When I first received the FR500 Solarlink from Eton (makers of the Porsche Designed P'9120) my original thought was, what am I going to do with this thing? You see, the FR500 is a self-powered and solar-powered AM/FM/Shortwave Radio with NOAA Weatherband, Flashlight, Siren and Cell Phone Charger. You name it, this little radio does it, but how does it relate to Porsche and why does it belong on FlatSixes.com?
The answer came a few weeks ago when my wife and I decided to take a drive in our cabriolet for the first time this season. We packed the trunk with a few of our normal essentials and on a whim I threw the FR500 in for the ride thinking maybe I would play with it a bit if we stopped somewhere for a picnic lunch. As it turned out, the weather was gorgeous and we ended up cruising longer than we originally anticipated. By the time we did stop, it was early afternoon, the sun was shining and we were both starved. At this point, I had completely forgotten about the radio and was concentrating completely on my surroundings and the portable feast my wife had packed (yes, I'm a luck man). As we prepared to pour a drink, I realized the corkscrew was still in the car and one of us needed to walk back and grab it; my wife volunteered (did I mention how lucky i am?). She came back with both the corkscrew (something you should always carry in your convertible) and the radio.
While I opened the wine, Mrs. 993C4S started to quiz me on the Solarlink. What is it? Where did it come from? How much was it? etc., etc. After explaining that Eton had sent it along for a product review and I was struggling with how to connect it with Porsche, she suggested we use it now to add to the ambiance of our picnic. Hey, why not? Some nice music couldn't hurt things now could it? As I started to open the box I realized I had thrown the radio in the car but completely forgotten the batteries. Turns out, after a quick read through owners manual, that not having batteries was exactly the type of problem the FR500 was made to solve.
You see, not only does the radio run off three (3) AA batteries, it can also be powered by direct sunlight (hence the name "FR500 Solarlink") or through an internal dynamo that creates its own electricity while conveniently storing it in the supplied Ni-MH rechargeable battery. So, no batteries, no problem! A minutes worth of turning the sturdy, built-in crank juiced up the radio enough for us to tune in a local station and place it in the sun where the radio would continue to run (battery or not) off direct sunlight. Needless to say I was pretty impressed. As I was more interested in enjoying lunch with my wife, I decide to explore the rest of the radio's features later that day and just let it provide background music for the time being.
Arriving home that evening I decide to check out the rest of the features made conspicuously present present by the copious amount of buttons, bulbs and knobs. Here's what you get:
- AM/FM/Shortwave/NOAA radio
- 7 NOAA weather channels plus NOAA alerts
- built-in LED flashlight
- flashing red LED emergency light
- built-in cell phone charger (charging cable and adapter tips not included)
- digital clock with alarm
- self-charging capability via solar power or hand-cranked dynamo
- telescoping antenna
Overall, I found the FR500 easy to use and was able to tune in to my local FM stations with clear and strong sound quality from the single mono speaker. At first the reception was a bit off, but once I did a little reading I realized I had one of the multi-function knobs set to turn on the weather alert alarm. With this turned on, you can listen to any radio station you want, on any band, and if a weather alert is being broadcast an alarm will sound notifying you to switch over to your preferred weather band. A nice feature if you're using the radio in an emergency situation. However, if you're running on battery power (vs the optional AC power converter) during an impromptu picnic it does detract from the overall reception (and isn't really that necessary). Once I turned this feature off, the reception was fine.
Additional Feature of the Eton FR500 Solarlink
The LED flashlight on the side provides reasonable light in small spaces and would come in handy at night in a power outage. While I wouldn't recommend getting rid of your purpose built flash-light, it will let you get around in a pinch without tripping over your own feet (or anyone else's for that matter). With a flick of the switch the LEDs convert from flashlight to a red blinking emergency beacon signal. Thankfully, I haven't had the need to try this feature, but I've been told that a bright red LED can be seen in the dark up to a mile away. Lastly, if you're really looking to get someone's attention, there is a siren feature that is so loud and annoying it couldn't help but to attract someone if only to ask you to please turn it off!!
Besides being able to generate its own electricity from the hand-powered crank, or store energy from the solar power panel, you can use either of these two features to power and re-charge a cell phone. The FR500 has a USB phone charger jack in the back that will connect to almost any cell phone via a "connector tip" that Eton supplies. In fact, according to the documentation that came with my radio, you can order a tip from Eton for free by calling, writing or emailing. In my opinion it would be more convenient to have a selection of tips supplied with the radio. However, knowing how many different charging configurations there are (I only need look at my own collection of varying cell chargers to be reminded) it's understandable how it's not practical for Eton to do so while keeping the radio at its current price point of $59.99.
Room for improvement?
The one item that could benefit from a possible redesign is the tuning mechanism. The physical dial is of good size and sturdy enough, but the digital tuner itself is extremely sensitive. While this sensitivity is great for fine tuning, it can, at times, be frustrating when trying to quickly move from station to station.
All in all the Eton FR500 Solarlink is a very handy item to have in any kind of situation (especially a power outage) and has earned a spot on my list of essential items to carry with you in your Cabriolet (and my Father's Day Gift Ideas for the Porsche Lover). After all, you never know when the opportunity for a picnic (planned or otherwise) will present itself.
[Source: 993C4S, Eton