When I heard that a Motorola-made walkie talkie that looked like the MS350R is being marketed as the Olympia R500 I was curious to get hold of it and do an Olympia R500 review.
My thinking was this: this must be one hell of a radio since it was made by one of the leading brands in the portable 2-way radioverse. The specs indicate that it is an IP67-rated device just like the MS350R making it fully waterproof in 1 meter of water for up to 30 minutes.
By the end of this Olympia R500 review, you should have a fair idea if the device is as good as the specs claim or just a completely watered-down version of the Motorola device.
Olympia R500 Review: The mid-range outdoors walkie talkie
The pack includes a pair of portable handheld 2-way radios, a desktop cradle charger with two charging docks, wall AC adaptors, two 650 mAh batteries, two belt clip and an owner’s manual that looks more like a pamphlet than a booklet.
The FRS/GMRS radio is large like the Motorola MS350R. But without the ergonomic design of the MS350R, it feels very uncomfortable unless you have large hands.
At the top of the radio is a lanyard clip to the left of the antenna. Below the antenna on the right side of the device is the accessory port to attach your headset, earbuds, etc. The 2.5mm connector works with any Motorola Talkabout standard accessories. Below this port is a button that activates the in-built LED flashlight that is located at the bottom of the device.
The push-to-talk (PTT) button is located on the left side of the radio. It is divided into two sections: the top high power section that transmits at high power and a lower section that transmits at low power.
High power is good when you are looking for extra range. The downside of transmitting at high power is that it consumes battery faster than lower power transmissions. So you need to be careful when pushing the PTT button to make sure you don’t transmit at a power you never intended.
Using the Olympia R500
Inserting the battery is simply a matter of unscrewing the back panel and screwing it back on after making sure the battery (whether rechargeable NiMH or AA) is snug.
Pressing the top middle orange button would turn on the radio. I like that you won’t have to press too hard to activate the radio. When you are done using the radio, simply press and hold the button to turn it off.
The arrow keys on the right are used to adjust the volume directly without having to go into the menu. The bottom key is to lower the volume while the top button does the reverse.
The top left orange button serves a dual function. Pressing it immediately sends the call tone while pressing and holding it down would put the radio in weather mode.
Below this is the bottom left button that also has a dual function: it is a channel scan and monitor button. Press it once to put it in channel scan while a press and hold takes it to monitor mode.
Finally, we have the menu and lock keypad. This is the center button of the bottom keys. Pressing and holding this button down would lock the keypad. To unlock the keypad, simply press and hold it down again. And a single press takes you into the menu.
In the menu mode you can use the up/down arrows to change channels, PL tones, call tones, iVOX/VOX options, sensitivity, VibraAlert, Roger beep. As you keep scrolling through the menu, the various items’ icons are shown on the display. With time, you would instinctively know what the icons stand for. You could start familiarizing yourself with the icons by taking a quick look at the manual.
Channels – The handheld transceiver comes with 50 channels which are way more than the standard 22. What Olympia have done to get to 50 channels is they basically cloned what Midland did with some of their radios. Channels 23-50 repeat the same frequencies of the first 22 channels except that the privacy codes were added automatically.
So when you are using channels 23-50, you don’t have the option of selecting the privacy codes like you do on Channels 1-22. The extra channels with the already-programmed privacy codes saves you the bother of adding privacy codes; but they are not new or revolutionary in any sense.
Range – As far as the range is concerned, using this is a decent option. If you want longer range, getting an amateur license and ham radio gear or high-end commercial grade handheld two-way radio is the route to take.
Note that you would require a license to transmit via the GMRS channels legally. The device puts out 0.5 watts on FRS channels while on the GMRS channels, it is 1.5 watts.
That is sufficient to transmit at the maximum range of 42 miles. but you’d quickly discover that is only possible for a clear line of sight when you are on a mountain top with zero obstructions. The receiving device must similarly be situated on an elevated ground.
You would have practically no problems with the NOAA radio transmission. The device picked up the NOAA weather channels with ease every time I activated it.
Waterproof test- The waterproof durability is also great and they do float and continue to work properly after being fully submerged. That it can float is a distinct plus since it would be easy to retrieve in a pool of water.
Battery life – It would be hard to generate enough enthusiasm for a device without the USB charging option. In any case, the fully-charged NiMH battery powered the walkie talkie for 8 hours with the battery indicator showing about 10% left.
With AA batteries though, you can get up to three days if you spent about 9 hours each day using the radio. The AA batteries are the better option both as the primary power source and backup
Summary of important features of the Olympia R500
- Weather scan and NOAA weather alerts
- 10 call alert tones and talk confirmation tone
- Priority channel scan and channel monitoring
- PTT power boost and range extender
- Battery meter indicator with audible low battery alert
- Built-in LED flashlight with status indicator light
- Auto squelch to automatically reduce static to the barest minimum
What I don’t like
I can’t understand why a modern walkie talkie would come without a USB charging option. I feel a dual charging option should be a minimum requirement of a decent radio. With a USB option, you have unlimited charging options at your disposal including your car’s cigarette port and laptop.
- Rugged and durable
- Easy to set up and use
- Waterproof and it floats
- 11 NOAA channels with alerts
- Very affordable
- Great battery life
- 50 channels with 121 privacy codes
- Dual power source
- No USB charging
- Rather large and heavy
Clearly, this is a 2-way device that is made with the outdoors in mind. What is obvious from this Olympia R500 review is that this device is similar to the Motorola MS350R and MT350R. But without the ergonomic design of both Motorola versions, you would find it rather uncomfortable to hold after a while. The weight doesn’t help either.
That aside, it is a fully-featured device and comes complete with most of the features to make outdoor communication using a walkie talkie a delight. And since it is repeater-capable, the range can be extended if there is a repeater within range
At the price range of under $100 they are an affordable set of two-way radios. But I won’t recommend that you go rushing to purchase it if you can add a few more dollars to purchase a better and more functional walkie talkie.