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Saturday, September 25, 2010

Review Of Cobra CX 105 Two-Way Radios

OK, I admit, it wasn't an especially bright idea picking one of these up, whatever the price. But let us not go there. What is done is done! They were on sale for $5 per pair after mail-in rebate at a local hardware store. I went to the store with instructions to pick two pairs up, but the store had almost sold out of them, and had only one pair, fortunately. They hadn't sold out completely unfortunately, though.

Even before buying these, I knew that they would be nothing more than pieces of junk. They did not disappoint in that regard! In fact they are outstanding pieces of garbage!! Why will become clear in a little bit.

The package the pair comes in is the epitome of a package that causes wrap-rage. A heavy pair of scissors was needed to cut through the hard plastic packaging. I then had to carefully reach inside the sharp plastic edges to grab the radios and pull them out. The user manual is a single sheet of paper folded and secreted into a compartment in the packaging behind the radios.

The radios themselves are tiny. Their antennas are not adjustable, so from the bottom to the tip of the antenna is the full height of each radio, and this is less than 6 inches. They are about two and a half to three inches across and about an inch thick.

The user manual, as I mentioned earlier, is just a single sheet of paper, printed on one side. It has pictures explaining the different parts of the radio, some short explanations of how the different buttons work and what functions they perform, and lots of regulatory information.

The radios are capable of using both the FRS and GMRS bands for communication. Using the GMRS channels requires an FCC license since that band is used for amateur radio service. So, even though the radio can use channels 1 through 22, for all practical purposes you are restricted to using channels 8 through 14 only (unless you have the appropriate licenses from the FCC).

Cobra CX 105 2-way radios
The radio need three AAA batteries (they don't come with any batteries). The user manual/sheet has pictures showing you how to take the belt clip off the back of the radio, then take the battery cover off, install the batteries, and then put the cover and clip back on. You are going to have a lot of trouble trying to put in new batteries if you don't know to take the belt clips off before such an attempt!

The radio has 4 buttons on the front. The right-most one is for switching on and off the radio as well as switching modes on the radio. You hold the button pressed down for a few seconds to turn on or off the radio. Once the radio is on, you press the button momentarily to put the radio in channel select mode. In this mode, you can use the next two buttons on the radio to adjust up and down the channel on which the radio will transmit and receive. In this mode, the channel number in the small LCD display blinks. When the channel number is not blinking, the radio is in volume select mode, and you use the next two buttons to adjust up and down the volume level of the radio.

The left-most button on the front of the radio is a call button you can use to ping other radios on the same channel within range. When pinged, the radio rings once like a phone.

On the left of the radio is the talk button, which you press and hold down when transmitting. When the button is not pressed, the radio is in receive mode. There is a headphone jack on top of the radio if you want to use one with it rather than letting everyone around you hear what is being said to you over the radio.

Once I installed the batteries, we switched to channel 12 on both radios and played around with them inside the house just to test them. They worked fine inside the house. They even worked between the front yard and back yard of the house without any problems.

Even before I bought the radios, I knew the advertised 16-mile range would be a complete joke. The only way to get that kind of range would be if one radio was on top of a mountain and the other was down in the valley, in a straight line of sight. Under most circumstances, I was expecting a range of between a mile and two miles.

And talk about a disappointment: the radio's range was much lower than even that. Depending on the obstacles between the two radios, the range was in the range of about half a mile. In a park or along a street where there were fewer obstacles, the range was slightly higher, but nowhere near even a mile. Even when the radios were within range, towards the outer edges of the range, the quality of reception was extremely poor. Most of the time, one could make out that something was transmitted because the receiver would make a lot of staticky noises, but you can't make out a single word of what was transmitted.

My wife was hoping that our kids could use these radios to communicate in an emergency between home and their schools. I took the radios out on one of my evening walks and demonstrated that the radio did not have enough range to use it that way reliably. The school is only about a third of a mile away as the crow flies, but the straight line cuts across several houses, so the radio did not work very well at all. Sometimes, I could make out what was being said, other times it was just static and nothing intelligible.

We left the radios on to test the battery life. The batteries lasted exactly 6 days with the radios left on. The quality of transmission and reception of the radios went down as the batteries aged, and after the 4th day, the radios were not usable for any kind of conversation even within the house, between adjacent rooms. These radios do not come with rechargeable batteries or a charging base, so it is important to remember to turn these radios off when they are not being used because of their poor battery life when left on. They are supposed to have battery-conserving circuitry in them, so I can only wonder what the battery life would have been if such circuitry was not present!

So, here is a quick rundown of the pros and cons. Pros: Very low cost, small size. Cons: Very low range, quite poor quality beyond an even smaller radius, battery-hungry. The radios also have pretty much no extra or enhanced features that I have not talked about in this review. I would say that these radios are OK as a curiosity if you want to have something to amuse a 3-year old. But if you are looking for something practical to communicate over short distances, look for something better (though two-way radios are probably never going to be the solution to that problem, regardless of the cost).

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