Eton FR600 Solarlink review

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hertzian

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Just picked up an Eton Solarlink FR600 emergency radio as an upgrade for my grab-n-go bag and am very pleased, so thought I'd share some thoughts, especially in regards to HF. It is a slightly different animal as compared to the earlier FR500 (which I don't have).

I won't rehash every gizmo operation, so here is what are the standouts for me - this is an emergency radio, not a daily-driver. If it was, I could easily just tear it apart.

LOUD audio. Nope, not high-fidelity, but definitely mid-range comms. This is perfect for emergency ops to actually hear your radio over the din of a storm. Audio is still very good on HF, and is not too tiring to listen to. Listener-fatigue is important if you are going to have this by your side for 48 hours straight.

I wasn't expecting much in the HF department, but it is holding up at least as well as my Grundig G3. Frequency coverage is actually 2.3 to 23 mhz continuous. It is a digital tuner, and there is no VFO knob. All you have are 10 SW memories, and you use only the up or down buttons. It will scan the bands, and stop on a strong signal. Or, you can just manually step your way through 5 khz at a time. This can be laborious, so it is best to kind of know where you want to go beforehand, or just be very patient. To make it easier, just populate the 10 memories with the starting freq of each band, and you can tune up or down from those - or obviously just store known frequencies.

I think this differs from the earlier FR500, which I believe was an analog tuner with digital display and VFO knob which was still was prone to drift. No drifting detected yet on the 600.

Sensitivity and selectivity were surprising for an $80 radio. Yes, the 1-foot long whip could use some help at times. :) Grab an alligator clip with about 10 feet of wire and use that if you need to. AND, you can always add a radial if you are VERY CAREFUL, and just fold back a small amount of wire and gently press it into the earphone jack just to establish a pressure-fit for an rf-ground connection. Be SAFE - think of q-tips and ear-canal damage - don't go too far as you don't want to trash your emergency radio by poking wires where they aren't really meant to go.

I can't tell if it is a single-conversion or dual-conversion receiver! I haven't been able to spec it out, but if it is a single-conversion type, they seem to have the image rejection under control. Maybe I just haven't discovered it yet, but stations seem to appear in the allocations they are supposed to.

I'm still training the 3V/3600 mAh internal NIMH battery pack with at least two-to-three full charge/discharge cycles. I'm pretty sure many may not do this out of the box, and wonder why only 90 seconds of hand-cranking doesn't last very long. :) For the AA's (which don't get recharged in the unit), I'm actually going to use Lithiums - or possibly eneloops or similar in a pinch.

MW and FM seem ok. FM Stereo even with the headphone jack. Both sound good, and I was able to get a pretty sharp null on many of the am stations I listened to.

I gambled on the SW feature, and for me it does great. Not my daily-driver swl rig to be sure, but I'm really glad to have all this in one package. I was expecting less and got more. There are a million radio / power combinations that could beat the pants off this rig, but for me, this is a very nice upgrade for the grab-n-go box.
 
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hertzian

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Update -

The nimh battery pack is rated for 3.6v at 600 mah, NOT 3600 mah. I should have put on my glasses. :)

A clue as to the charging times comes from my buddies lower-cost FR360 that doesn't have shortwave although it shares the same pack: It takes about 10 hours of direct sunlight to charge the battery. Or, if charged from an external 5v dc suppy, about two hours.

In order to charge the battery from the solar cell, make sure the switch is in the solar position. Don't count on the trick of solar-power only to run the radio - you need very bright light, and pull the battery pack so that it isn't trying to charge it at the same time. Realistically, in an emergency it is likely you'll be in some sort of shelter anyway, and it would be better use of time to use the cell for charging rather than doing a self-powering trick. The smaller FR360 model can't do self-powering anyway.

So in reality, unless you have a day to waste on charging, the solar just helps keep the discharge rate lower - or perhaps keep the battery trickle charging if you leave it in sunlight or under a strong lamp. This point is moot if you place this in an emergency bag or other dark place. Best bet there is to do a full charge/discharge/charge cycle every once in awhile just to keep the battery healthy.

For external DC, put it in the dynamo position for charging. All other positions shows "low battery" during an external charge unless it is in this position.

If you use an external wall-wart for charging, don't be surprised if reception is bad if you are using a switching-type power supply, and not a linear-type.

The FR600 has a mini-usb port for external power - so get a USB-miniUSB adapter cord and keep that in your bag so that you can tap off any computer like a laptop that you can sip power from too.

At least the FR600 has a battery-gauge which is very helpful, unlike the 360 which doesn't have this.

Initial nimh training: Chicken and egg problem if you don't have any external power to do it from. It will take at LEAST 12 hours of bright sunlight in the solar position to charge the battery, so we're talking about 2 or 3 days to do this routine strictly from solar. :)

At any rate, I'm getting about 6 hours of playback at moderately low volume levels during this training period relying solely on the supplied internal battery. This will be good enough if I drain my lithiums first - hoping that an outage won't last that long. Then again at that point, I'll be using the armstrong-method with the dynamo. :)
 
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hertzian

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For external DC, put it in the dynamo position for charging. All other positions shows "low battery" during an external charge unless it is in this position.
Um, figured this out. Kind of funny actually.

Power switch positions:

Battery - uses your AA's only. Low battery will show if none installed. :)

Solar - Will charge the internal battery, and if you are lucky with amazingly bright light, might even power the radio. Here's the good part: "Low Battery" will inform you that you may not be receiving enough light from that big nuclear yellow battery out in space - EVEN IF your internal oem battery is fully charged. So the "Low battery" warning here in the solar position is just a light-meter.

Dynamo - aka internal-oem-battery. Obviously also means that you need this switch in this position to crank-charge it.

** This would be very important not to get mixed up if you plan on using AA's as well and want to use those first and save the smaller oem battery for later. In this case, make sure you start out with BATTERY, and then later switch to DYNAMO, otherwise you could end up depleting your small nimh first. **

OFF / Phone charger : Means you can use the dynamo to charge your cellphone OR will try to use sun-power from the solar cell to charge a phone. Yep, "low battery" in this switch position indicates just too low a light level, and does not really reflect any sort of battery condition.

NOW I understand some of the bad reviews where they claim they charged the unit for days on end, but as soon as they flipped to the Solar position, it claims the battery is low.

Just gotta' know if you are referencing the earth-bound battery, or the big one in space. :)
 
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hertzian

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YES! Solar works!

Finally a totally bright day. Generally, for solar to work - and even power the radio at the same time - means that you need direct sunlight with no clouds, smog, haze etc. Kind of obvious, but what I thought was bright was just not bright enough to review it properly.

Emergency tips: If you are in an extremely cold climate, the battery may get too cold to take a charge by either the sun or dynamo. Fortunately the unit is slim enough without too many external projections to make it easy to slip under your jacket against your chest. If it isn't too cold, you may be able to just expose the cell under the jacket. If you are laying down, face the cell towards the sun obviously, or towards a reflective surface like a snowbank or similar.

If you are really in a world of extreme cold, you could take the battery out and place it underneath your armpit to warm it up. (assuming you aren't sweating like crazy to short anything) Re-attach it, and crank the dynamo for awhile. Repeat as needed.

In an extremely hot climate, charging the battery could damage it. I definitely wouldn't charge it while inside a hot vehicle. You can attempt to air-cool the battery somewhat by sliding it out of the internal holder and letting it dangle in the air before charging.

Sounds funny now, but you never know.
 

hertzian

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Just picked up another one for parts after my coworker smoked his with some unknown value wall-wart. So I took it apart. :)

The looseness of the rotary switches is because they aren't actually rotary, but mechanical linkages to slide switches. I've seen this in the S350DL as well. Ok, I can deal with that.

Noticed that the extremely thin jumper wire from the antenna to the board was kinked and actually separated internally. I'm not sure if he did that after opening it himself, or if it was kinked during manufacture when they snapped the case closed. Might be a quick fix for those with practically no reception.

Unfortunately, he smoked the cpu with that unknown wall-wart so basically not much was working.

This makes me wonder if there is any sort of current-limiting in regards to the 5V input. Perhaps not, so be very careful if you are using a wall-wart of your own and use a very low current type or the one they offer separately.

I plan to just charge mine via the dynamo, solar cell, or the mini-usb 5V input port instead of any transformer just to play it safe.
 

hertzian

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Earlier model FR-500 comparison

Got my hands on an earlier similar-looking model, the FR-500 from a relative who wants it back when I'm done. :)

Aside from having only simple NOAA alerts, (the newer FR600 has both alerts and warnings, SAME, etc) the difference in shortwave performance was eye-opening.

The FR-500 is an analog tuner with a vfo knob, rather than being digitally tuned with up and down buttons as with the 600. The BIG problem here is that tuning on shortwave is complicated by the fact that when you rotate the vfo knob, there is a tendency to also rotate the concentric bandswitch. This makes tuning SW basically a two-handed affair. Along with that the SW tuning is pretty touchy and plenty of backlash.

FR-500 coverage is 5.7 mhz to 12.2 mhz continuous, whereas the 600 is 3.2 to 23 mhz. (Some web sites might mistakenly list the 600's coverage as 5.7 to 12.2 mhz, but this is wrong)

Plenty of single-conversion images with the 500. The 600 is much better in this regard - I couldn't find any images at my location.

On my 500 loaner, the display itself generated a lot of noise on SW, especially if you get your hands near it. One quick cure was to use a small radial looped around the rubber plug and pressed onto the ground of the audio-in jack and just left hanging for a few feet. The 600 is very quiet and I couldn't detect any display noise.

Both units only have 1-foot long whips that could use some help. Clipping on an additional wire to the 500's whip only picked up a lot of the display noise.

One solution which worked well was to just make a small wire loop that connected back to the ground of the audio-in jack up to the tip of the whip - display noise was way down, and the small loop makes a great improvement. You can use this trick on the 600 too, although it wasn't plagued with so much internally generated display noise. The loop doesn't have to be perfectly shaped either.

(Note: this small loop trick doesn't work on ALL portables. On my Grundig S350DL for example, it only worked on the SW1 band, whereas on SW2 and SW3, it seemed like a direct short.)

I'm running both radios from the internal rechargeable battery. Both units seemed to take about 4 hours to fully charge from the mini-usb charger jack. And 10 hours or more for solar power in totally bright direct sunlight. I'm leery of using any wall-wart for charging, not being sure there is any form of current-limiting.

So if you are into shortwave, and like the extra NOAA features, an upgrade to the latest 600 model would make sense.
 
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jetcrafter

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Got my hands on an earlier similar-looking model, the FR-500 from a relative who wants it back when I'm done. :)
Hertzian,

Thanks for all your reviews on the 600 and especially this one comparing the 500 to the 600.

I had an FR-200 for a few years and decided to get a new one. I liked what I saw for features
on the 500. I just didn't know if I wanted to spend $80 for one. Well, fortunately, I live not too
far from a Brookstone Outlet store which often sells Grundig/Eton radios. I've bought two mini 100s
and one mini 300 there before at half price! When I was there two weeks ago, they had two
FR-600 Solarlink Red Cross versions. I bought one for $39. I was pleasantly surprised how well
the radio worked given the reviews I read all over the net about the 500 and how poorly it performed
in all aspects (radio and power). Your review here and explainations showing the difference between the
two radios makes sense now. Eton must have re-engineered the radio internally but kept most of
the external features the same.

My one and only huge complaint so far is how awful the owner's
manual is. It doesn't explain anything. That's how I stumbled across you here on RR.com. I was
looking to see if anyone else may explain how some features worked. To this day, I STILL don't
know what the second LED is for next to the one that shows Green when cranking and Red when
charging via PC or Solar. I am also looking to see if there is a way I can test the S.A.M.E. alerts
myself. I went into the settings and turned on everything for weather alerts. Well, so far, I did
hear and see it work once for a weekly test which lit up the amber LED under Emergency. Great, at
least I know it works now. I've even sent Eton an email requesting this info but have not received
an answer for over a week now.

Well, enough of my rambling on. Just wanted to say thanks and I appreciate your reviews. Keep them
coming. I'll check back often. If you need me to answer or compare anything on mine, feel free to ask.
 

hertzian

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On the FR600, I don't know what the right-hand led above the crank is for either. :)

On the older FR500 that shares basically the same casing, the right hand led is a tri-color type that just indicates the rechargeable battery status, (green-full, yellow-half, and red-empty). Perhaps on the FR600 it is just a dummy led slot - since now the battery status is part of the display.

Also, the older FR500 only indicates the time when in the solar or cell position - the FR600 kindly lets you know that the sunlight level is too low to do much good - although you have interpret the "low battery" to mean low-sunlight in those positions.

I'm actually impressed with the improved engineering for shortwave on the 600. Even the filter seems to be much narrower on the 600 which improves things too.

One thing the older FR500 will do is shut itself down when the batteries get too low and leave just the clock running. The 600 will drain the battery to the dregs until the display goes blank. I'm undecided about if this is a good thing or not with the 600 - you might get a few minutes more reception, but then there is the possibility that you can drain the rechargeables so much that you might get a cell-reversal and not be able to charge it again. So with the 600, keep an eye on it if you reach the point where the display goes dim and recharge it for sure.

Still, neither one is a daily driver. :)
 
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jetcrafter

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Reply from Eton

Eton replied to my email.

I asked:
What are the two LEDs just above the crank? What is the purpose of each one? (Left and Right) What do the colors mean?

Reply:
It looks like there should be two LEDs, but there's only one, on the left side. It turns red when you plug in an AC adapter and it turns green when you're crank charging the unit.

I asked:
Could you also tell me if there is a way I can test the Weather Alert myself?

Reply:
Weather alert can be tested every Wednesday from 11 am to noon. Just put you're radio into alert mode and listen during this time period.

So, that's what I was told by Eton. They were very responsive, kind and courteous. It turns out
they replied to my emails very quickly and I forgot to check the alternate email I sent them as
I don't give out my regular email address to businesses for spam reasons. Disreguard my previous
statement above about not hearing from them in over a week. It was my fault, not Eton.

You nailed it about the second LED being a dummy slot from the 500 case sharing.
Thanks for the information about not letting the batteries run out. I'll make sure it won't happen.
 
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wb8ykh

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Low Battery

I recently purchased the FR-600 and found your thread most helpful. Thanks! I do need some additional insight...

I have tried charging the internal ni-cad pack via the rear left "DC IN" USB computer cable and after 24hrs the battery display indicator only shows 2 bars or 3/4 charge when in Dynamo position. Is this normal or to be expected?

How long does it take to charge the internal nic-cad pack from the USB Computer cable via DC IN?

"For external DC, put it in the dynamo position for charging. All other positions shows "low battery" during an external charge unless it is in this position."

Will the unit charge the internal ni-cad pack regardless of the selector position or must the selector stay on Dynamo to charge the internal ni-cad pack?

What is the best way to ensure the internal nic-cad pack stays fully charged for emergencies?


Update -

The nimh battery pack is rated for 3.6v at 600 mah, NOT 3600 mah. I should have put on my glasses. :)

A clue as to the charging times comes from my buddies lower-cost FR360 that doesn't have shortwave although it shares the same pack: It takes about 10 hours of direct sunlight to charge the battery. Or, if charged from an external 5v dc suppy, about two hours.

In order to charge the battery from the solar cell, make sure the switch is in the solar position. Don't count on the trick of solar-power only to run the radio - you need very bright light, and pull the battery pack so that it isn't trying to charge it at the same time. Realistically, in an emergency it is likely you'll be in some sort of shelter anyway, and it would be better use of time to use the cell for charging rather than doing a self-powering trick. The smaller FR360 model can't do self-powering anyway.

So in reality, unless you have a day to waste on charging, the solar just helps keep the discharge rate lower - or perhaps keep the battery trickle charging if you leave it in sunlight or under a strong lamp. This point is moot if you place this in an emergency bag or other dark place. Best bet there is to do a full charge/discharge/charge cycle every once in awhile just to keep the battery healthy.

For external DC, put it in the dynamo position for charging. All other positions shows "low battery" during an external charge unless it is in this position.

If you use an external wall-wart for charging, don't be surprised if reception is bad if you are using a switching-type power supply, and not a linear-type.

The FR600 has a mini-usb port for external power - so get a USB-miniUSB adapter cord and keep that in your bag so that you can tap off any computer like a laptop that you can sip power from too.

At least the FR600 has a battery-gauge which is very helpful, unlike the 360 which doesn't have this.

Initial nimh training: Chicken and egg problem if you don't have any external power to do it from. It will take at LEAST 12 hours of bright sunlight in the solar position to charge the battery, so we're talking about 2 or 3 days to do this routine strictly from solar. :)

At any rate, I'm getting about 6 hours of playback at moderately low volume levels during this training period relying solely on the supplied internal battery. This will be good enough if I drain my lithiums first - hoping that an outage won't last that long. Then again at that point, I'll be using the armstrong-method with the dynamo. :)
 

hertzian

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I have tried charging the internal ni-cad pack via the rear left "DC IN" USB computer cable and after 24hrs the battery display indicator only shows 2 bars or 3/4 charge when in Dynamo position. Is this normal or to be expected?
I have a love/hate relationship with these radios. :)

I noticed the same thing. One thing I can tell you for sure is that when they say 5 volts dc-input, they mean it! I accidentally used a 6V charger and immediately fried an FR-600. Since then, I am very leery of using an external charger for the dc-input as I suspect there is no overvoltage / current protection.

How long does it take to charge the internal nic-cad pack from the USB Computer cable via DC IN?
I forgot, but I think about 4 - 6 hours. I'll have to check it again. After my bad experience with the DC-input, I'm going to rely on the main USB port for charging externally.

Will the unit charge the internal ni-cad pack regardless of the selector position or must the selector stay on Dynamo to charge the internal ni-cad pack?
I'll have to check again - the radio is stashed in another location the last couple of months.

What is the best way to ensure the internal nic-cad pack stays fully charged for emergencies?
That's the big problem! The pack itself like all nimh batteries has a very high self-drain rate, so if you charge it and stash it, you can expect to have to initially charge it again somehow - usually not very convenient at the start of an emergency. AND, I am not sure of the quality of the pack itself - I don't know if it will last for years sitting uncharged, or just lightly used - time will tell.

Like all normal nimh battery packs, they need an initial set of "training", like muscles, to become fit enough to properly store a good charge. I run the radio through about 3 to 4 cycles of complete discharge and charge when new. Then if the radio sat in a drawer unused for 6 months to a year, maybe I'll do another full discharge / charge cycle to keep the pack fit.

It's too bad that ETON didn't think to use the "pre-charged" or EneLoop chemistry with their low self-drain in these nimh packs, which would have been way more applicable than just standard nimh types. These too benefit from a 3-4 full charge/discharge training period.

What I've done is put a good set of alkaline AA's into it, and rely on that as my first emergency source. If the emergency lasts long enough past the point where the AA's are dead, then it's time for the rechargeable pack. Ideally they should have engineered a way to be able to safely select between alkaline AA's and say rechargeable AA's instead of relying on a proprietary pack for the rechargeables.

One thing that is easy to do is to forget that you are actually using the AA's, and forget to turn the radio off when not using it - or perhaps you have the volume down so low enough that you don't notice, and bingo - dead AA's.

So I'm kind of torn with ETON. Great concept with everything packaged together, but they could use a bit of refinement.
 
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BuzzKiller108

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Hertzian - thanks for all the practical information on the FR-600.

Where and what is the secret code(s) to order more 3V/600 mAh internal NIMH battery packs? Radio Shack retail store was not very helpful. Eton's website for accessories do not spell out the 600's battery pack. I think, based upon your information, that a 360's battery pack is the same as the 600?

Can you also point this neophyte to the correct replacement antenna for a 600?

I find that the 5v AC adapter I got from an LL Bean store works excellently for non-battery usage. After reading your very helpful entries here, I am attempting to recharge the NIMH as I am typing.

Thanks for your help.
 

hertzian

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While I can't say for sure, I'd probably take a chance on the 360 battery, or get Eton to verify it. Amazing that their web-store doesn't indicate compatability or even availability of the 500/600 battery.

Same goes for a replacement antenna, so I can't say for sure there. Amazed that RS, who sells a large line of these radios, doesn't stock the replacement batteries - I looked, and only the FR160 battery shows up.
 

mytime34

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FR500 and FR600

Hello,

I have both the FR500 and FR600 and I like and dislike both units.

The FR500 initially had a bad battery, than a bad solar cell (it was out of warranty so I decided to mod it myself)
I installed 3ea AAA 900mah batts internal to the radio (packed in a way that they dont cause any problems)
I also got a new battery pack for the rear compartment (so I should have a total of 1500mah batts capacity)
The solar cell I thought went bad was just a bad zener diode on the main board, after replacing it the radio does not drain quickly anymore, and charges via solar. I also added a rear solar panel 6v 50mah in parallel with the main solar panel and I can run the radio with no batts in low light without any issue.

The FR600 is a little different beast. I bought an AS IS one of ebay that had a bad crank handle (turned out the washer in the handle was broken not allowing it to make full contact when spinning, and now it is fixed). The battery low alarm will not allow the radio to play through the speakers (even when the batts are fully charged for some reason) If I plug the radio into a DC source or USB cable the low batt alarms goes away and the unit runs fine even after unplugging it. But about an hour later it shows low batt again. I know the batts are fully charged as I charge them outside the radio on an R/C charger.
I modified this radio also by adding 3AAA batts inside and 2 rear solar panels. Just like the FR500 this allows the radio to work in solar mode in low light conditions without issue.

We do a lot of camping and outside stuff, so having these radios on hand has been a good thing. Yeah I have had to modify them, but now they meet my specifications.

The solar panels on the rear help in early day and late evening light as is not always overhead and allows the unit to stand up while being charged.

The 2nd set of batteries did increase the weight, but not a big deal for my usage.

My mods are not the prettiest, but they work.
If you would like to see some pics let me know and I can post some.
 

MadProfessor

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Hello,

I have both the FR500 and FR600 and I like and dislike both units.

The FR500 initially had a bad battery, than a bad solar cell (it was out of warranty so I decided to mod it myself)
I installed 3ea AAA 900mah batts internal to the radio (packed in a way that they dont cause any problems)
I also got a new battery pack for the rear compartment (so I should have a total of 1500mah batts capacity)
The solar cell I thought went bad was just a bad zener diode on the main board, after replacing it the radio does not drain quickly anymore, and charges via solar. I also added a rear solar panel 6v 50mah in parallel with the main solar panel and I can run the radio with no batts in low light without any issue.

The FR600 is a little different beast. I bought an AS IS one of ebay that had a bad crank handle (turned out the washer in the handle was broken not allowing it to make full contact when spinning, and now it is fixed). The battery low alarm will not allow the radio to play through the speakers (even when the batts are fully charged for some reason) If I plug the radio into a DC source or USB cable the low batt alarms goes away and the unit runs fine even after unplugging it. But about an hour later it shows low batt again. I know the batts are fully charged as I charge them outside the radio on an R/C charger.
I modified this radio also by adding 3AAA batts inside and 2 rear solar panels. Just like the FR500 this allows the radio to work in solar mode in low light conditions without issue.

We do a lot of camping and outside stuff, so having these radios on hand has been a good thing. Yeah I have had to modify them, but now they meet my specifications.

The solar panels on the rear help in early day and late evening light as is not always overhead and allows the unit to stand up while being charged.

The 2nd set of batteries did increase the weight, but not a big deal for my usage.

My mods are not the prettiest, but they work.
If you would like to see some pics let me know and I can post some.
Greetings folks first post here.

This tread got me here as I'm troubleshooting/upgrading my FR500

1) I'd be interested to see how the internal AAA bats were mounted?

2) taking things apart how hard to wire in the solar panels and AAA bats?

3) How about using a 1.5W 6V panel and a resistor to cut voltage back to ca. 5 volts?

4) I plan on mounting an external 3 X AA bat pack which plugs in to the existing 3.6 V bat plug using a plug from a dead bat and some quick disconnects that allow the bat access through a small grommeted hole in the bat panel cover. This should provide lots of mAh as backup.
 
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