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I have become so reliant on mobile phones over the last few years that the thought of going somewhere without coverage almost starts a panic. But there is a solution.
Over the last few years personal radios, more commonly known as "walkie-talkies", have been quietly improving, much the same as mobile phones. At the top of the current evolutionary tree is the Motorola Talkabout t6222 and it was a pair of these that a group of friends and I took on a recent holiday in the Lake District.
In the box that each handset comes in (you have to buy them seperately), you get a handset, manual and belt-clip. the manual can only be described as 'brief', telling you the bare minimum you need to get up and running with precious little detail on anything else. Fortunately the handsets are intuitive and easy to use, which goes some way towards explaining the breviety of the manual.
The handset is about the size of a mobile phone, maybe just a little bigger. The main difference being the 2" antenna on the top right-hand corner. The body is made of a sturdy plastic (available in navy-blue, black or bright yellow) and has an hourglass shape to it which fits neatly into the palm of the hand. Motorola tout the unit as being shock and splash proof. having dropped one of mine in a shallow puddle, i can vouch for this. Having said that, the unit is not actually waterproof so if you submerse it in water, it WILL break. With a full set of 3 AA batteries fitted it is heavier than a mobile but not massively so, tipping my kitchen scales at 200g.
You can use either standard batteries or rechargeables. Standard alkaline batteries give a whopping 8 hours of talktime and 139 hours of stand-by, while standard-rated Nimh rechargeables will stuggle to give you much more than 2 hours of talk-time and 39 hours of standby. The lifespan of rechargeables is down to their power rating (I'll be writing a review on rechargeable batteries in the days to come).
There is a total of 8 buttons, all rubberised, splash-proof and sensibly positioned. An on/off button and a button for the lcd-screen back-light sit either side of the main display. Below these sit the menu button and a +/- button for stepping through menu options. Under these, in the centre of the unit is the "push-to-talk" button. Finally, either side of the PTT button is the 'call' button and the 'scan' button. The call button is used to attract the attention of other users in your group, causing any receiving units to emit a ring-tone, in much the same way as a mobile phone.
The Scan button scans all the walkie-talkie channels so that you can pick one that isn't being used by someone else. Or listen in on someone elses conversation. Remember that walkie-talkies use public channels for communication and are not encrypted like Mobiles, so anyone within range could listen in.
When you switch the units on for the first time, they default to Channel 1 (of a possible 8) using code 1 (of a possible 38). These two numbers (displayed on the handset screen) determine who you will be able to talk to. In order to talk, both handsets must be set to the same channel and code. This is achieved by pressing the menu button once and using the +/- buttons to adjust the channel number than then pressing the menu button again and using the +/- buttons to adjust the code number. One point worth noting is that each of the 8 channels effectively has 38 sub-channels (using the codes), giving 304 possible channels, so you should be able to find one that nobody is using!
Next on the menu list, after you have set the Channel and Code is the Voice-Scrambler option. This adds a degree of privacy to the communications between two Motorola T6222 handsets, but it should not be taken as meaning th conversations are secure. In order to send/receive scrambled communiactions the handsets need to be on the same channel with the same code and both have the voice-scrambler activated. From this you can see that anyone else with the same handset, with the same channel/code/scarmbler settings will be able to hear your conversation.
As already mentioned, it is possible to send a ring-tone to other handsets on the same channel/code combination. There 10 to choose from and they allow you to identify different handsets in your group (if there are more than 2 it can come in handy as you know who wants to talk). There is also a vibrating alert so that as well as playing a ring-tone the handst vibrates in much the same way as a mobile phone. Useful if you're somewhere noisy where you may otherwise miss the incoming message.
Another extremely useful feature is the microphone gain/VOX sensitivity adjustment. This allows you to control the sensitivity of the microphone so that you don't have to shout into it to be heard or equally, to cut out possible background noise. The VOX sensitivity comes in handy when you use one of the hands-free headsets that are available as an optional accessory as it sets the volume at which the mic will automatically start transmitting, allowing you to talk hands-free (whithout even having to press the button).
In use they are simplicity itself. Once we had decided on a channel/code combination we were away. Sure enough, there are more than a few spots in the Lake District with patchy mobile coverage and the radios came in extremely handy on more than a few occasions. With the group splitting into two and taking different routes across a fell it was easy to check up on the progress of the other group, arrange the rendezvous back at the cars etc. They were even useful on the journey back home, providing a free communications link between cars to arrange pit-stops etc. There weren't any accidents on this holiday but if there had been, the radios would have been really useful there too. In fact, everyone was so impressed by them that, the next time we go away it's likely that there will be more than two handsets in the group.
Costing around £70 per handset, these aren't the cheapest on the market (I have seen radios being sold in Dixons for abour £40 per pair) but they are probably the best. The range of features is unparalleled and they are considerably more robust than the cheaper models. They also have a greater range of accessories, from a fully waterproof case to a mobile phone style hands-free kit. If you are planning on taking them outdoors be it mountain-biking, hiking, skiing or anything else where you are exposed to the elements then they are definately the best handset for the job. If you are looking at a use closer to home, where you won't be falling off/falling over/ falling down quite so much then a cheaper pair would probably do the trick just as well.
There are a few things to remember :
- Conversations over walkie-talkies should not be considered private as they are effectively being broadcast over a 2 mile radius. - Get into the habit of pressing the talk button about a second before you start talking, to give the radios time to sort themselves out. - It is not possible for two people to talk at the same time, if you try, nobody will hear anything of any use. - The effective range is significantly affected by local terrain. The 2 mile radius is only achieved when there is a line of sight between the two users. Large obstacles (like buildings or mountains) will significantly reduce the range and in some cases render the devices useless until positions change. - It's always worth carrying a spare set of batteries.
[Originally posted on DooYoo (by me) back in 2002. Recently modified and ported to Ciao]
This would have got an E if you had finished off the review with "CHHHKKKK over and out". Nice one. By the way I honestly bought a similar version of these so my Mrs & Mother in Law could talk to each other and cut down on the phone bill. They only stay about 500m away! Never used them so I now have them in the car for whenever we go hill walking. gar