Freeplay TUF wind-up charger review

Freeplay TUF

Hand-cranked electronics is a technology that has been widely adopted, with varying degrees of success, since Trevor Baylis invented the wind-up radio and founded Freeplay Energy. (See also: Best travel gadgets: Top tech to take on holiday with you this summer.)

The company's product line now includes a wind-up charger for mobile phones but, for just £15 more, you can buy the TUF which also adds an AM/FM/SW radio, a torch, and a solar panel. Also see: 9 best portable USB chargers 2014 

While the TUF has an internal battery – quite small by comparison to power-hungry smartphones – and this is used to power the radio and torch, it can't be used to charge external electronic gear such as a mobile phone.

Freeplay TUF review: charging your phone by hand

Instead, in order to charge other gadgets via the TUF's USB port the rotary handle must be cranked. Freeplay says that a minute of winding will give two to three minutes of talk time but this will depend very much on the phone.

We found that cranking at two turns per minute generated a charging current of 500 mA at 5 V, which is comparable to what you'd achieve when charging from a PC's USB port.

While these figures will allow charge characteristics to be calculated for any device, we demonstrated that it charged an entry-level smartphone with a 4.1 Wh battery at a rate of one percent every two minutes. Given that you probably wouldn't want to crank at this rate for too long, it would be appropriate to consider this as a device for charging a phone for emergency use, which is what Freeplay envisage.

The theme of emergency preparedness extends to TUF's other elements, namely the radio and torch. FM radio is becoming less common in mobile phones in favour of internet radio which is a drain on the battery that can be put to better use if you're cut off from mains power. Also, if you're travelling abroad, you'll only hear local stations on FM.

In providing SW, though, you'll probably be able to hear several English language broadcasts, including the BBC World Service. (See also: BioLite CampStove review.)

Freeplay TUF review: radio reception

We found reception on FM and AM to be perfectly acceptable for catching up on the news or a weather report although its sound wouldn't be categorised as high quality. And with the small telescopic antenna, we couldn't find a single broadcast in the shortwave bands during daylight hours although shortwave reception is better at night.

Bunning out a few metres of wire to act as an antenna, though, and winding the end round the telescopic antenna, we did much better, even during the day, receiving a broad range of stations from Europe and beyond.

Freeplay say that the radio will run for 15 hours on a full battery, which can be charged via the USB port, by cranking or via the solar panel. We discovered that a minute of cranking gave 13 minutes of operation – half of that claimed by Freeplay but admittedly dependent on the volume – and that 1 hour of solar charging in bright sunlight gave 33 minutes. (See also: 8 best iPhone battery cases: best iPhone 5 and 5s battery cases of 2014 .)

Freeplay TUF review: torch

The torch has a luminous flux (total light output) of 17-20 lumen and a luminous intensity (a measure of how bright the beam is, a figure that can be increased by focusing the light to a tight beam) of 184 candela. These are figures which are much less than you'd get with most dedicated head torches – not especially bright but fine for emergency use. Light running times are extremely long and easily topped with just a few cranks. (See also: Freeplay ZipCharge rapid charger.)

Freeplay TUF

Freeplay TUF: Specs

  • Crank-powered radio/torch/battery
  • 3.6 V, 600 mAh NiMH internal battery
  • 5 V 25 mA solar panel (specified)
  • 5 V 500 mA wind-up generator (measured at 120 rpm)
  • mini-USB power in for charging, USB power out for charging, 3.5 mm stereo jack for headphones
  • radio: FM 88–108 MHz, AM 520–1700 kHz, SW 3–22 MHz
  • 1 m drop test
  • resistant to light rain and splashing water for short periods (no IP specification quoted)
  • 145 x 60 mm
  • 300g
  • Crank-powered radio/torch/battery
  • 3.6 V, 600 mAh NiMH internal battery
  • 5 V 25 mA solar panel (specified)
  • 5 V 500 mA wind-up generator (measured at 120 rpm)
  • mini-USB power in for charging, USB power out for charging, 3.5 mm stereo jack for headphones
  • radio: FM 88–108 MHz, AM 520–1700 kHz, SW 3–22 MHz
  • 1 m drop test
  • resistant to light rain and splashing water for short periods (no IP specification quoted)
  • 145 x 60 mm
  • 300g

OUR VERDICT

If you want to use a phone or a tablet for significant periods of time while you're away from mains power, the TUF isn't for you. This is a device to provide power when you need it in emergencies, a job it does admirably. Given that being able to see in the dark and listen to radio broadcasts also have useful safety connotations, this is a good all-round package.

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