Combining a walkie-talkie with a GPS unit offers some big advantages. In addition to combining everything you need for communication and mapping in one hand-held device, it also makes it possible for you to locate your friends by tracing their radio signals. The downside is that a combined GPS unit and two-way radio typically costs more than it would to buy the two units separately.
When it comes to integrating GPS functionality into a two-way radio, the Garmin Rino line stands alone. The most basic unit in this line, the Garmin Rino 120 (Discontinued) , offers only a few simple features. It comes with one built-in map, plus 8 GB of memory for storing additional maps. It can also store up to 500 map locations in memory. Its Position Reporting feature enables you to track other members of your party, and it also includes voice activation (VOX) and a vibration alert. However, it lacks other features found on most basic walkie-talkies, such as a weather radio. Its stated range is much shorter than that of most basic walkie-talkies -- just 2 miles on FRS and 5 on GMRS -- and many users say it can't even transmit that far with any clarity.
Despite these drawbacks, however, most users are very satisfied with the Rino 120. They say it's very easy to set up and use, and the GPS is very accurate. They also find the Position Reporting feature (which many refer to as a "buddy locator") to be very handy and, in some situations, even lifesaving. The main complaint we saw about this walkie-talkie is that it burns through batteries very quickly. Each unit takes three AA batteries, and while Garmin says they can run for 15 hours on a set, some users say two to four hours is more accurate. We also saw some complaints at Amazon.com about the walkie-talkies unexpectedly "locking up," meaning that they lose power and need to be switched back on. The Garmin Rino 120 is discontinued, but is still available from some retailers and direct from Garmin.
Newer Garmin two-way radios with GPS correct some of these problems. The Garmin Rino 650 (Est. $420) and the Garmin Rino 655T (Est. $520) both run on rechargeable lithium batteries, with the option of adding AA batteries as a backup. Their range on GMRS is about four times as long as the Garmin Rino 120, and they have large color touch screens in place of the 120's black-and-white screen. Both models are packed with extras like a weather radio, an electronic compass and a barometric altimeter. The Garmin Rino 655T also includes a 5-megapixel autofocus camera and preloaded topographic maps.
Users like the wealth of features on these two Garmin radios, especially on the Garmin Rino 655T. They also say that these GPS walkie-talkies offer clear reception and accurate satellite tracking. However, owners don't find them as reliable or as easy to use as the cheaper Garmin Rino 120. Users say that the firmware on the Garmin Rino 650 is buggy, causing problems with everything from loading new maps to viewing icons. They also find the controls on both units non-intuitive, though most say it's not too hard to use once you've studied the manual. We also found several reports of malfunctions, from scratched screens and broken belt clips to battery failures. All Garmin units are backed by a one-year limited warranty, but multiple owners complain that the company refused to repair or replace their damaged units.