Due to the plethora of license-free radios available, choosing a walkie talkie can be confusing. Over the past year, I’ve tested various radios during my everyday adventures. This includes activities like running, hiking, skiing, biking, and trips to the lake, beach, and even the San Diego Zoo. Leveraging my 20-plus years of professional experience with two-way radios, I’ve thoroughly tested and reviewed these devices.
I spent a week on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River testing the Cobra MicroTalk ACXT345 and have concluded that it has a dumb name, but should you buy it? The answer depends on what you’re looking for in a radio and your budget.
Cobra ACXT345 at a Glance
The Cobra ACXT345 walkie-talkie is a small, lightweight, license-free FRS radio positioned at the budget end of the spectrum. It’s straightforward to set up and a cinch to use. However, it lacks the audio quality, ruggedness, and weatherproofing found in more expensive walkie talkies.
- $49.95 for a pair
- License free FRS frequencies
- IPX2 rating (Can resist low pressure spray from a 15 degree angle or less)
- Recharges with Micro USB or desktop charging dock (optional or included with ACXT390 package)
- 3.7 ounces per radio
The range and battery life are also slightly compromised but not significantly.
On the upside, the Cobra ACXT345 is at least half the size and half the price of other radios I’ve tested this year. This two-way radio suits those on a budget, who are relatively gentle with their gear and can keep it dry.
Note that the Cobra MicroTalk walkie talkies that we purchased and tested here were the model number ACXT390. The radios themselves are indeed the ACXT345, but the 390 package also includes the optional charging dock. We highly recommend this, especially since it’s usually the same price either way on Amazon.
Pros: easy to use, compact, lightweight, affordable
Cons: reduced audio quality, not fully waterproof, limited battery life
Recommended: Best Walkie Talkies Compared
Is the Cobra ACX345/ACX390 Worth It?
This is a good question here since this walkie talkie appears to be a good deal with a lot of positive user reviews.
Here’s my recommendation: If you’re seeking the best, most durable, clearest walkie talkie with the longest range and can afford it, I would suggest looking elsewhere. I’m particularly fond of the Rocky Talkie or the Motorola 800 series two-way radios. However, if you’re on a budget and willing to forgo some features and durability, the Cobra ACXT345 offers good value for its price.
- Light use (not very durable)
- Those willing to sacrifice advanced features for lower price
- Serious outdoor use
- Anyone going near water
What’s the Range of the Cobra MicroTalk Walkie Talkie?
Range Score: 2.5
The box claims a range of up to 25 miles, but this is under ideal conditions with a clear line of sight. In practical usage, expect the range to be significantly less.
On the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, we used one walkie-talkie per raft in our group. We achieved good range as long as there was a direct line of sight, but coverage dropped quickly once a raft rounded a corner. In mountainous terrain with trees and hills, expect a range of about 0.5 to 1.5 miles. By comparison, the range was slightly less than the Rocky Talkie, but not by much.
Ease of Use of the Cobra ACX345
Ease of Use Score: 4.5
One aspect I appreciate about FRS radios is their simplicity in setup and use, and the Cobra ACX345 is no exception. I could easily set it up and program the channels I wanted without consulting the owner’s manual or watching a YouTube tutorial. These two-way radios are user-friendly straight out of the package.
The buttons are clearly labeled and easy to identify and press. The push-to-talk button is conveniently located on the side of the radio and is easy to find without looking. I didn’t experience accidental mic activation, but there’s a lock function available if needed.
The clip is fairly basic and not my favorite. It lacks a spring, feels cheap and plasticky. However, unlike the DeWalt DXFRS800, this walkie talkie didn’t constantly fall off from where I clipped it onto me. While I didn’t face durability issues during the review, the clip seemed fragile, as if it might break with a rough drop.
The display is always on and clearly visible in direct sunlight. It features a backlight for dark conditions, activated by a dedicated button on the side of the radio. The display concisely shows all necessary information and is easy to read.
It Feels Like a Toy Rather Than a Tool
Durability Score: 2
The walkie talkie’s IP rating is X2, indicating it’s not designed or tested to be dustproof and only withstands low-pressure water at a 15-degree angle. Practically, this means it shouldn’t be taken to a windy beach or on an ATV for an off-road rally in the desert. And you should keep it in a waterproof container in all but the lightest rainstorms. A shower might be too much for it. During a 15-mile run, it handled a fair amount of… let’s say condensation, without issues.
For a fully waterproof walkie-talkie, I recommend the Motorola T600 H2O.
How Long Does the Battery Last?
Battery Life: 3
The Cobra comes with three AA Ni-MH rechargeable batteries. During my review, I managed a full day of light use with these batteries. For heavier use, I recommend carrying spare batteries, even on day trips. The Ni-MH batteries just don’t have the same kind of capacity as newer Li-Ion cells.
The Cobra MicroTalk takes about 15 hours to charge, so it’s wise to prepare in advance or have extra batteries ready.
I appreciate that you can recharge the batteries either through the desktop charging dock or a Micro-USB cable. Note that the desktop charger will be an additional purchase if you buy the ACXT345 package, but they are included with the ACXT390 package. Either way these two-way radios are exactly the same and, as of the time of writing, so is the price on Amazon.
Gimmicks or Good Extra Features
The Cobra ACXT345 doesn’t boast many features, and that’s fine by me. There are four versions of the Cobra MicroTalk series two-way radios, and features are what distinguish them.
- Cobra ACXT145: least expensive with only very basic features
- Cobra ACXT345: (the one we tested) transmits at higher power for better range, adds 121 privacy channels, scanning, and basic water-resistance
- Cobra ACXT545: adds a flashlight, vibration alerts, and a couple other minor features
- Cobra ACXT1045: adds Cobra’s “Rewind-Say-Again” feature, fully waterproof, floats
I’ll detail a few of the key Cobra ACXT345 features below, so you can decide if they justify the price.
iVox/Vox: Vox is a voice-activated system. Rather than an open mic, it activates the mic when it hears you start to talk. You can adjust the sensitivity to trigger on loud noises or a whisper. The main issue I encountered was the system cutting off the beginning of my first word.
Scan: The Cobra ACXT345 allows you to scan through channels or privacy codes within a channel. This feature makes it easy to find the channel and privacy code your group is using without hassle, so long as someone is actively transmitting and in range when you scan.
Weather Channels: The Cobra MicroTalk features 10 weather channels, accessible via a button on the front. You can scroll through these to find local weather updates.
Weather Alert: The radio can be configured to alert you about adverse weather. I didn’t experience any bad weather during my testing period, so I couldn’t evaluate this feature. This is a nice feature, however, as it’s often only available on more expensive radios. Not even the standard Rocky Talkie Mountain radio has this, but the higher-end Rocky Talkie 5 Watt radio does.
In conclusion, the Cobra MicroTalk walkie-talkie presents a practical choice for casual users seeking a budget-friendly option.
Photo credit: Alex Marshall