Eton FR140 Microlink radio review

So you decided that camping was the best option for this year's holiday. You're sitting in a field, in your tent, in the rain. Sound familiar? Perhaps the Eton FR140 can give you a bit of a lift.

Compact, measuring 130 x 60 x 44, and weighing about 200g, it is perhaps a little big to fit in a pocket, but slips nicely into a bag. It is packed full of features, but we'll start with power.

You get a wide choice of options for powering the device. First-up it comes with a solar panel on the top, so if you are roaming around the globe or enjoying the uncharacteristic sunshine in the UK, you'll be able to continuously charge the FR140. We've seen in the past that these things work much better in good strong sunshine, something that will appeal to travellers more than those in camping in the Highlands of Scotland.

It also has an internal battery which can be charged through the more regular Mini-USB connection, either from a computer, or from a mobile phone charger plugged into the wall. It takes about 8 hours to charge to the max, but cables are not supplied.

There is also a crank handle on the back which means you can crank the dynamo to power the device too.

It feels good quality and the rubberised finish gives the impression it is rugged enough to withstand the odd knock, which it did in our liberal dropping tests.

The radio supports FM, AM, as well as two SW bands. There is built-in speaker that is ambitious in its volume rating, as it starts to suffer getting very shrill, painfully shrill when listening to music, at points about 40% max volume. This perhaps doesn't matter if you are using it as a distraction whilst camping, and you can plug in headphones too, although the sound is a little lacklustre.

Radio tuning is a manual process, cranking around the dial, with a 30cm aerial to pickup a signal. We found reception was reasonable in the FM band, but AM and SW signals were a bit scarce – for most users this perhaps won't be a problem.

Sitting on the front of the FR140 there is an LED torch, operated via a push button on the top. It is plenty bright for in-tent usage and makes convenient use of space within the unit.

The final function that the FR140 offers is mobile phone charging, a feature that should appeal to campers or travellers using their mobile to stay in touch with friends and family. It's a good idea in principal, meaning you don't have to worry about finding an accessible power supply in a foreign county so you can text your mum.

Unfortunately it isn't all it's cracked up to be. We accept that you have to crank the handle to put some charge into your phone, and that it might take 10-15 minutes of cranking to get 1 minute of talk time. It is designed for emergency use only, so that's fine. What isn't fine is not supplying enough tips to make it a useful solution.

The problem is that you have to use the supplied cable with a 2.5mm jack, which you then slip the corresponding tip into. The only tips supplied are for Nokia (big one), Sony Ericsson (old style two prong one), Mini-USB and fourth that didn't fit any handset we'd seen in the last year. These tips sort of miss the current trend in mobiles phones, especially missing the new industry standard Micro-USB.

However, lying around in the office we have all manner of cables, so we hooked it up to a BlackBerry via a Mini- to Micro-USB cable and the BlackBerry happily reported that it was receiving charge. A simple cable like this could solve the problem if Micro-USB is what you need, and they are widely available online, but other mobile phone owners might find it doesn't do what they need.

Verdict

At £29.99 the Eton FR140 offers you a practical device and compact device, offering good value for money with power options that will see you listening to the radio and using the LED touch whenever and wherever you need it.

But you could pickup a simple AA battery powered radio for a few pounds and mini torches are easy to come by too. The solar and crank options will appeal to those who can't always guarantee that they are going to be able to replace batteries whilst out and about.