Cobra CXT545 FRS-GMRS 2-Way Radios — Review

Post by blogger | August 5, 2013      
In the blister pack, Cobra CXT545 is the classic budget FRS/GMRS handheld.

In the blister pack, Cobra CXT545 is a classy FRS/GMRS handheld.

Cobra CXT545 is an FRS/GMRS handheld 2-way radio that provides maximum legal (unlicensed) power and a modicum of rain and snow resistance. You can run them on any sort of AA battery (3 per radio), or install optional rechargeables that juice up when you connect to USB via direct cable or an included drop-in charger (which also works off USB). The radio will not function on USB power alone, though you can set up as a permanent station by installing rechargeables and leaving the USB hooked up.

Cobra CXT545 is compact. Protruding buttons are easily triggered, lock mode turns most off but leaves the Call and Range (power) buttons functioning, sadly.

Cobra CXT545 is compact. Protruding buttons are easily triggered by accident, lock mode turns most off but leaves the Call and Range (power) buttons sadly functioning. Weather mode is intuitive, easily grabbing local NOAA broadcasts if in range.

During testing we found the CXT545 to work reliably, though the stated “Waterproof” feature is actually only water resistance up to standard JIS4. Considering the battery case on the CXT545 is not gasketed let’s just say that in this iteration the radio is nicely splash proof, meaning it’ll work in the rain and snow so long as you store it correctly once you’re done (dry it, in other words, don’t put away wet.)

Controls are typical of most Cobra handhelds: A circle of rubber buttons around the LCD — easy to learn and use. Big one for us is the control lock function, invoked by holding the “Call” button down for about 5 seconds (same for unlocking). All good, except the lock function doesn’t disable the flashlight, which turns on and remains on when you click a button on the side of the unit — a recipe for draining the unit while in your backpack.

Ditto, while the unit is “Locked” the obnoxious “Call” button remains unlocked; all buttons are raised rather than protected by a bezel, so rest assured the “Call” button _will_ get pressed accidentally, thus prodding your partner with a blaring warble that she can’t turn OFF. As with other Cobra radios we’ve used, only solution for this is to razor blade the “Call” button down flush with the housing (memorize that it’s the Lock button if you do so!).

This is one of those times I wish I could grab a radio designer and playfully wring their neck. I mean, who thought up this “Call” button function? It is exactly the same thing as simply pressing the PTT (push to talk) and loudly saying something like “Hey, you there?” Or for that matter, just pressing PTT and slapping the radio against your leg, if you’d rather have non-verbal communication. Sheeeze, at the least, let the lock function lock out the “Call” button! Or hey, when in the setup and scrolling through the amazing 10! options for call button cacophony, how about one that’s a big fat 0? Rant over.

CXT545 has a high/low power option, in this case accessed with an obvious button on top of the screen. Fairly user friendly, only remember that due to FCC regulations the high power option is only available for channels 1 through 7 and 15 through 22. As with all blister pack radios, for backcountry use we recommend running at high power and simply keeping your transmissions short to preserve battery life. Switch to low power if you want to yammer and chatter (which sucks up battery on the talking side, not the receiving side).

Incidentally, if you’re new to FRS/GMRS radios remember that the lower channel numbers get more use due to them being quicker to scroll/access. If you’re in a high use area, say near a ski resort, switch to a number from 15 to 22, and use a quiet code. In super high use areas, scan for a while (CXT545 has a scan option) and pick a lesser used channel.

These are fairly good radios, just remember that they're not 'waterproof' but instead are splash resistant.

These are fairly good radios, just remember that they're not 'waterproof' but instead are splash resistant. In my experience, that means you can use them in light rain or snow, just remember not to store an an airtight humid condition once you're home. A bit more waterproofing would be good.

Battery case open (with our own hybrid AAs), no gasket but easy to access for swaps.

Battery case open (with our own hybrid AAs), no gasket but easy to access for swaps. Red circle indicates the battery cover where we wish we'd seen some rubber sealing things.

Other details: The rubberized side moldings (pinkish in photos) look gaudy but they’re practical, yielding a solid feel in the gloved hand and making the unit easy to spot if lost in the brush or buried in your cavernous backpack. PTT button is flat, hard to find with gloves but also resistant to accidental triggering. Antenna is solid, no risk of damage in normal use. Weather channels are appreciated and easy to select (just press the weather button then up-down channel till you find your local NOAA freq. LCD could be larger, with larger text for the small-print.

Weight 7.4 oz, 208 grams (with my Nmh batteries, lighter with lithiums.) See our two-way radio introduction article.

I’m seeing the CXT545 on Amazon for around $50.00 ($25.00 each), which is about right for this rig. MSRP of $89.95 is too high. They’re compact, powerful, and water resistant. On top of that, they’ll run just about any AA battery instead of using a dedicated rechargeable that’ll of course be empty when you need it (though a power saving system does help). If you’re comfortable with working the controls on Cobra FRS/GMRS radios and can live with the screaming “Call” button, these little bundles of joy will do what you need for a safe day in the backcountry.


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10 Responses to “Cobra CXT545 FRS-GMRS 2-Way Radios — Review”

  1. Robert August 5th, 2013 9:01 pm

    Would it be possible to take just the plastic top cover off the package, and rubber-band it to th top of the radio to prevent unwanted key presses?

  2. Halsted August 6th, 2013 10:46 am

    I would have thought you’d go with the BCA radio system?

  3. Lou Dawson August 6th, 2013 11:57 am

    It’s just a review. If I used all the gear I reviewed, I’d need a container ship.

    BCA looks good, but heavy as well as difficult to use as a handheld. Another solution is to use a truly waterproof radio, with speaker mic, stowed in pack but available a a handheld as well.


  4. James November 10th, 2013 7:43 pm

    The call button might be obnoxious but as my 7 year Grand Daughter pointed out it would come in handy if you lost one of them. She is such a smart girl.

  5. Colin March 19th, 2014 5:53 pm

    I bought a pair for work use, then the boss bought 3 more pairs as my review was so positive.

    But….here’s a big issue with us, the batteries died on 3 of the sets within 6 months. Another issue we all found is that you can pick up a radio, try to turn it on and nothing….open the battery case and swap positions of any 2 of the batteries and it will turn on.

    Does anyone have a solution for this incredibly annoying issue?

  6. Lou Dawson March 19th, 2014 6:55 pm

    Colin, 6 months of hard use for a rechargable is not that bad. As for the weirdness of the batteries, how much life do you get out of them once you swap positions?

    I’m not saying these are mill-spec commercial grade radios, but in our experience they’re quite robust.


  7. Colin March 19th, 2014 8:55 pm

    Hi Lou,

    The radios are not used every day. We may go a week or two without needing them. We test and inspect fire alarm systems, which come in all shapes and sizes. We use the radios for apartment buildings and large buildings which require two techs.
    I’m still on my first set of batteries. Like I say, the weird thing is when I try to turn them on and nothing…swap any two of the batteries (usually left and centre) et voila! it works again. This situation arises every few weeks.

    I don’t know if it’s just a case of a loose contact between the battery and the radio, or what. They do seem to be a bit loose, and we’ve tried to come up with a way of making the fit more snug.
    It just seems to be a quirk with these particular radios.


  8. Jeromy Walker May 25th, 2017 10:51 am

    I’m researching purchasing a set of these for use in the mountains.

    What kind of range were you getting in the ski areas?

  9. Alvin August 8th, 2017 10:00 am

    Regarding the rechargeable batteries, I am looking at using these not that frequently – vacations and keeping in contact with my wife/kid on the ski hill. Should I let the batteries drain down all the way and give it a full charge when I need them or should I keep them charged regardless?

    Also, can I use any other type of rechargeable batteries in them? I assume yes.


  10. Lou Dawson 2 August 8th, 2017 10:30 am

    Hi Alvin, my understanding is it’s bad to let these batteries just sit there in the radio for months at a time, eventually losing every bit of charge through their own internal chemical processes. But neither do I like leaving them in the charger. What we do is try to remember to charge every few months regardless of use. As for other rechargeable batteries, if they are the same size and type they’d work, but you’d have to be careful. We’ve found that the batteries last so long in these things, with “adult” use (not endless chatter), simply using discard batteries works fine as well. Lou

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