When it comes to integrating GPS functionality into a two-way radio, the Garmin Rino line stands alone. The latest generation of these touch-screen units is available in three versions: the base-model Rino 610 (*Est. $350) ; the Rino 650 (*Est. $450) , which adds a three-axis compass and barometric altimeter; and the Rino 655T (*Est. $600) , which includes a 5-megapixel autofocus camera and preloaded topographic maps. All three two-way radios also support unit-to-unit text messaging. Because all three models offer the same core functionality, we've restricted our analysis to the top-of-the-line Garmin Rino 655T, which is also the most popular of these three models by a wide margin. The Rino 655T satisfies the criteria for a top two-way radio: It offers a decent transmission range, reasonably intuitive controls and withstands rugged use.
Although the Rino doesn't quite live up to its advertised 20-mile transmission range, it comes the closest of all the models we evaluated. Reviewers say deep canyons or valleys between hills might limit the Rino 655T's range to as little as half a mile, but in flatter terrain it can easily reach 4 to 5 miles with good reception. One Amazon.com reviewer reported easy, clear contact and location polling at distances of 12 to 15 miles, line of sight, in good conditions. Another feature, location polling, lets your Garmin Rino display your contacts' coordinates.
One reason for the Rino 655T's outstanding range is its 5-watt transmitter, which is the most powerful of any radio in this report. You can use the Garmin Rino on FRS frequencies (channels 8 through 14) without a license, but only at a greatly reduced power of half a watt. However, you need an Federal Communication Commission (FCC) license to operate at full power, and you can only do so on General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) frequencies (channels 1 through 7 and 15 through 22).
Some of the Rino 655T's features require a bit of a learning curve, but most reviewers say that the touch-screen controls are intuitive and the screen itself is easy to read, even in extremes of bright or dim light. The GPS is described as fast and accurate. The texting feature is also well liked.
Every single radio in this report received at least a few complaints about battery problems, but the Rino 655T gets more than its fair share. We found several complaints that the Rino's rechargeable lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery pack wouldn't hold a charge or that the radio wouldn't turn on at all unless plugged into a wall socket. When the rechargeable battery does work, users say it meets or exceeds the manufacturer's promised 14-hour life if you use the "pause" function when the radio's not in use. When used continuously, the radio lasts about eight hours. If you'd rather, you can use an optional AA battery pack instead of the rechargeable battery.