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Midland XT511 Review – A Great Piece of Emergency Communication Gear

I’ve written about some other radios, and have discussed various amateur, FRS/GMRS, and other two-way radios, but the Midland XT511 is one of the best options out there when it comes to very basic, general emergency communication equipment that requires no license or training.

The Midland XT511 FRS/GMRS/NOAA/AM/FM radio

The Midland XT511 is a full-featured, FRS/GMRS/NOAA/AM/FM radio with a variety of power options for emergency use.

Here is a quick run-down on the features packed into this compact package:

  • Charge your cell phone or other USB-connected devices
  • LED Flashlight
  • AM and FM radio reception
  • NOAA weather radio reception, including hazard alerts
  • Transmit and receive FRS/GMRS, with privacy codes and other features available
  • Scan FRS/GMRS traffic in your area

Not only does is have AM & FM reception, FRS & GMRS (two-way), it has a built-in weather radio. But that’s not the best part.  It also uses four AA batteries and has a separate, built-in rechargeable battery pack, which can be charged by the included AC and DC charging cords. But we’re still not at the best part.  Here is a big difference between this radio and many others: it has a hand crank that folds out from the side, which will allow you to

Midland XT511 rechargeable battery pack

The included 700 mAh, 6.0V, rechargeable Ni-MH battery pack.

recharge the batteries with no other power source. In addition, you can use the USB port to charge other devices (e.g., your cell phone) by turning the crank. All of these features fit into a package that’s smaller than I thought it would be. This radio is quite flexible!

Midland XT511 power options

As you can see here, the XT511 can be powered with AA batteries, its internal rechargeable battery, a DC power supply, AC power supply, and the crank arm. This is a great set of options for an emergency radio.

Midland XT511 displayed options

You can see some of the many features available in the sticker that covers the display, fresh out of the box.

That’s a decent set of features in a handy, small package, and this radio should at least be on your “emergency” shelf. along with your spare batteries, lantern, extra food and water, first-aid kit, and other supplies.

 

I still recommend a set of FRS/GMRS radios as one of the most important emergency communications tools for everyone, but at the same time I think this radio is just as important. While your existing handheld radios should operate on AA batteries in addition to a rechargeable battery pack, and should also receive the NOAA weather (or “all-hazards”) channels and alerts, it’s unlikely that they can be recharged manually like this one. In addition, it has a built-in three-LED flashlight (which is relatively bright).  Did I mention that the device has a lot of features?

It also has a handheld microphone/speaker, with a couple of interesting options.  The plug is two-part. One part of the plug fits in the microphone jack,and one fits into the speaker jack. When it’s plugged in, as you probably expect, the built-in microphone and speaker on the front of the radio are disabled. But what if you still want to operate the hand-microphone quietly?

Midland XT511 handheld microphone

The convenient headphone jack in base of the handheld microphone (shown with the attached plug out of the jack) makes it easier to use and hear the radio in noisy or quiet environments.

 

 

 

The handset has another speaker jack, into which you can plug an earpiece. Good thinking on the part of the engineers. The features just keep coming!

So far, the radio is working fine for me. To echo one of my coworker’s comments, while some of the dials may seem a little bit loose, the radio still appears to be plenty sturdy and is holding up well. Most of the reviews I see on Amazon also seem to indicate similar experience.

As you can see on the box in the first picture, the Midland XT511 is called “Base Camp Radio,” and I think the description is a good one. While it’s not the first radio I’d put in my backpack, due to its size (even though it isn’t that heavy), it’s a great radio to have at home or wherever else you call your base camp, especially if you have an emergency where you lose grid power, even long-term.

{ 6 comments… add one }

  • Steve July 18, 2012, 8:49 pm

    I bought one of these along with a set of Midland handheld FRS/GMRS radios to go along with it. While I think it has great features and utility it could have been so much better with the inclusion of a better antenna. The antenna is most definitely the one weak point of this radio system. It gets horrible AM/FM reception, at least in my area. Perhaps dual antennas (since I know there are limits on the antenna size for FRS/GMRS radio transmitting); one antenna just for transmitting & receiving the FRS/GMRS frequencies and a separate receive only antenna for the AM/FM radio frequencies. That would have made a huge difference in the radio and I would have been willing to pay extra for the dual antenna feature.

    Do you have any recommendations to improve AM/FM reception for this radio?

  • Steve July 20, 2012, 9:14 pm

    P.S. My parents also got a set of the Midland HTs to go with this radio as well but the reception from my house to theirs isn’t what I thought it would be. I even ended up paying for a license to use all of the GMRS frequencies ($60 & only good for 5 years) and in hind sight, I should have saved my money for the GMRS license, the two FRS/GMRS HTs, & the base radio and applied that money towards getting a better HAM HT like the Yeasu VX-8R instead of the FT-60 that I purchased after getting my Technician license ($14 for ten years) a few months ago.

    Oh well, lesson learned however the family all enjoy using these while on hikes, etc. and the entire family unit is allowed to operate off of my FCC issued GMRS call sign so it wasn’t a total waste, just that I could have used my money more wisely for my personal circumstances.

    For those who have limited resources you need to weigh the pros and cons of both this type of radio vs. a HAM HT and detrmine which one is best for your situation and budget.

    • abaze July 20, 2012, 11:03 pm

      Hi Steve,

      Reception is seldom what people think it will be, for any of the FRS/GMRS radios, whether they advertise “10 miles” or “30 miles”. The advertised range is of little value, though the higher advertised range usually indicates more transmission power, so if I had the option, I’d go with farther advertised range, but with no expectation of working at that range effectively. I explain all the ins and outs in my book, Personal Emergency Communications, which I know you have. And yes, I don’t advise anyone to spend $$ on a GMRS license, especially considering the FCC has (still may be, not sure) discussed removing that requirement. BTW, the FT-60 should be a fine radio, and the 2M/440 capability should be most or all of what you need in a handheld, unless you have some unique requirements.

      On a very low budget, I’d probably suggest people get a few FRS/GMRS radios to start with, even with their limitations. Why? Because you can equip a family with comms for the price of a single ham handheld. And the family can use the radios, get experience, learn limitations, etc., with no additional time/training/licensing needed.

      With slightly more budget, I’d get ham handhelds for adults, then add mobile and base stations radios as needed.

      Even if you have a ham license and ham radios, I’d suggest getting FRS/GMRS radios, for a couple reasons (also covered in detail in my book):
      1) You’ll be able to hear what neighbors/locals are talking about
      2) You’ll be able to talk back to those neighbors/locals
      3) You can loan them out to whoever you need to, keeping a couple for yourself, which can be handy when establishing communications with non-ham friends/neighbors/locals.

      There’s some food for thought. Keep the comments coming – thanks!

      -Andrew

  • Stephen Cranidiotis September 15, 2012, 9:32 pm

    I’ve got six of these, thought about building a family network, my error. Great features! Light, USB, quad power, but…. terrible antenna and reception on every band AM/FM / GMRS / FRS / weather, serious design flaw, needs new antenna. Have any suggestions?

    • abaze September 16, 2012, 4:13 am

      Hi Stephen – thanks for the comment. Yes, the FRS/GMRS radios are quite limited because they can’t use other antennas. Those are FCC rules, unfortunately (anyone is welcome to correct me – I’m going off of recollection and haven’t looked up those rules personally). Because of the radio type, and how the FCC approves them, most or all FRS/GMRS radios are forbidden from accepting any other kind of antenna. What is comes with is all you get. Regardless of the advertised range on the package, these are short-range radios, with limited power and limited antennas. The eXRS radios are the same way, limited power and default antennas only.

      Most ham radio handhelds come with mediocre antennas, and many hams replace them right away with higher-quality, aftermarket antennas. Unfortunately, that’s not an option with FRS/GMRS. Sorry – I wish I had better news about your radios, but I don’t. But I do have better news about your options — ham radio will give you the flexiblity to use all the power and any antenna you need :-)

  • Lorje C Salamonski October 4, 2013, 8:28 pm

    I Just Bought A xt511 base camp radio from Overtons and I Think that it is just like any other 2 way walkie talkies, weather radio, flashlight,Etc. and yes You are all right on A few and a lot of info! and just FYI! I Really recomand this Unique tool! even for Emergencies! Trust me I Know be couse I used 2 way radios for my Volunteer Job which is A Boy Scout Troop here in Saco City Maine! even though I Live in Old Orchard Beach Maine which is very close togather!

    Peace Out! (L.C.)

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