I have been interested in the Garmin Rino GPS radio since I first heard about them. I bought a pair at Cabelas a couple of days ago and decided to give them a try. I topped off the batteries for both of them, selected a GMRS channel and PL Code. I also made sure that each one had selected 5 watts.
Tonight I decide to try the Notes feature. Since none of the other family members were around, I figured that would give me a way to test the range by myself. I drove on streets near my home and sent a Notes message with my location. I figured that be a great way to test.
Unfortunately, I was very underwhelmed by these. I sent a number of Notes messages and only two were received. Both locations were less than a mile away.
Although I can't find it now, it seems like I read in the past that Garmin steps down the power to 1/2 watt when sending Notes messages. Does anybody here know if that is correct?
I will be returning these to Cabelas. I hoped that these would work better than they did with regards to range. Perhaps I was expecting too much.
If you were expecting the maximum range stated by Garmin:
Range: Up to 2 miles over FRS; up to 20 miles over GMRS (US); up to 13 km over GMRS (Canada)
then you will be disappointed. These "up to..." ranges are for situations like mountaintop to mountaintop. They are Line of Sight devices and blockages like buildings, forests, etc. greatly reduce range, especially with the fixed low-gain antenna that each unit offers. A Google search for FRS and GMRS range will prepare potential buyers for expected, not maximal range.
One Amazon buyer of the 650 left a good review including radio range info:
5) The radio range is about good as it could be, I think. As expected, the "20-mile" GMRS channels are really only good for 0.4 to 1.0 miles in hilly/wooded terrain, but I have tested it up to 6.5 miles from a hilltop, with a clear view. Make sure you enable the 5-watt capability in the radio settings, because it is NOT enabled by default (a GMRS license is required by law).
Range: Up to 2 miles over FRS; up to 20 miles over GMRS (US).....then you will be disappointed.....
Actually, no, I was sort of hoping that they would equal the range of my Motorola DTR550s though, but they don't. The DTR550s are 1 watt on 900 MHz and since the Garmin Rino 650s claim 4 watts on 462.xxxx, I had hoped that they would equal, or exceed, the range of those, but, sadly, they did not.
There are a couple of things buried in your statement about your disappointment of the range. The higher the radio is above the surface of the earth, the greater the range as Craig cited. The other is the higher the frequency the more direct path or straight line WITHOUT obstructions. 462 MHz is in the UHF range and this is primarily used for short range communications. While many police and fire agencies use the UHF frequencies, it is through paired channels and repeater systems installed on high buildings, towers and hills. Unit-to-unit or peer-to-peer range is always very limited due to the electronics in the units. The receivers aren't the best and the short antennas limit height which always affects the range.
I had a pair of Rino 530's a few years back. I bought them for a trip to Yellowstone. The idea of a radio / GPS combination was appealing at the time. Unfortunately, the unit performs neither task very well. Like you, I found them somewhat disappointing considering the high price tag.
Even at the 5 watt setting, I found them to have no more range than my old 1 watt Motorola T6400's. As Craig points out, the FRS/GMRS frequencies are pretty much line of sight as far as extended range is concerned. 5 times the output power does not equal 5 times the range.
I suspect, but can't be sure, that the notes feature on the 650 uses the FRS frequency band as does the older 530 , 120 and 110 models "peer to peer" function and is therefore limited to 1/2 watt per FCC regs.
Due to their combined lighter weight and better performance, I found myself carrying my Oregon 450 and T6400 most of the time. I sold the Rino's on eBay thinking I might try the newer Rino's at some point. After reading your post, it appears little has changed. Thanks for posting your comments.
From these comments, it seems that for private voice or text communication and if cell towers are nearby, then plan to use your cell phone.
For voice communication that you're willing to be public and if open repeaters are nearby, then a good option is for each user to become a FCC amateur radio Technician. The license is issued at no charge to you and isn't that hard to pass. Also, handheld HAM radios can use a high gain antenna and will have better range than FRS or GMRS radios. In the recent past, very low cost 2m handheld radios have become available even when adding the extra cost of a higher gain antenna. If in range for simplex (non-repeater) communications, you can choose a frequency unlikely to be monitored by others although anyone with a receiver in range that is on the frequency will be able to monitor transmissions, as is also possible with FRS/GMRS.
I know that the Garmin Rino Rino 750 and 755t just came out and that they are still UHF FRS/GMRS, but I wonder if it would be a good idea for them to also offer a VHF version using 2 watts on the MURS frequencies. They could even have a removable radio antenna when people want to connect to a different antenna.
I wonder if anyone here has tried a GoTenna.
It works with a smartphone and is text-only but will work without the need for a cell tower.
The ability for private communications (I think) and to send GPS location data might be a real plus.
You probably are expecting too much, but I would think that a best test would be to try it out in a more rural area away from "the neighborhood" which likely has a lot of objects/structures that would impede a maximum distance of transmission.
And as you may have discovered, it's possible that the "Notes" feature does not transmit on the higher wattage. You probably would want to confirm that technical point with Garmin.
I did try it a couple of weeks ago. REI is carrying them locally. The range was better than the Garmin RINOs!
I have used marine handheld radios on the water. They are similar to the Rino in that they are 5 watt. Even in line-of-sight a range of 2 miles is really being optimistic. If terrain or any large object is in the way it is much less.
When listening to a weak signal, the squelch setting is all-important. If the squelch is set properly to quiet the radio when in standby, a weak signal might not trigger the squelch to turn on. If one of your radios has the squelch set wrong, the radios might not work at 2 miles.
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