The Epica Emergency Solar Hand Crank AM/FM/NOAA Digital Radio, Flashlight, Cell Phone Charger
Anyone living in the USA or Canada really should have a radio with access to NOAA’s Weather Radio Service. Let’s call these Weather Alert Radios so we don’t get too confused between the warning service and the radio that receives the warnings.
At least one. But if you were only going to have one it should be a radio that will continue to work when the mains power goes off, or when you have had to leave home.
Fortunately, over the last five years or so, there have been major advances in battery design, particularly in rechargeable batteries. This means that the last resort power source, the hand crank which charges batteries from the effort you put in in turning the handle, have also improved a great deal.
It’s fair to say that a weather alert radio with multiple means of charging, including a hand crank, is now the standard in the field, and at a minimum, that is what you should have in your bug out kit, or around your home in case the worst happens.
The other good news is that the quality of the radios has improved together with the batteries. If you check through weather alert radios on Amazon or any other major retailer, you will find over a dozen brands and models of hand cranked weather alert radios. And if you look at the buyer reviews of the ten most popular, you will see that all of them have buyer ratings of at least four stars out of five.
From a point of view of general public safety, this is very comforting. It means that anyone who has bought a hand cranked weather alert radio in the past few years can expect their radio to do what they expect it to do during an emergency.
But why aren’t these weather alert radios getting universal five star ratings? Surely we should expect that such an important item should be manufactured to the highest quality.
Well, they do seem to be very good in that regard. What pulls the average rating down is the small proportion that have quality control problems or are poorly packed, or are damaged during freighting. Other less than perfect ratings usually relate to things like sound quality in poor reception areas, or the absence of some optional items which the buyer was hoping to find on his or her radio.
So then it becomes a matter of price and features which separate one model from another as a better buy.
Let’s take a look at a newcomer which has been well regarded by those who have bought it.
The Epica WR-257 Emergency Hand Cranked Radio
It’s the Epica Emergency Solar Hand Crank AM/FM/NOOA Digital Radio, Flashlight and Cell Phone Charger. It also has a model number – WR-257, but not all catalogs are using it.
It’s a very long name, but it tells you almost everything you need to know about this radio.
Firstly it’s a radio which will broadcast AM, FM and all 7 NOAA emergency frequencies. Sound quality is good – better than most and very good for a small portable radio.
Secondly, it is battery powered, with the battery being rechargeable either by a USB connection to a computer or similar device, by a small solar panel, or by a very efficient hand crank.
And finally, it can recharge your cell phone to the extent that you will be able to make short emergency calls. It comes with a range of cables, jacks and adaptors to enable charging of most cell phones including I-phones. It is not capable of charging cell phones, smart phones or other devices for regular or typical use, but it will let you make emergency contact and help get you out of trouble.
Let’s go into a bit more detail.
The radio is roughly 8″ long, 3″wide and 2″ deep with the crank and antenna unextended. It comes in a rubberized waterproof housing which is comfortable to hold. Most of the ports have a rubber protective cover.
It will stand up to rain and minor wetting but won’t like being dropped in a bucket.
For everyday use, it would make sense to charge it through the USB cable from your computer or other power source accessed through a USB. The solar panel is small, and charging it this way would take quite a while. It will work best if the panel is set up at 90 degrees to the sun, but this is probably the slowest way to charge the battery.
Unlike older hand cranked radios, the Epica is very efficient. Ten turns of the handle will give good radio reception and activate the flashlight for well over an hour. Radio quality is surprisingly good on all bands, particularly with the antenna extended, but don’t expect miracles in areas of poor reception.
Volume and tuning controls for the radio are pretty much standard and the frequency is displayed on a LCD display. This can be backlit if needed, which is helpful.
The flashlight, with 3 LEDs is at one end of the radio. At the opposite end is a carrying handle (Carabiner type), the extendable antenna, a headphone jack, a mini USB which is the port for charging the radio and the flash from an external USB power source, and a jack which forms part of the system for charging cell phones and smart phones. This is done by connecting a cable with male and female jacks, to which can be connected various male jacks combined with standard, mini- and micro-USBs. Select the correct one for the charging cable on your phone.
This means that you will have three parts to your charging cable, which sounds a little over engineered but it provides good flexibility and it works.
The Epica has been available for less than a year so there is little information on how robust it is. So far it seems to be quite strong, and it comes with a one year limited warranty, covering manufacturing defects.
If its use is restricted to emergency situations, or when mains power is not available, it should last for years, particularly if it is stored in a dry place when not in use, maybe with moisture absorbents. And while it works well as an everyday radio, that is not what it is designed for.
Overall the Epica Emergency Radio is well designed, powers up quickly using the hand crank and hold a charge well under normal use. Those who have bought and reviewed it have given it strong ratings, and it seems ideal as an emergency radio in all important respects.
While this is a well designed emergency radio there is room for some improvement.
The main problem that I see is that the battery is an 800mAH NI-MH battery, like in a cordless phone, but doesn’t seem to be replaceable from off the shelf. It should have a long life, and I guess if sales continue at their current rate the manufacturer may decide to make replacement batteries available.
Secondly it is not a weather alert radio. It won’t turn on automatically when an emergency is developing in your area, but you would be able to get this information if it was on and tuned to one of the NOAA channels.
Neither the carabiner (to allow it to be clipped to a belt) or the antenna are very sturdy and need to be treated with care.
The only other minor problem is that there is no guide to the charge remaining in the battery – the torch and radio just stop when the charge is too low. This is not so terrible, given that only a few turns of the hand crank are enough to get everything going again.
Overall, this is a good little unit, and most buyers are very happy with it.
If you are after a radio which will warn you of developing weather or other emergencies, waking you up at night if necessary, the Epica is not for you – check out the Midland WR300 instead.
But the Epica WR-257 is an ideal radio for an emergency pack, or as a back up radio around home for when power is interrupted, and in many ways is as good or better than its competitors. It is also ideal for camping trips or for any time when you are in a remote area.
As I write this in September 2014, the Epica WR-257 has a list price of $79.95, about the same level as most of its competitors. But for some time it has been heavily discounted – in some cases down to less than a third of that price.
So if you are looking for a portable radio that would be ideal in an emergency situation, go immediately to Amazon and check out the current deal – the bargain prices I have seen there recently can’t last forever.