As the saying goes, you can never be too prepared. In this case I’m referring to earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes and those a like. The New York and New Jersey area was recently and savagely beaten by hurricane Sandy. A category 1 storm, that much like Katrina did copious amounts of damage due to flooding. If you want to up your audio, take a look at our Polk Audio I-Sonic HD radio and iPod speaker system review instead. Some residents lost power for weeks, leaving them to seek power at grocery stores to top up their phone’s batteries. If you want a radio with upgraded features, you’ll also want to read our Eaton FR-1000 voicelink radio review. These are some of the best tabletop radios on the market.
Enter the Eton FRX3, a hand turbine AM/FM/NOAA weather alert radio with a USB port and LED lights. At $60 it’s a no brainer as it could pay dividends in the event of an emergency. A small backlit display shows the FM radio channel and time. Tuning the radio is actually a surprisingly pleasurable experience, as the knob on the right (the left changes the volume) is easy to reach and can quickly cycle through the frequencies. Below the backlit display is a small, somewhat fiddley switch that toggles between AM/FM and the 7 available weather channels – what weather channels you’ll receive will vary by your area, but you should at the very least get one. That said, Eton says you can setup the FRX3 to automatically play weather alerts, provided you’ve got the FRX3 charged up or have batteries in place. Compare this radio with our review of the world’s smallest WiFi radio if you’re not sure which radio is best for your needs.
Choices of power come in three forms: solar, hand turbine, or three AAA batteries. I tested the first two. The solar panel didn’t provide much juice to the FRX3’s built-in battery – about 1 minutes of radio playback time after sitting in the sun for a few hours. The hand turbine faired far better, but didn’t achieve Eton’s claim of “one minute to get 10-15 minutes of radio.” Spinning the hand turbine for 2-minutes achieved 5.5-minutes of radio playback at a medium volume with a strong signal. The flash light on the other hand is far more efficient. Although I didn’t test it using the red flashing LED light, I’m happy to report that just one minute of cranking produced 21-minutes of light. Great if you’re faced with a road side emergency or the power drops in your home.
Included is a 600mAh rechargeable NiMh battery – this is the only battery that will charge via the hand crank. Cranking the hand turbine for more than one minute will cause the onscreen battery icon to display full, though that’s clearly not true. It will however deplete to zero after just a few minutes of radio use. Hitting the battery button located to the right of the display switches to the inserted AAA batteries – you can’t use the rechargeable NiMh and the AAA batteries simultaneously.
The back of the Eton FRX includes a collapsible antenna, the battery compartment, and rubber flap which masks the USB port, headphone jack. The radio itself is relatively unremarkable, but its aesthetics are largely rooted in utility. The solar panel is outlined with a glow in the dark strip to make it easy to find in, what else, the dark. The volume and tuning knobs are easily accessible, and the whole package weighs no more than one pound. All in all it’s a vastly useful piece of kit that anyone would be silly not to have in their home, especially if you live in an area ridden with turbulent weather that could negate your grid power for more than a few days at a time.
Bottom Line: A must have radio for anyone, any where.
Pros: Charges any 5V device, doesn’t require the grid for power, built-in LED flashlight
Cons: 1-minute of cranking gets 2.5-minutes of radio and probably only a few seconds of juice on your smartphone