You really should carry a walkie talkie with you on your next outdoor adventure. They’re small, light, and easy to use. In some situations, they can be more convenient than a cell phone. Plus, they work in places with no cell signal.
With the usefulness of license-free radios, there’s a bewildering array of walkie talkies out there. I’ve spent the last six months testing different radios on my everyday adventures, including running, hiking, skiing, biking, and visits to the lake, beach, and even the San Diego Zoo. With over 20 years of experience using two-way radios in a professional capacity including as an EMT, I’ve tested and reviewed these radios with a keen eye.
The most recent radio I tested was the Cobra RX680. The big question is whether I’d recommend this Cobra to someone interested in buying a walkie talkie, and the short answer is no. If you want the long answer, and some of my recommendations for alternatives, you can read my full Cobra RX680 review below.
Cobra RX680 at a Glance
The Cobra RX680 is a compact, lightweight, easy-to-use, license-free walkie talkie. Mid-priced for a quality two-way radio, it’s not truly waterproof as advertised, it feels cheaper than what it costs, and it has poor audio quality. Compared to the alternatives, it feels more like a toy than a tool.
- $99.95 for a 2-pack
- License-free FRS frequencies
- 6.2 ounces (on my scale)
- IP56 (splash proof and dust resistant but not fully waterproof or submersible)
- Recharges with USB-mini cable or desk top charger
Pros: User-friendly, small and portable, lightweight
Cons: Poor audio quality, not waterproof, low quality fit and finish
Is the Cobra RX680 Worth It?
In a word: no. The worst part about this radio, and the reason I wouldn’t recommend it, is its poor audio quality. While the Cobra RX680 is compact, light, and user-friendly, its audio quality is simply too disappointing. There are better options available for the same price, so I’d advise saving your money for a superior model.
At the end of the day, the Cobra RX680 isn’t bad, it’s just not great.
That said, this Cobra walkie talkie is best for:
- Easy family walks around the neighborhood.
- If you received the radio as a gift, and therefore were not responsible for the purchasing decision.
However, it’s definitely not for:
- Serious outdoor use.
- Any situation requiring a waterproof radio.
If you’re looking for a radio in this price bracket, I’d suggest considering the Motorola T800 series. Similar in size and shape, the T800 offers better range, more features, and significantly superior audio quality at a comparable price. For my top pick, I’d recommend the Rocky Talkie Mountain Radio, although it’s notably more expensive.
For a full list of worthy alternatives, check out our roundup of the best walkie talkies for outdoor recreation.
What is the Range of the Cobra RX680?
Range and Clarity Score: 2.5/5
Under optimal conditions and direct line of sight, the Cobra’s range is touted to be around 30 miles. But does this mean you can consistently communicate with someone at that 30-mile distance? Well, not exactly.
Cobra RX680 Range in Real Life
I had the chance to use the Cobra walkie talkie several times, including a fun day at the San Diego Zoo. The zoo’s dense tree cover and rolling hills provided an ideal setting to test the range of the Cobra RX680.
In practice, the range is about one mile with a clear line of sight and drops to roughly 0.25 to 0.5 miles in dense trees and rolling terrain. This is slightly less than other radios in this category, like the Rocky Talkie and BC Link 1 and 2.
The clarity of the Cobra RX680 was horrible. Trying to talk to my daughter, who was only an eighth of a mile away and in direct line of sight, was almost impossible due to static. This issue was persistent throughout my day at the zoo, and was especially disappointing considering the price of this two-way radio.
The Cobra RX680 is Easy to Use
Ease of Use Score: 4.5
One of the hallmarks of the various FRS radios I’ve used over the past six months is how easy they are to setup and use. The Cobra RX680 is no exception. Setting it up and programming the channels was straightforward without needing the manual or YouTube tutorials. And, importantly, it never made me want to throw it against a wall in frustration.
Buttons: The buttons are well labeled and intuitive. Most have dual functions, but using each feature was simple. They’re easy to press with a satisfying tactile feel. The push-to-talk button is on the side of the Cobra walkie talkie, where it should be, and was easy to even by feel without looking. I had no issues with accidental transmissions, and there’s a button lock function for extra security.
Clip: The clip is unremarkable and not my favorite, but at least the radio didn’t keep falling off like the DeWalt DXFRS800 did. It lacks a spring, which is a bummer, and feels cheap and plasticky. I didn’t encounter any clip durability issues during my review of the Cobra RX680, but the clip felt like it could break easily under stress.
Display: There’s an always on display that’s easy to read even in direct sunlight. There’s a backlight for darker conditions that comes on when you turn on the radio or click a button. The display shows all the necessary information at a glance and is easy to read and decipher.
It Doesn’t Feel That Tough and You Shouldn’t Give it a Bath
Durability Score: 3
Despite claims by Amazon and other retailers, this radio isn’t waterproof. Don’t be fooled.
The Cobra has an IP56 rating, indicating water and dust resistance. In real life this means it should survive a moderate rainstorm, but not a dunk in the lake. It should also handle a windy day at the beach without too much concern about sand.
I didn’t fully test its water resistance, but it held up fine during a beach visit. For a fully waterproof walkie talkie, consider the Motorola T600 H2O.
How Long Does the Battery Last?
Battery Life Score: 3
The Cobra RX680 is equipped with a removable lithium-polymer battery, which can be charged via a USB mini cable or the included desktop chargers. Charging is on the slower side, so be prepared to give it enough time to charge before you need it again. Don’t expect to charge it in the morning while you munch on your Coco Puffs and have it last the entire day.
In my tests, the Cobra RX680 managed a full day of moderate use on a single charge. However, two days was too much.
Gimmicks or Good Extra Features?
Feature Score: 3
Cobra didn’t overload this radio with extra features, which I actually appreciate. They’ve included a few worth mentioning, and you can decide for yourself if they’re useful.
Small Flashlight: There’s a small flashlight at the bottom of the radio. It’s not the brightest, but it’s a nice touch, especially since it can be used even when the radio is off. I found this feature quite practical in various situations.
iVox/Vox: Vox is a voice-activated system. It’s not an open mic per se; it activates the mic when it detects speech, rather than being always open like a phone. You can adjust the sensitivity to respond to louder noises or even a whisper. My main gripe with it was that it often missed the start of my sentences, cutting off the first few words.
Weather Channels: The Cobra RX680 includes 10 weather channels, accessible via a dedicated button. You can scroll through these to find one in range with weather updates for your area.
Distress Signals: There’s a feature to send distress signals to other radios nearby, which could be a lifesaver in emergency situations.
Photo credit: Alex Marshall, Author