Retevis RT3S Dual Band DMR Handheld Transceiver Review

The Retevis RT3S DMR dual band handheld radio is an update to their popular and long running RT3S DMR handheld. The RT3S has some new features, most notably, the RT3S is now a dual band handheld. The RT3 was just a single band model.

In full disclosure, the people at Retevis did provide to me a radio to evaluate and publish a review. Other than that, my opinion of the unit are my own. So with that being said, be sure to watch til the end for some great news and a special offer from Retevis.

New Features of the Retevis RT3S:

  • VHF/UHF dual band, dual watch support. The RT3 was a single band radio
  • 3000 channels and 10,000 contacts, upgradable to 120,000 contacts.
  • Lone worker alert
  • Voice record
  • GPS support

The RT3S is a tier I and tier II DMR radio, so it will work with DMR repeaters in the US. In addition to DMR digital modulation, it also has analog support with CTCSS/DCS tone encode and decode, and DTMF encoding and decoding.

As for physical size, the radio weighs in at 285 grams and is a little heavier, but not much bigger than the venerable Baofeng handhelds and a touch smaller than it’s big brother, the Retevis RT82. In fact, in comparing it with the RT82, the RT3S has many of the same internal features, but lacks the IP67 waterproof designation and the roller ball interface. But with that being said, the ergonomics are very good and I do like the front panel buttons, channel selector, and volume control knob. The radio has a familiar 2 pin Kenwood style mic connector, so if you have a collection of 2 pin accessories, they should all work. Battery is a 2000 mah 7.4 volt lithium ion battery. Battery life is good, giving me all day use on a single charge.

The radio did come with a programming cable. It’s a 2 pin cable that will look quite familiar if you have a Baofeng radio, but it appears that this cable is specific to the RT3 series, so it’s not a replacement for your other radios. I’ve come to the point where I need to label all my programming cables so I know which ones work with which radios. Retevis appears to use the FTDI chipset in their programming cables. They’re drivers are good and I haven’t had any problems using the cable with my Windows 10 computer.

Programming the radio is just like programming any other Chinese DMR radio. The software was identical to the RT82 programming software, and it is similar to the models like Anytone, TYT, and others. I do have a video on programming a DMR radio, so if you have any questions about how to do that, please watch my other videos. Link is above and in the video description. If you are starting from scratch with DMR, watching that video is a good start to the process. But since I already have a DMR radio, I was able to shorten the programming process by exporting my contacts and channels from the RT82 and importing them into the RT3S. But I couldn’t export the zones, so I still had to reenter all my zone information. But the export process greatly shortened the time it took to program the radio as I didn’t have to rekey all that information.

So let’s talk about operation. The radio is pretty straightforward. Use the volume knob to turn on the radio and the channel selector to pick a channel within a particular zone. The arrow buttons select the primary band and sub band on the dual watch display. To select a zone, press the green button and use the arrows to scroll through the list. To cancel, press the red button. The LCD display is easy to read and the keys light up for use in the dark. On the side of the radio is a large push to talk button flanked by two programmable buttons. The top button is set for power level and the bottom button is monitor, but these can be reprogrammed in the software.

Of course I mentioned that the RT3S has a slew of new features as compared to the RT 3. Notably, the new model is now a dual band radio, so it has built-in coverage for the 136-174 Mhz VHF and 400-480 Mhz UHF bands. Of course you can only transmit where your license allows. As for new features, the RT3S has a function called lone worker. You can set the radio to signal an alarm at the push of a button if the operator is in distress. I guess this would be good in a commercial setting, but it really doesn’t have an application for amateur radio operation. The new model also supports more contacts and channels: 3000 channels and 10,000 contacts, in fact.

The RT3S has a built in voice recorder. You can store up to 8 hours of digital voice transmissions in the radio’s internal memory. The transmissions are time stamped, and can be reviewed or deleted at any time. That’s kind of a neat feature, especially if you want to record a net or some other activity. The voice recorder only works in digital mode, so you can’t record analog transmissions.

Finally the RT3S is available with or without a GPS unit. The integrated GPS will encode your location information into transmissions and you can send GPS coordinate to and receive location information from other GPS enabled handheld radios. The GPS function is not APRS, it only works on DMR and not the analog APRS channel. The GPS is activated on a per channel basis, so you can select which channels will support GPS encoding. The down side is that it is coordinates only, so no direction or distance information for the other station.  To use the GPS on the RT3S, you first need to activate it in the programming software and then you can turn it on and off from the radio’s front panel menu. I’m not sure what the battery life is like when the GPS is turned on, but I imagine based on other radios I’ve used with built in GPS, it will be about a 20% hit in battery life.

Last, but not least, the RT3S can be configured to hold up to 120,000 contacts. You can download a file with everyone DMR user’s callsign and ID number and import it into the radio. Normally the radio will hold 10,000 of these contacts, but if you turn off the voice record feature, you will free up enough memory to hold over 10 times that amount. As of July of 2018 there are 102,000 DMR IDs in existence, so this radio can store every DMR ID that is available at this moment with some room to spare.

Bottom line: Good, clear audio and easy to use interface makes the RT3S a great choice for the DMR newcomer, or as a second DMR handheld.

So what do I think about the Retevis RT3S? So far, I like it. It’s not quite on the level of finish as the RT82, and doesn’t have the IP67 waterproof designation, but it is also a bunch cheaper too. I prefer the buttons and knob interface over the track ball and found this radio quite easy to use. The speaker is loud and it has a good audio quality. We’ll have to see what the long term durability is. So far I’ve dropped my RT82 many times and it still works, so I’m hoping this one has a similar build quality. It’s at a good price point, so I’ve got no problem recommending this as a first DMR radio for a newcomer or a second DMR handheld for someone looking for a spare.   

Special offer from Retevis: Expires August 10, 2018

Now for the news and special offer. Retevis is celebrating their 3rd anniversary so they have a few special offers on their website. From now until August 10, 2018, if you go onto their website at www.retevis.com and buy 5 radios of one model, you’ll receive 1 free. Order 10 and get 2 free, etc. But, better than that, they also have tiered discounts, so in addition you can also save $12 on your order of $200 or save $21 off an order of $300 or more. Those are two really good deals, but here’s the best one:

Because Retevis is so thankful for their customers, they are giving out a special coupon code for $20 off a $100 purchase at their website. Just use the code thanksgiving3. That’s a tremendous deal, so if you are thinking about getting into DMR, this might be the incentive to get a nice DMR radio at an affordable price. The full details are in the video description or can be found on the Retevis website. But hurry, the offers expire on August 10, 2018.