That question is difficult to answer.  There are so many things to do with amateur radio that the question raises more questions as to what you plan to do with the radio.  

Before plunging into any purchase, its best to ask your fellow amateur radio operators what their experience has been.  We're all opinionated, and not necessarilry always in agreement about what constitutes good gear, so it's wise to ask at least a few hams what they think of a certain pice of equipment before you buy it.   Radio clubs are great pleaces to meet fellow hams and solicit their oppinions.

The Ak-Sar-Ben Amateur Radio Club has equipment for loan to any member.  That way you can get on the air while you make your choice.  

The website http://www.eham.net has a section devoted to reader-provided equipment reviews.  While the review process has both a numerical value and a written review, the written review is much more useful than the number.  Read them thoroughly.  And remember than even the best gear has its detractors and the worst gear has its supporters.    Sticking with major brands, such as Kenwood, Icom, Yeasu and Alinco is usually the best for your first radio, not matter if its 2m FM or an HF Radio.     

The recent influx of radios from China has allowed for a cheap path to getting on the air.  While many of these radios have been tested to be within FCC requirements, many do not.  Often within the same model series.   Be aware that these radios are the quality of most amateur radio gear and program and perform differently.    

Also remember that your first radio will not be your last radio, or your only radio.   

A handheld transceiver (HT)

When selecting a portable radio that you can quickly take with you when you need it, here are some things to consider:

  • It must be able to receive and transmit on 2 meters, which is where most local communication takes place on repeaters and nets. Ideally, it should also be a dual-band radio, supporting 70 cm, the second-most used frequency band.
  • It should be not only a dual-band radio, but also a dual-watch radio, which can allow you to hear incoming communications on two different frequencies at the same time.
  • It also good if the radio has an alkaline battery pack.  That is, an empty battery case that you can fill with your own non-rechargeable batteries.
  • It's very convenient to have a radio, for which you can ask for help from a friend, or compare notes, or bring to club meetings and discuss.  Ask club members what they have and why. 
  • It should feel good in your hand. Many hams carry their HT with them all the time and don't mind showing it off, ask to hold it.  How does it feel?  Are the buttons too big, to small, does it seem intuitive to operate?   
  • Don't feel compelled to go with that cool WhizBang all the features radio as your first choice.   Choose a more inexpensive radio that is well made and reliable.   If you go with that whiz bang cool radio you might be cautious about about taking it out into the field for fear of breaking or losing it.   There is time for that super cool radio later.

Will your choice of radio still be a good one if all the above criteria aren't met?   Probably, but there are some minor inconveniences you might have to live with, but there really isn't the perfect radio for everyone.

A mobile radio

      For those looking to get something a little heftier, whether you install it in your vehicle, set it on your desk, a mobile unit might be what you're looking for. Some of the above suggested criteria still apply, such as dual-band, dual-watch, same model used by friends or club members so they can help you with it,  Obviously, there are other things to consider when you get a mobile unit, such as:
      • It should deliver (transmit) 25 watts on FM to make it worth your investment (most quality radios have Low-Medium-High settings that vary between 5 and 50 watts)
      • For using it on a desk it needs a separate 13.8-volt power supply, such as a MFJ-4230MVP or Powerwerx SS-30DV
      • It needs a good, portable antenna, such as a MFJ-1724B mag-mount for you car, or a Pockrus J-pole mast-mount antenna for a "base" type operation.
      • It needs 50-ohm coaxial cable that's long enough to reach from your radio to the antenna, chose on that minimizes the signal loss such as RG-8.

All of the models mentioned are exampls only and not meant to be a recommendation as what you need to buy.  The links to the various vendors are established amateur radio equipment providers.