Best handheld digital scanners

Home & Portable Audio

The first interaction of radio scanners came out in the late 1970s and were only capable of receiving a maximum of ten channels, each of which required the purchase of a different radio frequency crystal.

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Which handheld digital scanner is best?

With extreme weather and natural disasters increasingly common, being able to communicate and receive local radio frequencies is more important than ever before. However, you need to make sure that whatever handheld digital scanner you decide to purchase is powerful enough and robust enough to survive whatever situation you find yourself in. Thankfully, with an attractive and dependable unit like the AnyTone Digital Handheld Radio at your side, you can weather the elements and keep informed as needed.

What to know before you buy a handheld digital scanner

Emergency radio frequencies

While the vast majority of the United States does not have any restrictions on the use of handheld digital scanners while in a motor vehicle, New York, Minnesota, Indiana, Kentucky and Florida consider doing so to be a criminal offense. It is also worth noting that since the Communications Act of 1934, radio airwaves are considered public property, and, as such, they have no legal presumption of privacy. In other words, if you can’t listen to a particular radio frequency, you’re probably not permitted to do so in the first place.

Regardless, handheld digital scanners can be incredibly useful as they allow you to listen to the frequencies of other two-way radio devices in your area. These frequencies can include amateur radio enthusiasts, utility and transportation companies, passing aircraft, military channels and much more. However, it should be noted that it is illegal to use a handheld digital scanner in a manner that furthers a crime, so be aware if you’re thinking of any wireless eavesdropping.

Local and global communications

While you might not consider asking an elderly parent or loved one to forgo their cell phone and instead opt for a handheld digital scanner that can help them stay in touch, handheld scanners have many benefits, including keeping in closer communication. Many handheld digital scanners come with features like free instructional courses so that your loved ones can not only stay in touch with you from virtually anywhere, but they can also meet and speak with people across the globe who may have a similar interest in radio technology.

What to look for in a quality handheld digital scanner

AM, FM and Digital

Since some of the more unscrupulous of companies can engage in deceptive advertising from time to time, you should make sure that any handheld digital scanner you purchase is on the up and up. In other words, your scanner should be capable of receiving the three major types of radio frequency signals. These radio frequencies are AM, FM and Digital. Taking the time to double check the technical specifications of the device you intend to purchase can save you both considerable cash and headaches in the future.

Signal frequencies 

Whether you’re on the road or safe at home, you would most likely appreciate it if your handheld digital scanner can effortlessly remember and easily switch between your favorite frequencies, no matter how many of them there may be. Thankfully, some models of digital scanner are fully capable of remembering not only thousands of different frequencies but up to 10,000 DMR Talk Groups and quite literally hundreds of thousands of digital contacts. Some handheld digital scanners even come preset with common emergency frequencies which are used by various service providers and can be easily adjusted if proved incorrect.

Waterproof and damage-resistant

Given that your handheld digital scanner may represent your only means of communication with the civilized world, the very last thing you want is to have it fritz out after a mild rain shower. Since many handheld digital scanners are designed to be waterproof and damage resistant, ensuring that your lifeline remains unsevered. Furthermore, you can select a model that is powered by either a lithium-ion battery or takes AA or AAA batteries so that you’re never caught short with a dead scanner. 

How much you can expect to spend on a handheld digital scanner

Depending on your desired features and any budgetary considerations, a quality handheld digital scanner can cost anywhere from $70-$252, and sometimes more.

Best handheld digital scanner FAQ

How far away can my handheld digital scanner pick up signals?

A. Depending on the power of your handheld digital scanner, you can easily expect to pick up signals anywhere from 25-50 miles away. Some models can pick up signals from much further away.

Where can I find frequencies for my new handheld digital scanner?

A. There are several online resources, including any materials that were included with your initial purchase. You may want to check in with your local radio community itself for additional information.

What’s the best handheld digital scanner to buy?

Top handheld digital scanner

AnyTone Digital Handheld Radio

AnyTone Digital Handheld Radio

What you need to know: An excellent handheld digital scanner for both new and veteran users.

What you’ll love: This unit comes with an included training course on BridgeCom University in the use of the device as well as High Power Output between 1W and 6W, USB programming cable, IP-54 Water and Dust Resistance, 3100 mAh Extended Life Lithium-Ion Battery and up to 250 channels per zone Frequency Range or VHF.

What you should consider: Some users have reported issues following software updates as well as issues with locking up.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Top handheld digital scanner for the money

BaoFeng Two-Way Radio

BaoFeng Two-Way Radio

What you need to know: This affordable handheld digital scanner was manufactured in the USA to provide an improved user experience.

What you’ll love: This unit offers double a New Hardened Durable Radio Shell as well as an increase in Output Power (8 watts up from the previous model in the series’s 4 watts output), a 30% Larger Battery, V-85 High Gain Antenna, 2100mAh Battery, earpiece, wrist strap and belt clip.

What you should consider: Some users have reported issues with the radio and computer interface as well as underpowered wattage.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Worth checking out

Whistler Digital Handheld Scanner

Whistler Digital Handheld Scanner

What you need to know: This high-tech handheld digital scanner helps keep you aware and safe.

What you’ll love: This unit provides instant access to frequencies used by the Storm Spotter Network as well as Menu Driven Programming with Context Sensitive Help, Digital AGC to Instantly compensate for low user audio levels and functions to let you group, arrange and scan objects according to your needs. 

What you should consider: Some users have reported an overly complex programming process as well as issues with audio and sound control.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon


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Daniel Martin writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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