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ROAD TEST

'Hailing Frequencies Open'

An Intergalactic Communications Expert Evaluates the New Breed of Walkie-Talkies

March 11, 2001|DARCY RICE

ON MAY 15, 1996, THE FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION DESIGNATED A SECTION of the 460 MHz band as the Family Radio Service to facilitate "family and group activities." Since then, two-way radios have boomed as a way for folks to stay in touch while camping, skiing, shopping or waiting in interminable theme-park lines. With no license required and no air-time charges, FRS radios are at least as convenient as cell phones when used within two miles of one another.

We sought the help of actress and intergalactic communications expert Nichelle Nichols, best known for her role as Lt. Nyota Uhura in the original "Star Trek" television series and related films, to help evaluate some choices. She tested the radios by transmitting favorite lines from her years aboard the Starship Enterprise.

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BELL EQUIPMENT BE-141A FRS FAMILY RADIO

Price: $24.99 each, Target.

Specs: The BE-141A weighs 8.2 ounces and runs on three AA batteries. It has 14 channels but no interference eliminator codes, which means you may be sharing your frequency with a number of other users, depending on your location.

Uhura's Test Transmission: "They do give us one thing, Mr. Spock. They give us love." ("The Trouble With Tribbles," "Star Trek" episode 42.)

Expert Evaluation: "The quality of the speaker is not as clean. The volume is good, but just not as sharp. Still, it's pretty good for $24.99, if you can get along with only 14 channels."

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MOTOROLA TALKABOUT T250 RADIO

Price: $79.99 each.

Specs: A bit larger than its more expensive cousin, the T250 weighs 7 ounces and runs on three AA batteries, which should last as long as 30 hours. Like the T289, it also has 14 channels with 38 codes. Colors include Cobalt Blue, Anthracite, Sunstreak Yellow and Advantage Camo.

Uhura's Test Transmission: "This isn't reality, this is fantasy. You wanted excitement; how's your adrenaline? Now get in the closet." ("Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.")

Expert Evaluation: "Very good sound quality, very clear. A more natural sound than the other units. It's a bit bigger [than the T289] but still a manageable size."

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MOTOROLA TALKABOUT T289 RADIO

Price: $99.99 each.

Specs: Small and stylish, the T289 weighs only 5.32 ounces and uses a rechargeable NiMH battery that runs for as long as 11 hours on a single charge. Its 14 channels with 38 interference eliminator codes provide 532 choices for a clear signal. Available colors include Purple Haze, Ice Blue, Black Chrome and Advantage Classic.

Uhura's Test Transmission: "Hailing frequencies open." (From "The Corbomite Maneuver," "Star Trek" episode 3 and countless times after that.)

Expert Evaluation: "This is the closest to 'Star Trek'; very futuristic and sleek. I like the colors, and I like the high-tech feeling. The sound seems a bit more tinny than the T250, although still clear. And I like the fact that it's rechargeable. It's just so cute! Next to my 'Star Trek' communicator, this one is definitely my favorite."

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