Phrases like “Hey, Siri” have become so ingrained in our collective vernacular that practically no request seems unreasonable these days. Need an industrial-sized air fryer at your front door in two days? Alexa has your back. Looking for the most abstruse slam poetry club in town? Just ask Google Assistant?
Our digital concierges have royally spoiled us in recent years, and Cardo aims to do the same with the new PackTalk Edge’s voice command system. The Plano, Texas-based brand is no stranger to person-to-person communication either, packing cutting-edge tech such as Dynamic Mesh Communication (DMC) and 5.2 Bluetooth Connectivity into the latest PackTalk’s sleek packaging.
With the Edge connecting up to 15 riders and maintaining that line over a one-to-five-mile range, Cardo invited us to a day-long group ride to truly test the limits of the new communicator. However, the PackTalk Edge not only proved instrumental while traveling in a pack but also remained a trusty companion—and digital assistant—when riding solo.
One of the Crowd
In keeping with its minimalistic form, the PackTalk Edge only consists of an Intercom button, Control Wheel, Mobile button, LED indicator, and Media button. While the specialized keys primarily execute phone, connectivity, and music-based functions, each button assumes different assignments based on the current mode.
For instance, the user can engage music mode by pressing the Media switch once or turn on the radio by double-tapping the same button. Pairing the Edge to a smartphone requires a five-second hold of the Mobile button, while thumbing both the Media and Mobile keys for two seconds turns the unit on and off. Such multi-press, long-hold, and dual-button functions may not be self-evident for first-timers, but the system becomes second nature with minimal practice.
Once the user becomes familiar with the tactile interface, connecting to another Cardo unit couldn’t be easier. Group members simply press the Intercom key for five seconds and the system seamlessly pairs the nearby units. During Cardo’s organized group ride, our small band included five riders. Even when joining the group at different times, the process proved effortless and results were immediate.
I’m an adamant earplug advocate, but I could still clearly make out each team member’s voice while riding on surface streets. Aside from a slight static hiss when no one was using the airwaves, the sound quality remained crystal clear during conversation. Preserving that high fidelity wasn’t so easy on the highway, though.
Joining rush hour morning traffic quickly split up our five-person gang. With over a mile of tightly-packed Interstate 405 traffic between our two factions, the signal connecting the two front riders to the trailing troop of three quickly severed. Luckily, I was still able to communicate with my fellow group leader, but the following riders instantly rejoined once back within the one-mile range.
Distance seemed to be the Edge’s most significant obstacle, as the DMC connection remained strong in the canyons. Even when pulling away from the group and disappearing around a bend, the canyon wall between us didn’t interfere with the strong signal. Unfortunately, we only had time to test the second-generation DMC technology during the ride, but owners can accommodate non-Cardo users with the Edge’s 5.2 Bluetooth connectivity.
On One’s Own
Today’s helmet-to-helmet communicators do more than just connect a group of riders, however. The PackTalk Edge keeps users entertained on the go with music streaming and FM radio flowing through powerful 40mm JBL speakers. Cardo prioritizes safety and convenience as well, with volume that automatically adjusts to ambient noise and two separate channels for mobile phone and GPS units.
The Edge’s hands-free operation further upholds that safety and convenience, allowing riders to focus on the road ahead while keeping their hands on the bars. With the always-on Natural Voice Operation (NVO) engine operating in the background, users can easily prompt the PackTalk to carry out a task with the “Hey, Cardo” command. Riders accept calls by simply saying “answer”, skip songs by calling out “next track”, or crank the jams by uttering “volume up”.
While the Edge’s voice commands ease the riding experience, the system is a stickler for diction. For example, to initiate the music player, riders must say “Hey, Cardo, music on” verbatim. Not “Hey, Cardo, start Spotify” or “Hey, Cardo, play the Bee Gees”. Nope, only “music on” and a slight variation such as “play music” works. Committing such specific commands to memory can also pose an issue, especially since the pre-programmed orders don’t exactly replicate common speech patterns.
Instead of “skip track”, the Edge needs the rider to say “next track”. Telling the unit to “raise the volume” produces no effect as well, but stating “volume up” does the trick. However, most people employ verbs when issuing commands, and the Edge, in most cases, doesn’t accept such words. Fortunately, the multi-function buttons still allowed me to operate the PackTalk when I botched those orders, but I’d love to see Cardo expand the NVO engine’s lexicon to accommodate differing word choices. Once the rider navigates that learning curve, though, the Edge becomes an irreplaceable companion.
Of course, iOS and Android compatibility allow Siri and Google Assistant to carry out more complicated tasks, but controlling music or answering phone calls isn’t just effortless, it’s non-distracting. When accepting a call on the run, the crisp sound quality and clear microphone relay make the conversation fluid and to the point. There’s rarely a need to repeat a sentence or ask for clarification. The NVO system and its limited vocabulary may require an adjustment period, but when it comes to phone calls and streaming music, the juice is worth the squeeze.
One for the Road
At $389.95, the PackTalk Edge replaces the PackTalk Black at the top of Cardo’s communicator totem pole. The model combines all the functionality of the PackTalk Bold with a streamlined form only rivaled by the PackTalk Slim and adds over-the-air updates, 5.2 Bluetooth connectivity, and a three-year warranty for good measure.
Intuitive features such as the magnetic air mount enhances ease of use, while advanced tech like Dynamic Mesh Communication and Natural Voice Operation set the Edge apart from its competitors. No, the PackTalk Edge won’t fetch you an industrial-sized air fryer or find the most slamming poetry club in town, but it will meet all your needs on the bike—and then some.