By September 2, 20111 Comments

Eton Red Cross CLIPRAY Hand Crank USB Emergency Charger Review

A lot of my friends back home had two natural disaster scares last month: an earthquake that hit the eastern seaboard, and a hurricane that bashed a lot of North Carolina and Virginia. Some of my friends are still without power, and some had their homes and property struck by felled oak trees.

My friends who lost power also lost connectivity to the Internet. Most of them canceled their traditional “land line” phone service years ago. This made their mobile phone their only means of communicating with people. My friend Stilts in particular was keeping in touch with us sparingly by using his Android smartphone. I’d get a few messages from him via GoogleTalk or G+ and then he’d shut down again to maintain power. Some of my friends used up all of the juice in their handhelds, and drove into work to recharge, or just rolled around in their cars while charging.

I have a few hand-crank powered devices, including radios and lanterns. I wondered if there was a hand crank USB charger, and sure enough there was — made by Eton, a company known for making emergency radios. I trust their products and their brand, so I gave the Eton / Red Cross CLIPRAY USB hand crank charger a try.

Construction

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The Eton CLIPRAY is just a little bit larger than my HTC Incredible Droid smartphone. It measures 6″ long x 1.25″ wide x 2.25″ tall. The case is made out of a red brushed aluminum that seems reasonably durable. There is also some sort of non-slip coating on the charger to make it easier to hold if things are a bit wet.

The charging handle folds into the body of the device. This is a pretty standard design feature on hand-crank emergency tools, but it helps keep the CLIPRAY compact. There is a thick plastic carabiner clip on top. I wouldn’t attach the CLIPRAY to the outside of a backpack or bag, but it might be nice for clipping to the inside of a bag for when you need it.

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There are three LEDs on the front of the CLIPRAY. More importantly to me, there is a USB port on the side. Almost all of my devices can be charged via USB these days, and my smartphone is no exception.
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The USB port is protected by a rubberized plastic cover

Performance

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The USB -> MicroUSB cable was not included, so pack your own.

The Eton CLIPRAY has an inconsistent resistance when cranking the dynamo. That is unique among all of my other hand crank devices or any hand crank powered device I’ve ever tried. Basically the device was “easy” to crank for four seconds and “harder” to crank for two seconds, consistently. I don’t know if this is an attempt to reduce hand fatigue. If so, it failed, and I would have rather grunted it out in “harder” mode to get more juice.

I ran my Droid Incredible completely dry. I then spun the hand crank at three turns per second (the instructions recommend at least two turns per second) for five straight minutes.

I powered the phone back on and noted the battery was at less than 5%, the bottom threshold before my HTC Droid Incredible starts panicking. As an aside, it’s a stupid way to handle a low battery: the phone’s screen comes on every few seconds and beeps. The screen uses a lot of power, stop doing that shit! I wonder if there’s an app to control device behavior at different battery levels.

Anyway, I shut the phone off immediately and spun the CLIPRAY charger for another ten minutes. Big thanks to Sedagive? for taking over when my hands got sore. We spun the device 33% faster than the minimum suggested by Eton.

I was hopeful that I would at least get the phone to 10% or 15%. I powered up, heard the familiar DROIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIID, and was disappointed to see the battery status hadn’t moved. The native Android battery detail screen reported the same, bottom of the barrel battery level.

I ran the device with Bluetooth and WiFi off but GPS on for less than two minutes before the low battery alert prompted me (repeatedly) to shut down.

Oh, the flashlight works okay, but who gives a shit about that? You should have plenty of battery- and hand-powered sources of light in your house already.

Conclusion

I was hoping for better performance out of the CLIPRAY. Stilts was without power for several days and had plenty of time on his hands, but I don’t know if the CLIPRAY could ever charge a mobile phone to the point if decent use. Maybe it lacks enough power to charge a mobile phone. Other reviews on the Internet report that the CLIPRAY does a fine job at charging MP3 players and smaller devices, but I don’t care about that. Some owners report that it allows for the mobile phone to be used but only while charging. I guess that might be okay if you set a phone to speakerphone mode. You won’t be able to crank and use the phone at the same time if you are tapping out “I’m OK” status messages and checking Web sites for updates.

For emergency use, you are probably better off buying a power cell with a USB adapter and making sure the cell is charged up before a potential event. This wouldn’t help for “surprise” events like an earthquake, but might be good enough in a hurricane, or wildfire. If you know it’s tornado or blizzard season you could just keep a cell charged up in case you needed it.

The Eton / Red Cross CLIPRAY has an interesting design and is a great concept, but it didn’t perform as I expected.

Not Recommended

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1 Comment on "Eton Red Cross CLIPRAY Hand Crank USB Emergency Charger Review"

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  1. Jenner says:

    I bought a Emergency Weather Radio from LL Bean, it’s like a kid’s most amazing toy. Radio, flashlight, sound beacon (in case you are buried) and power station. It operates on either regular battery, ac adapter or a battery pack (like a home cordless phone). The pack can be recharged by a hand crank. Mine is a pre USB “standard” model, but it came with an array of charging tips and you could charge your phone. The current model works on the now USB standard.

    We have been taught two things here. One, in an emergency the cell system is overwhelmed. We’ve seen that if we have an earthquake over 4.0 that you won’t be able to use your phone for a while. Also, the cell sites are run on electricity at the site, so once a battery backup runs out or the generator gives out of gas or any link along the chain then communication is down.

    Here it is strongly suggested to have a standard copper wired traditional land line. True, that infrastructure may get damaged too, but at least it runs on its own power and in a disaster big enough the government is going to see that land lines are a priority to fix as a matter of public safety. Cell companies will be on their own. That said, I don’t have a land line, but I have friends in my building that do and I’m sure if they had working service they’d let me use theirs.

    My mother lives on the coast of Virginia and got both the earthquake and the hurricane. In the latter she lost her Fios and her cell service.

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