Review by Coy Starnes
The unit I am testing is the Red Cross edition but it is identical to the regular FRX3 in every way except for the American Red Cross identification on the hand turbine crank handle. You might be asking what exactly is an FRX3? The answer would be it is many things, but in a nutshell, it is a NOAA weather radio with AM/FM radio, an LED flashlight, an LED beacon light, a clock with an alarm clock function and a smart-phone charger (and other similar devices). To ensure the FRX3 is always ready, it can be powered in several ways. First is the traditional battery power (AAA), but if the power is off for several days and the AAA batteries die, then what? This is where the genius of the FRX3 shines the most. The unit will also run off a separate rechargeable Ni-MH battery which can be charged by USB, solar or by turning the crank handle of the built in hand turbine power generator.
It seems that staying in some sort of contact is mandatory in today’s society and thus I am most interested in using the RSX3 to recharge my phone during extended outings. The unit is a little bulky at 6.9” x 5.8″ x 2.6″ and weighs in at 1 lb. 5 oz. (603 g), so while maybe not ideal for backpacking, the ability to recharge the unit with solar power or by using the hand turbine could be a huge advantage over just carrying one of those battery powered portable phone charging devises, especially for longer trips. Add to that, the ability to keep the radio in the ALERT mode to be alerted of any warnings such as tornado, sever thunderstorm or flood. I would also like to take the FRX3 with me while kayaking but the unit is not waterproof so I will have to look into ways of insuring it stays dry. A gallon freezer bag will hold it with room to spare and by putting it in with as much air as possible it may well float it ( I plan to find out soon) but the antenna can not be deployed. I’ve already tried the radio with the antenna in the stored position and it still picks up my local NOAA station fairly well but some of the FM and AM stations I like to listen too were not as clear. Here is a photo of the FRX3 in a freezer bag. I have included a few more photos of the FRX3 just for reference.
I am not going to attempt to repeat the owners manual here, but The FRX3 is not all that complicated. However, as with most high-tech devices, there is a learning curve and a few things that must be kept in mind. All the information needed is pretty much answered on-line by clicking on the link to the PDF document of the owners manual and other questions are addressed in the FAQ section on the website. For instance, to charge a smart-phone you do not actually charge the phone with the hand turbine but instead charge the rechargeable Ni-MH battery. The FRX3 should be already be in the Dynamo Charge mode (for charging the internal Ni-NH battery and then charging a smart phone), so if you are in the process of charging your phone with the unit then according to the owners manual you must disconnect the phone from the USB cable before turning the hand crank. If for any reason you stop turning the hand crank you must wait 5 seconds before resuming. And just how long will you have to crank the handle. There is no mention of how long it would take to fully recharge the Ni-MH battery but it does say that 90 seconds of cranking should power the flashlight for 20 minutes or the radio on low volume for 5 to 7 minutes. It says it takes about 10 hours of direct sunlight to fully charge the battery from the sun and about 2 hours using the provided USB cable. One other important thing to remember is that to use the alert function the radio needs to be tuned to the nearest NOAA station by selecting one of 7 weather bands. After finding the best reception mashing the ALARM button (under the solar panel/handle) will silence the radio but the radio will still be monitoring for any alerts. If one is broadcast the radio will automatically be activated.
I have covered the basics so stay tuned for my next update to see how the FRX3 has performed.
Update: August 21, 2013
I have used the eton FRX3 both at home and while on a 3 day/night canoe trip on Black Creek in Mississippi. I found that using the FRX3 as an emergency light and radio here at home works very well. I discovered that using it on a canoeing trip is probably not advisable, or at least I should have come up with a better way to protect the radio and kept it from getting wet. I’ll go into detail later. But first my use at home.
I have mostly charged the radio using the USB cord, mainly because the sun has not shined around here very much over the past couple of months. In fact, it has been the rainiest and coolest summer on record. Having said that, I found it easy enough to charge it with solar power. On one occasion it was showing about half battery life on the rechargeable battery pack and I managed to fully charge it fully by leaving the radio out in the full sun for about 6 hours. I never did try to charge it with the dynamo hand crank other than just a few minutes here and there because I found it tedious and tiring. However, with enough dedication and patients it can be done. I liked the reception I got for the local weather station in Huntsville which is about 25 miles from me (as the crow flies). However, I did not find myself needing to listen to the forecast often, and since we had no power outages during stormy weather, I could watch the local news or the weather channel. Not a fault of the radio, but I did not like the way the forecast voice sounded digitized. The radio (music) was OK but not exactly rich sounding. No big deal though since I usually only listen to the radio while I am on the road in my vehicle.
I did use the FRX3 to charge my phone a few times. I have an Apple iPhone 5. I never was able to get it fully charged from a single charge. An example was the first time I tried charging my phone and it charged it from 20% to 62%. I tired it later and it charged it from 52% to 88% but I left the phone on during this charge. It would completely drain the rechargeable battery in about 5 hours. On the canoeing trip a friend also tried it and did not have as much luck charging his phone. I’ll explain later.
On the canoe trip I packed the FRX3 in the Hefty storage bag pictured earlier in this report. I then put it in the tank well area in the rear of my Sit-On-Top kayak. I did listen to the radio for about an hour the first evening at the campsite we used before hitting the river the next morning. I’m not sure what happened but on the very first day on the water the storage bag leaked. Here it is at the very beginning of the trip. Note: there are scupper holes in the rear tank well area on this kayak so there was water in the bottom of the tank well most of the time when on the river.
I put it here thinking that it might get some sun during the day as we paddled down the river. I did not check it until we arrived at the campsite about 4 PM that evening. There was about an inch of water in the bottom of the storage bag. I took the radio out and opened the access doors on it and drained out all the water I could. It was late in the day and the sun was playing hide and seek but I did take this picture just before dark. The photo turned out a little blurry but it does tell the story.
As can be seen, the solar panel had developed condensation from all the moisture it had taken on during the day, and for the record, this was not there until after letting it set a few hours drying out. I took a chance and turned the radio on before going to bed and it was working fine but the tuner did not seem to be working. In other words, turning the knob for tuning had no effect on the station. Fortunately, it was still on the last good station we had listened to the previous night. Interestingly, the volume knob was working fine.
I put the radio inside the front hatch on my canoe during the rest of the trip but did take it out several times to let it dry when we made extended stops during the next 2 days. I tried to listen to the weather radio several times while taking a break and each evening in camp but reception was not good. The closest weather station was in Mobile Alabama which was about 75 miles away. The country music radio station in Lucedale Mississippi (about 35 miles away) came in clear and strong.
I did not try to charge my phone during the trip since we were out of cell service range and I had put my phone in airplane mode at the start of the trip. However, one of the paddlers was using his phone as a camera and needed to charge it several times. Since I got the radio wet the first day we opted to not try using it until around noon on the second day after letting it completely dry. I had charged the radio fully at the beginning of the trip and had only listened to the radio with the triple A batteries so the rechargeable batteries were pretty much fully charged at the start of the trip. He put the FRX3 in full sun and put it in Dynamo, mashed the Cell button and plugged in his phone. It never did do any charging as best we could tell but the phone seemed to heat up a lot. It was sitting in direct sun and the temperature was in the lower 90s but he seemed to think it was from the charging. I think the FRX3 may have still been damp on the inside because I have since been able to charge my phone with it. Here is the attempt to charge his phone ( A Samsung Galaxy S3).
After the trip I noticed the rechargeable battery was showing a little less than half charged so it lost some power during the trip. I’m not sure where it went because I thought I kept it set on AAA battery power when listening to the radio. Anyways, after I got home I wanted to be sure it was completely dry so I let it sit out on the deck for several hours a few times. That partially recharged the battery but I topped it off using the USB.
I did not use the light much during the trip because the radio is just too bulky to use as a light when doing things like setting up my hammock. I did find that the LED light accidentally came on in the storage bag and then later in the hatch when I stopped and took the radio out. Apparently it is very easy to bump the on/off switch for the light, but in broad daylight I failed to notice it on. At the end of the trip the AAA batteries were showing about half-life left so listening to the radio several hours and having the light on for whatever time it was on did not completely drain these batteries.
Summary so far
The FRX3 is certainly an interesting piece of equipment. I think that for real emergencies it would do the job as long as the emergency don’t include getting the unit wet. I probably will not be taking it kayaking anymore, but if I had taken better steps in protecting it from the water I might think differently. I will say that after wetting it so bad it would not change stations I am surprised that it dried out and started working again. I also used it to partially recharge my phone again just to be sure that part worked. It charged it from 48% to 85% so not much different than before the trip. After my buddies experience I was just pleased it worked at all. There for a little bit I thought for sure I had killed it. Stay tuned for my last update to see if I can finish it off…
My thanks to 4AllOutdoors and eton for this testing opportunity.