Emergency Radio - Solar or Hand Crank Rechargeable
Whether you are riding out a power outage or fleeing from a natural disaster staying informed is important. While looking for an emergency radio suitable for such occasions I came across the Ambient Weather WR-111B and being a bit of a gadget guy I was impressed by the features and functions available on this model.
This radio has three modes AM, FM, and Weather Band; and six buttons control all the functions necessary to operate the unit. On the right side of the display there is a power button that turns the unit on and off, and both up and down volume buttons to control the sound level. On the left of the display there is a mode button to switch between AM, FM and Weather Band; additionally there are both up and down tune buttons to select the desired station. While stations cannot be programmed the radio does remember the last station it was on in each mode. Furthermore, holding either of the tune buttons down for a few seconds will cause the radio to rapidly scan to the next station it is receiving a signal from. Pressing any of the above mentioned buttons while the unit is on will turn on a bright blue background light for the display which lasts approximately 20 seconds making it easy to operate in low light or the dark. On a fully charged battery I was able to get 18 hours and 47minutes of runtime on a volume setting of 10.
NOAA Weather Alerts
This radio contains seven NOAA Weather Alert frequencies and can be set to a standby mode that will notify you when there is a NOAA Weather alert. While in Weather Band mode and on the appropriate NOAA frequency, press and hold the mode button until the letters "WB" at the top of the display flashes. While testing this mode I got about 36 hours of use on a fully charged battery. During this period the radio alerted me twice, once during the weekly Wednesday test, and once for a thunderstorm warning. Both times the radio played the message in a loop while the “alert” light flashed red; the radio also automatically kicks the volume up to the maximum setting of 16 to make sure the alert is heard.
Even after the radio auto shuts off due to low battery the flashlight will continue to work, and in my test continued to produce light for about another 3 hours after the battery level was too low to play the radio. While bright for the first hour, light output began to diminish until about the start of the 3rd hour by which time the unit wasn’t putting out much useable light. However, a few minutes of turning the hand crank and the flashlight was back to what I felt was full brightness. The amount of light produced by the WR-111B is suitable for walking in the dark if necessary and puts out enough light for camp use. According to their website, this radio’s light output is rated at 15 lumens which seems to be a good compromise on brightness and runtime for a light of this sort. While I have not tested the runtime of the flashlight on a fully charged battery I feel confident that you could easily keep the light operating indefinitely with just the hand crank and solar panel.
In the manual the WR-111B states that running the radio and flashlight are considered low power consumption functions while charging electronics is a high power consumption function. When compared to most cell phones, this radio has a relatively smaller battery and therefore cannot fully charge most cell phones with a completely drained battery. To test the charging feature I completely drained the battery of a Samsung Gusto flip phone and then connected it to the WR-111B radio which I had fully charged. After 1.5 hours the radio stopped charging the phone and the phone showed one bar of battery life. Ultimately this unit is probably capable of getting most cell phones at least enough power to make a phone call or two in an emergency situation, but a car charger and a spare cell phone battery are probably a better option for keeping your phone in action.
There are numerous ways to recharge this radio's battery: by using the attached hand crank charger, by setting the unit in the sun so the top mounted solar panel can recharge the battery, or by plugging the unit into a computer with the included USB charger. Alternatively, you can purchase either a DC car charger or AC wall charger if you prefer those methods. I have recharged this unit several times from my computer with the provided USB cable and each time it took just over 3.5 hours. Letting the unit charge for two hours outside in bright sunlight resulted in 2 hours and 23 minutes of radio playtime on a volume setting of 7. Note, in many of the pictures the charge light will be glowing at least a little green indicating the solar panel is charging the radio to some degree. Finally, running this radio’s hand crank for six minutes (two minutes at a time as per the owner’s manual) resulted in 1 hour and 11 minutes of radio playtime with a volume setting of 7.
The back of this Ambient Weather radio features a rubber dust cover which protects three plug-in ports. The top spot is for headphones which are not included, I was able to test this port out with a couple of computer headsets I had laying around and the headphone jack worked well in both cases. The middle port is for charging devices such as cell-phones and other electronic devices. This radio comes with a 26" charging cable and three adapter ends which are: mini cell phone, micro cell phone, and female USB. I was only able to test the micro cell phone adapter see “The Charger” section above for results. Finally, the bottom spot is for the included USB charging cable and is used to recharge the radio's battery from a computer, which I have now done numerous times without issue and as mentioned previously takes just over 3.5 hours.
Update: I have been using the Ambient Weather WR-111B for about three years at this point and continue to be pleased and impressed with its performance. If you are looking for a good emergency radio with NOAA weather reception and built in flashlight that you can keep operating during extended power outages, then this radio is for you. If you are looking primarily for a cell phone or electronics charger, there are other devices that are probably better suited for those tasks. This model has been discontinued and replaced by newer models; however many of the new models retain many of the features and functions of this model.