Walkie-talkies – is there any other mundane technology out there that so instantly brings to mind a set of mostly positive or interesting clichés? What do you imagine, when you think of this now rather old technology? Spy or thief movies? Military adventures? Police dramas? Or, do you recall some fond moments from your own childhood? In this guide, we’ll bring those memories back and add some more! We’ll see how the technology behind walkie-talkies works, explore types of such devices, walk you through factors to consider when buying one, explain what matters with which application, features and implementations available. We’ll also review the TOP 5 Best Walkie-Talkies for hassle-free shopping.

In the times before the internet, before cell phones, when a family had one telephone line to share and had to pay handsomely for long-distance calls, this was the ultimate solution to casual real-time communications that wouldn’t disrupt other interchanges. One would think that now, nearing the end of the second decade of the 21st century, that this technology would be pretty much obsolete aside from as toys, wouldn’t you?

After all, if you have unlimited calls, text or data (often all three), you could achieve the same effect – intermittent voice messaging – with your smartphone, across a global distance, with better signal security and audio quality.

Well, in some cases, that’s very true. You often don’t see these in use by, say, mall security or the like anymore, when their professional phone has an app that mimics a walkie-talkie perfectly.

However, this technology has its advantages, chief among them being that it doesn’t require cell or wifi reception, the devices are much less frail, and the communications costs nothing, aside from batteries and device purchases. All of these have led them to still be heavily used in rural/wilderness environments, industrial settings with poor reception, and construction sites where frail phones are sure to be demolished sooner or later.

The simplicity of simply setting a mutual channel and moving along means getting a network of these up and running, anywhere, is practically effortless. So, there may be a host of reasons you’re interested in this very affordable technology. Perhaps you and your buddies like to hike, fish, camp, and hunt. There’s no cell reception out there. But you can stay in touch with walkie-talkies, with long-lived battery life, no problem.

Perhaps you have a loved one who values their independence but is at risk of falling or other injuries. Keeping walkie-talkies on yourself and them is a way for them to have their own life and privacy, but instantly call for help with the press of a button if they need you.

There are a lot of reasons for this technology to stick around, at least for the next half-century.

What’s a Walkie Talkie and How It Works

Walkie-talkies, despite their humorous name, are a serious, professional technology that’s descended from the field radios used in World War II. They basically produce a short (compared to AM/FM radio) RF signal that can be decoded back into sound by other receivers on the same channel (frequency). Field radios were large, bulky things that weren’t practical for the uses walkie-talkies enjoy in modernity, simply due to a moment in technological history called transistorizing. Before the advent of transistors and their widespread use in electronics, vacuum tubes and wire capacitors (called condensers) were the only way to receive and amplify the sound coming from radio waves. This is why old radios were at first massive furniture, and them large tabletop objects. We didn’t see portable radios until transistors made them small and lightweight. The same happened to walkie-talkies.

They were quite expensive, at least good ones with long battery life and decent range, all the way up to the end of the last century. Today, byproducts of cellular and wifi transponder technology have made powerful implementations a lot more affordable.

Types of Walkie-Talkies

The technology is pretty much the same for dedicated walkie-talkie devices. They are a modulated radio transceiver. However, the amount of refinement, complexity and form factor can allow them to specialize in a few different use cases, which we alluded to before.

  • For Kids – These are simple walkie-talkies, usually without a modulating channel feature and limited range. They’re a bit on the large side, colorful, and have a hardened case just like other child’s toys in an effort to abate the destructive/rough nature of how kids handle things.
  • For Seniors/Disabled/Special Needs Patients – These tend to be small, and somewhat simplified with a few channels, but very good range and responsiveness. They tend to be strapped to lanyards, to make it easy to carry them around and tend to range on the lower end of frequencies for said range and ability to ease through things like cement.
  • Professional Type Radios – These are the peer-to-peer radios you still see the likes of police, military and some security using, as well as by forestry and other professions that can’t rely on cell connectivity all the time. They’re the most featured, sophisticated walkie-talkies with advanced channel handling, and the widest variable range settings. One would expect them to be expensive – and they sure used to be – but they’re really not nowadays.
  • Apps – As I said, smartphones and other connected devices can do this too, as long as wifi or cell reception is available. There are free apps for this, and a lot of general communications things (Skype, Discord, etc.) have push-to-talk modes that can work this way.

What to Look For When Buying

Let’s take a look at a handful of features that matter when choosing your walkie-talkie. Depending on your purpose, your environment, and everyone using the devices, these factors will impact your experience in various ways.

  • Very High Frequency (BHR) Radio or Ultra High Frequency (UHR) Radio – Wave frequency is something of a complex science, but it can be boiled down a bit when it comes to devices like this. The higher a radio wave’s frequency is, the more data it can pack into a transmission. In the case of analog devices, this means sound quality. However, this limits how far the wave can travel, without more energy poured into it, because high frequencies are higher-energy. High frequencies also have a harder time making it through dense materials like cement, stone and other structural materials. The result is, VHR has a wider range per joule of energy as well as less of a chance of being stopped, while UHR has fantastic voice quality, but will kill batteries to get range, and doesn’t like buildings as well.
  • Distance – This is affected by the frequency above, but many walkie-talkie types list their ranges. You generally want the best range regardless, just as you do with wifi transponders.
  • Batteries – The type of battery the device uses matters, as many (but not all) walkie-talkies use AAA or AA batteries, and they eat them alive. If you can get a walkie-talkie that’s rechargeable, or that works well with AA/AAA form factor rechargeable batteries, you’re better off.
  • Channels – Channels are important because radio transmissions like to overlap. Anyone who’s picked up on random transmissions on a baby monitor can vouch for this. The ability to change channels can help you find a frequency that’s not interfering with/being interfered with by other broadcasts and has no interlopers.
  • Features – Of course, additional features made possible by modern technology are nice. Hands-free mode with headsets are nice, privacy codes can prevent people from listening in, noise canceling features can double the impact of available channels, keypad lock/alert is just as useful as with mobile phones, backlit LCD screens are easier to read, a jack for mic/speakers is always handy, income alerts can get your attention ahead of time, so you’re listening and hear everything said, and additional things like emergency/weather radio receivers are nothing to sneeze at.

Personal Experience: Walkie-Talkie from Stranger Things

As a kid in LA, I had a friend that lived about six blocks from me. During the summer, we were inseparable, and he remains one of my best friends even today, though we stay in touch via the internet due to being not even on the same continents anymore. Given neither of us was the most sociable kids outside our own little group of nerdy misfits, our parents were very encouraging of how close we were.

This was a time before the internet as we know it, and a time when nobody had two phone lines in their house. So, both of our parents chipped in on a set of very expensive walkie-talkies. If you’ve seen Stranger Things, you’ve seen the type of device I am talking about. Honestly, a lot about that show is my childhood, just without telekinetic orphans or Lovecraftian monsters.

This was a time, though, when the circuitry on these things was not as smart. In fact, it was just an IC two-way radio, with no actual “logic” going on. Microchips were expensive back then and didn’t get used in non-computer applications yet.

But, I want to talk a little bit about what can happen when your walkie-talkies don’t cancel noise and resist signal leakage. Once a month or so, one of us brings this incident up, and we laugh at it now. But at the time, it was anything but …

One night, I believe it was the summer when we were nine, we were idly chitchatting about something on our walkies, when this horrifying, haunting transmission came in. This woman screamed, begged for mercy, and then there were sounds I won’t describe. Now, imagine being nine, and hearing that come in over your magical remote talking device. Well, we’d seen the baby monitor interference thing because he had a newborn sister. That meant we knew we were picking up some kind of transmission … but we thought it was a murder. Why would that be transmitted? Well, I don’t know but you don’t wonder that at nine.

We spent the next three days terrified that someone in our neighborhood was a murderer, investigating it as quietly as we could lest the murderer catch on … but the climax of that story isn’t very epic. A friend of both our families had gotten a brand new surround sound home theater – this was a new technology at the time, and the wireless speakers just used UHR to carry the signal, and we’d picked up on a wee bit of some horror movie he and his girlfriend were watching, that just happened to cross our frequency range.

When you buy your walkie-talkies, even if they’re for kids, make sure they’re secure, or an episode of a bad 80s adventure show might happen. You’ll laugh at it, years later, but it’s sure not funny at the time.

Top 5 Walkie-Talkies

Let’s now review the TOP 5 Best Walkie-Talkies we’ve come across when researching the subject. We’ll cover options for adults and children alike, walk you through the features for each, and answer some of the frequently asked questions.

Topsung M880 FRS Two Way Radio Long Range with VOX Belt Clip/Hand Held Walky Talky – Standard Set for Adults!

Two Way Radio Long Range with VOX Belt Clip: photo

This is the quintessential professional compact walkie-talkie technology excellent for professional use, as well as for caregivers or just staying in touch “off the grid”. As a kid, I would have drooled over walkie-talkie technology this powerful yet this affordable. We just didn’t have this kind of advanced tech back then.

With excellent security features and frequency control, there’s not much more you can do to improve this kind of implementation without treading on conjectural science fiction territory for now.

Features

  • Channels: 22
  • Privacy Codes: 121
  • Range: 3 Miles
  • Display: Backlit LCD
  • Hands-Free Jack: Yes
  • Power Source: 3xAA Batteries
  • Lanyard/Clip: Yes
  • Alert for Incoming: Yes

Performance

This has a range of up to three miles, but make no mistake, that’s never a guarantee with any kind of wireless technology. This can reach three miles unobstructed, but this will diminish if you’re in a stone or concrete structure, or if you’re underground.

Buildings and geology in the way can stop it in its tracks too – if there’s a mountain between you and others, it’s probably going to stop the signal.

But, that’s not a failure in the design of this walkie-talkie, that’s just plain physics. These are excellent, capable devices. Had these been available when I was little, that memorable but then-terrifying experience never would have happened.

I have a similar set to these now, my dear elderly friend down the street has the other, and she can radio me if she falls down or has some other emergency. It’s saved her life more than once, and it brings me peace of mind while letting her keep her independence.

Pros Cons
  • Massive range.
  • Good battery life. 
  • Simple interface. 
  • Compact. 
  • Well-rounded features. 
  • Lots of channels and keys.
  • It uses AA batteries.
  • The distance is a maximum, your range may vary as said before.

Conclusion 

If you need walkies for practical purposes, then I am very satisfied in recommending these. They’re affordable but powerful, and as I said, in the case of my elderly friend, they can be a lifesaver. And, the encryption/interference resistance I really wish had been a thing back in the day.

Topsung: Check the current price

Koviti Kids Walkie Talkies 2 Way Radio 22 Channel Range Up to 3Miles UHF Walky Talkies Interphone – Great Kids’ Walkie Talkie

Koviti Kids Walkie Talkies: photo

This is what’s considered a kids’ walkie-talkie these days, and I’m a bit speechless. With actual security, range, and an interface that doesn’t pander to the users, these really are just professional devices with stronger form factors.

My only two complaints are, they’re actually pricier than most low-end professional versions for some reason, and why, oh why, are they pink? Why is anything ever pink?

Features

  • Channels: 22 (99 subs)
  • Privacy Codes: 0
  • Range: 3 Miles/500M in dense structures
  • Display: LCD
  • Hands-Free Jack: Yes
  • Power Source: 4xAAA Batteries
  • Lanyard/Clip: Yes
  • Alert for Incoming: Yes (auto-squelch)

Performance

Again, the simple multi-channel security of this would’ve saved my friend and I an admittedly memorable but quite at-the-time traumatizing misunderstanding. There were “kids” walkies at the time, but they were big, bulky hunks of plastic with a few hundred feet of range at best.

This is practically a professional walkie-talkie, just hardened and slightly simplified for ease of use and durability. This just shows that this technology has come a long way since my childhood. But, again, why pink? Why, ever, pink?

Pros Cons
  • Actual range.
  • Good battery life. 
  • Practically a professional device despite being marketed for kids. 
  • This isn’t a pandering toy, it’s legit.
  • It uses AAA batteries.
  • The distance is a maximum, your range may vary as said before. 
  • It’s pink …

Conclusion 

This is a safe device, given the security measures it allows, and something I would, if I had kids, be fine with them having. The only concern I have is, kids today probably wouldn’t be as taken with these devices, given they exit the womb with iPhones in their hands.

Koviti: Check the current price

USA Toyz Walkie Talkies with Binoculars for Kids – Another Good Kid’s Set

USA Toyz Walkie Talkies with Binoculars for Kids: photo

Form factor-wise, this is more what I expect out of a kid’s walkie, but again, despite the kiddy look, these are actually pretty capable devices. The binoculars, however, are cheap plastic.

Features 

  • Channels: 22 (99 subs)
  • Privacy Codes: 0
  • Range: 2 Miles/500M in dense structures
  • Display: Backlit LCD
  • Hands-Free Jack: Yes
  • Power Source: 4xAAA Batteries
  • Lanyard/Clip: Yes
  • Alert for Incoming: Yes (auto-squelch)

Performance

These are very capable walkie-talkies, again bordering on professional quality, though these look the part as a “toy” with their bright colors and hardened cases. But at least they aren’t pink.

I’d say they’re a little weaker than the other kid-centered solution but not by much. The binoculars, as I said, are honestly useless plastic junk, though. There are kid-hardened binoculars that are of decent quality, but these aren’t it.

Pros Cons
  • Actual range.
  • Good battery life. 
  • Practically a professional device despite being marketed for kids. 
  • This isn’t a pandering toy, it’s legit.
  • It uses AAA batteries.
  • The binoculars are junk. 
  • These are a bit bulky, which seems counterintuitive for small hands.

Conclusion 

As I said, I question how intrigued with walkie-talkies this generation would be, given they all have smartphones and rarely venture out of cellular or wifi range (not that I do very often myself). But there may be an excuse to get them out of the house and go enjoy nature before they become adults who just can’t be bothered, like me!

USA Toyz: Check the current price

Motorola T100 Talkabout Radio – Great for Hiking or Agriculture

Motorola T100 Talkabout Radio: photo

These rugged Motorola devices are tough, powerful and affordable, and I can see these being perfect for camping, hiking, or for use on a farm or other agricultural concern where cell reception might be spotty, or you don’t want your delicate phone to get obliterated.

Features

  • Channels: 22 (99 subs)
  • Privacy Codes: 0
  • Range: 2 Miles
  • Display: Backlit LCD
  • Hands-Free Jack: Yes
  • Power Source: 2xAA Batteries
  • Lanyard/Clip: Yes
  • Alert for Incoming: Yes (auto-squelch)
  • Additional Feature: Receivable by standard radio!

Performance

This is a capable set, and the ability to hear this on a standard radio is an excellent addition for security, supervision and the like. For professional/industrial purposes, this is an excellent solution.

If you like to go camping and hiking, someone at base camp can always hear what’s going on, and you can stay in touch safely, without being within the reach of a cell tower.

Pros Cons
  • Actual range.
  • Good battery life. 
  • Rugged. 
  • Can be heard by radios.
  • It uses AA batteries.

Conclusion 

If I were the outdoorsy type, I’d see a lot of good use out of these devices, so for farms, forestry or camping, I would highly recommend these. But, the ability for radios to hear it does mean that they won’t have much privacy.

Motorola: Check the current price

Midland - LXT500VP3, 22 Channel FRS Two-Way Radio with Channel Scan – Ultimate Professional Walkies

Two-Way Radio with Channel Scan: photo

These are the ultimate peer-to-peer communications system with up to 24 miles of range. Yes, you read that right, twenty-four miles. I’m a bit curious how this works, but Midland seems to keep their technology close to their vest, probably wisely.
This is an excellent solution for security, exploration, and other major concerns.

Features

  • Channels: 22 (99 subs)
  • Privacy Codes: 10
  • Range: 24 Miles
  • Display: Backlit LCD
  • Hands-Free Jack: Yes
  • Power Source: 4xAAA Batteries
  • Lanyard/Clip: Yes
  • Alert for Incoming: Yes (auto-squelch)
  • Additional Feature: Receivable by standard radio!

Performance

These have the highest range I’ve ever heard of for this kind of device, and I can see these being a bit overwrought for a lot uses. For professional uses where distance and communication can save lives, however, these would definitely be the first and last word.

Pros Cons
  • 24-mile range!
  • Affordable.
  • It uses AAA batteries.

Conclusion 

For forestry service, security, and other critical service industries, I can see these being wonderfully useful. But, for daily use in lesser scenarios, they might be a bit much, and some local ordinances that go beyond FCC regulation might actually forbid transponders this powerful.

Midland: Check the current price

Comparative chart of Walkie-Talkies

Product Features

Topsung

Clip/Hand Held Walky Talky
Channels: 22
Privacy Codes: 121
Range: 3 Miles
Display: Backlit LCD
Hands-Free Jack: Yes
Power Source: 3xAA Batteries
Lanyard/Clip: Yes
Alert for Incoming: Yes

Koviti

Channels: 22 (99 subs)
Privacy Codes: 0
Range: 3 Miles/500M in dense structures
Display: LCD
Hands-Free Jack: Yes
Power Source: 4xAAA Batteries
Lanyard/Clip: Yes
Alert for Incoming: Yes (auto-squelch)

USA Toyz

Channels: 22 (99 subs)
Privacy Codes: 0
Range: 2 Miles/500M in dense structures
Display: Backlit LCD
Hands-Free Jack: Yes
Power Source: 4xAAA Batteries
Lanyard/Clip: Yes
Alert for Incoming: Yes (auto-squelch)

Motorola

Channels: 22 (99 subs)
Privacy Codes: 0
Range: 2 Miles
Display: Backlit LCD
Hands-Free Jack: Yes
Power Source: 2xAA Batteries
Lanyard/Clip: Yes
Alert for Incoming: Yes (auto-squelch)
Additional Feature: Receivable by standard radio!

Midland

Channels: 22 (99 subs)
Privacy Codes: 10
Range: 24 Miles
Display: Backlit LCD
Hands-Free Jack: Yes
Power Source: 4xAAA Batteries
Lanyard/Clip: Yes
Alert for Incoming: Yes (auto-squelch)
Additional Feature: Receivable by standard radio!

FAQ

Does a walkie-talkie work on Apple watch? Is there an app on Apple watch 3?
No.

What are walkie-talkie codes?
Decryption keys to prevent eavesdropping.

Can it be traced?
They can be triangulated, yes.

Can a walkie-talkie pick up CB?
It happens, but they’re not meant to.

How far can these devices reach?
It varies, usually a couple miles, but some are much more powerful.

How does walkie-talkie app work?
It’s just an instant messenger with voice packets instead of text.

How was it invented?
They are a natural evolution of field radios, which in turn came from Tesla’s work on wireless.

What’s the best for a cruise?
Probably the first one on the list.

How to use it with Alexa? Is there any walkie-talkie that works with Alexa?
No, they’re completely different technologies.

How to accept an invite?
Usually just holding the talk button on most models does it.

What does police use?
They use a proprietary system, but the Midlands we looked, at last, are close.

What channel should I use?
Start with 3 and experiment.

Which one has the longest range?
Definitely those midlands.

Which app is the best?
Really any of those apps are about the same.

What can you recommend for hunting?
Probably the Motorolas.

What can you recommend for skiing?
The first ones on the list are fine for this.

Can it be used by toddlers?
Sure, but they can’t really communicate intelligibly so it’d be a bit pointless.

What’s the best for adults?
I like those Midlands.

Can I use a walkie-talkie in a school?
They would frown on it.

What’s the best for cars?
You should never use a walkie-talkie in a car. But the Midlands would work.

What’s the best for the elderly?
The first one on our list, by far.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Works without internet or phone lines.
  • Great peace of mind.
  • Doesn’t require services to be paid for.
  • Easy to use.

Cons

  • Never 100% secure.
  • Subject to interference.
  • Subject to range limitations.
  • Something of a technological dead end that will one day be phased out.

Conclusion

Walkie-talkies are old technology, and frankly, the days are numbered for it, I don’t see this technology being used in the next century. But for now, they have a plethora of uses, and I can see one of these meeting everyone’s needs.
Still, I do question the ones for kids, because these kids are used to much more high-end technology.