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Computerized Investing > June 8, 2013
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by Wayne A. Thorp, CFA

$14.99

Crank-powered, clip-on flashlight and smartphone charger.

While September is officially National Preparedness Month, last month’s spate of tornadoes, Hurricane Sandy last October and other natural disasters illustrate that preparation is a year-round proposition. As an Eagle Scout, “be prepared” holds special significance for me. Even though I live on the North Side of Chicago, I still have an emergency kit stowed in the basement of my condo. Part of that kit is the Eton FRX3 Safety Ratio. This self-powered, device-charging, weather alert radio is a must-have for those living in areas prone to severe weather and power outages.

This week I take a look at another offering from Eton: the Clipray self-powered LED flashlight and USB cellphone charger. While not as full-featured as the FRX3 radio, the Clipray isn’t a bad gadget to have in your utility drawer, especially if most of the flashlights you have around the house have dead batteries.

Out of the Box

After unpacking the Clipray, I was impressed with its rugged feel. The red, brushed-aluminum body has a rubberized feel to it, but don’t let it fool you into thinking it is waterproof, because it isn’t. There are gray accents on the top and bottom, as well as on the hand-crank that unfolds from the back of the flashlight.

The Clipray is compact and portable, measuring 2.25 inches by 6.0 inches by 1.25 inches and weighing less than five ounces.

The top of the Clipray is actually a carabiner that you can use to clip to your pants or bag. I have mine clipped to my emergency kit for easy access.

On the opposite end of the carabiner is the “business end” of the Clipray: the three LED lights. Press the gray power button just above the lights on the side of the Clipray to turn the lights on and off. The LED lights are sufficiently bright enough to allow me to navigate my condo in the dark.

Just above the power button is a green light that illuminates when you are cranking the charger enough to generate a charge.

On the side of the Clipray, under a rubber cover, is the USB charging port. Unfortunately, you will need to be sure to pack a USB cable in your emergency kit if you plan on charging a USB device, as Eton doesn’t provide one.

On the other side is the hand-crank that you use to charge the flashlight and USB devices connected to the Clipray. The crank folds out of the body of the flashlight when you wish to charge and folds back in when you are finished.

Crank Powered

After unfolding the hand-crank for the dynamo, I was surprised by how inconsistent the resistance is. I certainly didn’t experience this with the FRX3 weather radio. One second there was little or no resistance and the next it became noticeably harder to crank, although not difficult.

I was dismayed when reading the data sheet for the Clipray that the USB charger isn’t compatible with Apple iPhone 4, 4S or 5. While Eton doesn’t offer any power specs in regards to the Clipray’s output, I can only assume it doesn’t put out enough juice to meet iPhones’ power demands. For me, with an iPhone 5, this was extremely disappointing. Not being one to take things at face value, however, I plugged in my iPhone and proceeded to crank the handle for nearly 10 minutes without having the battery percentage move a single percentage point. I had a similar experience with my Google Nexus 10 tablet. Other reviews I came across say that they were able to get limited results with some Android phones. So it appears that the USB charging is for much smaller devices, such as mp3 players, limiting the Clipray’s usefulness in a true emergency.

Cranking the dynamo for two minutes does give you 10 minutes of flashlight life.

Overall

When I first read about the Clipray, I was excited about its possibilities. While I still have the Eton FRX3 emergency radio from my previous review, scaling it down to just a flashlight and USB charger was appealing. Sadly, this isn’t something for someone hoping to keep their smartphone charged during a prolonged power outage.

I guess for $15 I can’t be overly disappointed. Since I am someone who never seems to have fresh batteries when I need them, having a crank-powered LED flashlight is nothing to sneeze at, especially when the lights go out.

Pros

  • Rugged design
  • Self-powering
  • Charges USB devices
  • Good value
  • LED flashlight

Cons

  • Does not charge iPhones

Eton Clipray Self-Powered LED Flashlight with USB Cellphone Charger

$14.99 (Currently $14.99 from Amazon.com)

Wayne A. Thorp, CFA is a vice president and senior financial analyst at AAII and editor of Computerized Investing. Follow him on Twitter at @WayneTAAII.


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