Overall the Cardo Packtalk radios proved to be a great product line which allows up to 15 riders to communicate, listen to the radio or listen to music stored on a smartphone. Though many riders are apprehensive about the installation process, the installation guide and diagrams guide users through the installation in a simple, step by step manner. With the option to purchase individually or in a dual package, the Packtalk is a great choice for a single rider or for someone who rides with a large group.
Complete installation guide included in package
Very thorough and detailed installation instructions and diagrams
Dynamic mesh communications
Good 2-way radio sound quality
Great sound quality on radio and music playback
Unit integrates well into the helmet with no noticeable discomfort
Earlier this year I was offered the opportunity to test the Cardo Packtalk radio system. To be honest, I had never used a radio or communication system when riding and never really felt like I needed to get one. I have always liked the solitude that is found inside my helmet and communication with fellow riders was easy enough with a few basic hand signals. But when the opportunity arose, I thought that this would be a really good chance to review the Packtalk system from the point of view of a total newbie to helmet radios.
I’m not super tech savvy, I’m comfortable with technology but by no means do I own all the newest gadgets and I am not coming into this test process with any preconceived ideas or expectations. My hope is that my finding will speak to all of the riders who are looking at a first radio system as well as those who might be looking to upgrade.
Right from the start, I was very impressed by the Cardo line. I received a Cardo Packtalk Bold Duo and a Cardo Packtalk Slim Duo. Both sets arrived in perfect condition. The box is very well designed as it presents the individual components of the system very clearly.
In most cases, the quality of the packaging is often a good indication of the quality of the product and that is certainly true of the Cardo Packtalk radios. In addition, the box is a great way to store the unit or to keep spare parts as there are options accessories that you can purchase for the system.
The Packtalk Bold is available on the Cardo website as a single unit for $329.95 US or as a duo for $579.95 US. The Packtalk Slim has a list price of $329.95 for a single unit. Shipping and sales tax are additional and those fees can be determined once you have placed the item in your shopping cart. The Cardo site accepts Visa, Mastercard, American Express and PayPal.
Revzilla also sells both the Packtalk Bold Duo and the Packtalk Slim Duo. Revzilla offers free shipping on orders over $39.95 within the contiguous U.S. as well as a rewards program for most purchases.
Cardo Packtalk Features
Before getting into the specifics of each unit, I wanted to cover some of the general features and benefits of all of the Cardo Packtalk radios. It is also important to note that the technology and the features of the Packtalk Bold and the Packtalk Slim are identical.
One of the best features of these radios is that they offer Dynamic Mesh Communications (DMC). This is a fairly technical advance over other wireless communication systems, but in simple terms, it means that groups can self-form and self-heal.
The application of this is when riders coming into range with other members of their group they automatically join the group. And when riders leave the range of other members they automatically leave the group.
An additional feature is that multiple small subgroups can be functioning independently and then blend into one large group as the smaller subgroups come into range. In the case of the Cardo Packtalk radios, up to 15 riders can connect in the same group. In addition to offering DMC technology, the Packtalk also offers Bluetooth so you can connect to any headset.
Another major step forward for the Packtalk system is the hands-free operation function. This is the same convenience that is offered by Siri, Alexa and numerous other electronics that consumers have embraced for their homes as well as navigation and other features integrated into a smartphone.
A simple “Hey Cardo” and you have the ability to control all of the critical features as well as the entertainment features of the Packtalk without every removing a hand from your bike. This not only offers additional safety but it can eliminate a lot of frustration as you begin to familiarize yourself with the control surfaces on the Packtalks.
Bells and Whistles
The range of the Packtalks is about one mile under perfect conditions but in average conditions, the range is still close to two-thirds of a mile which is almost double most radio systems on the market.
In addition to the two-way radio feature, the Packtalks also offer the ability to access FM radio, listen to music from a smartphone, share the audio you are listening to with the group, make phone calls, merge a call to the intercom and create a private chat.
The Palktalks also offer a great battery as they are estimated to provide up to 13 hours of talk time and can also be charged while they are in use via a 12-volt charger or a battery pack. And all of these features can be enjoyed rain or shine as all Cardo units are waterproof and offer a 2-year warranty.
The Cardo Packtalk Bold
I selected the Packtalk Bold set to install in my helmet and my husband’s helmet as we wear Shoei. A complete hard copy of installation guide, the user’s manual and a pocket guide are all included in the box which is very nice. Too many manufacturers are assuming that everyone has access to the Internet to view instructions and installation guides but not Cardo.
All three of these documents are available on the website, Cardo Systems, for future reference.
What’s In The Box
Cardo does a great job of making sure that you have everything that you will need to get your Packtalk radio installed and working perfectly. The box really does include everything that you will need down to the alcohol wipes to ensure that the helmet surface is clean and ready for the installation.
In the box you will find:
Noise canceling microphone
Replacement microphone sponges
Pre-moistened alcohol pads
Speaker booster pads
Hybrid mic clip
You have two options when you are installing the Packtalk Bold. The first choice is to use the metal clip which is inserted between the helmet’s outer shell and inner padding. The second choice is to use the glue plate to mount the unit on the side of the helmet.
The metal clip method worked very well on both Shoei helmets and due to the heat in the Phoenix area, we decided that was a better choice for long-term mounting rather than glue.
The Shoei helmets have fully removable padding and cutouts are already in place to mount the speakers. It was a very simple process to remove the pads and then follow the installation instructions provided by Cardo. You can invest as much time as you feel is appropriate when it comes to carefully routing and concealing the wiring. We only spent a few extra minutes on the wiring but it was worth it to have really no visible wires once the installation was completed.
I don’t want to bore anyone with a detailed step by step on the radio installation because the Cardo instructions clearly take you through the process and this article is about evaluating the features and functions once the radios are installed. But I will note that overall the installation was much easier than I had anticipated. The written instructions and diagrams are very clear, making it a pretty painless process which is not at all what I was expecting. T
he one benefit that I had was that I was familiar with removing the pads from my helmet to wash them. So if you are not sure about the pad removal process for your specific helmet, you might want to watch a video of the process online so that you do not inadvertently damage your helmet.
Pairing and Functions
The Cardo mobile app is offered on the Apple App Store and on Google Play. I downloaded the app from Apple while my husband used Google. Neither of us has brand new phones but we had absolutely no issues downloading or operating the Cardo app. And pairing the units is as simple as using any Bluetooth speaker.
The Packtalk Bold operates on a three button system and also a control wheel toward the back of the unit. I did notice that it took me some time to consistently be able to push the control wheel without it turning, but as it turned out I didn’t use that function very often. And knowing about the voice control feature of the Packtalk made me even less concerned about certain button features.
But I did want to be thorough in my evaluation so I pulled out several different types of gloves to test them out. With a pair of gauntlet gloves, which have a fairly thick leather fingertip, I was able to feel the buttons very easily and had no issues with function.
Next, I moved to a thicker textile glove with some Thinsulate on the fingers and that functioned equally as well. The final pair of gloves was a true winter-weight leather glove with a thick lining. This glove made the function a bit more challenging, but I was still able to feel the defined ridge of each button.
I am fairly certain that with more frequent use and familiarity with the buttons, any rider would be comfortable using the Packtalk Bold even in winter weight gloves.
My concern with the button function became less of an issue as I grew more familiar with the voice command function of the Packtalk Bold. The key phrase for the unit is “Hey Cardo” just as with Google or Siri.
Any time that the unit is on you can use the voice commands to access the radio, play music, adjust the volume or mute the audio. In addition, you can speed dial, redial, answer or ignore phone calls.
And one of the most functional features is the ability to check your battery status. “Hey Cardo, battery status” and you know that you are good to go on the power of that you need to take a break and uses the charge on the go feature to top off your battery.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect for my first ride with a radio in my helmet, but I quickly learned that I really like the ability to speak to the person I am riding with. But I also learned that we both have a tendency to comment on the driving skills of some of the motorist around us. So I needed to remember that what I used to mumble sometimes not so quietly to myself was now being tossed into my husband’s helmet and vice versa.
On surface streets, the sound was far better than I expected. We were never far enough apart to lose the connection even at a range of about half a mile.
Moving onto the highway we were still able to carry on a conversation or to make short comments without any difficulty hearing or understanding each other. At a higher rate of speed, the wind noise was a bit more noticeable. I found that opening and closing the top vent on my helmet had no real impact on the sound quality but opening the vent on the front of my helmet did decrease the quality of my transmissions.
Another factor to consider is that we tested the Packtalks in Phoenix in the summertime so we did not have the chin curtain installed in either helmet. That would eliminate some of the air-flow sounds and increase the sound quality a bit I am guessing. That being said, the quality of the helmet is going to have an impact on the sound quality of the Packtalk system. A helmet that is engineered to be quieter will obviously have better sound quality for those whom you are speaking to and will allow you to hear the speakers more clearly as well. So take that into consideration when creating your expectations for the Packtalk and when evaluating the performance of your system.
Overall, I was very happy with the quality of the sound and the function of the Packtalk Bold Duo in our first ride. Being new to the concept, we were only barely scratching the surface of what these radios offer by using the two-way radios but we were very happy with that first step.
A Second Test
On the second test ride, we were meeting 2 other riders who had installed the Packtalk Slim Duo. The units had all been installed and established in the pack prior to the ride so that we could just randomly meet up. One feature that is great about the Packtalk is that two different groups from the same pack can be communicating and then merge into a single group as they enter range with one another. So in our case, each couple could be talking and then we were able to all hear each other as we came into range.
We were on a highway and had decent vision so we could see the other two riders as we approached. At somewhere around half a mile or a little more, our two groups merged into a single group and we could all talk. After the ride, as the other couple split off, we returned to the two separate groups once we were around a mile apart.
During the test ride, one person made a phone call and then rejoined the group with no issues. We also had one member use the speed dial voice command to call another member of the group. With both people on the call in helmets and at high speed the sound quality was a little low but still very functional and understandable.
In addition to riding in groups, I have used the Packtalk Bold on a lot of rides when I was by myself to test the other features such as the radio and music playback from my phone. The only issue that I have come across has been related to the location of my phone during the ride. Having my phone in my back pocket caused a lot of connectivity issues in the music and in “dropped” calls.
After discovering this issue, I began carrying my phone in either the inside front pocket of my jacket or in a top zipper compartment of my backpack. In both cases, the phone is about one or two feet from my helmet and the function has been perfect.
Apparently, the density of my butt was the issue for the Bluetooth, not the distance so a jacket pocket, front coat pocket or having the phone mounted on the handlebar of your bike would all maintain the 2ish foot distance that works perfectly.
Update: the latest firmware (4.2) has resolved this issue.
Having made some longer rides in groups of four or more without any type of radio, I am very certain that I would much rather have the Cardo Packtalk system for my next long ride. It just makes it very simple to communicate things like a slight change in route or a need for fuel. In addition, having the ability to communicate at a distance greater than a line of sight or half a mile is a great safety feature in the event of an accident or other equipment issues.
The functions offered by the Packtalk Bold and the Packtalk Slim are huge and range from very functional for communication purposes to very much luxuries such as listening to the radio or stored music. And the best part by far is that both of these benefits are integrated into a single, easy to use system. Having spent just weeks exploring the bells and whistles of the new Packtalk radios, I am more convinced than ever that it would take many more months to fully put these radios through their paces and become intimate with the function and features that they offer.
Originally I would have been against having radios because I like to put on my helmet and not hear a phone, radio or other voices. But the Cardo Packtalk has made it very easy to mute or control the volume of other riders in a group which is a big part of what has changed my opinion of helmet radios. The Cardo Packtalk offers a user friendly-system that is also reliable and simple to install so there is really no reason to ever be a part of a riding group without radios.
Bold vs. Slim
The Packtalk Bold is the same body as the previous generation Packtalk but with all of the new upgrades and features of the Packtalk Slim. The unit is about the size of an old style flip phone and must be mounted on the left side of the helmet either with the glue plate or the metal clip.
The Packtalk Slim is the newest design and offers a 6.5 mm thick super sport form unit to attach to the left side of the helmet while the battery pack is located on the back of the helmet at the neckline. The features and functions of the Bold and the Slim are identical, the only difference is in the installation and the final location of the hardware on your helmet.
My preference was certainly the Packtalk Bold model over the Packtalk Slim due to the location of the battery for the Slim. When I tested that model I found that I really didn’t care for the piece attached at the back of my neck.
This might not be an issue for some riders but I have found that on many occasions I ride with the foam neck pad of my helmet resting on the top of my backpack or on the top of the back protector plate of my jacket.
The reason for this position is that I am tucked pretty tightly on my Ducati either to get behind the screen to open my helmet visor for an air exchange or simple to relax in a different position. So for me, the larger single unit mounted on the side of my helmet was far superior to the split units of the Slim configuration.
I like the Cardo Packtalk system and the ability to choose between the two models, the Packtalk Slim and the Packtalk Bold.
Providing riders with the ability to select from 2 models is always better than forcing riders to all conform to a single model in my mind. If all riders were alike, then bike manufacturers would only build a single bike not numerous models, so kudos to Cardo for taking the same wise approach.