Gear Test: 4 Two-Way Radios Under $50

twowayradios

Maybe all you want is a radio that'll let you talk to your hunting partner on the other side of the hill or your fishing buddy across the lake. You don't want to pay for fancy GPS features or military-grade transmission power. You want something affordable, lightweight, simple, and dependable. With that in mind I ordered four $50-and-under two-way radio sets from Sportsauthority.com and Amazon.com. Then I put them through a battery of tests to determine which delivered the best value. My first goal was to answer the two main concerns of anyone buying virtually any basic-model gear: Does it work and is it easy to use? I compared features and capabilities and put the radios through some serious wear-and-tear tests. Stopping just short of sheer destruction, I found that some lived up to their billing better than others.
#1 - Midland LXT385VP3
$50 Seller cost: $50
Advertised range: Up to 24 miles

Charge type tested: Ni-MH -rechargeable battery pack with charger unit
Noteworthy feature: A high-low setting that saves battery life
Functionality: Very good
Transmit quality: Excellent
Freeze resistance: Good
Battery life: Very good
Durability: Very good
Bargain rating: Very good Comments: The Midland had the most consistently strong signal. Its display and menus are easy to navigate, and it stood up to freezing temps, snow moisture, and shocks better than the others. The battery compartment is tough to open; we broke the belt clip while trying. Midland plans to upgrade this model's display and button configuration, but the guts will basically be the same.
#2 - Cobra CXT225
$60 Seller cost: $50
Advertised range: Up to 20 miles

Charge type tested: Four Ni-MH rechargeable AAA batteries, charged by A/C adapter
Noteworthy feature: Built-in NOAA weather receiver
Functionality: Good
Transmit quality: Very good
Freeze resistance: Good
Battery life: Very good
Durability: Good
Bargain rating: Good Comments: It packed impressive transmitting punch, especially in the canyon and timber. Overall, the Cobra signal was as powerful though not quite as clear as the Midland. Its button configuration is generally good, but when you hold it in your right hand, you're apt to accidentally switch channels unless you set it in lock mode. The default power-saver mode was the best in the test.
#3 - Motorola Talkabout MC220R
$45 Seller cost: $40
Advertised range: Up to 16 miles

Charge type tested: 3.6V Ni-MH battery pack with charger unit
Noteworthy feature: Rotating on-off switch
Functionality: Good
Transmit quality: Good
Freeze resistance: Good
Battery life: Good
Durability: Good
Bargain rating: Good Comments: Although the Motorola did not wow us in any one particular category, it performed consistently well all-around. This model has a bulky profile, especially compared with the Cobra and Uniden, but that seemed to aid in durability. Our one beef was that it didn't hold its charge as well as the other rechargeable units, especially when left on and outside to freeze overnight.
#4 - Uniden GMR1635-2
$25
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Seller cost: $20
Advertised range: Up to 16 miles_
Charge type tested: Three AAA alkaline batteries
Noteworthy feature: Tiny size
Functionality: Good
Transmit quality: Good
Freeze resistance: Fair
Battery life: Fair
Durability: Fair
Bargain rating: Fair Comments: These were the smallest units in the test and easy to carry in a pocket. The signal was clear and true at short and in open ranges but disappeared abruptly when challenged by terrain or cover. We also got instant static when we dropped the Uniden in the snow, but the radio recovered after an hour or so of drying in the sun. The charge petered out quicker than the others. This set is best for occasional, close-range use.