American Red Cross Solarlink FR360 eton Emergency Radio Review

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solarlink wind-up radioWell, I have to admit that I was really excited to test this Solarlink self-powered radio and I had high hopes for it but unfortunately I’m feeling a bit underwhelmed by it. I bought it on sale at Radio Shack for $49.99 and I was excited to test it out so that I could report to all my readers about how cool it is but after playing around with it for a while, I can’t in good faith do that.

I bought this hand crank and solar emergency radio primarily because it has the ability to charge an internal rechargeable battery with either it’s built in solar panel or a hand crank dynamo. Come to think of it, what really made it jump off the shelf and into my shopping basket was the fact that it has a built in USB port that you are supposed to be able to use to charge a cell phone.

Features of this Radio Shack Weather Radio

  • Hand crank dynamo for charging the rechargeable battery.
  • Integrated solar panel for charging the rechargeable battery.
  • LED flashlight that has a setting that powers four white LED’s or one flashing red LED.
  • Adjustable telescoping antenna.
  • Seven present NOAA weather channels as well as AM/FM tuner.
  • Ability to set up automatic emergency weather alerts.

My Impressions of The Build Quality

Simply based on a visual inspection, it seems to be built well. It has a stylish look and all of the functions are easily accessible. The solar cell for charging the battery is nicely integrated into the top of the handle. The hand crank operates smoothly and you don’t have to turn it very fast to get the green light to come when you turn the handle. According to the instructions that come with it, you are turning the dynamo fast enough to charge when the light comes on. They say that you have to turn it at a rate of two revolutions per second to charge a cell phone but the light comes on when I’m turning it much slower than that.

How Did This eton Hand Crank Radio Perform During Testing?

As a radio, I really wasn’t impressed with it at all. We live up on a big hill so you would think that it wouldn’t have any problem getting reception while I was in the house. Initially I was only able to get one FM radio station to come in clearly and none of the “emergency channels” came in at all. The indicator dial has nine settings which are AM, FM, WB1, WB2, WB3, WB4, WB5, WB6, and WB7. After playing with it for a long time, I was eventually able to get the WB7 to come in a tiny bit. This station was broadcasting pre-recorded weather conditions.

When I carried it outside, I was able to get three of the NOAA weather stations to come in and they were clear enough but not great. The reception on the FM band seemed to be a little bit better outside as well. Having said that, I’m still really disappointed with this radio’s poor reception.

To find out if it was just me or my location that was resulting in the horrible reception, I went to the Radio Shack website to read some of the reviews that other users had written about this hand crank emergency radio. What I found were a few people who had good things to say about it but there were also several really bad reviews on it as well. They ranged from complaints about the poor reception to complaints about the battery not lasting very long.

If all I wanted was a hand crank radio flashlight, I would be less irritated about the reception issue because the flashlight portion of it works great. The fact that it has a built in flashlight is nice but that’s not really why I bought it.

My Biggest Gripe About This Solarlink Shortwave NOAA Radio

The advertised ability to charge a cell phone with this device was what initially sold me on it. In practice I find myself disappointed with this product. As it turns out, I couldn’t get the solar charging feature to work for charging my cell phone. The only way I could get the charging indicator to light up when it was plugged into my phone was by turning the hand crank.

It makes no sense to me at all why the designers of this product wouldn’t make it so that the built in rechargeable battery could charge my cell phone. Something else that has me concerned about this Solarlink portable radio is that there is a warning in the instructions manual that says if you decide to stop cranking while charging your cell phone, you should wait at least five seconds before you start again or your phone could be damaged.

This got me thinking that this device probably doesn’t have any way of regulating the charging voltage. My HTC Thunderbolt’s charger outputs 5 volts at 1.0 Amp. The instructions that come with this device doesn’t say anything at all about how much charging voltage the USB port outputs. They do say that hand cranking for three minutes should provide enough power for “one short emergency call”. To be fair to eton, this product isn’t manufactured as a “cell phone charger”. It’s intended to be a dynamo or solar powered emergency radio.

I hate to be negative but there is one other thing about this product that irritates me. This device has the ability to be charged with an AC power adapter but for $59.99 which is the regular price for this device, they don’t include it. You have to purchase it separately if you want it. The more I think about it, I can’t remember the last time I purchased an electronic device that didn’t come with an AC charging cord.

What’s The Bottom Line?

To be completely honest, I’m not exactly sure yet. Several things about this product have disappointed me but I’m going to have to think about whether I’ll keep it or return it. I was hoping for more when I bought it but I’m thinking that it might be useful simply as a hand crank weather radio to keep in a bug out bag.

12/28/2011 Update: I’ll be returning this device to the store. The instructions claim that hand cranking for 90 seconds will give you about 15 minutes of power for the radio. To test this I ran the battery all the way down and did four tests. The results are listed below:

  1. Cranking for 90 seconds = 11:10 minutes of play time.
  2. Cranking for 90 seconds test 2 = 11:25 minutes of play time.
  3. Cranking for 90 seconds test 3 (cranking really fast) = 11:40 minutes of play time.
  4. Cranking for 180 seconds (cranking really fast) = 20:24 minutes of play time.

To be fair. I live about 30 miles from town so the problem that I was having with reception may have been because I live so far out in the boonies. If you have tested this product and gotten better results please send me an email and I’ll be happy to post your comments here on my website.

This product might work better if I lived closer to town but for my particular needs, it didn’t work well enough to keep me from returning it to the store.

4 Responses to “American Red Cross Solarlink FR360 eton Emergency Radio Review”

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  1. Neil Elliott says:

    Sorriest excuse for a radio I’ve ever encountered. Everything in very small print. Numerous unreadable buttons concealed under the handle. Doesn’t pick up stations. Lots of static. Instructions very difficult to read. Everything designed and engineered very poorly so you can’t figure out how anything works. Tiny instruction booklet in very small, gray print. It’s about as much a radio as a clock is a clock if it can’t tell time. This was a Christmas gift, but I’m giving it back.

    • Patty Hahne says:

      Sadly, this is how a lot of people seem to feel about this product Neil. I took mine back to the store.

      • B.R. says:

        I am looking to buy an emergency radio and your review was helpful. Have you found another one that you WOULD recommend? Being new to this, I would be very interested.


        • Patty Hahne says:

          Thanks, B.R. but no, I haven’t tested any others yet. Your comment reminded me that I need to so thank you for that! I’ll get busy and find another to review.

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