Update: 2013/02/11. I love LL Bean. They sell the best stuff, and what isn’t the best, they return. So that’s what I did today. In the hopes that someday, someone will make a radio that isn’t this confusing, I returned it. No questions asked. I of course, then bought 3 new jackets.
I came upon the Etón FR370 Solarlink Self-Powered Digital AM/FM/NOAA Radio with Solar Power, Flashlight and Cell Phone Charger (Red) at LL Bean (what a great company, that in another posting). I had purchased a WR601N, but like many Oregon Scientific products I have purchased over the years they either
- Have all the features I want, but seem to have some glitchy software bug.
- Fall 10% short of having feature I think are pretty logical
What I have been looking for was a weather radio that wouldn’t bleep & gurk at odd times (Oregon Scientific) and run through batteries as if it was a shareholder at Duracell.
So being at LL Bean, I saw something that I’ve had my eye on for a while, a Solar Powered Radio with weather bands and SAME technology with the capacity to charge cell phones.
I bought it, and was happy to see a nice thick user manual. Only to find out that the user manual is in MANY languages, and the 13 pages dedicated to English suck, so here is everything you probably wanted to know about the radio.
Keep in mind, I’m writing this only having it out of the box for 45 minutes.
The Power Knob
The power knob seems to indicate not the power source, but simply what the battery indicator is telling you about. If you put it to dynamo, it will tell you the current level of the rechargeable battery.
If you set it to battery, it will tell you the level of the 3 triple A alkaline batteries you can put in there. In my case, the 3 bays are empty, so I get an empty battery.
If you set it to solar, it will tell you how much power is coming into the system from the solar panel. At the moment, I am in Virginia, at 5:00PM EDT with slight haze behind a window and I am getting one of three bars on the battery indicator.
I’m not sure what it means to set it to phone charger at this point as it just displays 2 bars (same as when I set it to dynamo)
The Charge Light
At the moment, it will turn green whenever it is getting a sufficient amount of light to the solar panel. If I cover the solar panel, the charge light goes off.
If I set the power knob to solar, and cover the solar panel, the 1 of 3 bars I had in the battery disappear. The display still operates though, so my assumption is that it will still pull power from the rechargeable battery.
The documentation says to “press the ANY button located on the top of the display” to turn it on.
Actually pressing ANY button ANYWHERE on the device will cause the backlight to come on. Honestly, you’d think that with a solar panel (one giant light detector) they’d be able to say “If there is light to the solar panel, don’t turn on the backlight and waste energy.”
Alert Siren / Voice
If you figure out how to change this from Siren to Voice, then I’ll give you credit right here, because so far, this eludes me. Since the audio stream from most NWS alerts includes a tone, not really sure you need to hear a siren in the first place, just start playing the audio.
Tilting the LCD display shows all the options the LCD is capable of enabling. Nowhere on there does it show a voice next to Alert. Not really sure what’s going on there.
If you are depending on this to get you off of Gilligan’s Island, than good luck! The spread on the beam is not very wide, so that ship 50 km out to sea better have great eyes, or you need to have some GREAT aim. It also isn’t very bright. I have a couple of solar powered flashlights that hurt my eyes when I look into them (great test, I know). The SOS beacon is really low powered compared to that, ad the flash light (even with 4 LEDs) is still weak enough to put directly at my eyeballs.
The red flashing beam on the FR 360 had two LEDs, but I think it just flashed / beaconed, rather than emitting SOS in Morse code.
The FM & Weather Band Receiver
WOW. This receiver picks up A LOT of frequencies even with the antenna down. I also like the digital tuning instead of the analog tuning on the FR 360.
Could probably be more sensitive on the low end for FM. This is especially true considering that when you are using this radio you probably want to conserve battery. The knob goes from about 7 o’clock to 5 o’clock. On the low end the radio goes from very audible to off quickly. The WB seems to be better and getting quiet, but on the FM scale, even at the 12 o’clock position, it is REALLY loud and hard to get quiet.
In order to get the alert to activate, you have to turn the power knob to dynamo (I would assume battery would work here as well), then turn on the radio (power button on the front) then click on alert on the top.
The system mutes the radio, and the alert button comes on. Moving the power knob to any other source (not plugged into grid power, and with no alkaline batteries inserted) the system goes out of alert mode.
Setting Defeat – Defeat Siren
At first I thought this was some throw away setting. Then I realized it is one of the best settings EVER. This is one of those features that Oregon Scientific has missed all these years.
So we live in Fairfax County, and that has some kind of coast to it (I guess) and we constantly get Maritime Warnings for high gusts on the Chesapeake. Hey, that’s great that we’re looking out for sea faring friends, but I really don’t care. With this setting, you can disable certain alerts that come over the radio. This is an incredible setting.
In order to really use it you have to have some kind of idea of what is useful or not, and what kind of alerts you receive. In our case, I just disabled the Maritime stuff.
- Administrative Message
- Winter Storm Warning
- Winter Storm Watch
- Wild Fire Watch
- Transmitter Primary On
- Transmitter Carrier On
- Transmitter Carrier Off
- Transmitter Backup On
- Tropical Storm Watch
- 911 Telephone Outage Emergency
- Tornado Watch
- Severe Weather Statement
- Severe Thunderstorm Warning
- Severe Thunderstorm Watch
- Special Weather Statement
- Special Marine Warning
- Required Weekly Test
- Required Monthly Test
- Power Outage Advisory
- National Silent Test
- National Periodic Test
- Network Notification Message
- National Information Center
There is no indication of how the power systems are utilized. What would be nice is if the power cascaded down the source like this:
- Solar power
- AC Power
- Rechargeable Battery
- Alkaline Battery
It would be nice if 2&3 could be interchangeably selected. Use the rechargable first (in cases of non emergency) and the opposite. However, this could mean that when a storm hit at night your rechargeable battery ends up being dead.
Answers to questions regarding charging:
How long will the radio last in weather band alert mode before discharging the rechargable batteries?
I’ll have to get back to you on that one, but it sure would be nice to know.