Two-Way Radios

Thursday, 28 June 2007 | Tags: , , ,

A great gadget for groups on the go, two-way radios keep you connected up to 5 kms away or more, on the slopes, at the mall, in a road trip caravan, or at an amusement park. Here's more about buying these handy chat devices.

The Basics

  • Two- way radios are available on two frequency bands: Family Radio Service (FRS) or General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS). Typically you can choose from FRS-only or FRS/GMRS hybrid radios.

    • FRS-only radios are a good choice for many outdoor situations and cost you less than the FRS/GMRS hybrid radios. However, the range may not be very wide.

    • If you need to communicate over distances greater than a couple of kilometres, you should opt for a radio that includes GMRS channels.

  • More about channels:

    • FRS offers 14 channels with a maximum range of 2 miles.

    • GMRS radios are permitted to use 7 of the 14 frequencies designated for FRS radios, for a total of 23 GMRS channels with a maximum range of 5 miles.

    • The more channels a radio offers, the more expensive it will be, but the more chance you’ll have to find a clear frequency, which is especially useful in crowded areas like a ski resort.

  • Don’t expect to ever get the full range promised on the box, a distance calculated based on an ideal “line of sight”, with no obstacles or other factors affecting the conditions.

  • Things like terrain, weather, buildings and other factors can reduce the distance range of a two-way radio.

  • Most two-way radios take AA or AAA batteries, or have rechargeable nickel metal hydride batteries, which can be recharged hundreds of times. Rechargeables may cost more, but they’re less expensive in the long run because you don’t have to buy batteries.

  • It is a good idea to have a back up set of batteries just in case you run out of power and are somewhere where you can’t recharge.

  • Look for a compact and lightweight model that fits into your pocket.

  • A calling/paging function is a useful option that allows you to alert the other party with an audible tone or vibration (or both) before you begin to talk to ensure you’ve got their attention.

  • While it sounds like a good idea, hands-free features cost more and can be awkward and infrequently used.

  • A scanning feature allows you to locate the frequency your group is using. You can also use this feature to find a channel with the best reception.

  • Interference eliminator codes allow you to divide your frequencies into sub-channels, which filters out broadcasts not set to that exact code. A great option for when it’s hard to find a chatter-free frequency.

  • To prevent others from listening to your broadcast, look for a scramble feature.


Be Aware

  • If you’re travelling, some countries won’t allow you to use two-way radios because the frequencies can interfere with police or other official communication. Look into it before you travel.


We took to the slopes, roads, and shops to test whether these models could keep us close communication:

  • Motorola: $149.99 (set of two)
  • Uniden: $119.99 (set of two)
  • Cobra: $59.84 (set of two)
  • Audiovox: $27.84 (set of two)

Road Test

We tested each of the radios as we drove away from one another to determine exactly how far they’d work.

  • The Cobra and the Audiovox gave way after only 1 ½ km.

  • The Uniden lost contact around 3 km.

  • The Motorola won the race, keeping us in touch up to 4 kilometers.

Ski & Shop Test

  • Motorola again was tops, giving us the clearest reception and best range.

  • Uniden came a close second for range.

  • Cobra claims a 5 km range but it didn’t live up to it. Also, its smaller buttons were difficult to use.

  • Audiovox promised up to 3.2 km range, but again we were disappointed and the buttons were so small it was difficult to operate.


Uniden offered a compact lightweight unit that delivered reliable communication when we needed it.




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