Weather-alert radios can warn you about dangerous weather, natural disasters and other emergencies ahead of time. But what if you're in the middle of a disaster, the power is out and all of your batteries are dead? To fill that need, a number of manufacturers have introduced self-powered emergency radios that use a simple hand-crank generator to charge an internal battery.
The best-rated emergency radio of this type is the Etón American Red Cross FRX3 (Est. $45). In addition to the hand crank, this emergency radio can run off of its built-in rechargeable battery, regular AAA batteries or a tiny, built-in solar panel. The FRX3 is like the Swiss army knife of emergency radios. When it's not providing emergency weather alerts, it can pick up AM or FM radio, charge your cellphone, play tunes from your MP3 player or serve as an emergency flashlight.
Performance is pretty good, too. Users at Amazon.com say the FRX3 emergency radio has great reception and good audio quality. Most of them also say that the hand crank is sturdy and easy to turn.
One feature that draws user kudos is the phone charger. Unlike many crank radios, which require you to turn the hand crank continuously to charge your phone, this one does what many users call a "dump charge," transferring power directly from the built-in battery to the phone. Smartphone users beware, however, as reviews add that the FRX3's battery only holds enough juice to run one of those power-hungry devices long enough for a 30 second or so call -- though even that can be a lifesaver in an emergency.
Speaking of cranking, the company claims that one minute of cranking can power the radio for 15 minutes or more, but users say that's optimistic. Most say to expect to have to crank the radio for two to as many as 10 minutes to get that much operating time. The solar cell is only marginally useful; users report that it takes hours of exposure to full sunlight to get just a few minutes of radio play. We also read a few durability complaints about this radio, though fewer than we saw for most crank radios.
The Kaito KA500 (Est. $50) follows close behind the FRX3 in reviews, and the two radios are a lot alike. The Kaito lacks an alarm clock function, but it does boast a tiltable solar panel to capture the sun at an angle. The Kaito's AM/FM radio tuner is an old-fashioned analog dial, not digital like the FRX3's. And some users say the Kaito seems flimsy, with a hand crank that breaks easily, although the majority of its roughly 870 reviewers at Amazon.com are perfectly pleased, awarding it 4.4 out of 5 stars overall. If styling matters, the KA500 is available in a bevy of colors, including green, red, black, blue and yellow.
We also found enthusiastic recommendations for the smaller, cheaper Epica Emergency Radio (Est. $30). This lightweight, portable radio has most of the same features found on the Etón FRX3 (Est. $45). It has a solar panel, hand crank, built-in flashlight, AM/FM reception and a cellphone charger that's capable of doing a "dump charge." Though it can't run off standard disposable batteries, if you plan ahead, it can be charged via a USB cable from your computer or a wall adapter. Owners say its compact size makes it ideal for carrying in a "Bug Out Bag" that you can take with you if you have to evacuate your home in an emergency.
"If you'd rather not spend $50 on something you're not going to use frequently, the Epica Emergency Radio is the best budget product among many mediocre ones," concludes TheSweethome.com, after testing six weather and emergency radios. It's weather-resistant and durable. When dropped, "only the carabiner clip fell off the Epica," unlike some other cheap weather radios. Although testers say it's worth the extra $20 or $30 to get a better emergency radio with clearer reception, "a cheap radio is preferable to no radio, and this model is still better than anything you'd get in a preassembled kit." Owners mostly adore this inexpensive little radio; with a 4.5-star rating over about 740 reviews, it's one of the best-loved weather radios of any type at Amazon.com.