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The Best 2-Way Radio for the Money
Jun 5, 2003 (Updated Jun 30, 2003)
a Very Helpful Review
by the Epinions community
Pros:Best feature set, doubles as home weather radio, LOWER Prices
Cons:Being discontinued, NiMH battery packs overpriced, no included carrying case
The Bottom Line: If you need two-way radios for your summer fun, the T-6320 offers a rich feature-set, easy use and proven durability. $25 rebate from Motorola brings down the price.
Recommend this product?
It's a pretty crowded marketplace out there, but the T-6320 stands out among its competitors with a feature set that seems likely to endure. In June, the Motorola site was selling a pair of these radios at $120 ($60 each.)
Update: Motorola is out of stock. Unfortunately, you will have to go through the rebate process to get the $60 price on each of these. Try this site:
They're sellling the AA battery version for $85 and Motorola's $25 rebate lasts through the end of the year.
If all you want to do is have 2-way radio communications, there are cheaper solutions by more than half. But if you want a little more from your 2-way radio, read on!
T-6320 Feature Set
14 Family Radio Service Channels
38 Codes to filter out interference
Programmable Scan List
Hands-free Use (VOX)
Vibrate (or Vibrate + Ring)
Eavesdrop Reducer - 3 Scramble settings
8 Channel Weather Radio
Weather Alert Feature
Clock with Alarm
Most Useful Feature
Whether you're out camping in the Great Smokies or just wondering about a storm at home, the 8 Weather Channels with Weather Alert are easily the most useful additions to this radio.
With weather alert, you can be using your radio as a two-way around the campsite and it will alert you with audible beeps to a storm warning from the National Weather Service. I don't think I have to explain why that's important. I wouldn't think of camping in a lot of tornado-prone states without it.
It's easy enough to tune through the 8 channels to find the one with the best reception where you are located. They all transmit similar information, it's just a matter of signal strength in your area.
The T-6320 serves as my weather radio at home. An experience with a tornado here in Georgia a few years back makes me reach for them every time heavy weather begins to set in around here. I can leave one in the kitchen and another in the bedroom. If the weather service sounds the alert, I'll know about it. I can continuously monitor it, if I choose.
All the Other Features
You cycle through most of the features with a 'Mode' button.
I don't think you would believe me if I tried to tell you that it's essential to have an altimeter with you on your next camping trip. Let's face it, it isn't. The altimeter isn't exact but can be set. I rarely bother. It is fun to check out an approximate altitude when camping in the mountains. Moreover, by setting it to Zero at one location, you get a fairly accurate idea of how much you climbed or descended on a hike.
The Compass also has to be calibrated when you load a fresh set of batteries, but it's a simple process. (You can even enter the declination in your area to adjust for differences between True North and Magnetic North.) This compass is especially handy at night when the backlit, Indigo-blue LCD screen is easy on the eyes trying to find stars. It reads the direction, in both degrees and abbreviations, like NW, as you hold the radio horizontal and point the antenna.
Temperature is a useful feature. Sure, you've got the weather radio, but how hot or cold is it where you are?
The Clock and Alarm can be useful, too. I haven't used the stopwatch for cooking times but there's a possible application.
The Barometer is nice if you remember what the reading was the last time you checked and know that a falling barometer means a low pressure system (read: Storms) may be moving into the area.
Channel Scan is another good feature. Your children can be on Channel/Code 12/1 and you and your wife or friends can be on 13/13 and the T-6320 will monitor both channels. It's dead easy to adjust the channels and codes.
Lock and Lock Plus enable you to lock the keys so someone doesn't inadvertently put pressure on the keypad and change settings. Lock Plus is enabled by pressing the 'Menu' key for six seconds. All you can do is page using a unique call tone, transmit or turn the radio on or off.
About FRS Channels
FRS stands for Family Radio Service and is intended to be non-commercial, low power communication.
Almost every FRS radio has all 14 FRS Channels. The reality is that if you are using them in your suburban home that's 13 more than you'll need.
Take your radios to Disney World and 1,000 channels probably wouldn't be enough. Even with the 'Privacy Codes' it's a frustrating experience to try to find and use a channel/code combination. Find a good clean one, and in a few minutes someone else is using your 'secret' channel. Everyone thinks they can go to crowded theme parks and use their radios, but they'll be sorely disappointed.
No guarantees, but you do have a better chance with these radios due to their 'Eavesdrop Reducer' feature. It makes the signal 'break up' when monitored by others but will come through loud and clear for those using the T-6320's all set to one of three different Scramble codes.
What is essential is to teach children what your channel and code is and test their ability to set it. I have a six year old who can play the buttons on this radio like a piano.
All FRS radios are 1/2 watt (500 milliwatts) of transmit power. That gives you a theoretical range of two miles -- line of sight. But there are all kinds of limiting factors: Trees, buildings, other radio signals, etc.
The limiting factor is usually a hill. It kills a signal faster than anything else. I've found these radios work from the 18th storey of a hotel down to the pool, no problem.
I've never had a problem needing much more range. Around home, the kids can be two blocks away at a friend's house and I can reach them. At a campsite, they're not going out of range. (THEIR decision!)
Last year, I happened to be in Afghanistan. Our best FRS transmission range in the mountains was 26 miles. Don't expect to duplicate that.
Around home, I find the radios are easily effective to 1.25 miles. At 1.1 miles, I can radio my wife from inside the supermarket to ask what I'm forgetting.
The T-6320 has a feature to show you the signal strength of the radio user with whom you are talking. Handy. You can see the signal drop and know when they may be approaching the range limit or when they are behind an obstruction. You can warn children they are close to getting out of range.
If you need more range, you can get more powerful radios with GMRS channels. They require an FCC license that costs $75 for five years. But be warned everyone would need a GMRS radio to use those channels and they're priced in the $100-150 range. They'll also burn through batteries faster.
All Motorola FRS radios are compatible. It may be that ALL FRS radios are compatible, but I wouldn't know because I haven't tried them all to check. The channels are regulated by the FCC, but the 'Privacy Codes' may vary.
What that means is that you don't have to buy all the kids a $60 radio to talk to them. You can give them the $20 versions and you'll be able to hear one another just fine. You should ensure the 'Privacy Codes' are part of the feature set of their radios, at least. Very few radios today are sold without privacy codes included.
Batteries - To Recharge or Use Alkaline
If you're not recharging batteries, you're throwing away money. I'm going to digress a bit here, but bear with me.
Skip Motorola's expensive, unrated (how many mAH are these anyway?) NiMH batteries. You can do much better.
Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) batteries are falling in price and surging in power ratings (milliAmp Hours - mAH.) You can recharge NiMH batteries 1000 times. They cost $15 for a pack of 4.
The best rated charger on the market (MAHA MHC401FS)costs $50 with 4 2000mAH batteries included. It includes both a wall charger and a cigarette lighter adaptor to charge in the car. Add $10 and you get a 100-240 v. wall unit that will work around the world.
I owned a single T-6320 AA Alkaline model (When they were priced more than $100) and still have inexpensive Motorola AA radios for the children. They all run with rechargeables.
When I purchased two more T-6320's from Motorola's web site this year, I somehow was shipped the NiMH models. I suppose I could say that was a bargain (they sell for about $40 more in a set of two on sale.)
Actually, I don't like the Motorola NiMH batteries. They're not worth the extra cost. I don't care for the charging system, the need for AC power etc. And you can't use them in anything but a Motorola 2-way radio.
I prefer NiMH batteries bought in AA size on the web. You can get ones now that will last not just hours, but DAYS on standby or with limited talking. Using a MAHA charger (AA and AAA) and NiMH batteries gives you a solution that will share battery power across all your AA devices you use on camping trips. (Tent lights, FM/Shortwave Radios, wireless headphones for the VCR in the minivan, etc.)
True, with Motorola's proprietary system, you don't have to remove the batteries from the radios to charge them, but the system is quirky (mine sometimes refuses to charge.) One of my battery compartments doesn't close properly with the proprietary Motorola battery inserted but closes just fine with Powerex AA NiMH rechargeables. Go figure.
Here's a good source of rechargeable NiMH batteries and MAHA chargers:
Battery life is an equation I'm still working on. It depends on how much time a radio is used to transmit. That means those under six years and between the ages of 11 and 18 don't get much time out of their batteries.
With a fresh set of 3 1800mAH batteries, my radio will easily go two days. True, I don't transmit a whole lot, but I do hear all the rest of them!
So, What's Missing?
A carrying case, that's what. If I'm going to pay $60 for a radio, I would like to keep it. Motorola gives you a belt-clip that does hold your radio securely at your side. Sometimes, it will even come off for you to use the radio when you press down on the clip. But it's awkward. My children have broken two of the clips. You can get two replacement clips from Motorola for (gasp!) $20.
The best solution I've found is a dual belt-clip/belt-loop cellphone holder at Home Depot made by McGuire-Nicholas. They're heavy duty canvas with a velcro secured flap, attractive and sell for around $7.50 You'll find them where they sell tool aprons that hold hammers etc.
As of this writing in June 2003, these radios are being discontinued. At half-price, I consider them a good buy. (They originally sold for around $120 and some places are still demanding that price.) Check out Motorola's site for deals. $25 rebate applies to radios bought at other outlets.
They're sturdy, dependable and have both essential features and a few bells, whistles and altimeters you won't find on other models. I also like the Ergonomics of this radio. Call it a 'figure eight' or whatever, but it really is comfortable in the hand. I hope Motorola is smart enough to stick with a design that works as they develop new models. The T-6320 is designed as good as they come today.
But in case you're thinking of waiting, here's what I'm told is coming our way:
Look for newer models to include GPS (Satellite locator)services that will display the approximate location of another radio user. That's going to be a big selling point for parents who want the reassurance that if junior disappears from the campsite, they'll have a general idea of where he's gone by just looking at their radio.
I am told some of these radios are already out there in the $100 dollar range, but I haven't found them yet. I would expect the price to be more than that...like Garmin's GPS/FRS/GMRS Rino that's around $170.
In my opinion, the T-6320 is just about all I need. After owning one for 2 years, I bought two more. What does that say?
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