Wayne Thorp will speak at the 2015 AAII Investor Conference this fall; go to www.aaii.com/conference for more details.
Rugged, waterproof two-way radio with 35-mile range.
Growing up in rural Michigan, where our county-mile block had four houses, my parents had a citizen-band (CB) base unit with an antenna attached to our house; my dad had a mobile CB in his truck until I was in high school and this was our first "bag" cellphone. As a result, I can appreciate the ability to communicate without the need of a cellphone. As an outdoorsman, there are also times I am in areas where there is no cell signal. So, when I had the opportunity to review Motorola's Talkabout MS350R two-way radio system, I jumped at the chance. For those of you who live in urban areas and don't venture off the beaten path, this review probably isn't for you.
The MS350R box I was given by Motorola for review contained two radios with attachable belt clips, a dual drop-in charger with adapter, two NiMH rechargeable battery packs (you can also use three AA batteries) and a user's guide. I was disappointed when I saw that there was one charger for both radios. I envisioned taking the radios back up to Michigan and leaving one radio at my mother's house and the other at my sister and brother-in-law's house so they could communicate should the power go out for an extended period of time. The dual charger, however, means that both radios are charged in the same cradle, so that hope was immediately dashed.
The radios had a charge when I first unpackaged them, but I charged them before trying them out. Outside of using the optional belt clip, there wasn't any "prep" work required to start using the radios.
The MS350Rs are built for the outdoors. They are waterproof with IP-67 standard, meaning they can withstand constant submersion of up to one meter of water for 30 minutes. This makes them ideal for hunting, canoeing or kayaking, swimming, fishing and more.
Even better, the radios will float if you drop them in the water, and their bright yellow color makes it easy to identify them in the water. However, Motorola only guarantees that the radios will float if you are using the NiMH battery pack. If you opt to use three AA batteries, the radios may or may not float.
The radios have non-slip ridges that make them easy to hold, even when wet or wearing gloves. Their hourglass shape also means that you can hold them for an extended period of time without your hands getting tired or sore.
Another nice feature is the built-in flashlight.
Motorola claims that the MS350R radios have a range of 35 miles. Keep in mind, this refers to unobstructed line-of-sight operation. The range is impacted by weather conditions. However, I didn't experience any problems at a distance of roughly three miles in rural Michigan, when both users were inside.
To maximize the range of the radios, they have built-in repeater channels that work with a local repeater station to carry your signal farther. However, you must have a GMRS license from the FCC and an accessible repeater station to take advantage of this feature. In all, there are 22 channels and eight repeater channels, which means you can use the radios without an FCC license, although the range is limited.
To block out chatter from other parties on the same channel, the MS350R allows you to enter an Interference Eliminator Code that will block the reception of signals that do not carry the matching code. There are 121 codes to choose from.
You can also choose from 10 call tones to alert others in your group that you want to talk. In addition, you can activate a unique Talk Confirmation Tone that serves as a "roger" or "over" to let others in your group know when you have finished transmitting.
If you wish to use your MS350Rs hands-free, you have the option of iVOX for hands-free transmission without the need for headset accessories, or you can purchase optional headset accessories for hand-free operation.
When you are in areas where severe weather can roll up on you quickly and unexpectedly, having access to current weather conditions is very useful, if not vital. The MS350R radios have 11 weather channels, including seven National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrationchannels. You can listen to a weather channel or set the radio to alert you to emergency weather broadcasts that interrupt routine broadcasts. However, when you listen to a weather channel, you cannot use the radio for two-way communication. The radios can also scan to find an active NOAA weather radio channel in your area.
As mentioned, the MS350R radios can be powered by either an NiMH battery pack (included) or three AA batteries. This is a nice feature because you don't have to be near a power source to keep the radios fully juiced. The trade-off, however, is that using AA batteries may mess with the radio's buoyancy, so they may not float. According to Motorola, the battery pack gives you nine hours of use, while premium AA batteries will give you almost a full day's worth (23 hours).
The radios have a battery meter to let you know the battery status, and they will beep once the battery charge gets low.
There is also an Auto Off option that you can set that will power off the radio after 30, 60 or 90 minutes of inactivity.
As I said in the introduction, the radios are intended for outdoorsmen and/or those in rural areas to make the most of their range. Furthermore, you need an FCC license to use the repeater channels that maximize your transmission range. That being said, if you are willing to go through the bureaucracy and are looking for a rugged, waterproof two-way radio system, the Motorola MS350R system is definitely worth considering. Even if they don't float (if you opt to use AA batteries), they are built to survive a rainstorm, a trip to the beach or your favorite trout stream. Being able to use AA batteries instead of the included rechargeable battery pack is also a useful feature if you plan on being away from a plug for an extended period of time. Really, my only complaint is that there is one charging cradle for both radios. In my perfect world, there would be a cradle for each radio. This isn't necessarily a bad thing; it just didn't fit my hopes.
$99.99 (Currently $71.99 from Amazon.com)