Cellular phones are such an integral part of our culture now that we practically feel naked without one. However, they aren’t a completely perfect communication solution. The first problem with them is that they are expensive. In the United States, a typical smartphone now costs more than $500 on average according to research firm Statista. In addition, smartphones are notoriously fragile. Another notable downside: the level of service you get drops when you travel outside of urban and suburban locations.
Fortunately, there’s a remedy for all these problems: tried and true two-way radio technology. Two-way radios are tough, inexpensive and you don’t need to rely on a service provider to use them. They continue to have many interesting use cases, from helping emergency responders coordinate their relief efforts to allowing groups of hunters to communicate in the wild. Security services, construction teams, event coordinators and teachers rely on two-way radios as well.
Here are the best two-way radios you can buy:
The best two-way radio for outdoor activities
Motorola Talkabout T465
The Motorola Talkabout T465 is durable, has great battery life and an emergency alert function. It also picks up NOAA weather alerts and even has a handy built-in flashlight. If you’re into hunting and other similar outdoor activities, it could be the perfect two-way radio for you. The included carrying case is a nice bonus accessory.
- Water and dust resistant. The IP54 rating means that it will keep working when exposed to splashes and dust.
- Emergency alert button. This useful feature lets you alert your hunting party instantly if you’ve injured yourself.
- Built-in flashlight. If you find yourself outside in the woods at night, the built-in flashlight will help you find your way in the dark.
- Up to 26 hours of battery life. The highly efficient low power mode gives you the ability to use the T465 all day long.
- NOAA weather channels and alerts. You can tune into the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s broadcast and avoid foul weather situations.
- Instantly switch between high and low power modes. Avoid interference and save battery life with the press of a button.
- Comes with a carrying case. The T465 is one of the only two-way radios we’ve seen that comes with a case.
- Limited power output. The T465 maxes out at 1.5 watts, which makes it somewhat underpowered compared to most two-way radios.
In a nutshell
The Motorola Talkabout T465 is one of the best two-way radios for hunting that you’ll find. It’s rugged enough to survive exposure to dust and rain, has enough battery capacity to last through an all-day hunting expedition and features an easy-access emergency button that you can press to alert your group if you find yourself in need of help.
The best two-way radio with a silent mode feature
Midland X-Talker T71
Two-way radios are usually pretty loud. That may not matter if you’re on a noisy job site, but it may reveal your position if you use it for paintball. The optional camouflage alternative design suggests that the Midland X-Talker T71 can be used to coordinate hunting expeditions, but its lack of ruggedness and power might be a drawback for some types of extended outdoor adventures.
- Silent mode. This feature might come in handy when you want to communicate without disturbing others.
- Easy to use. The buttons are all clearly labeled and setup only takes a few minutes.
- NOAA weather channels and alerts. Outdoorsmen will appreciate the fact that you can stay ahead of bad weather by listening to NOAA reports and alerts.
- Eight to 12 hours of battery life. The T71’s above average battery life is another significant plus.
- Backlit display. The amber backlight automatically switches off after a few seconds to preserve battery life.
- Two style options. The T71 is available in black/silver and camo.
- The more devices you buy, the more you save. You can purchase as few as two or as many as ten devices at a time.
- Only 1.5 watts of power. The T71 isn’t nearly as powerful as two, four or five-watt walkie talkies.
- No waterproofing or dust resistance. The lack of ruggedness might be a disadvantage if you intend to use it in outdoor enviornments.
In a nutshell
The Midland X-Talker T71 sports a variety of impressive features, ranging from above average battery life to NOAA alerts and more. The easy-to-understand button layout makes operating the two-way a cinch, while the backlit display lets you find your way around its interface in the dark. The camouflage style option is another significant perk.
The best compact two-way radio
Cell phones have slimmed down dramatically since they first came out, but for whatever reason high-end walkie talkies haven’t. The Retevis RT22 is the exception to the rule. Even though it’s small enough to slip into a pocket, it puts out two watts of transmission power. The RT22 may not be as rugged as some two-way radios, but the surprisingly low price point offsets that downside.
- Small and compact. It’s about the same size and shape as a standard deck of cards.
- Inexpensive. The affordable price point is another big plus.
- Two watts of transmission power. Despite its small size, the RT22 meets the industry standard for power capacity.
- 12 to 16 hours of battery life. You can use it for an entire shift without having to worry about running out of power.
- Easy to program. It’s compatible with CHIRP, is an open sourced software program for programming two-way radios.
- Above-average accessories. The kit contains a two-slot wall charger, two earpieces and two hands-free clip-on microphones.
- Optional camouflage design. The alternative design option caters to the preferences of hunters and outdoorsmen.
- Won’t survive prolonged exposure to dust or water immersion. Since it’s not water or dust proof, don’t expect the RT22 to last long in challenging outdoor environments.
- No NOAA weather alerts or stations. The lack of built-in NOAA features is another significant downside.
In a nutshell
Most walkie talkies are big and bulky and this makes them difficult to carry and store in some situations. That’s where the Retevis RT22 comes in. It’s one of the thinnest, smallest two-way radios we’ve seen. Despite its small size, the RT22’s two-watt rating makes it more powerful than many of its competitors.
The best Bluetooth-compatible two-way radio
If you’re in love with your Bluetooth headset, the Cobra PR562BLT might be your best option. It’s one of just a handful of two-way radios that supports the popular wireless technology standard. The built-in flashlight and IPX2 water resistance rating expands its potential applications to include hiking and other similar outdoor activities. Don’t stay out in the woods with them too long, though. You’ll only get about eight hours of usage time out of a single charge.
- Bluetooth compatible. Most two-way radios require a wired headset with a special kind of adapter, but you can use the PR562BLT with any Bluetooth-compatible headset device.
- Built-in flashlight. If the electricity goes out when you’re at home or if you’re camping at night, you can switch on the flashlight to find your way.
- NOAA weather alerts and updates. This feature helps you stay up-to-date with all the latest weather changes so that you can prepare for storms and other foul weather situations.
- Lightweight design. It’s not palm-sized, but it is small compared to walkie-talkies with similar features and range capacities.
- Rubber-coated shell. The rubber shock protection is designed to absorb chips and cracks.
- IPX2 rating. While it’s not completely waterproof, it is water resistant enough to withstand light rain and accidental spills.
- Assignable ringtones. You can assign specific rings to frequent callers so that you always know when they are trying to get in touch with you.
- Poor battery performance. You only get eight to ten hours of usage time out of a single charge.
In a nutshell
The Cobra PR562BLT is one of the only two-way radios that works with Bluetooth. You can pair it with your favorite Bluetooth headset and enjoy hands and wire-free communications. There is a small catch, though: it’s not quite as energy efficient as its competitors. If you don’t mind that downside, it may be worth checking out.
The best five-watt two-way radio
Trees, walls and other obstacles can drastically reduce walkie talkie performance. Only the most powerful two-way radios have a chance against them. That’s where the SAMCOM FPCN30A comes in. It’s a five-watt two-way radio that transmits and receives in the UHF band. However, the above-average performance that the FPCN30A provides will cost you. This two-way radio is multiple times more expensive as some of its competitors.
- High powered. This five-watt walkie talkie is one of the most powerful ones we’ve seen so far.
- Group call button. This feature– which makes it easy to get in touch with specific groups of people– adds flexibility for businesses and helps reduce unnecessary chatter.
- Water and dust proof. The IP54 means that the FPCN30A will hold up well when exposed to wet or dusty environments.
- 12 hours of battery life. Twelve hours is enough time to cover a shift and you can switch to low power mode to squeeze even more time out of a charge.
- Can be used with other two-way radio brands. You can either use the default settings to instantly communicate with other SAMCOM two-ways or program them if you need to work with other brands.
- Optional encrypted mode. Useful for businesses, encryption provides a way to ensure that confidential conversations are secure.
- Expensive. The FPCN30A costs about twice as much as you’d pay for a mid-range two-way radio.
- No Bluetooth support. At this price point, it’s reasonable to expect Bluetooth support.
In a nutshell
If raw power is your main priority and you can afford to spend about $150 on a pair of two-way radios, the SAMCOM FPCN30A might be the ideal choice. It’s a five-watt walkie talkie with a group call feature. The dust and water-resistant design and optional encrypted mode are two other significant perks to consider.
Buying guide for two-way radios
Power rating vs. FCC licensing requirements
A two-way radio’s power rating is one factor that determines how well it will cope with obstacles. High-power two-way radios output five watts are better at penetrating obstacles compared to 1.5-watt or two-watt two-ways. However, the higher the wattage, the greater are the licensing requirements. Low-powered two-ways are limited to FRS (Family Radio Station) frequencies and those usually don’t require any type of license to use. However, if your two-way can transmit on GMRS (General Mobile Radio Service) bands, you’ll need to get an FCC license to use those frequencies legally.
Water and dust resistance
Two-way radios that are designed for outdoor use are generally tougher and more resistant to water than those that are primarily made for indoor applications. Various rating schemes (like JIS, MIL-SPEC 810 and IP, for example) describe exactly how resistant devices are to impacts, dust and water. Be sure to research these schemes before you make your purchase so that you’ll know exactly how tough your two-way is before you commit.
Size and weight
Two-way radios come in all kinds of different sizes and shapes. Some are small and lightweight enough to fit into a pants pocket, while others are the size of a cordless phone from the 90s. Generally speaking, the bigger a two-way is, the more powerful it is. If portability or storage is space a concern, you may want to look into two-ways that feature collapsible or removable antennas.
High-end two-way radios come equipped with transmission modes that enable large numbers of people to communicate more efficiently. Two-ways that cater to businesses often offer group calling, private lines and other similar features that let transmit targeted messages to specific crews.
Just about every two-way radio has built-in support for NOAA weather stations. NOAA stands for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The agency is responsible for sending out weather alerts and updates and it has stations located all over the United States. If your two-way manufacturer is based in a foreign country, you may have to program in NOAA frequencies yourself if you want to be able to tune into those weather updates.
Almost all modern two-way radios can be charged with any standard microUSB cord. This is convenient, because it means that you don’t need special proprietary cables anymore. However, if you intend on using your two-way on a regular basis, you may want to come with one that has a charging station. Two-ways that come with charging stations can either be charged with the station or with a microUSB cord.
You can find decent budget two-way radios at the $40 price point. They typically don’t have as many features as their mid-range and high-end counterparts. Their smaller, less advanced antennas and lower wattage ratings contribute to their reduced range capabilities.
$80 two-way radios generally have better user interfaces, longer-lasting batteries, more color choices and higher quality internal components. Backlit displays and built-in flashlights are also common features at this tier.
Premium two-way radios that cost $100 or more offer superior battery performance, stronger transmissions and niche business-specific features like group calling and encryption. They also tend to have more comprehensive warranties and satisfaction guarantees.
Frequently asked questions
Q: What’s a two-way radio repeater?
A: As its name implies, a two-way repeater listens for two-way transmissions and rebroadcasts them. Repeaters have much higher wattage than ordinary two-way radios. High performance two-way radios output only five watts. By comparison, repeaters are rated at anywhere from 40 to 100 watts. Emergency responders use repeaters to make sure that they don’t miss important communications while on the job.
Q: What’s a two-way radio base station?
A: A base station is basically a heavy-duty, non-portable two-way radio. Base stations have better range because they have higher wattage ratings. Another advantage that they have over standard two-way radios is that they can operate in both UHF and VHF modes. Most standard two-way radios can only use one or the other frequency ranges.
Q: What’s the best way to maintain a two-way radio fleet over a long period of time?
A: You should instruct your team to wipe down their two-ways with alcohol after every shift and inspect the battery chamber. This prevents both dust buildup and guards against disease transmission. Also, always remember to pop all the batteries out before you put your two-way radios in long-term storage. Battery leaks can cause serious damage to the handsets’ electronics.
- FCC registration can help avoid the problem of unwanted interference. Once you register, you’ll be assigned a unique frequency that nobody else in your area can use. The cost of registering is low. Most businesses will only pay $70 per year and some types of organizations aren’t obligated to pay any fees at all.
- Not sure which frequencies to use? There’s a free publication that’s available though the National Telecommunications and Information Administration that’s called United States Frequency Allocations: The Radio Spectrum Chart. It can help you find a frequency that’s most suitable for what you want to do.
- Don’t act like you’re on a telephone when you communicate via two-way radios. Use short sentences to avoid misunderstandings, avoid the use of unnecessary language and repeat back what you hear to confirm that you understand.