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Lifewire / Andy Zahn
Good audio quality
Secure belt clip
Poor battery life
Some assembly required
Many non-functional extra features
The Arcshell AR-5 offers good audio quality and performance for a rock-bottom price. If you only need a very basic radio without a lot of extra features—and if you don’t plan on using it for extended trips—then this is the walkie-talkie for you.
Perhaps you’re shopping for a set of walkie-talkies to keep in touch with your coworkers, to communicate when camping with friends, or to use in case of emergency. In situations like these, you may not want to spend too much on something that only gets minimal use, but you also don’t want to be stuck in a bad situation with gear that isn’t worth the pittance you paid for it.
The Arcshell AR-5 is a budget model of walkie-talkie that doesn’t compromise too much where it counts—it doesn’t have the best battery life and suffers from some design flaws, but it does have solid performance and audio quality for the price. We tested out a pair of these radios to see how they held up in real-world usage.
The construction of the Arcshell AR-5 feels pretty cheap, but it’s somewhat durable in spite of this. It has no screen, which inhibits its functionality but also gives the handset one less part to fail. One problem with the lack of a screen is that there is no battery level indicator, nor is there any other indicator of battery level. You only know you’re running low when the radio begins playing a voice alert telling you to charge the battery.
Compounding this issue is that there is no visible or audible indication that the radio is even powered on besides a brief startup message of “On” and “Channel Number.” There is no display to remind you to switch it off. During testing, one of the two radios was accidentally left on and began loudly announcing its low battery in the wee hours of the morning.
The two included charging stations are also of sub-par construction. There is one charger for each radio, so you must have two available outlets to charge both at the same time. The radios click into place, but they do not sit in the cradle securely and could fall out if bumped even slightly. The chargers have the advantage of a charge indicator light that turns from red to green when charging is complete.
The construction of the Arcshell AR-5 feels pretty cheap, but it’s somewhat durable in spite of this.
One of the first times we tried charging the Arcshells, the stations grew very hot and emitted the odor of burning plastic. This only occurred once and was never repeated, but it could be a serious problem—we advise against leaving them unsupervised while charging for the first few times.
The earpieces that come with the AR-5 reflect the quality of the walkie-talkies themselves—they look and feel quite cheap, but they offer remarkably good sound quality and are not uncomfortable. That being said, the included ear cushions are difficult to attach (and almost impossible to install if you have large hands).
The headset attaches firmly to the radio via a two-pronged input/output jack that is strong enough to support the weight of the radio should it accidentally fall.
The radios are lightweight and comfortable to hold, weighing only 6.3 ounces each. The extra-long antenna makes them slightly less pocketable, but this seems a worthwhile tradeoff for improved sound quality. It is easy to turn on the radios and to switch channels one-handed, though two hands are needed if you wish to adjust the volume while using the monitor button.
When we first opened the box, we were surprised to see that the AR-5 comes completely disassembled, a packaging decision likely implemented to cut costs. Fortunately, most of the assembly process was fairly straightforward. The battery doubles as the back of the radio and slides easily into place. The antennae screw into sockets next to the control dials.
Attaching the belt clip and lanyard was not so simple. A screwdriver was required to remove two screws on the back of the radio, which were then reattached with the belt clip in place. This was a little complicated because those same screws secure the upper back plate of the radio, and it will fall off if both are removed simultaneously. We found it worked best to remove and partially reattach the screws one at a time so that the back plate did not come loose. This design is less than user-friendly, but it does mean the belt clip is more securely attached to the radio.
The audio was clear and crisp, even with small hills and lots of trees blocking the signal.
The included lanyard must be attached via a plastic loop at the top of the radios, and we found it very difficult to thread the lanyard string through this loop due to it being quite small and deeply indented.
The included headset was also tricky to set up—the padding for the earbuds comes uninstalled, and small hands are necessary to slip the foam over the earpiece without accidentally ripping the delicate material. However, we found these padded covers weren’t really necessary, and the headset was perfectly comfortable without them. We simply plugged the double audio prongs into the input/output port and we were ready to go.
The initial charging took three hours, and subsequent rechargings were necessary for the battery to achieve its maximum capacity. Once broken in, the radio only requires a few hours to charge.
This charging time is significantly faster than some more expensive radios such as the Midland GXT1000. However, it is important to note that the AR-5 uses proprietary 1500mAh lithium-ion batteries so you won’t be able to swap them out on the go unless you purchase some spares.
The Arcshell AR-5 only claims a maximum range of five miles. However, it’s worth considering that walkie-talkies generally don’t handle even minor obstructions well, and we never did find a place where the full five-mile range could be tested.
Unless you live somewhere that is especially wide and flat, it’s unlikely that you’ll be in a situation where communication via two-way radio is possible over more than three or four miles, and at this more limited distance, the AR-5 works brilliantly. In testing, the audio was clear and crisp, even with small hills and lots of trees blocking the signal.
The Arcshell AR-5 has a number of other features that are referred to in the manual. For many of these features, such as “Squelch Level” and “Voice Prompt”, the manual says that these features can be adjusted via “program software.” However, no software is included, nor do there seem to be any ports that would allow connection to a computer or other device, and the manual offers no further instruction as to this mysterious software.
The AR-5 manages to undersell even budget options from higher-end brands.
Features that are user-accessible include a dedicated button to monitor volume and a single LED flashlight that is surprisingly powerful. This would be an asset in case of an emergency, or even in day-to-day situations where the AR-5 might be the closest artificial light source at hand.
The Arcshell AR-5 retails at $25.99 for a pair. Its main selling point is it’s dirt cheap price point and the reasonable quality it provides for that price.
At about $13 per radio—and even cheaper if you buy them in a larger pack of four or six—the AR-5 manages to undersell even budget options from higher-end brands like the Midland LXT500VP3. That radio costs more than twice what the Arcshell does, and in our testing, the Arcshell surpassed it by a considerable margin in terms of audio quality. In order to see a significant advantage over the Arcshell, you’ll need to shell out three times its price for the high-end Midland GXT1000VP3.
As mentioned, the Arcshell AR-5 offers competitive performance and audio quality compared to the much more expensive Midland LXT500VP3 and GXT1000VP4.
The AR-5 cuts corners in terms of features, ease of setup, and build quality, plus it’s lacking a screen and only has a small selection of channels. But for the average user, this simplicity might be considered an advantage. It’s so much better than the LXT500VP3 in some respects that it puts this higher-end model to shame.
If you need extra functionality, better audio quality, better range, and can afford the higher cost, then the top-of-the-line Midland GXT1000VP4 is king. That radio offers 50 channels to the Arcshell’s 17, and a theoretical 36-mile range to the AR-5’s less than five.
In practice, we found the divide between the two is less than the advertised specs would lead you to believe. Nevertheless, you might very well require the extra functionality offered by the GXT1000VP4. For example, that radio offers group management options and private messaging, and if you need to communicate with a large group of people, that could be vital.
The AR-5 is all about value, and despite some flaws, it offers the best performance among budget-priced walkie-talkies.
These radios certainly have their problems: no screen, few available channels, low battery life, and a questionable battery charger are chief among them. But when it comes to performance, the AR-5 provides a lot of bang for your buck, and we recommend them if you’re on a tight budget and need only the most basic functions from your walkie-talkies.