10 Best Two-Way Radios in 2020 (Review)
Keeping up with the times means keeping in touch with the world around you. Social media has exploded, so the idea of two-way radios may seem outdated. These radios are still very prevalent in today’s society, providing instant communication for businesses, schools, and families. But with such a wide variety of choices, how do you know which one will fit your needs?
We have compiled a list of the 10 best two-way radios in 2020 to help you make your choice. It’s an absolute necessity to know not only what you’re buying, but how to buy and what to look for. We are going to cover all of that in this article, starting with the best-selling models and what they’re used for.
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10 Best Two-Way Radios
1. BaoFeng BF-F8HP Two-Way Radio
The BaoFeng BF-8HP radio is user-friendly, with a detailed user’s guide and belt clip. It is meant to serve those who are not experts with technology or radios because of its simple interface and the option for a concierge service. It comes with a 110V desktop charger and 2,000mahvLi-ion Battery Pack. The dual-band antenna is 7”.
This model has a high-gain antenna (HGA), meaning the signal strength is superior to BaoFeng’s previous models. It also means that the range is wide and versatile. With an 8-watt output, this radio has a battery life of around 16 hours, with an 8-hour charging time. It can transmit on both narrow and wide-band frequencies, with 128 programmable modes. This can be used with an earbud too, it’s a great choice for hunting or for the workplace (places where quiet is needed). This model also has a built-in LED flashlight at the top.
- LED flashlight
- Good for hunting
- Ear piece
Color: Black (with tri-color display)
Dimensions: 10.5 x 2 x 2 inches
Weight: 10.1 oz
2. Baofeng UV5RA Two-Way Radio
This model has a slightly smaller transmitting distance than its previous (newer model) counterpart. While is considered by some to be fairly easy to operate, others find it difficult. It comes with a manual, but it doesn’t come with the detailed user manual that the BF-F8HP does. That being said, it’s an inexpensive, durable, and practical option for short-distance needs. It’s also great for NOAA weather alerts and up-to-date information.
The frequency range might not make it optimal for activities such as hunting or long-distance communication needs, but it would work wonderfully in an office setting. An ear piece, belt clip, desktop charger, and emergency alarm make it a smart choice. It also has a dual-band 7” antenna.
The Baofeng UV5RA comes equipped with 128 channels, a built-in VOX function, and an emergency alarm. The VOX function comes in handy if you’re looking for a hands-free option for your radio. It also has a maximum output of 7 watts.
- Built-in VOX function
- 128 channels
- Emergency alarm
Color: Black (with tri-color display)
Dimensions: 8 x 4 x 6 inches
Weight: 15.2 oz
3. Motorola Talkabout MH230R Two-Way Radios
The Motorola Talkabout MG230R has vast transmitting range of 23+ miles, making it perfect for those looking for an outdoor radio to take hiking, camping, or hunting.
These lightweight units (they come in packs of 2 or 3) have 22 channels, each with 121 privacy codes. They are also incredibly durable and can withstand wear and tear. This model can be used for walkie-talkie use aswell, with an easy-to-use push-to-talk (PTT) button.
You can pair as many of these as you’d like, meaning you can buy for the whole family or work crew. All you’d need to do is make sure they’re all set to the same channel and subchannel. This is not the model you’d need if you were looking for weather radio and alerts. The MH230R is also water-resistant, but not waterproof. It will stand up to rain and harsh weather conditions, but it won’t necessarily hold up if it falls into a lake or the ocean. We would recommend this product for people looking for the best two way radio to use while hiking in the mountains.
- 22 channels with 121 privacy codes
Dimensions: 2.1 x 1.1 x 6.2 inches
Weight: 1.3 lbs. (for a 2-pack)
4. BaoFeng UV-82HP
The BaoFeng UV-82HP comes with a high-gain V-85 antenna and 128 programmable memory channels. Like the other BaoFeng radios in this review, it is easily moldable to the user’s preference. Free software gives the dual PTT switch the ability to become synchronized, allowing for simplification in operation. It has 3 power levels: 1, 5, and 7-8W. This is yet another way in which this model is great for customization. Those power levels allow the user to choose how far he/she can communicate.
The channels are easy to add or remove using the free (included) software. They can also be renamed using a PC. A dual PTT button lets the user transmit on two frequencies (A and B). These frequencies can be used to scan channels, frequencies, DTS tones, and CTCSS. For people who only need one frequency, the UV-82HP has the ability to re-enable the single PTT switch, making it simpler.
This unit includes FM radio, a flashlight, an emergency alarm, and external accessory capability. It has a built-in receiver and will monitor both frequencies, providing priority to incoming calls. Calling methods supported include CTCSS, DTMF, and DCS. The DTMF tones make it so the user can send and receive caller ID.
- Up to 8W power capacity
- 128 programmable channels
- Built-in receiver
Color: Blue, black, red, yellow, camo
Dimensions: 2.5 x 8.1 x 7 inches
Weight: 14.4 oz.
5. BTECH UV-5X3
The most unique thing about the BTECH UV-5X3 is the ability to modify the scanning list on the unit itself. Typically, with these particular radios, a computer and special software is needed to add or remove channels. This is an imperative feature for people who want to use their radios in their simplest form. It’s a great feature for companies or services who need to train tens of hundreds of employees and don’t want to deal with the hassle of teaching them how to program their devices.
The UV-5X3 model also allows you to scan through frequency ranges with ease. It allows you to scan by increments from 2.5Hz to 50kHz. Instead of scanning the entire band you can scan through a portion of the receiving band (as long as you’re scanning with the VFO mode). This is a VHF radio with a UHF tri-band handheld receiver, and it’s backward compatible with all of the UV-5R and BF-F8HP accessories, so you can upgrade with ease if you don’t like the battery or antenna.
This unit also allows you to sync dual displays so that you can see the name of the channel and its frequency. The remote commands are also a unique feature of this model – there are options to disable transmit, disable all of the functions, or revive all of the functions. The microphone can also be enabled using the “monitor” feature, and you can also use the “inspect” feature to confirm whether or not the radio is within the range that you need.
- Multiple remote commands
- Ability to modify the channels on the unit itself
- Easily upgradable
Dimensions: 2.3 x 1.3 x 4.3
Weight: 8 oz.
6. Retevis H-777
The Retevis H-777 is a fantastic option for businesses. This particular model is sold and shipped as a 10-pack, and all of them are set to the same frequency straight out of the box.
These radios have the simplest interface out of all of the other units in our review, so there is no need to spend exaggerated amounts of time training employees on how to use them. They are not enabled with VOX or scramblers, only PTT buttons with UHF frequency ranges. They also come equipped with high-gain antennae, making the sound clear and the range adequate. On top of that, these units are extremely lightweight.
One of the things we love about this make and model is its ability to charge with a USB cable. While the charging stations are also useful (it comes with those as well), the ability to plug the unit straight into the wall makes it easy for employees to charge their units at home or in their classrooms. One charge typically lasts 8-9 hours on the 1,000mAh lithium ion battery. If the unit is not in use/turned off, the standby time is up to 72 hours.
If you’re looking for a radio that you can use for weather alerts or federal purposes, this wouldn’t be the model to choose. But for businesses like schools or companies, it’s ideal.
- Easy to use (PTT only with 16 channels)
- USB charging option
Dimensions: 2.3 x 4.5 x 1.2 inches
Weight: 14.2 oz
7. Motorola CLS1110
The Motorola CLS1110 is another model that is perfect business and school use. It is exceptional for businesses with high employee turnover rates, because little to no training is required when learning how to use it. This means if a company has new employees on a regular basis, they don’t need to explain how to use channels, frequencies, tones, or programming.
This unit comes equipped with only one channel and a PTT button. It weighs a mere 4.6 oz and has a rechargeable battery pack. While it is pricier than other business-friendly options in this review, it covers around 200,000 feet (up to 15 floors) and is made of a strong, industrial-grade plastic. It has a keypad lock to prevent accidental changes to the frequency settings, making it a convenient option for large groups of people that need to stay on the same frequency. There is an option to buy this model with four channels if desired.
- Great for companies/businesses with high turnover rates
- Up to 200,000 ft of coverage
- One channel
Dimensions: 3.5 x 7.6 x 1.2 inches
Weight: 4.6 oz
8. BaoFeng UV-5R MK4
While the BaoFeng UV-5R MK4 is considered an amateur model, it is still more complex than the simpler products in this review. With an output power capability of 1W-8W and 128 programmable channels, it would take quite a bit more training to understand this unit. It is for people who are a little bit more experienced than new employees.
The radio itself is equipped with a built-in VOX function, FM radio (65.0 MHz – 108.0 MHz), an emergency alert function, a battery saver function, and 1750 Hz burst tone. Inside the box, there is an antenna, earphone microphone, a hand strap, an adaptor, and a desktop charger. The model also comes with a manual. While the manual isn’t particularly detailed, more information can be found on the manufacturer’s website.
- Output capability of up to 8W
- Comes with a variety of accessories
- Long battery life
Dimensions: 8 x 4 x 5 inches
Weight: 12 oz.
9. Retevis RT22
The range on these simple two-way radios is anywhere from .5 miles to 2.5 miles. The longer transmitting range would be possible in a large, wide open space (like a field). You may get the shorter distance if you’re in the woods or mountains, where obstacles are present and interfering with the signal. It would be appropriate for building use as well, as long as the building doesn’t have metal walls or large blockades.
The Retevis RT22 can be used for a multitude of purposes, and unlike most of the other products, it doesn’t require a license because of its default FRS channel. This makes it handy for recreational use, but it works for small businesses as well. This make and model is available in a 6-pack, and they come with one large charging station (it fits all 6). A 10-pack option is also available.
- No license needed
Dimensions: 9.2 x 7 x 2.4
Weight: 4.8 lbs. (for the 6-pack)
10. Baofeng BF-F9HP
The Baofeng BF-F9HP is one of the toughest models in our review, with a practically unbreakable outer shell. This would be a great radio for places like construction sites or factories, as it can withstand many falls. It also has an 8-watt power capacity and is able to reach up to 10 miles. This wattage is also programmable, should you need it in a smaller capacity. The channels are also easily programmable.
There isn’t a large difference between the F8HP and the F0HP, but you will find the scan to be faster and the unit to be more durable. If you’re looking for something slightly heavier and more robust, this is a good option for you. It is compatible with chirp software, and it requires a license for use.
- 10-mile range
- 8-watt power capacity
Dimensions: 2 x 1 x 5 inches
Weight: 10.1 oz.
5 Tips for Choosing a Two-Way Radio
Know what you’re buying it for
Different radios serve different purposes. If you need a radio for hiking, you’ll want something durable – possibly even waterproof. If you’re using it for a business, you’ll need to gauge what kind of range you’re looking for. If you just want it for around the house or for your kids, you may want cheap two-way radios
If you don’t have a license, find a radio that doesn’t require one
Most of these units require a license to use them. Check for models that have an FRS (family radio services) feature if you want to avoid taking the classes to get the license. Remember that a GMRS radio requires a license. You will see some FRS/GMRS hybrids out there, but they all need licenses.
Buy based on your experience level
If you’re new to the radio scene, it’s best to purchase a radio that has simple features. Maybe even go for a simple walkie talkie if your goal is communication only. Avoid radios with required self-programming.
Look carefully at the dimensions
These kinds of radios fluctuate drastically in size. If you neglect to take a look at the dimensions, you could end up with one of the small two-way radios when you were looking for something heftier.
Always check the chargers
All of the units in our review are portable two-way radios and handheld two-way radios, and all of them have desktop charging stations. This isn’t the case for all of the radios on the market. Some come only with a USB option or a plug-in. If they come only with USB chargers or plug-ins, they aren’t always handheld or portable. Battery packs are also a typical must-have.
What are the Best Two-Way Radios for Business?
Finding the right business two-way radio really depends on what kind of business you’re running. It also depends on what exactly you’ll be needing your radios for. If you have a business with high employee turnover rates, chances are you won’t want to be spending too much time training your employees on programming their radios. Two-way radios for construction sites are a good example of this. Simplified radios with 1-4 channels are your best option for that kind of business. The Motorola CLS1110 would be a good choice in this case.
If you’re looking for two-way radios for security purposes, you may want to go for something like BTECH UV-5X3. It is a great option because of its safety features. It also has the ability to modify the scanning list on the unit itself, so your employees won’t need to log on to a computer or use specific software to program it.
Also, when buying for business, always make sure you’re getting something durable. This doesn’t mean you have to buy the most expensive radio on the market. There are plenty of choices in our reviews that are economical and long-lasting. Professional two-way radios are extremely useful tools. It just helps to know exactly what you’ll be needing them for.
How Much Should I Expect to Pay for a Top Two-Way Radio?
Don’t be fooled by price tags when it comes to high-quality radios. Some radios are pricier than others because they come loaded with features and broad frequency ranges. You might not necessarily need those things. You may just need the smallest two-way radio out there because it’s lightweight and has only 1 or 2 channels.
For example: The Retevis RT22 in our review is only $119.99 for six radios. That means that each radio is only about $20. Those units are sturdy, reliable, and they work great for small businesses. They also have a reputation for being long-lasting. Spending about $20 on a good yet simple unit is completely reasonable and practical, not to mention economical.
On the other hand, if you need a radio for high-security or government purposes, you’re going to need the added security features and the long-range capabilities. You’re going to spend money training your employees, and you’re going to want your radios to live up to your high expectations.
If you take a look at the Motorola Talkabout in our review, you’ll notice a price tag of around $350. This particular unit has an 8-hour rechargeable battery life, 11 weather channels (7 NOAA), 22 channels with 121 privacy codes, and a 23-mile range. With this model, you’re essentially paying for the high-level security standards and the unbelievable transmitting range. This doesn’t mean you can’t find other high-quality, high-security, complex programmable radios for as low as $25 (like the BaoFeng UV5RA model). But you’re not going to get the same range.
How to Use a Two-Way Radio
Digital two-way radios can be as simple as your childhood walkie talkies or as complex as computer programming. It all depends on the make and model you decide on.
Most units take a few aaa batteries. The technologically advanced radios typically involve computer software so the user is able to program the radio to his/her desired frequencies and number of channels. The simpler radios typically only have a couple of channels and a limited frequency range, and programming them is not an option.
Let’s start with the similarities. They all have what is called a push-to-talk button, or a PTT. In order to reach the people you’re communicating with, the PTT button needs to be pushed. It then needs to be released to receive incoming transmissions.
There is an exception to this, and that is the VOX feature. VOX headsets keep the microphone running all of the time, so all that is needed for hands-free operation is the sound of your voice. Bluetooth two-way radios fall into this category.
Another similarity is the antenna. Almost all radios have a high-gain antenna, allowing for clear transmissions. If you are out of range and too far away from the people you’re trying to communicate with, there will be interference, static, and loss of signal. For all units, the possible range needs to be noted and followed.
All units need to be set to the same channel and subchannel by all users. The only way to transmit/talk to your employees, friends, or family, you must all be on the same channel and subchannel. It’s best to pick a channel and subchannel that you will always remember. For example, utilizing the birthday of someone you love (like for December 12, 1988 you would make your main channel #12 and your subchannel #88).
All units need to be properly maintained, and most cannot withstand extreme heat, cold, or water. Some of them are water-resistant or waterproof, and those are the exceptions. If you were to be using your radio for the military, for example, you’d want to get a radio with that feature.
After choosing your channel and subchannel, you want to set your frequency. Your frequency does not necessarily need to match the frequency of the people you’re communicating with.
These are the bare-minimum basics of how two-way radios work. There is quite a bit of science involved with the more complex systems, but some are meant for transmission only. All that is needed in that case is the aforementioned criteria.
How Far Can a Two-Way Radio Reach?
Generally, these units have a frequency range of 150Hz to 900Hz. There are always exceptions to this where the range is slightly higher or lower.
As far as distance is concerned, most of these radios will reach anywhere from a minimum of .5 miles to a maximum range of 36 miles. The 36-mile range is rare.
Keep in mind that while some manufacturer’s boast about long transmitting capabilities, those numbers aren’t always accurate. Environmental factors always need to be taken into account. One of the biggest things that interferes with how far a radio will reach is an obstacle or multiple obstacles. If you’re in a heavily-wooded area, your radio will struggle in getting the signal around the trees. If you’re in a wide-open desert, however, there are no environmental obstacles and your radio will reach its max transmitting range. Long-range two-way radios won’t reach as far as advertised if the conditions aren’t right.
- Ptt Without Boundaries – Motorola Solutions
- Using a two way Radio – The Basics of Communicating – YouTube
- 2-Way Radio Range: How Far can two-way Radios Communicate? – Intercoms
- Digital two-way Radios – Intercoms
- Handheld two-way Radios – Intercoms
- Two-way Radio Systems: Explained – YouTube
- Using a two way Radio – The Basics of Communicating – YouTube
- Motorola two way Radio Retailer! – Two-Way City
- The Differences Between Walkie Talkies and two way Radios – DCS 2