We’ve been users and fans of Cardo communication systems for years and have logged countless hours on our Packtalk Bold units. Part of Cardo’s flagship Packtalk line is the Slim—low-profile configuration that captured our interest for our off-road adventures. Riding wooded mountain trails, we frequently come into close quarters with tree branches and looming rock outcroppings on steep hillsides. And, of course, there’s always the distinct possibility of tumbling off our dirt machines. The less protruding a communications unit is, the less likely it will get damaged or dislodged from the helmet.
The Packtalk Slim is a fashionably slender unit measuring just a quarter-inch in depth. It has a sleek look as it hugs the side of your helmet. Unlike its Bold brother—almost four times thicker—the Slim manages its model-thin physique by splitting its business into two pieces. The battery is tucked at the back of your helmet along the bottom rim, while the main unit with the control buttons slips onto the left side of your helmet in the usual location within easy reach of your hand. But, really, you rarely need to touch the Packtalk Slim once you’ve turned it on. Instruction to the unit can be voice-activated. More on this later.
Because of the way the Packtalk Slim unit mounts to a helmet—both on the side and at the back—it is not compatible with all helmets. Cardo maintains an exhaustive list of manufacturers and helmet models on its website that the Slim is compatible with, along with the configuration of “clamp” and skirt” mounting pieces that work with the helmet. Cardo also produced a video that explains how to determine if your helmet is a good candidate for the Slim if your helmet isn’t listed. We mounted it to the popular Arai VX-Pro4, which uses a long clamp and long skirt.
Installation of the Packtalk Slim is much like other communications systems. You nestle the JBL speakers into the ear cavities of your helmet, and mount either the wired or boom microphone. The microphone choice is usually dictated by whether you have a modular or three-quarter helmet, vs. a full-face helmet. While mounting the side unit is quite easy, the battery unit stymied me.
The included Installation Guide illustrates the assembly of the clamp and skirt—which the battery mounts to—with brief instructions and drawings. I’m not a fan of pictograms and found this part of the installation tedious. However, I managed, and was ultimately quite pleased with the clean finished look. As you can see in the action photos, the Packtalk Slim is almost invisible on the two Arai VX-Pro4 helmets.
Before use, download the Cardo Update App to your computer so that you can benefit from firmware updates, such as bug fixes and new features. The process is straightforward and takes very little time.
The basic operation of the Cardo Packtalk Slim is simple. There are three buttons on the side of the unit that control media, phone, and intercom functions. Two additional buttons are on the bottom of the side unit to adjust volume up and down. As is often the case with software, the Cardo Packtalk Slim has more capabilities than you will use, so learn how to operate the things you care about and don’t worry about the rest.
Cardo has a comprehensive 32-minute tutorial for the Slim available on YouTube. Don’t let that scare you. Check out the full description of the video, and you will find a listing of various topics by time code so that you can scroll directly to the relevant bits.
So how well does the Packtalk Slim unit work? We were impressed. Pairing two units together is a quick process, and most of the time, the units recognize each other from one ride to the next. Yes, they are expected to always recognize each other once paired. Still, real-world experience across all motorcycle communication systems we’ve used is that they need to be re-paired 15 to 20 percent of the time, even with mesh technology.
You will hear the unit disconnect if you get too far away from your riding buddy. Most of the time, when you catch up and the units are within the range, they will reconnect automatically, as the mesh system is designed to do seamlessly. However, now and then, you will need to tap the intercom button, which will almost reconnect the units.
When riding off-road on single-track mountain trails, the range of the Cardo Packtalk Slim is quickly challenged. In the open desert, you can be quite far apart and still communicate. Line of sight makes a difference.
Although we tested the Packtalk Slim with just two riders, Cardo’s excellent mesh mode allows up to 15 riders (equally outfitted) to seamlessly connect. If your riding group includes non-mesh communications units, drop down to the Bluetooth mode. From there, you can connect with most competing communications devices.
One of the handiest features—no pun intended—is the hands-free usability of the Cardo Packtalk Slim. There is no need to remember which button to push to activate your music, initiate or respond to a phone call, or adjust the volume. “Hey, Cardo! Volume up!” is easier than letting go of the handlebars to find the ‘up’ volume button on the side unit of the helmet. Similarly, if the device inadvertently mistakes some audio input as a direction to turn on music or the radio, I can say, “Hey, Cardo! Radio off!” Cardo is good about taking direction.
Also, be sure to download the Cardo Connect app to your phone. Although you don’t need it to operate the Packtalk Slim, you miss out on some vital functionality without it.
The app allows quite a bit of customization of the audio settings. The default setting for volume is Automatic, which is designed to react to the ambient noise level. However, you can switch the volume to a manual mode and set each volume level (phone calls, music, radio, intercom) to your personal preference. You will still be able to adjust the volume on the fly with a “Hey, Cardo!” command, and your selected individual volume levels are the default.
You can also adjust the sensitivity of the microphone sensitivity and voice recognition. There are nine languages to choose from, including British English. While I found most voice commands to work quite well, I was not consistently successful when asking Cardo to quick-dial or redial numbers I had added to the app. Finding the sweet spot with voice recognition may take more fiddling with the various settings.
You can charge and talk while you ride by plugging into an external battery pack. If you started your ride with a fully charged unit, you should be covered with the claimed 13 hours of talk time—that’s a long time in the dirt.
The Packtalk Slim’s JBL speakers provide a good mid-range sound that is easy on your ears, even when elevated for fast riding conditions. The clarity does drop off at higher speeds, but the sound does not get harsh. Noise cancelation works well, even with a dirt bike helmet.
While this is a dirt-specific test, the unobtrusive footprint of the Cardo Packtalk Slim makes it an appealing communications unit for a broad range of motorcycle riding—sport, touring, urban, and cruising riders can all enjoy the benefits of a stealth piece of equipment.Cardo continues to deliver an impressive and comprehensive range of communications units. The Cardo Packtalk Slim’s features are abundant and seemingly cover every audio desire—music and FM radio; conversations with your riding buddies; making/receiving phone calls to sharing that call with your riding group; getting directions from your favorite nav app; querying Siri. All this functionality enhances the riding experience while adding an invaluable safety element. For off-roaders, the nearly flush mounting of the Cardo Packtalk Slim on the helmet makes it a natural for dirt bike riding.
Cardo Packtalk Slim Specs
MAIN UNIT and SPEAKER DIMENSIONS
- Height: 1.5 inches
- Width: 2.7 inches
- Depth: 0.26 inches
- Weight: 2.7 ounces
- Speaker diameter: 1.6 inches
- Speaker depth: 0.4 inches
- Talk time: Up to 13 hours
- Standby time: 1 week
- Battery charge time: 4 hours
- Battery capacity: 850 mAh
- Mesh range: 0.8 miles
- Mesh range with 6 or more riders: 3.7 miles
- Bluetooth range: 0.8 miles
- Mesh 5.1
- Bluetooth 4.1
- Cardo Packtalk Slim Single: $340 MSRP
- Cardo Packtalk Slim Duo: $600