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Hands on: Etón FRX3 emergency radio and phone charger

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We throw out phrases like "this is a swiss army knife gadget" pretty loosely, but this little wunder-radio does a respectable job of living up to that moniker. The FRX3 is designed to help people receive news and alerts during a disaster. To achieve that goal, it offers up several methods to power the on-board radio. You can pack in a set of AAA batteries or use the included rechargeable battery pack. Of course a rechargeable battery is no good to you if following an emergency you find out that it's dead during a power outage.

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The FRX3 has two methods to recharge the battery pack. On the top handle is a solar panel for passive charging. This even manages a faint trickle charge in in-direct sun. Etón estimates that the solar cell can fully recharge the battery pack with ten hours of direct sunlight.

Of course, that's a long time to wait if you need alerts, and Etón has included a hand crank for more immediate power. 90 seconds of hand cranking (approximately two rotations a second) will provide around five minutes of radio operation.

The AM/FM radio includes seven NOAA weather band frequencies for alerts, and you can also plug in another audio source through the auxiliary port. It's not designed to be a high quality listening experience, but it's perfectly adequate for some campfire side tunes.

There's a two stage flashlight built into the handle, a pair of bright white LED's and a single red LED. A nice touch as red light wont mess up your night vision as much.

Where this thing really earns its versatility merit badge is in being able to charge phones and other gadgets. The rechargeable battery is only 600mAh, but using that or a trio of AAA batteries should be plenty to get your phone up and running for a couple calls. Unfortunately the crank alone wont provide consistent enough juice to charge a phone by itself, but you can always crank up the battery first, then charge up your other gadgets.

I do have a couple criticisms with the FRX3.

First this is not waterproofed. I know that would be somewhat difficult with the crank, and Etón makes a special radio with rubberized gaskets for better water resistance, but I also don't have a lot of faith in the battery compartment and ports cover to keep water out (see attached photo slide show). If the disaster you're most worried about is flooding, you would want to consider keeping this radio in some kind of waterproof storage.

Second, the FRX3 uses Mini-USB when most gadgets are now moving to Micro-USB, a small gripe, but cable compatibility can be a big deal when you're in a tense situation.I would prefer the same cable which charges my phone to also charge the FRX3.

Lastly, speaking of cables, there's no place to store the charge cable on the radio, making it one more thing to keep track of. The unit is extremely versatile in how it can be powered, but the fastest way to recharge the battery is using the USB cable.

In all though, those gripes can be solved with a little planning, and that's exactly what the FRX3 is designed for. Planning ahead for potentially dangerous situations. Keeping it in your home or your car as part of an emergency preparedness kit, and it makes a handy companion for you outdoor adventure types, providing a flashlight and some tunes.

At a street price around $50, it's well worth the price of admission simply for the peace of mind it provides.

Hit the related video for a hands-on feature walk through, and audio samples from the FRX3 speaker!


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