Top critical review
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Save your money
on February 17, 2005
At first glance the FR 300 (sold under several names including Grundig and Eton) appears to be a modification of the very successful FR 200. It seems to use the same case and it has similar looking controls including a hand crank generator. However, with close inspection it really is quite a different radio. The FR 300 eliminates the 2 shortwave bands of the FR 200. It their place it adds the VHF TV reception (audio only) and the weather band. In addition it adds a number of gizmos.
I love the older FR 200. No one would say that the FR 200 was the height of radio engineering and it certainly has a few electronic warts. With that said its pleasant sound, sensitive receiver and cool hand crank generator makes it a winner in my book (see my review in epinions). When the FR 300 came out I was anxious to give it a try so it was off to Circuit City to pick one up.
The Box: The radio appears to be housed in a case very similar to the FR 200. The box is approximately 5.5 inches square and around 2 inches thick. Like the FR 200 it has a nice handle and it some with a nifty nylon case. One side of the radio has a hand crank to charge the rechargeable battery pack. This pack appears to be of the common cordless phone variety if you ever need to change it. The other side of the radio has a volume control and a ganged course/fine tuning control, which operates the analog slide rule dial. Instead of using the primary color theme of the FR 200, the ABS plastic is a classy silver and the speaker grill also has a more polished look. Because the FR 300 has more gizmos than the FR 200 it has a few more controls on the face of the radio. This may add a little more confusion to the technically challenged. With that said, the controls and operation are very simple. Instead of using the flush controls of the FR 200, The FR 300 has a number of raised controls. These may be easier to grasp but they also add some additional thickness to the radio. The addition of all of this spit and polish makes the radio look like a baby version of the popular Grundig S350 rather than a twin of the FR 200.
Power Source: Like the FR 200, the FR 300 can be powered up in a number of ways. You can use 3 AA batteries, which should give you a very long playtime in this energy sipping radio. In addition you can charge the separate battery pack by vigorously turning the dynamo (generator) handle. 90 seconds at two turns per second should give you over an hour of playtime at low volume. You can also use an optional adaptor. Circuit City did not have the Grundig adaptor when I bought the radio. You can use a third party adaptor, but this must be done with caution. If the adaptor is under 200 milliamps it will power the radio and trickle change the battery pack. You can leave the adaptor permantetly connected. If the adaptor is over 200 mg , leaving it connected can overcharge the battery pack and damage the radio. You can remove or disconnect the battery pack and leave a larger adaptor plugged in, but this defeats the "emergency radio" concept.
Gizmos: The FR 300 is decked out in a variety of cool sounding gizmos. Let's take a look at some them to see if they have merit.
Flashlight: Like the FR 200 you have an LED flashlight built in. LEDs are great because they are very durable and use less power than a traditional flashlight bulb. The FR 300 has a 2 LED system providing somewhat better illumination than the FR 200. Think of it as a penlight. It would be OK to change a fuse or even read a newspaper. It won't light up a room. All in all, a useful feature.
Strobe: There is also a bright, flashing red LED. It is very cool, but I was wondering what you would use it for. A warning for a disabled car? A cheap reflective banner would work better. A beacon to attract airplanes if you are stranded on a deserted island? Sorry no trips planed. How about an emergency signal to attract the Good Humor Man? Hmmm.... Anyways, I would rate the strobe as a gimmick.
Siren: The FR 300 has a very loud siren. This seems to be a popular (cheap?) addition to a number of emergency radios. This is another feature that leaves me scratching my head. Let's say you were hiking and got lost. A simple whistle around your neck would do the job nicely. Let's say you were trapped under a building that collapsed. Well maybe, but you would have to have the radio at your side, which seems sort of unlikely. The Siren would preclude giving this radio to most pre-adolescent boys, unless, of course, his parents gave your kid a drum set for Christmas. Another gimmick.
Cell Phone Charger: The FR 300 comes with a number of adaptors that could allow you the ability to charge your cell phone by turning the radios dynamo. Pretty cool. You could also use a AC power adaptor (not supplied) to charge you phone through the radio. Frankly, in the later case you should use the charging set up supplied with the phone. The question is, can you charge your phone using the dynamo? As mentioned above, The FR 300 is designed to sip at the energy bar. My LG cell phone has two separate LCD displays, one in color. It also has a keypad that lights up and (being a cell phone) a transmitter. The FR 300 manual wisely omits crank times for cell phones, but you can assume that it would be a bicep building experience. I can image that there may be very rare times when this feature could have some utility, but not often and probably a means of last resort. Likely a gimmick.
All radio testing was done with fresh AA batteries.
Sound: Like the FR 200 the FR 300 has a 2.5 inch speaker. There isn't much base but the sound is pleasant and clear. Plug in some headphones and you get wonderful sound out of both earpieces. The sound is mono, however. It is clear that the FR 300 amplifier section is of a higher quality then what you would find in a cheap pocket radio.
AM (medium wave): Like the FR 200 the FR 300 has a very nice AM tuner. You can hear some weak images of stronger stations on the dial but they aren't too objectionable. Tuning accuracy is approximate, but it does the job. Sensitivity is very good and I was able to hear a number of out-of-state stations with ease. AGC was average. Reception was similar to the FR 200. All in all a nice little AM radio.
Weather Band: The FR 300 picks up the 7 channel weather band which is used in the US and Canada. I was able to pick up 3 channels on the radio, two very clearly. My car radio was able to pick up 4 weather channels (as a comparison). As a bonus, a nice, big knob controls the channels. In addition you can use an alert function. You leave the radio turned on and this function keeps it mutes the audio until the radio picks up a special signal for the weather service. Sounds nice, but don't forget this radio does not come with an AC adaptor. Leaving the radio on and then cranking it or changing the batteries doesn't make a lot of sense. Overall, I would rate the weather band as very good.
VHF TV Reception: Chicagoland has 5 VHF TV outlets (channels 2,5,7,9,11). The FR 300 allows VHF TV reception via two separate bands. One for channels 2-6 and the other for channels 7 and above. Using the FR 300 to pick up TV was a painful experience. As I would turn down the TV band I would encounter image after image of blaring distorted FM stations. On the lower VHF this garbage obliterated band channel 5. This problem was also present on the upper VHF band, but less so. Channel 9 was obliterated here. Changing rooms or reducing the length of the antenna did not help this problem. I also tried the radio at my office (further away from local FM broadcasters and more shielded from RF). It was still horrible. I exchanged the radio and the second one was slightly better, I now could get channel 9 but not channel 5. There was still tons of garbage from FM on these bands. TV performance was not acceptable.
FM performance: The FR 200 had a flawed but quite useable FM section (see my epinion on the FR 200). I thought that the FR 300 would offer similar performance, but I was very wrong. First off, the FM section occupies only one part of the tuning dial with the low VHF TV channels occupying the rest. I was estimate that the FM portion is only about 1/3 of the dial making any tuning difficult. When I first tried FM I was shocked at the incredibly poor reception. Our two local FM broadcasters were imaged all over the dial, and I mean everywhere. Even a flea-powered local college station was imaged up and down the dial. Every once in a while I could tease another station out of the mess. It was truly horrible. Reducing the antenna length, etc did not help. I took the radio to my office, which is much farther from our local broadcasters. In addition, the building shields lot of RF. Here I still heard the local broadcaster smeared over the dial. The flea-powered college station was absent but now the local junior college's station was popping up everywhere. FM was unusable. I saw one user report on the FR 300 noting good FM reception (Circuit City web page) so I thought I might have a defective radio. I exchanged it hoping that radio #2 would redeem the Grundig name. This radio had it own set of problems on FM. The dial wasn't totally dominated by images from the local broadcasters, but they were present. The local college station at 89.1 obliterated the FM spectrum below and all the way up to 92 MHz. Similarly, the local oldies station at 95.9 smeared itself to WMFT at 98.7. It also smeared downward, but it was such a mess I couldn't tell what was what. It was clear that the way that this particular radio "fix" the multiple image problem was to turn down the sensitivity on FM, so even when I could get a Chicago station the reception was poor. Even more bizarre was what happened when I tuned around 100 MHz. There, I started to receive VHF aircraft traffic, I don't live near any commercial airport.
I love radios, I collect them and play around with them. The FR 300 has, by far, the worst FM reception of any radio that I have ever used, including cheapo pocket radios. This appears to be partly due to poor quality control (two radios with two different problems) but I also suspect design flaws.
As a radio collector I'm about to do something that I never do, I'm going to return this radio for a refund. All the bells and whistles and gizmos are useless if you can't use a major portion of a radio (the FM band). As more people review this radio I will be curious with the results. If lots of people like the FM portion of the radio it is likely that this is a QC issue that will eventually get resolved (and I just happened to get two bad radios). I addition, I have to wonder about the logic of including functions, like the weather alert option, but not including an AC adaptor as standard equipment. With the myriad of portable radios available, including the nice FR 200, I can't image why anyone would buy this radio. Definitely, not recommended.