Motorola Talkabout T6500 review: Motorola Talkabout T6500

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3.5 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

The Good Eight weather channels; dual recharging dock; hands-free operation; extra privacy codes; decent battery life.

The Bad So-so GMRS range; small display with poor visibility and backlighting.

The Bottom Line Whether you're outdoors or at the mall, Motorola's Talkabout T6500 radios keep you connected without incurring talk-time charges, but their range is limited by environmental conditions.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

7.0 Overall

Motorola Talkabout T6500 series

Motorola's Talkabout two-way radios run the gamut from inexpensive, entry-level models to pricier, high-end models with all the bells and whistles. The T6500 strikes a nice balance between the two, offering a pair of durable FRS/GMRS (Family Radio Service/General Mobile Radio Service) radios plus a dual battery charger for $79.99.

Housed in a durable, plastic casing surrounded by thick, rubberized grips, the Motorola Talkabout T6500 is designed to withstand the rigors of outdoor use and is available in a two-tone gray or a bright yellow color scheme. The T6500 weighs 6 ounces, is slightly pear shaped, and fits comfortably in the palm of your hand. There are five function buttons on the front bezel for viewing and scrolling through menu options, transmitting call tones to another radio, and scanning and monitoring channels--all are conveniently positioned for one-handed operation. The yellow push-to-talk (PTT) button is located on the unit's left side directly under the on/off/volume knob, which in turn sits atop the radio next to a semiflexible 2.5-inch antenna. On the right is a covered accessory jack for an optional hands-free headset. The smallish display--0.7 by 0.5 inches--with silver trim is barely readable in even the best lighting conditions, but the red backlighting is worse and actually makes it harder to read. White light would have been a more practical choice.

Feature-wise, the T6500 has a lot to offer, including 22 channels and 99 Interference Eliminator (privacy) codes. Channels 1 through 7 operate on both the GMRS and FRS frequencies, channels 8 through 14 are FRS only, and channels 15 through 22 are exclusively for GMRS broadcasts. It's important to note that GMRS use requires an FCC license, while FRS is unlicensed. As a result, FRS channels tend to be crowded, but Motorola tackles that problem by adding 61 extra privacy codes (38 is standard) that are exclusive to Motorola users, so it's easier to find an open channel. There are also 8 NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) weather channels that provide updated weather conditions for your area, and the T6500 can be set to alert you when the NOAA broadcasts a weather emergency, even while you're in two-way radio mode.

Other features include iVox, a built-in, hands-free mechanism that detects your voice and enables transmissions without having to use the PTT button or a headset; VibraCall for silent call alerts; QT Noise Filtering technology, which helps eliminate chatter from unwanted radio users; and Enhanced Scanning for finding other Motorola users who may have switched channels. This feature also lets you remove selected channels from your scan list, which speeds up the scanning process. Additionally, the T6500 has 10 ring tones so that you can assign a specific tone to a caller, a battery meter with low-battery alert, and a locking keypad to prevent accidental channel changes. The package includes a pair of radios, two nickel-cadmium battery packs, two belt clips, a user guide, and a desktop charger unit that allows you to recharge both radios simultaneously. Alternatively, you can just charge the battery packs while powering each radio with three AA alkaline batteries (not included).

The T6500 performed pretty much as expected; while GMRS radios claim to be effective up to five miles, this is a best-case scenario and is rarely achieved with radios that have low power ratings (the T6500 is a 1.0-watt radio). Of course, environmental factors such as terrain, geographical location, and other radio frequency interference will also affect signal strength and can severely limit your range. We tested the T6500 in New York City, at the beach, and in a heavily wooded state park. We also took them along to a sprawling, three-story mall on Long Island to see how the privacy channels performed.

In the city, FRS and GMRS communications were limited to about 1 mile, not uncommon for Manhattan. However, we received better results at the beach, where the FRS signal remained strong for as far as 1.8 miles before completely dropping out. The GMRS range was closer to 3 miles, a good 2 miles short of the advertised 5-mile claim. In the woods, where range is all-important for hikers, the T6500 was just mediocre, averaging about a mile on FRS channels and 2.5 miles on the GMRS frequencies. We picked a good day to test these radios at the mall; the FRS channels were jammed with shoppers and mall employee communications, but we had no problem finding several private channels, thanks to Motorola's exclusive digital Interference Eliminator codes.

Battery life was solid. The included nickel-cadmium batteries are rated for 12 hours at 5/5/90, or 5 percent talk time, 5 percent receive time, and 90 percent standby; we surpassed that by an hour in our tests. We got 2 hours of talk/receive time, which is also good. The rated time with AA batteries is 30 hours using the aforementioned breakdown.

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