When I rode with a large MTB club in SoCal, we’d sometimes split up into smaller groups, and head out onto different trails. There always seemed to be a handful of us that brought along two-way radios, so we could keep in touch and join up at the end of the ride. They also came in handy when one of our group broke a collar bone at the bottom of a canyon, where cellular service was unavailable. We were able to reach someone via radio that had a cellular signal, and they called for help. Were it not for the radios, they would have had to ride up and out of the canyon to make the call, putting them out of range of the injured rider. That day, they were worth their weight in gold. Any other time, they’re a great way to keep in touch while cycling or hiking, which is why we jumped at the opportunity to review the MR350R radios from Motorola.
Marketed as a tool for “total emergency preparedness”, the Talkabout® MR350R has a fairly long feature list, including some that make it more than just a useful way to communicate. The NOAA weather radio option allows you to keep abreast of storms or dangerous conditions. There’s a built-in LED that’s bright enough to read a map, light your path, or perform some close-up work. An emergency alert mode sends an attention-getting tone for 8 seconds, followed by 22 seconds of hands-free operation, so you can transmit an emergency message if necessary. Other features that we would consider to be fairly standard are the scan feature, large buttons for use with gloves, VibraCall™ silent vibrating ringer, a talk confirmation tone at the end of each message, some interference eliminators, two different VOX (voice operation, for hands-free use) options, and twenty call tones.
We chose this model for the above features, and specifically because battery options include either 3 x AA batteries, or the included rechargeable pack. Since we have a couple of tests of portable solar power options with USB output, this was a perfect match.
Our MR350R kit included the following:
• 2 radios
• 2 belt clips
• 1 dual drop-in charger
• 1 charging adapter
• 2 NiMH rechargeable battery packs
Since we’re not radio geeks, (as we suspect most of our readers aren’t either) we’re not going to bore you with a comprehensive review of every single feature. We tackled this review from the perspective of someone that just wants to take them out of the package, read over the manual while they’re charging, and then go. To that end, there was a bit of a learning curve as we figured out which buttons and menu options controlled the different settings. Once up and running, we came to appreciate a couple of features, namely the Push-To-Talk Power Boost, (for GMRS) which kicks up the output when you’re nearing the limits of their range, and the iVOX, which works like a hands-free speakerphone. The latter is perfect for calling out hazards during challenging mountain bike descents. Note: with the radio mounted on the strap of a hydration pack, it’s also sensitive enough to pick up the swearing under your breath when you don’t quite clear an obstacle.
A formal test of the distance capabilities of the radios was something we specifically did not do. The quoted maximum range of 35 miles is only achieved under circumstances that have no bearing on our real-world needs. Whether hiking or biking, the distance is usually no greater than a mile or two, if not within line of sight of the rest of our group. For that, the MR350R’s performance was more than acceptable. Sound quality was always clear enough that no one had to repeat themselves more than once in a while. The ability to choose between FRS and GMRS, depending on the range, should make a substantial difference in battery life as well. Channels 8-14 are the FRS frequencies, and limited to one half watt, while 1-7 and 15-22 are 1.5 watt GMRS frequencies. It should be noted that in order to take advantage of the higher output (and therefore greater range) of the GMRS frequencies, you’ll need an FCC license. At $85, the license will cost more than the radios, but that covers your whole family using them for five years, so it’s a reasonable expense in exchange for the extra channels/range.
If you want a set of radios that’s affordable, (MSRP of $79.99) easy to use, rugged enough for a bit of banging around, and comes from a brand you can trust, check out the MR350R, or any of the other radios that Motorola offers. They’d make a great gift for yourself, or the avid outdoors enthusiast on your list. www.motorola.com