Why the Cardo Packtalk Custom is Bad News for Bikers

If you’ve been following motorcycle communication systems for any time, you know that there are two leading players in the game, Sena and Cardo. In a race to the top, both communication system manufacturers have been dueling it out for years, trying to find a way to get the edge over the competition. However, both brands have done a great job in creating very capable communication headset units for motorcycle riders.

I have been a faithful Cardo rider, first using my Freecom unit and then upgrading to the Packtalk Edge. I’m a huge fan of the Edge and very impressed by its reliability and features, mainly the hands-free accuracy upgrade from my Freecom. It’s been a good purchase and a unit I have recommended to fellow riders.

However, over the past several years, there haven’t been many significant breakthroughs in this technology, and most upgrades have been nominal for their quite capable units. However, in March 2023, via social media, Cardo alluded to the next big thing with a video ad featuring a biker tinkering in his garage. The video inferred that something big was on the horizon. Speculation and excitement were in high gear about what Cardo was up to.

So, what was this big announcement? Much to the shock of many Cardo users, it was a subscription-based headset, the Packtalk Custom. The Custom is essentially a Packtalk Neo without the JBL speakers. However, while the Neo is a full-featured device, offering most of the high-end features of the Packtalk Edge, the Cardo flagship model, the Packtalk Custom locks these features behind a paywall. So, to get all of them, a rider must pay a monthly or annual fee.

Cardo has since been advertising this as a consumer-friendly option that will save you money by only paying for the features that you need. However, this couldn’t be anything further from the truth, and the reality is that if you plan to own this device for more than a couple of years, it is a terrible investment.

While the Packtalk Custom offers functionality without any subscription, it’s hard to justify the cost savings for a pretty unexciting unit without paying. However, the main issue is the paywall to unlock the hardware. This is a move in the wrong direction, and if not handled correctly, it will cost Cardo customers.


  • Music Sharing
  • 3 Audio Profiles
  • Speed Dial
  • $2.99 monthly
  • $19.99 annually


  • Universal Bluetooth Intercom
  • Bluetooth bridge
  • 2nd Channel Connection
  • Music Sharing
  • 3 Audio Profiles
  • Speed Dial
  • $4.99 monthly
  • $29.99 annually


  • Voice Commands
  • Eco Mode
  • Universal Bluetooth Intercom
  • Bluetooth bridge
  • 2nd Channel Connection
  • Music Sharing
  • 3 Audio Profiles
  • Speed Dial
  • $6.99 monthly
  • $39.99 annually

Why hardware-locked subscription models are bad

There is no question that businesses across every sector are eyeing subscription models to get guaranteed and easy income from consumers. But, of course, there’s a subscription for everything now- software that was once pay-and-own, coffee clubs, streaming services, phone apps, etc. Moreover, consumers have signaled to businesses that we’re willing to pay smaller amounts over time for a product, even if it will cost way more in the long run. It’s a reality that we’re now living in, and I don’t expect it to die out anytime soon.

So, while I am not a huge fan of subscriptions, it’s just part of the world we’re living in. However, subscriptions that offer a service are different. You’re paying for this service every month, and when you don’t need/want it anymore, you stop paying. Sure, I would rather pay a flat price and own it forever, but these options aren’t available like they used to be.

What I despise is the new trend in subscriptions where manufacturers place hardware features behind a paywall. Rather than offering a service, they restrict the hardware you already paid for, own, and possess, requiring you to pay them a monthly or annual fee to unlock it. We’re seeing this in the automobile industry and, recently, in the motorcycle industry. It’s a newer practice that requires you to pay to unlock packages in your vehicles. The subscription model of the Cardo Edge takes it one step further, where you’re not only paying to unlock it and keep it, but you also need to keep paying to use it.

While a subscription-based model can cause consumer fatigue, it is not necessarily bad for software or service-based solutions. However, when manufacturers lock hardware with subscriptions, it heads down a very anti-consumer path. Cardo isn’t the only one doing this, but they were the first to test the waters in the communication device industry. I hope they heard, loud and clear, the very big NO from their customers. While I am not abandoning my Edge and jumping to Sena, if this practice doesn’t fade away, I will move on when it’s time to upgrade. I know I’m not alone in this decision.

This is a very anti-consumer model that we need to push back against. The long-term ramifications can be huge for consumers, but not in a good way. By accepting these corporate decisions, we are essentially telling companies to keep doing this. Rather than innovating to increase profits, they will reconfigure their goods to get the most profit from the least effort.

Do I think Cardo is a bad company? I don’t, and I really love my Packtalk Edge. It’s a great device that does everything I want it to do. However, their decision to test the waters with a subscription model was a very bad one. On the surface, it may seem inconsequential. But it’s only one product, right? If you don’t like it, don’t buy it. Trust me. I get that argument. It’s a fair one, but it’s short-sighted.

If we as consumers adopt this subscription model, it will not impact this one unit; it will validate its profitability and erode consumer options. While I don’t have any inside knowledge of Cardo’s long-term growth plan, I suspect they are looking at their extensive and redundant lineup of devices and trying to determine how to cut it down. I predict that a successful Packtalk Custom would lead to eliminating products like the Neo, which is one step down from the more expensive Edge. It would then be replaced with Custom, which would provide the same features as the Neo, but just make you pay for them forever.

My prediction for Cardo in the near future is a 3-unit lineup. 1) top-of-the-line Edge, 2) a cheap feature-less simple model, and 3) a configurable device in the middle. If left unchecked, I think the subscription model will grow and find its way into all other units over time. Want more range? Then you need to pay for it. Do you need noise cancellation in your unit, we’ll give it to you for a monthly fee. Slowly, over time, the features that we value will begin to be locked behind a paywall. This is just my opinion/guess.

The way that this doesn’t happen is if the subscription model never takes off. Based on the loud feedback from existing Cardo customers, I think there’s a good chance that this subscription model will be a failed experiment, assuming people don’t buy it. The market will be the judge here, not me.

Also, in a niche with no clear leader (Sena and Cardo), brand loyalty is, or should be, very important to Cardo. A subscription model can have a bigger negative impact on them than the profitability they hoped to achieve with it. They’re in damage control now, but I’m sure they know how upset their existing customers are with this unit. Will this fade or carry through to additional units? I don’t know, but I guess Cardo is now concerned about this.

Why is the Cardo Packtalk Custom bad for the wallet?

Aside from the subscription-based model, which I despise, the Custom really doesn’t make financial sense for anyone other than Cardo. Cardo is comparing this to the Edge, highlighting the $120 savings. Regardless that I can buy an edge right now on Amazon for $350, this isn’t what the Packtalk custom competes with. The Custom competes with the Neo. It’s essentially a Neo without JBL speakers and a pay-per-feature subscription model.

Right now, you can buy a Neo for $316 on Amazon. However, let’s skip the real-world prices and use the MSRP prices provided by Cardo. The Custom will cost you $80 less than the Neo for a slightly less capable unit. Well, $80 is $80, right? It is, and it’s what these shill practices want you to think- tapping into the buy now, pay later consumer culture. So let’s do some math:

Okay, you buy the Custom for $270. During the riding season, let’s say you need the Bluetooth feature for two months ($10 total), and you want to use the hands-free voice command for two months ($14 total), which is quite a conservative guess on what people may choose. You’re looking at $25/year for just four months of upgrades. In three years, with this limited use, you’ll be at the cost of the Neo and then need to keep paying to use it more.

That may be plenty for most people. However, what Cardo likely wants to happen is that you experiment with the features you like the most, which are most likely in the Platinum plan. That is why they packaged the most user-friendly features, like voice control and eco mode, into the most expensive plan. I suspect that Cardo hopes that when someone has these features, they’ll want to keep using them. In addition, the hands-free system makes Cardo so popular and is probably the most significant safety feature when using a communication device on a motorcycle.

If someone decides they want this feature, they’ll be paying $40 each year to have it. So in two years, the unit’s added cost would surpass the Neo’s non-subscription cost. Now, assume you plan to keep your unit for five years. Since you invested almost $300, the total cost over ownership could be $460, more expensive than the Edge and almost $200 more than the Neo.  

This assumes that the subscription model is not expanded into another unit. However, to Cardo’s benefit, they said they will always have a full-featured unit. So I think it’s very important that we hold them to it.

So, what could Cardo have done differently?

If Cardo wanted a subscription model, they could have done it differently. They could have innovated software features, such as cloud recording, buy now and trade-up programs (like leasing), a more advanced app, integration with action cameras, etc. These are options for subscriptions that are not restricting hardware and are likely something I would be willing to pay for.

If the goal was really to be consumer friendly rather than a money grab, Cardo should have structured the Packtalk Custom subscription features differently. Here are a few things that would have been more consumer-friendly than what they offered:

  • First, make hands-free and eco-mode standard options.
  • Second, offer a price cap when you pay X amount in subscriptions; the features stay unlocked forever.
  • Third, offer a full-feature buy-out that makes it comparable in cost to the Neo.
  • Offer a trade-in plan as part of the subscription where after three years of paying for the plan, you can trade it in for an upgraded unit.
  • Incorporate a lifetime warranty as long as someone keeps paying for the subscription, similar to the GoPro subscription plan, which also offers unlimited cloud storage.

While I still don’t like the hardware-locked subscription, these added options would have made a better argument for a consumer-focused product.

Overall, the existing Cardo subscription plan is not only anti-consumer but also terrible compared to what other device manufacturers offer. It offers no added benefits and only restricts features already built into the device.

What happens next?

Well, the Packtalk custom’s future is in the consumers’ hands right now. Will it succeed? I don’t know, and only the market will decide. If it’s a flop, I think we’ll see it disappear. Cardo will only keep producing it if it’s profitable. While everyone can make up their own mind about the value or lack thereof of the Packtalk Custom, I believe the math is clear, and it’s a big fat NO. I think most people will realize that hardware-based subscriptions are a terrible model and something we need to let manufacturers know we don’t want. Whether it’s a motorcycle helmet communicator or heated seats in a car, it’s not a good model for anyone but the manufacturers. As a consumer, you have a voice, and speaking with your wallet can be pretty loud.

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