Wayne Thorp will speak at the 2015 AAII Investor Conference this fall; go to www.aaii.com/conference for more details.
Multi-powered, multi-function, device-charging, weather alert radio and flashlight.
Growing up in rural Michigan, it wasn’t uncommon for us to lose power during thunder, snow or ice storms. In fact, my mother was so paranoid that Y2K would render the countryside without power for days that she invested in a “doomsday” generator that runs on propane and can run her whole house. Even living in Chicago, I have experienced a few power outages that lasted longer than 24 hours. In this day and age where seemingly everything needs to be charged, going that long without power can be a major inconvenience, if not dangerous. If you are an outdoorsman (or woman), you may also find yourself in areas where even the longest extension cord is too short, but you still need to surf the Web on your smartphone. Eton, a maker of solar-powered sound systems and emergency radios, has a line of disaster-preparedness products that can come in handy in any of these situations. Recently, they sent me one of those products to try for myself: the FRX3. This self-powered radio uses hand-turbine energy to charge its own internal nickel–metal hydride (Ni-MH) battery. It also sports USB jacks so you can plug in and charge other devices.
The FRX3 has a compact design, measuring 6.9 inches by 5.8 inches by 2.6 inches and weighing about 1.31 lbs; this means it doesn’t take up much space in an emergency-preparedness pack. It is thin enough that it can even fit in a drawer. It comes in two colors: black and red.
The body of the radio is square-shaped with openings on three of the four sides. The top opening is a handle for carrying the radio, while the openings on the right and left house the volume and tuning knobs, respectively.
Inside the handle, there is a series of buttons: alarm on/off, tune up/down, alert, set and cell.
The front of the FRX3 is dominated by an LED readout that displays the time, alarm and status of the lithium-ion battery. It also displays the radio station when the radio is on. On the sides of the display are the power button and buttons to allow you to choose the power source (dynamo/Ni-MH battery/solar or AAA batteries). Below the display is the AM/FM/WB (weather band) selector dial. The bottom portion of the radio houses its speaker.
The other main feature of the front of the FRX3 is the hand turbine/dynamo. The recessed handle snaps into the body of the radio and then flips out when you want to charge the internal battery.
On the top of the radio is a solar panel to allow you to charge the internal battery when you are outside. Around the panel is a glow-in-the-dark bezel to help you find the radio in the dark.
On the right side is the flashlight and on/off button. Pressing the button once will turn on the flashlight and a second press will activate a red flashing beacon light. The flashlight isn’t the brightest in the world, but is sufficient to light your way.
Lastly, the back of the FRX3 houses an extendable battery and battery compartment for both the rechargeable Ni-MH battery and AAA batteries. There is also a rubber flap that covers an AUX port, earphone jack, DC-input jack and USB port to plug devices in to be charged.
Besides the radio, you also get a user manual and a mini-USB cable for attaching the FRX3 to a USB charger to charge its Ni-MH battery.
The FRX3 is powered with the internal rechargeable Ni-MH battery, three AAA batteries (not included), the hand turbine or solar cell or USB DC-in (cable included). To choose the power source you wish to use, press the appropriate button on the front of the radio (battery or dynamo/solar).
If the rechargeable battery is dead, you can use the solar panel (if in direct sunlight) or the hand turbine. Press the dynamo power button on the front of the radio and then unfold the hand turbine handle and start cranking. It is not hard to crank the turbine and, according to Eton, 90 seconds of cranking will give you five to seven minutes of low-volume radio, which mimicked my experience. This will also provide about 20 minutes of flashlight life.
Plugging in the FRX3 using the mini-USB cable automatically defaults to CD power and the battery will charge while it is plugged in. When plugged in, the battery will fully charge in about two hours.
If you are in direct sunlight (not through a window or in the shade), the solar panel will charge the battery in about 10 hours.
When the rechargeable battery is fully charged, it will provide up to four hours of low-volume radio.
One of the really intriguing features of the FRX3 is that you can charge other USB devices with its internal battery. Connect the device to the radio’s USB port and press the cell button on the inside of the radio’s handle to start a “dump charge.” The charging will continue until the internal battery is dead. If the internal battery is out of power, you can also charge your USB device using the hand turbine and turning it at a rate of two or more revolutions per second.
The FRX3 can tune FM and AM radio as well as WB (weather band channels). Using the selector dial, select either AM or FM and then use the tuning knob on the left side of the radio to tune to the desired location.
To hear your local NOAA weather channel, pull up the antenna on the back of the radio and use the selector dial to choose one of the seven weather channels. Depending on where you are, you may only hear one channel. But if you hear weather information on more than one, select the strongest, as this is typically your local weather station.
You can also have the FRX3 provide you with weather alerts. With the antenna pulled up all the way, tune to the strongest of the seven NOAA weather frequencies. While listening to it, press the ALERT button on the inside of the handle. The audio goes off, but the radio is still on, constantly monitoring for alerts. When one comes in, it will automatically turn the radio on and you’ll hear the alert.
As someone who has experienced prolonged power outages, I have an emergency kit at home with candles, batteries, etc. The FRX3 has found a place in that kit as well. Since power outages are often due to weather, having a battery-powered weather radio is a good idea. The hand turbine ensures that you will also have power, no matter how long your home doesn’t. In addition, being able to charge USB devices is invaluable. They also say that you can’t put a price tag on peace of mind, and at under $60, the Eton FRX3 is definitely worth it.
$59.99 (current $55.46 from Amazon.com)
Wayne A. Thorp, CFA, is the author of "Gadget Corner." All reviews are based on firsthand experience of the product or service. No third-party compensation is received for opinions on products, services, websites or topics. However, sometimes the author is not required by the manufacturer or their PR firm to return the product under review. In such instances, it is our policy to convey this within the review. The views and opinions expressed in these reviews are strictly those of the author. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer or provider.