Solar Radios have a lot going for them. They work well for outdoor fun like hiking, biking, camping or a day at the beach because they can be charged by the sun while you play and many of them are made to withstand outdoor use.
Beyond just having fun, these solar radios are practical, too. Since they don't need a constant supply of batteries or electricity to keep them running, they are perfect for your emergency kit. During a natural disaster or blackout when you can't charge the emergency radio in traditional way, you can set it in a sunny window or crank it using its dynamo crank generator.
Solar Radios: What to Look For
Solar radios come with a variety of options that can make choosing the best one for your needs confusing. We have examined each option and have determined which ones will give you the most bang for your buck and which ones are just frustrations waiting to happen. Here is how we break down our research so you can compare the best solar radios.
Why just get a solar radio when you can have a solar radio and a flashlight, cell phone charger, a weather radio, clock, bottle opener and more all in one unit? In this section of our reviews you will find out all of the different goodies that each radio includes. We also tell you which features work well and which ones are duds so there are no surprises.
There's no point of buying an emergency radio or a solar radio for outdoor activities if it isn't meant for heavy use. In this section you will find information on how well-built the solar radio is, if it is shock resistant and if it is weatherproof.
Ease of Use
In an emergency situation or when you're out in the middle of no-where you don't want to have to read the manual to figure out your solar radio's settings. Being able to access the weather radio and emergency alert features quickly can mean the difference between life and death. That's why we tell you in this section if the solar radio is easy to use or if you need a team of customer service reps to figure out how to use all the features.
The more charge options you have the better. We determined how many different ways you can charge each solar radio and how well each charge type works so that you can make an informed decision.
All of these categories work together to give you a complete idea of how well the solar radio, like the Scorpion, American Red Cross Solarlink FR600, or the Kaito Electronics Inc. KA888 Portable Radio will work for your needs. For more information on the uses for these types of solar radios see our articles about solar radios.
The Scorpion, from the Eton Corporation, is the most convenient, durable and feature-filled solar radio we've seen. This solar radio offers users a compact size that can be carried anywhere, but even though it is incredibly small, somehow the designers managed to pack tons of features into the Scorpion. This saves you packing room on trips and doesn't waste space at home. Plus, it's perfect to take on hikes.
The Scorpion is like the Swiss Army knife of the solar radio world. It squeezes maximum utility into a sleek, small design.
It receives AM 520-1710 KHz, FM 87.5-108 MHz and seven NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) channels that can be found using the Seek and Scan buttons. It's extremely easy to find clear radio stations using these functions.
The NOAA radio stations are specifically for keeping you informed of weather emergencies. This is vital for hikers and campers because it can prevent them from being caught in a flash flood or blizzard. These stations are also useful for those living in tornado-prone areas. You can easily take the radio with you into the tornado shelter because it is small, portable and easy to recharge.
Not getting great radio reception? No problem. It has a hookup for MP3 devices so you can easily play music directly from your iPod. No other solar radio has this feature. When the MP3 is plugged in, the device's volume switch is disabled, enabling you to use the MP3's volume switches. This doesn't pose a real problem, but it's good to know all the same.
The LED flashlight isn't as bright as a regular flashlight such as a Maglite, but this solar powered radio is one of the brightest you'll find on a solar radio. Most people will find that the Scorpion is plenty bright enough for most situations, including emergency conditions. The fact that it's attached to so many other useful gadgets and that the solar radio has multiple charging options may make it better than your brightest average flashlight.
The aluminum carabineer makes space in your rucksack because the Scorpion radio can easily be clipped to the outside of it or your belt loops. Some users may find that the carabineer is awkwardly placed on the solar radio, making it hang at an angle on packs. Others may find that the carabineer is somewhat on the flimsy side, though with normal use it shouldn't break.
Who hasn't been in the middle of no-where or in the middle of a blackout with a dead cell phone? With the Scorpion radio you can plug your dead cell phone into the USB port, give it a couple cranks or put it out in the sun and make a call. This is a fantastic safety feature that makes this solar radio an emergency kit must-have.
There's also a bright digital clock to keep track of the time during your hike and as if you expected yet another gadget on this totally useful tool, it also includes a bottle opener for those cold beers after a long day in the woods. The bottle opener is located on the side of the unit, so you may have to take the solar radio off of your pack before you can use it on a bottle.
The biggest disappointment in the features category is that the Scorpion doesn't come with headphones like the KA888 Wind Up / Solar Radio. These will need to be purchased separately, which may not be a problem for those that prefer a particular type of headset or earbuds.
The Scorpion may be small, but it's tougher than many of its competitors. It includes a tough outer casing that protects the solar powered radio from breakage. The case is ribbed for a better grip and to prevent dropping it in the first place.
Not only does the rugged case protect against bumps, it also protects the electronics from spraying water from all angles at 10 liters per minute at a pressure of 80-100kN/m2 for five minutes. This doesn't mean that the radio is waterproof, though. The Scorpion can't be submerged and should be kept out of the rain. Basically, splash-proof means that if you're hiking though a stream you won't have to worry about it getting splashed as it hangs from your backpack.
The antenna is the only part of the package that may be susceptible to the harsh outdoors. It is a simple, aluminum telescoping antenna with on special protection. Granted, the antenna can be pushed down into the unit to protect it, but this only works when the item is not in use. This means that you won't be able to listen to the radio while you are hiking, biking or any other activity that involves movement that may break off the antenna.
The Scorpion also doesn't include overload protection, but you don't really have to worry about that with this unit since you won't be plugging anything more than a cell phone into it.
As mentioned before, this radio is tiny. It is a small 5.25” x 2.5” x 1.75” and only weighs 8.5 ounces. This is around as small as your television remote. Compare that to our rather larger second pick, the American Red Cross Solarlink FR500 at 7.75” x 8.5” x 2.5” and 1.9lbs, and you will see how amazingly portable this radio is.
The sound quality isn't top-notch, but you can't really expect high-quality sound from a solar radio. Some would compare the sound quality to that of a clock radio. Using headphones may increase the sound quality since you won't be using the low-tech speakers for sound.
If you need help with all of the features, you may need a user manual. Well, there's no need to worry about losing the paper edition. You can find a PDF, full-color copy online at the company's website.
Also at the company's website they include customer support for warranty help, general questions and product registration. If you still need help, there's also a form you can send in to get one-on-one help with a representative.
The Scorpion has four different charger types. In case you're caught on a cloudy day, you can charge your solar powered radio with batteries, the crank handle or the DC adapter. Unfortunately the DC adapter is sold separately, so you may not want to count that as a feature unless you're willing to make an extra purchase.
The crank is sturdy and easy to turn, unlike some other solar powered radios. The cranking mechanism only takes a few easy cranks to charge the radio.
The biggest problem with this product is that it doesn't tell you how long to set it in the sun for a full charge. Users have reported around an eight-hour charge time for a charge that lasts around 12 hours.
Overall, the Scorpion is an inspired device that outshines any other solar powered radio. It is durable, full of features and easy to carry on hikes or during an emergency, making it the best choice.
American Red Cross Solarlink FR600 by Eton Corporation, whose designs have won acclaim from the Spark and the RedDot Design Awards. Is the FR600 a design that's worth an award? Well, we think so. It has a well-thought-out design, a large number of features and an easy learning curve.
The FR600 is endorsed by the American Red Cross – and for good reason. It has tons of features that will keep you safe in an emergency. Plus, according to the company website, they will donate $0.49 to $1.00 of the sale price of each solar radio to the American Red Cross.
This solar radio features a signal range of AM 520-1700 KHz and FM 88-108 MHz. Unlike its brother, the American Red Cross Solarlink FR500, the FR 600 has a shortwave frequency of 2300-23000 KHz instead of 5800-12200 KHz. The American Red Cross Solarlink FR600 also has seven NOAA weather channels and S.A.M.E. Technology to keep you notified of bad weather such as flash flooding and thunderstorms, and Amber Alerts as well.
Don't want to listen to the weather channels all day? Flip on the “Alert” mode. This mode is normally silent but will automatically alert you when the national weather service posts vital information.
The unit does have a basic telescopic antenna, but the good news is that you won't need it for AM stations. The antenna is only needed to pick up FM stations and must be fully extended to get good reception. Either way, the sound is very good for a portable radio and doesn't seem to have the problems with sound clarity the FR500 has.
Another feature the FR600 solar radio has that the FR500 solar radio doesn't is an audio line input jack. What this means, in laymen's terms, is that you can plug your MP3 player into the unit and use it for external speakers. This is a great option when all the local radio stations don't tune in clearly or they just aren't your taste.
If you're lost or need help, you can turn on the SOS siren, which emits a shrill tone that will draw the attention of anyone in the area. At night you can use the red LED signal light to attract attention. The light was designed to alert others but not to blind you, which is always a good feature when you're already lost.
Yes, this unit has a cell phone charger, but don't get too excited. You won't be able to use this feature until you send the company the little card that is included in the packaging and wait for them to send you a cell phone charging cord that will work with your specific cell phone. We've heard through the grapevine that you may be able to jury rig a charger from one you already have, but we advise leaving the MacGyver tricks to the professionals to avoid damaging your phone.
Even when you do have the solar radio's cell phone charging cord, charging your phone with this unit won't be easy. The company advises users to crank the dynamo charger "two revolutions per second, or until you see the green or orange LED above the crank handle turn on," while you are charging your cell phone. So, you have to crank while charging. Plus, if you stop cranking, you have to wait five seconds before resuming the cranking. What we're saying is that the charger is really only helpful for emergencies.
If you're into packing light when you camp, this solar radio has you covered. It includes a bright flashlight that consists of four LED lights and an alarm clock with snooze and sleep functions.
The American Red Cross Solarlink FR600 is a tough, durable solar radio that will work well for outdoor conditions. It includes a rubberized outer casing and rubber gaskets and plugs to protect its various electronic components. The antenna snaps snuggly into the casing as well, which will prevent it from breaking off when you stick the solar radio in a pack.
Though the solar radio is water resistant, it isn't waterproof. So don't drop it in the lake if you want to keep using it.
The American Red Cross Solarlink FR600 is very simple to use. If you do have a problem using all of the various switches and buttons, the product comes with a very detailed owner's manual that tells you everything you need to know about the unit, even the customer support information. The only thing that the manual is missing is information on how long the solar radio will run on a full charge.
The American Red Cross Solarlink FR600 takes 90 seconds of cranking to charge the unit, which is nice and quick. The problem is that the company admits that the rechargeable battery will eventually lose its ability to hold a charge. So at some point you will only be able to charge the unit using the other charging options.
There are a few different ways to charge the American Red Cross Solarlink FR600, which makes it ideal for emergency situations. The solar panel powers a built-in Ni-MH battery that can be charged while you are using the solar radio. The unit can also be charged by a dynamo crank, DC adapter or three AA batteries. Unfortunately, the DC adapter is not included and the user's manual doesn't make it clear how to get one. Customers must order it from the company separately.
Another thing you may want to consider is that this solar radio is a major battery hog, so you may only want to rely on the AA batteries as a back-up option.
The American Red Cross Solarlink FR600 is a fantastic solar radio that will be a great addition to anyone's camping gear or emergency kit. It offers sturdy construction, multiple power types and tons of features for this type of radio.
The KA888 Portable Radio by Kaito Electronics Inc. is the little solar radio that lasts. The company boasts that it has sold over 75,000 of these Kaito radios to the US and UK militaries, who have raved about them. We think you'll enjoy it too – even if it does have some drawbacks.
When it comes to features, the KA888 Portable Radio has a few that no other solar radio has. For example, it includes a thermometer and compass that is built into the unit's top panel. To keep matches dry there is a small waterproof compartment that unscrews in a snap. Plus, the KA888 is the only solar radio on our list that includes headphones.
Its more conventional features include a siren, alarm clock and flashlight. Unfortunately, other important features were missing, such as weather radio bands and a severe weather alert system.
Even though it lacks weather channels, the KA888 Portable Radio does have a wide range of music and short wave channels. It covers AM 525to 1710KHz, FM 88 to108MHz, SW1 6.00 to 12.00MHz and SW2 12.00 to 18.50MHz. For easier tuning at night, the dial needle is built from material that glows in the dark.
Unfortunately, the KA888 radio doesn't have any durability features such as weatherproofing or rubberized panels that other solar radios have.
At only 19.5 x 10 x 6 centimeters, this tiny solar radio is comparable to Eton's Scorpion. While the size makes it easy to carry, there's no way to clip the Kaito radio to a backpack or belt loop. This means you'll have to make room inside your pack and that the radio won't be able to charge as you hike, like the Scorpion can.
You'll never be stuck without your tunes because there are four ways to power the KA888 Portable Radio. Two of the options are green for environmentally conscientious users. You can charge the NI-MH batteries by turning a hand crank. Unfortunately, the crank is a bit hard to turn because of its awkward positioning.
The solar panel will power the Kaito radio while you are using it, or you can leave it by a sunny window to keep it fully charged at all times. You'll have to leave it in the sun all day because it takes a full 12 hours to charge the batteries for six to eight hours of playing time.
If you hate of the idea letting it charge for hours on end, you can always use three AA batteries, though that kind of defeats the purpose of buying a solar radio.
On cloudy days the adapter is probably your best bet to charge the unit. Just six hours of charging gets you a full 48 hours of use. Unlike other solar radios, such as the American Red Cross Solarlink FR600, the KA888 Portable Radio comes with an AC adapter; you don't have to buy it separately.
The KA888 Portable Radio may not be a fantastic radio for alerting you to severe weather conditions, but it is still a great solar radio for outdoor entertainment and fun at home. Most users will enjoy the added features and multiple charging options that this unit delivers.
The Microlink FR160 by Eton Corporation may be small with a few drawbacks, but it also has a lot of things going for it. This solar radio can keep you safe during a severe storm or natural disaster, serve up some tunes in the great outdoors or close to home and make sure you're connected to the world via cell phone.
Once the FR160 is powered, you can use its various features. The Microlink FR160 has AM 520-1710 KHz, FM 87-108MHz and seven NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) channels, which is comparable to our top-ranked solar radio, the Scorpion.
This American Red Cross radio is also around the same size as the easily pocketed Scorpion, though the Microlink FR160 doesn't have a handy carabineer for clipping to your rucksack. This could be a problem for those that want to charge the flashlight while hiking.
The flashlight is dimmer that its competitors with three LED lights instead of the usual four. Like the extra LED light, the Microlink FR160 is missing many other features such as a siren, shortwave radio stations, audio line outputs for listening to MP3 players, an emergency light and outlets for powering additional items. This is a very basic solar radio, but that probably won't be an issue if you are just going to use it to listen to music or weather forecasts.
The cell phone charger seems to work great, but there are two major drawbacks. First, you'll have to order a USB charging cable from the company since it doesn't come with one. Second, according to the user's manual, "10 to 15 minutes of cranking may result in one or more minutes of talk-time." That's a lot of cranking for such a small charge. If you were in an emergency situation and desperately needed to use your phone immediately, this product would be next to useless.
For such a small solar radio, it is incredibly sturdy. Many solar radios break down quickly, but this one seems like it will go the distance. The unit is also splash-proof, giving it a bit of extra protection that other solar radios don't have.
This solar radio is completely self explanatory. There probably won't be any need to read the owner's manual or to call customer service.
Even though this American Red Cross radio comes in blue, green, red and black, it's the ultimate green machine. There are only two ways to charge it, and they are both environmentally friendly. The FR160 can be charged using an easy-to-use dynamo crank that powers an internal Ni-MH battery. The handle is extra long for easy cranking, though it does seem to take more cranks to power the unit than other radios such as the American Red Cross Solarlink FR500. On the other hand, the solar panel charges the solar radio much more quickly than other radios.
Overall, the Microlink FR160 may have some great features and compact size, but it just doesn't measure up to our top picks for solar radios for anything more than casual use.
Stansport Compact Solar Radio/Flashlight 01-517
The company that makes this solar powered radio specializes in camping and outdoors equipment, so you would expect the Stansport Compact Solar Radio/Flashlight to be top in its class. Unfortunately that's not the case. This radio has several features but none of them seem to work very well.
The AM/FM radio is controlled by a small circular dial that is hard to turn and even harder to tune with. This is due to the fact that the dial barely sticks out from the surface of the Stansport Compact Solar Radio/Flashlight. It is clearly designed to be controlled by running your thumb along the dial, but this design limits the kind of control needed to tune in a station. Chances are you'll simply skip right over the station and have to go back.
The Stansport Compact Solar Radio/Flashlight's features are limited to a siren and a flashlight. Its handle grip design makes this solar powered radio look like any other flashlight. Regrettably, the Stansport Compact may as well not even have this feature because it is not a useful flashlight. The light is very dim and only lasts a minute or two before completely going dead. After an extended period of time the light won't work at all. It does have a sturdy, rubberized grip to prevent you from dropping it, but the protruding buttons will poke your hands uncomfortably as you hold it.
The siren is a standard feature on a solar powered radio meant for outdoor use. It is a safety feature that will alert rescue crews if you're lost or hurt. And although the Stansport Compact Solar Radio/Flashlight has one, it’s too bad it doesn't have other safety features like weather alert bands, a cell phone charger or a colored emergency alert strobe light like our top choice the Scorpion solar powered radio. The Scorpion is roughly around the same size, but is crammed with a lot more features.
One thing the Stansport Compact Solar Radio/Flashlight has going for it is its multiple charging methods, which is surprising considering how small the solar radio is. Some larger solar powered radios don't have this many charging options. It can be powered using the solar panel, hand crank, two AA batteries or DC power.
The hand crank is awkwardly designed, making charging difficult, though. The part of the crank you are supposed to hold onto is small and hard to grip. The lever is flimsy plastic that makes you scared to even crank it.
Another charging problem is the lack of instructions telling you how long the solar radio's solar panels need to charge in the sun. We've learned that a charge only lasts a few minutes, but without knowing how long to charge the unit for, it's difficult to say if that information is accurate.
The company doesn't seem to offer any customer support for their products either. The website has a contact form page, but doesn't offer a customer service number or any promise of a return email. There's also no online user manual or product specs pages.
The Stansport Compact Solar Radio/Flashlight probably isn't your best bet for a reliable solar powered radio. It seems to have iffy construction and lacks features that make these types of radios useful.
The SolaDyne 7410 is a tiny, one-pound solar radio that is environmentally friendly and complies with FCC and CE requirements. Unfortunately, that is about all it has going for it.
The SolaDyne 7410 is advertised as having "superior quality" AM 525 – 1710KHz and FM 87.5 – 108MHz radio, but don't bet on it. There is only one speaker and the telescoping antenna will only pick up the closest local stations. It also doesn't pick up weather band frequencies, which makes it a poor choice for an emergency kit.
A flashlight and cell phone charger are the only extra features that this solar radio has. Though the flashlight only has three LED lights, they are focused into a bright beam that is surprisingly clear thanks to a well-designed lens. The SolaDyne 7410 also gives a cell phone's battery a better charge than most. Plus, unlike the American Red Cross Solarlink FR600, the cell phone charging cable is included with the SolaDyne. Regrettably, the cable is only compatible with Nokia phones. You must purchase an adapter separately to make the cable work with other types of phones. For quicker, longer-lasting power, the cell phone cable can be used to charge the radio with a car's cigarette lighter, but this must be done with another adapter that is sold separately.
This solar radio charges itself using solar power, of course, as well as a dynamo crank generator that powers a replaceable NiMH battery. There is also an AC/DC jack to power the unit through an outlet, but the adapter isn't included with the SolaDyne 7410.
Measuring one inch by 2.6 inches, the solar panel is quite large for a unit of its size and provides over five hours of radio play when fully charged. The solar panel works so well, in fact, that it can recharge the batteries and run the radio at the same time.
Using the SolaDyne 7410's dynamo hand crank is a breeze. The large handle is made to fit comfortably in your hand while you wind, so you won’t get blisters like you will with other solar radios. It only takes one minute of winding to produce enough power for 20 minutes of radio listening time, 30 minutes of flashlight use or three minutes of cell phone time. This is great when you compare it to the 90 seconds of cranking time that other units need.
The solar-powered capabilities of the SolaDyne 7410 seem to make it an ideal choice for outdoor activities such as hiking, camping and visiting the beach, but that’s probably not advisable. The unit isn't waterproof or splash proof and it doesn't have a sturdy enough design to protect it from bumps. It is better suited for home use or for the trunk of the car in case you need a bright flashlight in an emergency.
Though the SolaDyne 7410 is small and environmentally friendly, it doesn't have the features that could take it from being an okay radio to a fantastic solar radio. Shoppers will probably have better luck with the Scorpion solar radio.
Excalibur Products EZ Crank Solar Radio H690-WC
The EZ Crank Solar Radio, by Excalibur Products, is touted as a great product for an emergency kit in homes that are prone to severe weather, but the lack of features has us wondering, why? There are many solar radios out there that would be great for this use and the EZ Crank isn't one of them.
For example, the EZ Crank Solar Radio is endorsed by The Weather Channel, but ironically the solar powered radio lacks the ability to pick up weather band frequencies and has no severe weather alert system like the American Red Cross Solarlink FR600. How is this radio supposed to help you avoid severe weather if you can't listen to weather channels?
Another example of how this solar radio doesn't deserve a spot in your emergency kit is the lack of cell phone charging adapters. Yes, the unit can charge a cell phone when your electricity goes out, but only after you purchase the adapter separately.
You have to purchase the DC adapter separately, as well. Thankfully, there are two other ways to charge the EZ Crank Solar Radio: a crank generator and a solar panel. The crank generator provides 20 minutes of use with just one minute of cranking at a rate of 120 rpm or faster hand-winding speed. The solar panel will charge the unit while in use, but it is unknown exactly how long you have to let the solar powered radio sit in the sun to get a full charge.
One bright spot, literally, is the flashlight included with the EZ Crank Solar Radio. It is one of the best we've seen on a solar powered radio. Not only is it adjustable, but it also has a staggeringly bright, five LED light. Most solar radios that include flashlights only have three or four LED lights.
An extra feature that most other portable radios don't have is a movable telescoping antenna. The EZ Crank Solar Radio's antenna can rotate 360 degrees, picking up AM and FM stations with ease. The tuning knobs are easy to turn, unlike other solar powered radios, so tuning in to a station won't be a problem. Unfortunately, the unit only has one speaker, so when you do pick up a station the audio quality won't be great.
Another unique feature is the EZ Crank Solar Radio's two storage compartments. These areas are handy for transporting matches, a small map or a Swiss army knife, when camping or hanging out on the beach. The unit isn't waterproof, though, so don't expect it to keep those items dry.
Like the Scorpion, the EZ Crank Solar Radio comes with a way to carry it while outdoors. The unit comes with a shoulder strap that can be dethatched and stored when not in use.
Though the EZ Crank Radio has a few unique features, but they don't make up for the lack of safety features that a radio of this type should have. For most, this solar powered radio is best used for a fun toy and not a serious emergency situation tool.