On average, electrical consumers experience 120 minutes of power outage per year.
If you read my post on Power Outages you already know about dealing with short power outages. I mentioned the Eton FR150 Microlink combination Radio/Flashlight cell phone charger device. I decided to invest the $30 to have something dedicated to emergencies only. If you follow the policies of the American Red Cross, you need more than a radio as they recommend assembling a kit of supplies to be stored for such emergencies. The FR150 was my first step. I purchased mine from REI, but have seen them at Electronics stores as well as various on-line sources for about the same money.
I liked what I read about the unit and figured it should meet most of my needs. The FR150 will provide you a AM/FM/Weather-Band radio, LED flashlight, a generic plug-in for a cell phone adapter and solar charging cell on the top of the unit. In concept, I like the fact that it uses a long life NiMH (Nickel Metal Hydride) battery that can be charged in 3 different ways; 1) A USB plug, 2) solar cell, or 3) hand crank. The NiMH batteries are used to hold the charge.
Fit, Finish & Look: The product comes in several colors (Redcross red, black, yellow and green). The FR150 has a fresh look and a bit techy. In green and yellow it is translucent allowing you to see some of the electronics beneath the cover.
Size: The product was a bit smaller than I expected and later found this to be a disadvantage. I took this picture by a soda can so you can get perspective. The good news is that it can be easily stored. I keep mine in a drawer next to my PC, where I leave it plugged in to the USB port for constant charging. Even though the PC is not on all the time, it should keep it well charged. The dial and labels are easy to read with light but nearly impossible to see in the dark. I found the knobs (tuning and volume) slightly small and it may be difficult to tune in a weak station as the frequency dial to knob-turn-ratio is a bit quick causing you to pass through the frequencies even while turning the knob slow.
Battery Characteristics:NiMH batteries are rechargeable and are typically known for their quick recharge time, ability to hold a charge and expected life cycle. It should last for at least 3 years assuming you keep the unit in-doors in conditioned space (air-conditioned). If you keep it in a garage, attic or the glove box of your car, expect the battery to go bad twice as fast. If you live in colder climates, they could last longer. TIP: Most battery technologies baseline performance expectations using 77F. In other-words, if a battery product claims a life expectancy of 1 year from date of purchase, its all based on the battery remaining (on average) at 77F.
Performance: The manual recommend the unit to be initially charged for 8 hours.
- Radio & Flashlight: I ran the radio with the volume at level 5, after 8 hours the reception became scratchy, I turned the radio off and the flashlight on and found it continuously usable for 11 more hours for a total of 19 hours of continued use without any additional charging. Since the flashlight uses LED bulbs, it consumes very little electricity. During a recent outage I got to use it in a real life situation. Even thought it wasnt totally dark, I found it difficult to distinguish the volume from the turner. So without thinking I could change the station in lieu of adjusting the volume.
- Flashlight Only: With the LED bulbs, the flashlight will produce usable light for over 20 hours before needing a charge. But remember, you can easily wind the charger and regain the light strength. I could easily see using the light for some limited room illumination by reflecting off the ceiling, however, with the charge connectors and a less than flat surface on the back, it doesn’t really want to sit flat with the light aimed at the ceiling. It was still usable in that position, but a little movement or bumping it could cause it to fall over.
- Cell Phone Charger: I did not test this feature
After an event, plug it in or set it in the sun to regain the full charge.
Accessories: Not really, but I didn’t know what else to call them.
- The FR150 includes a wrist strap that allows you to carry the unit much like a hand held camera.
- USB outlet. You will need to supply the cord. USB on one end with digital camera plug on the other. I had an extra one, so I just keep the cord/FR150 plugged in all the time.
- The unit includes a patch cord that provides a generic power plug for a cell phone charging adaptor. Eton provides you a mail-in card to order, at no charge, for you to order one connector. This is a pain in the butt. I got lucky as I uncovered a cheap little AA battery cell charger I picked up at a trade show that had every adapter known to man as part of the package. If you are like the rest of us, within your household you probably have multiple different charger needs. If I were you, I would hold out until you run across a similar opportunity or find something at a dollar store for adapters otherwise additional adaptors may cost you about $10 each.
Overall Impression:I found the product to deliver as promised as a good product for use in emergencies and non-powered applications, such as camping or hiking. I liked the styling and choice of colors. The radio performance is about like the little pocket radios we used as kids, so beyond an emergency, I will stick with an Ipod for music. However, the flashlight performance was great. This is primarily due to the LED bulbs and its ability to be recharged without a plug. Just for that fact alone, having one in your car as well might not be a bad idea either. The biggest disappointment was recognized during a power failure. All the radio features were difficult to distinguish in the dark. Since the flashlight and the radio is in the same unit, you just have to feel your way through it. So on a simple 1-10 scale, I’ll give it a 5. If I were buy another one today, I would look for a unit with large control knobs and possibly illuminated dials.
Take a look at my recent article on Power Outages Part II for additional hints and tips.