For all those who have gone through some form of natural disaster in which power and cellular coverage was lost (sometimes for days or even weeks at a time), you know that an emergency AM/FM/NOAA weather radio receiver can become a vital tool. Such a radio is needed for keeping up-to-date on important news, evacuation, and weather broadcasts. The EyeMax WB AM/FM/NOAA radio, made by Freeplay, is a great option that might just meet your emergency radio needs.
It can be charged by three different means: a mini USB input port with included AC wall wart (or any mini USB cable you already have), a built-in hand crank power generator on the face of the radio, and a built-in solar panel on top. On the box, Freeplay states that the EyeMax WB can provide 24 hours of audio run time on a fully charged battery. The company also states that one minute of hand cranking will provide one hour of play time, and one hour of sunlight will provide 2+ hours of play time. The included AC/mini USB wall charger can also be used, and this will take 16 hours to charge up the radio if the battery is dead. My testing has confirmed both of these statements to be accurate. Based on that information, you should be able to leave it on all day, every day. As long as it’s in direct sunlight all day, it should charge enough to run all through the night. Doing that, of course, is impractical. Few people would listen to the radio all day and night. In an emergency, however, you may want to keep the radio on for long periods of time to catch any useful news that may be broadcast. I find it comforting that this radio gets enough power from a day in the sun to keep it running well through the night. To help keep the battery topped off, I recommend keeping the EyeMax WB in a widow sill where it can get sun every day.
I really like the layout of the radio interface. The face of the radio and the speaker grill look very retro with its rugged metal speaker grill and the vertical frequency dial scale display. There are many competing radios out on the market that have taken a different approach that I feel is both inefficient and simply overkill by utilizing a digital LCD display. These LCD displays consume unnecessary amounts of power and typically continue to display the time even when fully turned off. That drains the battery and forces you to either keep it plugged into the wall/car, keep it in the sun constantly, or risk ending up with a dead battery when you end up needing it during an emergency, which is the reason most people buy these style of radios in the first place. I strongly recommend that anyone in the market for an emergency radio stay away from a radio with LCD displays. Stick with something that uses less power: a radio that utilizes a non-powered means of displaying what frequency you are currently on, with a simple analog tuning dial with a physical needle indicator. The Freeplay EyeMax WB radio is such a device.
The radio reception on AM/ FM & the weather band is of good quality, comparable to various other radios I have used in the past. The AM receiver utilizes an internal ferrite bar antenna, while the FM and NOAA weather band uses the collapsible external antenna. The weather band is activated via a button on the back of the radio and employs a separate tuning dial from the AM/FM dial. This is beneficial because it allows you to freely tune the AM/FM bands while keeping the weather band set on the local NOAA broadcast frequency thus allowing you to quickly switch to the weather band without having to re-tune each time. The tuning dial did seem backwards to me. It makes sense that to turn the volume up you would turn the dial up, right? Unfortunately, that’s not the case on this radio. It’s not a bit deal, but it does take a little getting used to. There also isn’t a dedicated light that can be selectively turned on or off for viewing what frequency you are currently listening to. The LED charge light helps with this a little bit if your charging it via the mini USB port or if you’re using the hand crank generator lightly. This is not a very big draw-back since you will most likely be able to tune the radio audibly, have some other form of artificial lighting, or will be in some form of daylight or ambient light.
This brings me to the next feature on this radio: its built-in LED flashlight. It’s not super bright (as it only uses one LED), it’s not a lantern, and it doesn’t do any kind of strobe or SOS blinking. Those are the three reasons why I like this radio’s built-in LED flashlight compared to pretty much all the competition. Utilizing only one LED means that it’s not going to chew through your battery quickly, which nearly all of the competition has as a downside to their products. Other LED set-ups force you to plug in the device, wait for sun up to use the solar panel, or sit and crank the generator after using the flashlight for just a few minutes – all just to be able see what’s going on around you. Remember these kinds of devices typically have many functions that need power, and they all have to share one internal battery. I find that not having the ability to function as a lantern is actually an advantage. This is dedicated for emergencies.
To me, it’s a breath of fresh air that the built-in flashlight does not have all those silly blinking functions that you typically have to cycle through each time just to turn the thing off. There isn’t even a dedicated separate button or switch for turning the LED flashlight on and off. The flashlight lens itself is the on/off button! Push the flashlight lens in, and the light turns on. Push the lens in again, and it turns off. Now, if only there were some glow in the dark paint on the controls, weather proof seals and plugs, the ability to receive shortwave broadcasts, a larger solar panel, larger internal battery, and a USB power out port to charge an iPhone to make an emergency call. If it had all of that, it would be nearly perfect. But that’s just me.
To sum things up, I think the EyeMax WB Radio by Freeplay is a reliable and easy-to-operate option when it comes to the class of self-powered emergency AM/FM/Weather Band receivers with a built-in flashlight. The ability to hook up your MP3 player via the audio jack and use the EyeMax as an amplified speaker is a nice touch as well. I definitely recommend it for anyone who wants to have an emergency backup means of receiving news/weather updates and shedding a little light on their surroundings when the power goes out, or even for those who just want to move one more gadget off the grid.
- Radio can run indefinitely if in direct sunlight all day
- Able to receive AM/FM & NOAA weather broadcasts
- Built-in bright flashlight that’s very easy to use
- Great audio quality
- Can be used as amplified speaker for MP3 players
- Comes with line-in audio adapter cable and AC wall charger
- Powered from built-in solar panel, hand crank generator, & mini USB port
- Shape of radio is easy to hold while using the hand crank
- Rugged build quality
- Retro styling
- Built-in place to attach lanyard
- Not able to charge other devices (cellphone, GPS, walkie-talkie)
- No weatherproof rubber gaskets or protective covers for plugs
- Rubber duck antenna would be harder to damage from bending
- Speaker over modulates at max volume setting
- Volume controls seem backwards
- Lanyard not included
- Hand crank falls open easy from closed position
- No shortwave receiver
- No glow-in-the-dark highlights on controls
Ni-MH internal battery not user-replaceable
- Self-charge: AC alternator driven by crank
- Solar panel: High-performance polycrystalline epoxy-coated solar panel with 4.2-volt, 52 mA output
- Battery: Rechargeable NiMH battery pack
- Playtime when fully charged: 24 hours at normal volume
- Playtime with 60-second crank: 60 minutes at normal volume
- AC adapter charge time: 16 hours
- FM frequencies: 88 to 108 MHz
- AM frequencies: 500 to 1,700 kHz
- Weather band: 7 NOAA/MSC channels
- Speaker size: 2.6 inches
- Impedance: 8 ohms
- Output: 0.5 watts
- Antennas: Telescopic FM, built-in ferrite bar AM
- Integrated flashlight: Ultra-bright 5mm white LED
- Dimensions: 7.3 by 4.4 by 2.4 inches (W x H x D)
- Weight: 24.5 ounces
Made in China