The best two-way radio features ensure clear communication when you're trying to talk from a remote location. Ergonomic designs, LCD screens and hardened cases are all secondary concerns, although they may be necessary if you use your two-way in rough conditions. Start by making sure you can stay in contact, then focus on the extras.
Channels and Privacy Codes
One of the most important considerations when selecting two-way radios is whether or not the radio has plenty of channels, and whether you're stuck listening to someone else's chatter. More channels mean less chance of interference, and you're more likely to be able to find a channel that you can use without intruding on someone else's conversation.
Privacy codes are a newer feature on two-way radios, but they give you the ability to filter out people who aren't using the privacy code so you aren't stuck listening to errant snatches of conversation. The term privacy code is misleading; it doesn't prevent other people from listening to your conversations, but it does filter those conversations out from your radio. This can be crucial in an emergency if you need to establish a clear channel of communication.
Range is a tricky two-way radio feature. In many situations, you want a two-way radio with the most range available so you can be sure you'll receive your transmissions. However, the range that the manufacturers advertise may not be the practical range at which your radio functions in the environment.
Range can be drastically reduced from the manufacturer's claims due to terrain or interference. In an urban setting, for example, your two-mile range may only be a quarter or a half mile, due to interference. In the mountains, you may also experience reduced range due to terrain.
Keep in mind that some radios offer a vastly extended range, but you need a special radio license from the FCC to operate them. GMRS radios require a special license, but offer incredible range, even in remote terrain. If you'll be in the backcountry, it's worth the extra investment in a GMRS system.
You can't believe the manufacturer's claims when you're trying to select the best two-way radio. Manufacturers describe what their product can do in ideal scenarios, but often fail to take practical operation into account.
If you want to know what a two-way radio can really do, compare two-way radio ratings and reviews on popular Web sites. Amazon.com contains plenty of user reviews so you can get an idea of how the radio will perform in remote areas or places prone to radio interference. Many consumer product review Web sites also contain useful reviews of two-way radios.
Try Two-Way Radio Rentals
Many families want to use two-way radios to keep in touch at popular destinations, such as amusement parks, where kids may want to ride something and the grown-ups may want to keep feet planted firmly on the ground. Before you buy two-way radios for a family trip, find out if your destination offers radio rentals. You can also use two-way radio rentals as a way to evaluate different radios and styles, to determine which radio will best meet your needs.
FRS, or Family Radio Service, is a radio band which allows for two-way communications without the need for a license. Most FRS radios are handheld, but some stationary units (such as the Audiovox FRS-1000) are available.
With the Motorola Talkabout T5500 2-Way Radio, in an urban environment such as Houston, there's plenty of buildings and foliage to pose interference for walkie-talkies, but to my surprise, I've experienced little to no interference due to landscape.
When you buy inexpensive two-way radio devices, you could be putting yourself at risk. Know the limitations of these devices before you take them into dangerous situations.