Comparison of Eton Emergency Radios

MT
REVIEW
Comparison of Eton
Emergency Radios
A Model For Everyone
By Gary Sargent, KE8WO
E
ton has a strong history of marketing radios
that provide communications capabilities
during emergency situations when normal
communications may not be available. Certainly
there have been weather and terrorist events in
the last decade where large numbers of people
needed alternate means of gathering information.
I have been slowly planning my personal and
family response to various emergency situations. I
now have some quantities of food, water and other
supplies to allow my family to hunker down for
days should the need arise. I decided that I should
have an emergency type radio on hand as part of
this plan.
Ah, but what radio? Several manufacturers
offer a bewildering array of models. The purpose
of this article is to review Eton’s current line of
emergency radios.
still maintain a nominal 5 volts DC (VDC). Note
the FR600 could not provide 5 VDC with a 15
ohm load.
FR160 Overview
The FR160 features AM, FM (mono) and
weather band reception. Power options to charge
the small internal three cell 350 mAh NI-MH
battery are via the solar cell or the crank dynamo.
There are no other power options.
A mono headphone jack is provided. The
10-inch tilt and swivel telescopic antenna is used
for FM and weather band reception. The unit has
a solid feel and an attractive appearance. The
English portion of the small user manual is just
over two pages in length.
FR360 Overview
Eton Emergency Radio
Overview
Eton has refreshed their line of emergency
radios in the last year. Part of this was prompted
by the demise of the older analog television audio
capabilities. Eton’s primary lineup now ranges
from very small ($30) basic radios to more sophisticated, larger units ($150). All of these receive
AM, FM and the weather radio band. They also
all feature a crank to recharge the internal battery,
power an LED flashlight or charge a cell phone.
Eton offers these radios under the Eton brand
name and also as American Red Cross branded
units. I decided to acquire an Eton FR160, FR360
and FR600, and evaluate which would meet my
needs (see chart).
My Testing
I evaluated each radio’s basic performance
on the various bands it receives. I have compared
its reception to other receivers I have that are in
this same $30 to $100 price range.
I tested each unit’s ability to charge its internal battery given one minute of dynamo cranking
and then listening to AM at low volume. I repeated
the same test, exposing the photo cells to direct
sunlight for two hours and then powering the AM
radio for as long as the battery lasted.
Cranking the dynamo for each radio at a
rate of about two revolutions per second quickly
became very tiring. I believe that expecting to
crank the dynamo for many minutes to charge
a power hungry external cell phone would be
unrealistic, except in the worst of cases where
there was no alternative. I measured the current
the dynamo could provide into a 15 ohm load and
72
MONITORING TIMES
July 2010
usable. Since you must depress a button to get
light, the flashlight will be less usable in situations
where you need both hands for a given task.
The FR160 is billed as being able to charge
a cell phone via its dynamo. According to the
user manual, “Because cell phone batteries vary
in their current ratings, we cannot specify charging rates or usage time. From 10 to15 minutes of
cranking may result in one or more minutes of
talk-time.” Further, it must be cranked at a brisk
rate of two revolutions per second. The cell phone
must use the now common USB port connector
for recharging, but no USB cable is provided.
The FR160 is the smallest and most basic in
features and performance of the Eton line-up. But
it will meet all essential emergency communications needs with minimal investment.
Radio performance is adequate and on par
with the least expensive AM/FM radio you might
find. Local, medium or more powerful AM stations were very receivable. Some weaker, more
distant AM stations were not.
The tuned frequency drifts as the battery
discharges and requires a tweaking of the tuned
frequency (via the radio’s tuning knob). I consider
it to be a minor annoyance that seems to occur
primarily during the last few minutes of battery
charge life.
FM performance seemed more sensitive and
selective, and all of the expected stations were
receivable. AM and FM tuning is very touchy,
since the analog tuning dial is so small.. Weather
band reception is enabled via a slide switch that
selects from the seven weather channels. The
radio does not support either alert tones or SAME
codes. My local weather station is received loud
and clear, while another weather station 60 miles
away was not detectable.
The three-LED flashlight is bright and very
The FR360 features digitally tuned AM,
FM (mono) and weather band reception. Power
options to charge the internal three cell 600 mAh
NI-MH battery are the solar cell or the crank
dynamo; three AAA batteries; or an external
power adapter (6 VDC, positive polarity). A mono
headphone jack is provided.
The short 6.5 inch tilt and swivel telescopic
antenna is used for FM and weather band reception. The FR360 has a good feel and finish and
a modern appearance. The English portion of
the small user manual is just over five pages in
length. Some radio features are omitted or not
well explained.
Unlike most other digitally tuned radios, the
FR360 has neither memories nor frequency scanning capabilities. There is a rotary tuning knob so
one can rapidly move from one part of the band
to another.
Radio performance is a mixed bag. AM is
sensitive and reasonably selective, providing
overall good performance. FM performance
seemed less sensitive; some weaker stations
needed the benefit of another foot or two of wire
clipped to the short whip antenna before its FM
performance came close to that of other low-cost
radios.
Weather band reception is enabled via a
rotary switch that selects from the seven weather
channels. My local weather station was a little
scratchy with drop-outs, depending on antenna
orientation. A little more antenna length will help
improve reception. The FR360 does have a mode
where it silently monitors for the NOAA 1050 Hz
“all hazard” alert signal. This worked properly
on my test unit. It does not support Specific Area
Message Encoding (SAME).
The four LED flashlight is bright and very
usable. The clock and alarm functions are comprehensive and easy to use. The LCD display and
some of the buttons have a very nice backlight
when a button is pressed.
The FR360 is able to charge a mini-USB port
cell phone via its dynamo. As noted in the user
manual, “About 10 minutes of cranking results in
one or two short emergency calls.” The manual
further cautions that if the specified procedures
are not followed, the cell phone may be damaged.
No USB cable is provided with the FR360.
FR600 Overview
The FR600 is the next step up from the
FR360 and shares the same basic digital design
and features. It is much larger in size and weight.
The major additional features are: support for
SAME weather message reception and coverage
of shortwave frequencies.
Power options to charge the internal three
cell 600 mAh NI-MH battery are the solar cell
or the crank dynamo; three AA batteries; an external USB device; or an external power adapter
(5 VDC, positive polarity). A stereo headphone
jack is provided.
The 12 inch telescopic antenna is used for
FM, SW and weather band reception. The antenna
does not tilt or swivel. The radio has a solid feel
and a modern appearance. The English portion of
the small user manual is 18 pages in length. Some
radio features are omitted or not well explained,
especially the set-up of the SAME decoding features, which can be confusing. The radio supports
a simple memory (20 FM, 10 AM, 10 for SW)
ound and
!!frequency scanning capability.
Overall radio performance is good or better
active part of the
than the FR360. A major limitation is that radio
o and transmits
tuning is only through two up/down buttons.
nsects, beetles,
sounds. Sound
Depressing one button for about one second will
d insects range
start a signal seek action that is slow. This is
e heard from 25
especially problematic for the shortwave band.
h our Ultra-RX1
justable up to 2 AM and FM bands are both sensitive and
al level.
reasonably selective, with overall good perforzo transducers,
mance compared to the excellent, low-cost Grunsells for $99.95
digorG8 radio. FM is in stereo by using headphones
es for details
now!
and sounds very good with no distortion detected.
Audio from the small speaker is adequate, but not
e.com in keeping with its overall larger size.
Shortwave reception is continuous from 2.3
through 23 MHz, AM mode only, with 5 kHz
step tuning rate. Again, sensitivity and selectivity are more than adequate for routine listening,
with the weather audio for the alert or with a
loud buzzer (user choice). There are red LED
indicators used to indicate the nature of the alert
(watch, warning, etc.). The text of the alert, such
as “Tornado Warning” is displayed on the LCD. I
found that the audio of the weather alert message
was cut off after about two seconds, so you’ll need
to physically select the weather station to hear the
full audio message.
The four LED flashlight is bright and
very usable. The clock and alarm functions are
straightforward. The LCD display has a backlight
when a button is pressed.
The FR600 is able to charge a standard USB
port cell phone via its dynamo. As with the FR160
and FR360, the manual cautions about following
the cited procedure when charging a cell phone.
No cables or adapters are provided.
FR1000 Overview
but nothing approaching radio hobby DX usage.
Most signals will be receivable.
Local AM BCB interference is often detected. Either touching or lowering a section of
the whip antenna often helps.
The main problem is the very slow tuning
rate. I suggest that many of the 10 memories be
used to store SW band starting frequencies. This
will aid in moving from one band to another as
quickly as possible. The FR600 would benefit
from more memories, a rotary tuning knob, and/
or a direct entry keyboard.
The weather band reception is set up by
choosing which of the seven channels are active
in your area. My local weather station was well
received with the antenna extended. Weather band
reception was much improved over the FR360,
but not as good as the low cost FR160.
The SAME decoding capability is nicely
implemented and not overly complex to set up,
in spite of skimpy details in the user manual. You can select SAME codes for all of the counties
within your area and enable or disable the various alert messages, such as severe thunderstorm
watch, tornado watch, etc.
After these parameters are set up, placeing
the FR600 in the “alert” mode, lets it silently
monitor the settings you have chosen. When
it detects a weather alert, the radio either opens
The FR1000 is the top-end of this line of
Grundig models, with similar styling, but it differs
considerably in other ways. I did not complete a
personal test of this model, so this information
is just an overview. The FR1000 is significantly
larger than the FR600 and costs 50 percent more;
it omits the solar power, USB capabilities, SAME
decoding, and shortwave reception. In their place
are FRS/GMRS transmit and receive capabilities
including CTCSS/DCS privacy codes, channel
scanning, dual watch and VOX operation.
Charging a cell phone is supported; however,
the connector for this is a coaxial /barrel type
connector and not the USB jack as on the other
FR radios.
These changes position the FR1000 to
functions as a communications base station in
an emergency or where two-way communications are needed. Having this capability in an
emergency radio could be much appreciated when
the chips are down.
Summary Comparison
Features
There is an orderly progression of features
as you go from the FR160 to the FR1000, along
with a corresponding price increase. The old saw
of you get what you pay for applies here. For
long term weather alert usage, you would likely
want to power the FR360 or FR600 through an
external AC power adapter at an additional cost
of $15 to $20.
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MONITORING TIMES
73
Antennas continued from page 17
energy which reaches them.
The exception is the active (voltage probe
or E-field) antenna which consists of a short
(a few inches to a few feet) receiving element
coupled to a wideband, small-signal amplifier.
It is not used for transmitting.
While active antennas may have small
size and wide bandwidth, and can deliver
large signals to the receiver, they have their
disadvantages. They are expensive, they require power, they may burn out or degrade in
performance from nearby lightning or strong
signals, they generate noise and intermodulation interference (“intermod”), and they are
usually placed close to interference-generating
electronic appliances. Don’t use an active
antenna if an adequate passive antenna is
available.
Invisible Antennas
Performance
Performance also progresses as you go up in
the model numbers. The FR160’s performance is
inferior to the other models, since it is an analog
radio, yet it meets basic reception needs. The
FR360’s AM, FM and weather band reception
was not stellar. The FR600 had the best overall
radio performance of the three.
Size
These radios range in size from very small
for the FR160 to bulky for the FR360 and FR600.
Features
AM
FM
NOAA Weather
Crank Power
Cell Phone Charger
LED Flashlight
Solar Powered
USB Compatible
Alarm Clock
Digital Tuner
Flashing Beacon
S.A.M.E.
Shortwave
Emergency Siren
GMRS
Dimensions
List Price
TEST RESULTS
One minute crank
charge test
FR160
[
[
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[
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[
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[
5.2 x 2.5 x 1.8
$40
The FR360, FR600 and FR1000 have modern
styling, but in my opinion, sacrifice compactness
and ease of use for the purpose of appearance.
Bottom Line
It’s up to you to decide what features you
most desire in an emergency radio. There are performance differences, to be sure. For me, I want a
smaller radio with basic features that I will store
away, hoping I never need to use it. Since I have
another SAME capable weather radio, I choose
the FR160 to stash away.
FR360
[
[
[
[
[
[
[
[
[
[
[
FR600
[
[
[
[
[
[
[
[
[
[
[
[
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[
FR1000
[
[
[
[
[
[
[
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[
11.1 x 6.2 x 4.1
$150
6.3 x 6.5 x 2.8
$70
7.8 x 8.5 x 2.5
$100
22 minutes of AM 10 minutes of
Radio
AM Radio
45 minutes of
AM Radio
Not tested
Two hour solar charge
test
130 minutes of
AM Radio
60 minutes of
AM Radio
87 minutes of
AM Radio
No solar capability
Ma. Dynamo Current
to 15 Ohm Load
230 ma. @ 4.7 V.
240 ma. @
4.9 V.
250 ma @ 4.0 V.
Not tested
74
MONITORING TIMES
July 2010
Appearances or deed restrictions sometimes require a hidden antenna. Receiving
antennas are much less demanding and easier
to hide, but even transmitting antennas can
be inconspicuous. Of course, VHF and UHF
antennas, because of their compact sizes, are
easier to hide than HF antennas, but even HF
antennas can be unimposing.
An attic crawl space is the first recommendation provided the antenna can be separated from large metal surfaces and electrical
wiring.
Always use low-loss, well-shielded coax
transmission line to prevent appliance noise
pickup during receive, and stray radiation
during transmit. A balun transformer and
ferrite-bead choke may be useful as well.
Wire antennas may be run along baseboards, ceiling molding, behind curtains,
and even under eaves, rugs or carpeting. If
outdoors is accessible, a thin, high wire is virtually invisible, especially if it is covered with
grey (neutral color) insulation; run it from the
roof to a tree. A ground rod would be virtually
invisible by its nature.
A wire antenna in a tree is also inconspicuous. It can be run vertically up the trunk,
suspended in the branches, or even constructed
as a wire array for gain and directivity. An
antenna element doesn’t have to be perfectly
straight. The coax feed line can be trenched
just beneath the soil.
Resourceful hams, SWLs and scanning
enthusiasts have often resorted to make-do
antennas. Bed springs, filing cabinets, rain
gutters and downspouts, aluminum window
frames, curtain rods, disconnected telephone
or power lines, metal flagpoles, aluminum ladders, fences, wheelbarrows, grocery carts, and
even vehicle-mounted antennas coax-fed into
the radio room have been called into service!
Next Month: Now that we’ve discussed antenna systems, what recommended accessories
can improve both transmission and reception?
And finally, what are the take-home points
that mean the most? Don’t miss next month’s
conclusion to this MT exclusive series on
antennas!