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 your batteries are dead? To fill that need, a number of manufacturers have introduced self-powered radios. Most use a simple hand-crank generator that can supply about a half-hour of power for 30 seconds of cranking.
Eton is the most prolific maker of crank-powered radios, marketing identical products under its own brand as well as the American Red Cross and Grundig labels. Users love some models while others earn poor ratings. Among current Eton units, the Microlink FR160 (*Est. $30) garners the most respect. It can draw power from the built-in crank dynamo or from solar cells, but not from standard batteries or a power adapter. That makes this an emergency radio in the strictest sense of the word. Coverage includes all seven NOAA weather channels plus the AM/FM band. The FR160 has an LED flashlight and can charge a compatible cell phone via its USB port.
The Microlink FR160 lacks SAME and isn't Public Alert certified, but that doesn't keep the radio from collecting very positive reviews at Amazon.com and elsewhere. Construction and sound quality are noted as strong points, and most owners are pleased with how long the radio will play after being cranked for about a minute. Eton says battery life can be extended by keeping radio volume low; you can also add playtime by using your own headphones instead of the built-in speaker.
Other emergency crank radios don't fare as well. The larger Eton FR360 (*Est. $50) packs more features and draws positive comments from some bloggers, but those who spend more time with the radio are largely an unhappy bunch. Extras include a digital vs. analog tuner, alarm clock function, flashing beacon, and an NOAA alert function that monitors the weather frequencies and turns on the radio if an emergency alert is issued. In addition to the built-in NiMH battery pack, the FR360 can run on three AAA batteries or an AC adapter purchased separately. Still, this crank radio earns more pans than praise from owners at sites like Amazon.com. They say poor reception is a big issue, cranking doesn't provide much power, and a few radios went dead after a period of non-use.
Another Eton crank radio, the Scorpion (*Est. $50) , is similarly priced and offers some upgrades from the FR360. It also gets a mixed response from professional reviewers and owners. Editors at WorldTravelGuide.com name the Scorpion "the best and most versatile radio on the market for its affordable price." Users, however, complain at Amazon.com about its failure to hold a charge with either the solar panels or dynamo crank. There's no way to use standard batteries, but the Scorpion does have an input for a power adapter (sold separately). The body of the radio is covered with a rubberized cladding for durability and water resistance, but several owners say it feels a lot less rugged than it looks. Extras include an integrated aluminum carabiner clip and bottle opener, an LED flashlight, a USB cell phone charger and an auxiliary audio input for use with another device like an MP3 player.