Kenwood FreeTalk EX (UBZ-AR14) review:

Kenwood FreeTalk EX (UBZ-AR14)

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CNET Editors' Rating

The Good Lightweight; above-average range; clear transmissions; 38 subchannels; affordable.

The Bad Lacks retractable antenna; no channel-scanning or vibrate modes.

The Bottom Line An affordable pair of two-way FRS radios that do not scrimp on features or performance.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

7.0 Overall

It's not often that an economy FRS (Family Radio Service) two-way radio will outperform its more-expensive siblings, but that's the case with Kenwood's FreeTalk EX. For just less than $100, you get two quality 14-channel/38-subchannel radios that are designed for ease of use and provide clear and reliable communication within a two-mile range. It's not often that an economy FRS (Family Radio Service) two-way radio will outperform its more-expensive siblings, but that's the case with Kenwood's FreeTalk EX. For just less than $100, you get two quality 14-channel/38-subchannel radios that are designed for ease of use and provide clear and reliable communication within a two-mile range.

Basic looks
The FreeTalk EX, available in black or yellow, isn't the coolest looking radio that we've seen, but it does fit nicely in your hand, and its buttons are in all the right places, making one-handed operation a breeze. The FreeTalk EX measures up nicely to Motorola's TalkAbout T6200 radio in both size and performance. Weighing a modest 5 ounces, the FreeTalk EX sports a slightly taller but slimmer profile (4.25 by 2.25 by 1.0 inches thick). As with the Motorola radio, we were disappointed by the lack of a retractable antenna. And while the FreeTalk's antenna doesn't retract, the unit is more flexible and less intrusive than the Motorola when you wear it on your belt using the included clip. (The FreeTalk is, however, compact enough to be carried in a pocket.)

As for features, you'll find many of those that you'd expect from a radio in this class, such as call ringing, an easy-to-read backlit display, a speaker and a microphone jack for hands-free use, and a key-lock button to prevent accidental channel switching. Unfortunately, the EX lacks the channel-scanning and call-vibrate options found on the Motorola T6200.

Hard-core performer
We were pleasantly surprised by the FreeTalk EX's performance. Unlike the pricier FreeTalk WX, it provided clear communication at just less than 2 miles, which is above average for this type of device (many radios lose signal strength and suffer from broken transmissions as they approach 1.5 miles). While cruising the waters on a boat, where background noise abounds, the FreeTalk EX succeeded in providing clear boat-to-boat transmissions at 1.8 miles away; the WX model failed under the same conditions. While roaming about the city, the range was diminished to about 1.5 miles, which is to be expected in areas where there's a large concentration of buildings.

Powered by four AAA batteries (not included), the FreeTalk EX lasted a respectable 36 hours before the low-power warning sounded, signaling that it was time to replace the cells. A battery-strength meter would be a welcome addition here. Unlike the T6200 radio, there's no rechargeable pack available.

Despite the exclusion of a few features, the FreeTalk EX is a good bet if you're looking for a reliable FRS radio that has all the basics covered along with a few extras. At $99 per pair, we have no problem recommending these radios. Chances are, however, that you can find them for $79 or less. And at that price, they're a bargain.

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