Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

How Walkie-talkies Work

        Tech | Radio

Walking the Talkie

As sophisticated smartphones continue to proliferate, it's easy to see why some people would think of walkie-talkies as outdated technologies. That's especially true when you consider that many smartphone apps now simulate walkie-talkie PTT capabilities.

But even with said apps, cell phones are nothing like walkie-talkies. Cell phones will always be dependent on cellular towers, and even with those apps, they don't provide the instantaneous communication of a walkie-talkie. For outdoors lovers or anyone else who strays out of range of cell phone networks, there's no substitute for these handheld radios.

What's more, walkie-talkie manufacturers are constantly improving their products and even tying them to the popularity of smartphones. Cobra Electronics, for instance, makes a Bluetooth-enabled handset that works through your cell phone to make and receive calls. So while you're plummeting through rapids, your phone can remain stowed safely away while you call out on your walkie-talkie.

Cobra also equips some models with a rewind button. So if you miss part of a transmission, you can push the button to hear up to 20 seconds of audio, which means you won't have to ask the sender to repeat the message.

Power and sensitivity continue to increase, and prices continue to go down. And if you're willing to spend more? You'll get bigger handsets with a lot more manual controls, and -- just as important -- larger batteries that last longer between charges.

More and more walkie-talkies also come with ruggedized components so that they'll withstand the abuse of the outdoors. Many are water-resistant and some even float. And many models now come with voice activation (VOX) so that you don't even have to press a button to begin speaking.

All of these advances speak to the continuing relevance and usefulness of walkie-talkies. For a decades-old radio technology, that's serious longevity, especially in the face of so many new communications devices. For now, walkie-talkies and their radio-based brethren are here to stay. Over ... and out.