly increase the risk of inadvertent PTT activations, the new configuration is easier to activate and more comfortable with frequent or prolonged use than the predecessor.

FT-65R & FT-60R

FT-65R (left) and FT-60R (right). The new HT maintains many nice legacy features of the predecessor while embodying numerous updates and changes.

While the greying FT-60 still employs nickel-metal hydride battery technology, the new kid sports a standard 1950 mAh lithium-ion battery, with an optional upgrade to a 2500 mAh in a slightly larger form factor. Transmit power setting options remain 5W / 2.5W / 0.5W via a menu selection, and speaker audio output is a loud and crisp 1 watt. Additionally, the speaker resides near the top of the FT-65R case, moving the illuminated LCD display to be centered vertically on the face – a distinct configuration change from the FT-60R.

Not to be outdone by those other new HTs on the market, Yaesu designed an LED flashlight into the FT-65R. The white LED is mounted above the display to the right side, and it is activated by a bright orange pushbutton on the top center of the case. The flashlight is not particularly bright, but it might help you find those keys you dropped next to the tent in the dark. We do not advocate a heavy weighting for the flashlight feature in making your radio purchase decisions, but Yaesu could have provided a few more lumens.

The new HT is sold with the typical rubber duck antenna and using a reverse SMA connector, as previously noted. It also comes with a rapid charge cord and cradle for the desktop.

Basic Specs:

RX Frequencies:   136 – 174 MHz & 400 – 480 MHz
FM Broadcast 65 MHz – 108 MHz

TX Frequencies:   144 – 148 MHz & 430 – 450 MHz (USA version)

Frequency Steps:  Range of settings from 5 – 100 kHz

Auto Repeater Shift, optionally enabled

Maximum Deviation:  +/- 5 kHz

200 memory storage channels, 10 configurable memory banks

Technical Performance:  Bob KØNR hooked up the scope and analyzer to see how the FT-65R performed. Here is his evaluation, followed by my review of the new HT’s controls and display. Over to you, Bob.

I had the opportunity to do some basic performance measurements on the Yaesu FT-65 transceiver, using my HP 8920A RF Communications Test Set.

I’ve tested quite a few HTs over the years and this one turned out to be one of the best I’ve seen. Some HTs have quite a bit of frequency error, as much as 2 kHz but this FT-65 was <100 Hz, within the measurement error of the test instrument. The RF power output and receiver sensitivity are also within spec. The harmonic distortion was better than -60 dBc, again limited by the measurement setup, very good performance for this type of radio. (I could only check the second harmonic at 446 MHz due to the 1 GHz limit of the 8920A).

Here’s the measured performance of the radio on VHF and UHF:


Performance Table3

Explanatory Notes:
–   dBc: decibels relative to the carrier
–   SINAD: Signal-to-noise and distortion ratio, a measure of signal quality
–   SINAD is the ratio of (signal + noise + distortion) to (noise + distortion)


Controls & Display:  Yaesu has made some significant and smart changes to the controls and display of the FT-65R, as compared to the FT-60R. The higher resolution display and revised settings menu structure are welcome updates that afford a simpler, more easily comprehended operator interface. The push key changes will be less desirable to many, especially those with girthy fingertips!

Display & Menu:  The display is monochrome LCD, white background, and illuminated upon key activation for an adjustable duration. In contrast with the FT-60R on which a maximum of six segmented LCD characters are always presented as a single line of large characters, the FT-65R can display up to four lines of smaller characters, each up to 15 characters across. The LCD presents all frequencies and stored channel labels using the larger character set for ease of viewing.

The finer character resolution is used for displaying settings menu items in which selection navigation is facilitated by up/down arrow keys that either scroll the menu selections or move a cursor arrow up/down the display, depending upon menu structure depth. The menu structure is only two levels deep, with the second level often providing setting options that flash when selected and that cycle through the setting options with up/down arrow keys. The top-level settings menu has been reduced from 56 items on the FT-60R to just 38 in the FT-65R, but this does not imply a reduced set of features. Rather, the improved menu structure combines many menu selections into intelligently grouped functions that leverage a two-level menu for more efficient and comprehendible adjustments.

FT-65R menu

Top-level menu (left) and a 2nd-level menu (right). Arrow keys scroll top-level menu through upper reverse highlighting, while scrolling arrow cursor in 2nd-level menu selections.

A welcome example of intelligent grouping of formerly independent functions is the settings menu item 24, Repeaters. Under this menu selection are options for turning on/off the automatic repeater shift feature, for selecting a non-standard frequency shift value, and manually controlling shift direction – all separate top-level menu items of the predecessor HT. Other FT-65R functional programming improvements include allowance within the channel programming and storage sequence to custom name the channel, a separate step and menu selection on the FT-60R. This save keystrokes and reduces the burden on operator memory when programming channels from the keypad.

Even with these significant menu changes, the FT-65R settings and their structure are comfortably familiar to the FT-60R operator. I found it quite easy to transition into the new menu and programming structure. However, some of the hard control changes on this new HT are less readily accepted.

Hard Controls:  Yaesu made many changes to the hard controls of the FT-65R. The radio sports only a single turn knob on top of the housing for on/off/volume, a relocated function key, and 18 front push keys instead of 16. Further, most (not all) of the front keypad secondary functions of the FT-60 have been deleted in favor of only settings menu use. The press-and-hold of key “6MNO” cycles the keypad lock/unlock function, and key “1” instantly tunes to National Weather Service frequencies – both holdovers from the predecessor HT. However, if you are accustomed to quickly accessing setting functions from FT-60R keypad secondary functions, you may not appreciate the absence of those features.

Key Styling:  As noted, the small illuminated keys of the FT-60R were not carried over to the FT-65R. The new keys are larger, and thus, squeezed closer together. Keys are labeled in white, and no second function labeling is above the key as on the older HT. (Most secondary key functions have been eliminated for settings menu use.)

FT-65R keypad

The FT-65R keypad is completely redesigned from the FT-60R.

The close-spaced keys may aggravate some operators since the fingertip is bound to overlap keys. However, the keys are designed with “edge mush” so that indirect force on the edge of a key will not activate it. Further, each key provides a satisfying, if mild, click upon successful activation, and an optional beep may also indicate activation, just as with the older FT-60R.

Perhaps the most notable hard control change is the unfortunate decision to delete the VFO knob, along with the associated squelch control ring about the bottom of the VFO control. Maybe I am too old school, but I prefer an easily adjustable VFO knob instead of the more difficult up/down arrow keys for scrolling through frequencies and channels. Granted, any desired frequency can be directly keyed into the keypad, and the up/down arrow keys do provide a “surfing” function, but losing the VFO knob is a thorn in the side that I haven’t been able to yank out just yet.

Further troubling is the adoption of a soft squelch control, eliminating the squelch ring of the FT-60R. Again, I prefer a hard control for squelch. However, the soft control implementation in this case is excellent, promoting rapid, single-hand adjustment of the squelch level. By sequentially pressing the function key and monitor key on the left side of the housing, the squelch level is displayed, ready for adjustment with up/down arrow keys. The genius of this method is that the entire adjustment is easily a one-handed operation. I still prefer a knob, but this ain’t bad.

The left-side function key is also used to quickly access the top-level settings menu described above.  A one-second press and hold displays the menu at the last item selected, even between power cycles. Just above the function key is the monitor key that opens the squelch upon activation for as long as it is held down – a wise holdover from the FT-60R.

Programmable Keys:  A smart new addition on the FT-65R is four programmable keys in the top-left section of the front keypad, labeled P1 through P4. Any channel or menu function may be programmed into each of these four keys, instantly calling the channel or function upon key activation. I found it useful to program my favorite repeater channel into one of these, the transmit power function into another, and the battery voltage level display into a third. The assigned functions are easily reconfigured.

Overall, while still smarting from the lack of a VFO knob, I find the FT-65R to have an efficient set of controls and a very usable display and menu schema that is a terrific upgrade to the FT-60.

Backward Compatible… Not:  If you have invested heavily in Yaesu FT-60R accessories you are going to be disappointed that none of them are compatible with the FT-65R. Obviously, the older NMH battery technology is unusable on the new radio.  But further, thanks to Yaesu adopting the reverse SMA antenna jack, none of those extended dual-band antennas are going to fit without an adapter, and you’ll also have to adapt any coaxial connector from that mobile antenna or mag-mount. We see this particular decision by Yaesu as objectionable, and almost downright mean!

The right-side microphone and speaker jacks are also changed to be 3-contact jacks instead of the 4-contacts of the FT-60R, so your Yaesu headset or speaker mic is going to have to stay with the older HT. While we can see the desire to change to a more common type of jack and a smaller footprint on the transceiver, this is an annoyance for those who have perfectly operable Yaesu HT accessories that cannot supplement this new product in operations.

FT-65R jacks

Newly designed mic and speaker jacks are 3-contact jacks and modified in footprint from the predecessor HT.

And not to forget…  That programming cable won’t work with the FT-65R either. A compatible cable is currently available from Yaesu, but so far we have seen no available compatible programming software from CHIRP, RT Systems, Yaesu, or anyone else. As of this writing, the RT Systems web site indicates that “development has begun.”

Wrap-Up:  The new Yaesu FT-65R is a nice update to the FT-60R, just not a perfect one in our view. Returning a VFO knob and the regular SMA antenna jack would get much closer to the perfect update. The updated menu structure and display are unquestionably nice mods, with just enough legacy characteristics to make the learning transition a breeze. The relocated function key and the operator-programmable keys are master strokes. The transceiver’s performance characteristics are top-notch, much superior to that observed in Chinese-branded and manufactured HTs. The bottom line — we will add the FT-65R to our list of recommended, basic, first radios for the new Technician licensee, and we may even find ourselves regularly snagging this HT off the shelf as that “go to” radio when heading out the door.