Etón Rover Emergency Radio
Cranking out power, light, and sound
Ralph Graves is one of Crutchfield's blog editors, and part of the company's social media team. He writes about home audio/video gear, specializing in Apple-related and wireless technologies. Ralph holds a master's degree in music composition, and his works have been released on various labels. He's served as product manager for an independent classical and world music label, produced several recordings, and worked extensively in public broadcasting. Since 1984 he's hosted a weekly classical music program on WTJU, and is also active as a blogger and podcaster.
More from Ralph Graves
True story: the very evening I brought the Etón Rover self-powered radio home to try out, a violent thunderstorm ripped through our area and cut off our power. That's just the kind of situation the Rover was made for, and was I glad to have it!
Form and function
Etón makes a whole line of emergency radios , and most have the same basic features as the Rover. What appealed to me most about this model was the overall form. The Rover is an AM/FM/Weather band radio with a three-LED flashlight, cell phone charger and hand-cranked generator.
Even though there's a lot of functionality, it looks and handles pretty much like a fat flashlight. Etón payed close attention to the form factor and design with the Rover.
The hand crank (more on that later) is made of aluminum, so it's sturdy without being heavy. The various plugs and connectors built into the case are protected with a water-resistant seal. The flashlight has a flat lens, which can double as a base if you want to set the Rover down somewhere and just use it as a radio.
There are a couple of ways to charge the Rover. I could send current to it from my laptop via a USB-to-mini-USB cable, or use a wall plug with a USB port. I found this feature especially useful in our car, where we have a 12-volt converter with a USB port. Getting the Rover charged was not a problem.
Of course, I didn't have those options when I initially unpacked the Rover — that's when the power went out in our house. So I had to just unfold the attached crank and start, um, cranking. A red light came on to let me know the batteries were charging.
A brief aside: the dynamo whines as it rotates. The faster I cranked, the higher-pitched the sound. Our dog started barking at around 30 rpm. When I brought it to the office, my co-workers had an even lower tolerance for the sound! Personally, I found it comforting. As long as that dynamo was whining, those batteries were charging.
Power to spare
After about five or ten minutes of cranking, the Rover had sufficient charge to power the LED lights. They illuminated our dark family room quite effectively, and I was able to keep them lit with just occasional cranking sessions the rest of the evening.
When the power was restored, I plugged the Rover into my laptop and let it sit overnight. By the next morning, the batteries were fully charged, and from that point on, it only took a minute of two of cranking every so often to keep the batteries topped off.
The Rover has a full-sized USB port for cell phone charging. According to the manual, seven minutes of cranking the dynamo at 130 rpm will charge a cell phone enough to talk for five minutes. Well, your mileage may vary — ours did. Our newer phone (with its newer battery) held the charge better than our soon-to-be-retired model. And the test calls I made didn't last five minutes, so I can't speak as to the actual limit.
But still, this is an important emergency feature. Although we were without power, I didn't have to worry about our cell phones going dead and being totally cut off. As long as one of us could crank the Rover, we could contact the outside world.
Radio and weather bands
I really liked the radio's big analog tuning dial. It looked good, but it also had a practical function. A mechanically operated tuner (unlike a digital one) doesn't draw power — something that's at a premium if it all has to come from your arm. The Rover has an antenna that retracts into the body of the radio. With it fully extended, I picked up all the AM and FM stations I normally receive at our house.
The tuner also has all seven NOAA weather bands. This seemed like a good feature when I read about the product earlier in the day. But sitting in our dark house that evening as the rain beat against our windows, it was a godsend.
Usually when we get storms this severe, there are accompanying flash flood and even tornado warnings. By having access to the weather bands, I could listen to the warnings and weather updates. For our area, there was just a flood warning, so knowing that those howling winds wouldn't turn into something worse gave us some real peace of mind.
The Etón Rover self-powered radio is an amazingly versatile and handy device. Intuitively, I knew the hand-cranked dynamo, the weather bands, the LED lights, and the cell phone charger would be good for emergencies. But actually using the Rover during such an emergency was something entirely different. Since the model I used was a sample from Etón, I had to return it. But we'll soon be purchasing one of our own to have on hand — just in case.