Looking for the best 2018 handheld long range two-way radios? Look no further. We’ve compiled a list of our top picks based on extensive coverage testing.
Before we get into the list, it’s important to understand why these two-way radios made our list. Let’s take a look at important criteria to consider.
- Power Output
- Business Radios vs. Consumer Radios
- Frequency Band
- Type of Technology (Analog or Digital)
Let’s first discuss the power output. This is the most important piece to getting your long range radio coverage. More power equals more coverage (insert grunting).
Next, you need to know there are two different classifications of 2-way radios. There are Business Radios and there are Consumer Radios. It’s important to note, Business Radios typically have 4-5 watts of power. Legally, 5 watts is the highest amount of power a handheld radio can have. However, Consumer Radios only have 0.25 watts of power. These are the type of inexpensive radios you might see at Best Buy or any other big box retail stores. They might claim to get 30+ miles of coverage, but that’s just nonsense. We all know those 0.25 watt radios ain’t getting but maybe 2 blocks of coverage – if you’re lucky! Rule of thumb, if you are in an open field with no obstructions, you should see 1 mile of coverage per 1 watt of power or if you are in a building, expect around 2 floors of coverage per 1 watt of power.
Once you know you are getting a full powered two-way radios (4 to 5-watts) next you want to understand how you are going to be using that handheld radio. Will you primarily be indoors or outdoors? If you are outdoors, are there still a lot of objects in between the people communicating? This is important because there are 2 main types of frequency bands. There are UHF radios and VHF radios. The UHF frequency band is most popular because it can penetrate through walls and objects better than VHF can. So then why is there VHF? Because VHF actually sends a signal farther than UHF if there is no objects obstructing the people communicating. In the real world, typically there are objects in between the people trying to talk which is why we believe UHF is the safest option to go with. But if you are in a wide open field such as a desert, go with VHF.
Now we have to pick digital two way radios or analog radios. Digital is simply going to give you better audio quality, coverage and features. When I say “better coverage” though, it’s important to clarify how this works. With analog, the farther distance you travel, the weaker the signal gets. You’ll start to hear more and more static until eventually the signal will drop off. With digital, in those areas where you normally would have gotten static on analog, you get crystal clear audio as if you were in a full coverage zone. However, once you are out of range, the signal will drop off completely. So with analog, you have a little warning before the signal drops off but with digital, you either have it or you don’t. Think of it like you were on a road trip listening to the FM radio. Eventually, the station starts to get very staticy until it drops off. This is a good representation of how analog radios perform. However, if you are listening to satellite radio, you’ll have clear coverage all the time until you drive into a tunnel, then you completely lose the signal – just like a digital two-way radio. So with digital, overall you’ll get some better coverage but where it really seems like more than there is, it’s because audio sounds much clearer in those areas analog might have had a lot of static.
Ok, now that you are a two-way radio expert, now let’s take a look at our Best 2018 Handheld Long Range 2-Way Radios!
#3 – Sonim XP8
We’re bending all the rules on this one but figured it knocks coverage out of the park so we had to add it. This cool radio is also a smartphone and you can communicate nationwide without the need of a repeater. It’s an ultra rugged device with a dedicated push-to-talk button on the side. However, like any other smartphone, you’re going to have a standard monthly rate plan with it. What’s great though is you can also link this up to your two-way radio system with an LMR Interoperability ROIP Kit so you can talk from your phone to your radios. Therefore, if you had a group of radios in California for on-site communication, you can have your Sonim XP8 in New York and able to talk to all your radios in California from your Sonim XP8. Two Way Direct offers this push-to-talk feature for just $5 per month so even though this technically isn’t a traditional two-way radio, we felt it was important to add to our list since it really takes radio communication to the next level at an affordable price.
#2 – XTR300
This XTR300 would be on the top of our list if we were making a list of the lowest cost long range business two-way radios. This is the most affordable digital long range two-way radio on the market. It retails for $399.95 however Two Way Direct discounts this radio frequently down to $199.95 which is the lowest price we’ve seen for a full powered digital radio. The XTR300 has the maximum 5-watts of power (with a 2,000mAh lithium-ion battery) and uses TDMA digital technology with is the same as Vertex Standard’s eVerge or Motorola’s MotoTRBO. Vertex is now discontinued and Motorola MotoTRBO radios are extremely expensive. This XTR300 can be programmed to work with either of those digital radios so you can get excellent performance at a fraction of the price.
#1 – XTR550
Here it is! The Best 2018 Handheld Long Range Two-Way Radio. The XTR550 digital two-way radio! It’s got it all – power, TDMA digital technology (compatible with eVerge and MotoTRBO), excellent coverage, battery performance, durability, extra loud and clear audio, user friendly display and even waterproof. Best of all, it’s another great buy in terms of bang-for-buck. Priced slightly higher than the XTR300, this radio gets you everything you could need for it’s sale price of $369.95 (retails for $450). We compare this radio to the Motorola digital radios in it’s class which cost upwards $900+ per radio. Another great thing about this radio is that it comes with a 3 year factory warranty. The battery is a high performance 2,000mAh lithium-ion battery which has great long lasting talk time performance.
We hope you enjoyed reading our list and now feel more informed about buying long range two-way radios.
To wrap this up, check out our coverage test video of the award winning XTR550 easily covering 30 floors in a hotel without a repeater!