Gadget Review: Eton FR-1000 VoiceLink Radio
Since the collapse of the economy, playing Fallout 3 and listening to Joe Rogan’s stand up routine, I have been interested in reviewing what I like to call “Apocalypse Gear.” The first time I saw an Eton radio I was on my last day at CES 2009 and I liked the very approachable aesthetic and practicality of their many functions. The FR-1000 seems to be the flagship of the FR series and is the only one that has GMRS. Here’s a quick rundown of the FR-1000′s features:
- 2-Way GMRS Clock Radio (General Mobile Radio Service) w/ VoiceLink Communication
- NOAA (National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration)
- Multiple Power Sources ( 4x AA batteries, AC Current, NiMH Internal Battery, HandCrank)
- AM/FM/ Alarm Clock Radio
- Flashlight w/ SOS Beacon
- Emergency Siren
- Water “Resistant”
- Headphone & MicroPhone Jack
- Cell Phone Charger
- Green Backlit LCD
Lots of features indeed. Simply put, GMRS radio is used shortwave style and officially requires an $85 FCC license. While most people that use GMRS casually do not have this FCC license, they are required to use certain channels and stay off others. I tried finding people on GMRS in Portland, Oregon as well as Northern Virginia and had no luck; there was no one using the 22 channels during the several times I scanned the channels. If you do have someone specific to talk with over GMRS you can use one of the 121 privacy codes to keep it amongst yourselves. The included microphone would have let me speak to anyone out there and the microphone input jack would have let me connect a headset. GMRS would be useful for large camping groups or communicating on construction sites and places such as tent city. And of course for the apocalypse, everybody would be on it then.
NOAA worked better and I was able to use 1 of the 7 weather channels to locate the local weather forecast. Reception was decent on both coasts but sometimes required my hand adjusting the antenna for true static free listening. FM & AM radios were about the same with some attention required to get a clear signal. What I thought was weak was that there was no way to save radio stations as thumbing the knob through small increments can be tedious every single time. Top volume was loud but not too loud. The speakers never distorted when the volume was cranked and it did a fair job of permeating outside noises.
The 6 LED flashlight was very bright and the distress beacon bleeps an SOS signal in Morse Code with a red LED. No emergencies were had but the controls reacted timely enough when I commanded them. The siren was blaringly loud and is one of those noises you know you hate and want turned off immediately.
The FR-1000 looks very cool and you definitely want to grab it and look at it. The design is fairly ergonomic with guesses to why they chose to put the odd shaped handle on the back of the radio instead of the top. Design is streamlined, functions easy to use, and the knobs and buttons feel nice. While the microphone, headphone, AC, and cell phone inputs all have rubberized seals, just below it, the battery compartment is totally unshielded making it only slightly water resistant and most definitely not submergible.
My main area of gripe is the fact that the internal battery is pretty crappy. It loses its charge quite rapidly and won’t go for more than two hours without dying on you. In addition, once it’s dead, it loses time, so you are always having to reset the clock. My 1st generation iHome uses the AA’s to display time for much longer, days even. The 4 AA’s last quite a bit longer so that is good. The hand crank will save the day at some point, but requires mass amounts of crankage to get things going for more than a few minutes. It will totally work in times of despair, but if you don’t need it, don’t bother. I don’t know why the FR-1000 is void of the solar panel that all the other Eton FR series have and that would have definitely cast some positive light on the weak internal battery. The LCD display, while looking a nice neon green, requires you to look at it straight on to see it clearly. This is not the case when the illumination is off.
What will grind most people’s gears is that you don’t get the appropriate cell charging adapter out of the box. You have to order it after the fact, either online or with the included card asking you to specify the make and model of your cell phone. While this approach is definitely Eco, most of today’s immediate gratification type of consumer will not like having to wait the turn around time for their adapter. So I never tried charging my cell phone, but I would imagine if you were lost in the woods you’d be cranking that thing for a hot minute until you got the necessary juice to make your distress call. And you’d do it if you had to.
I see the Eton FR-1000 VoiceLink Radio being a good choice for campers that are using drive-in camping sites as it is too big and heavy for those campers hiking to to their site. Eton offers smaller radios for those situations. Beyond the limitations of the battery, the FR-1000 will be there for you when you need it be.
- Lot’s of “Apocalypse” ready features
- Easy to use and navigate
- Attractive and polished design aesthetic
- Internal battery is DOA for the most part
- Cranking for power takes much longer than expected
- No POS cell phone adapters
Buy it here for $139.95