Freeplay light + radio bundle at CostCo

mcjamison

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I was at my local CostCo yesterday (Mountain View, California, USA), and saw that they're selling a bundle of two Freeplay hand-cranked items: The model 2020 flashlight (3 white LEDs when cranked, a Xenon bulb when running on its built-in NiCad), and a small radio that might be the S-360. The pair of items, in one big plastic package, was going for $59. It's easy to find the flashlight alone on the web for over $10 more than that, so this looks like a pretty good deal.

I was just stopping in to order a cake, but I was sorely tempted...anyone have any comments on these items?

You can learn a bit more about them here.

-- Jamie
 

StuU

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I have the original wind-up radio from Baygen. These were on sale just a few months ago. It's a tough little radio and plays with gusto- a minute of windup goes for about 27 minutes. Dial is analog & not well defined. The whole outfit is very tough- designed for use in back villages of Africa & elsewhere. I'm impressed tho it is a little bit clunky.

The newer models of the Baygen Freeplay radio are neat. One has not only the windup generator but also can run on photocell & rechargeables. It also has a built in led light that is maneuverable. So.... less than a minutes windup gives 30 minutes of radio and light. If this is the model at Costco.....get it now!

I don't know about the flashlight.....but it's likely very tough.
 

Steelwolf

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I have the S-360 radio and the other windup light, the Freeplay Supernova. Both are wonderful packages. I'm just looking to see if I can modify the light to accept a solar cell and some LEDs. IMHO, that is what is sorely lacking in the Freeplay lights, the ability to charge up with solar. And the Supernova, though it is cool and can power 3V devices, I believe it lags because the power is quickly eaten up by the xenon bulb. LEDs would have increased it's usefulness. The 2020 is certainly a better package for a Freeplay light and I would have bought it but no one seems to import this here. And then the Supernova went on sale to AU$69, $100 less than its usual price. Just couldn't pass it up.

As for the radio, they could have made the receiver digital. I know of many lighter-sized personal digital AM/FM receivers that would be better in place of the analog system currently used. And these have the ability to retain the pre-set tuning despite power loss, though that is not such a worrisome thing. But on the other hand, the digital receivers would probably cost more and that is not what they would want if they want to make it affordable to their original target, the villagers in third world countries.

Certainly, the Freeplay systems are very robust and having the package of the 2020 light and S360 radio at a mere US$59 is a ridiculously good buy. They do lag in the areas I mentioned, but those do not really detract from the overall performance of either device.
 

mcjamison

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Okay, couldn't resist! I bought the package a couple days ago.

The Freeplay 2020Flashlight:

This really is, literally, two flashlights in one, sharing a case and a switch. One is a rechargable NiCad with a Xenon bulb, the other is powered by the hand-cranked, spring-driven generator with 3 white LEDs. A three-position switch selects between "off" or one of the functions. It's heavy, about 2.5 pounds, not water-resistant, and due to its weight and mechanical nature, probably wouldn't survive a fall very well.

Overall, I'm not really impressed with the practicality of this flashlight, unless you live in the third world where batteries are unavailable, or the first world comes to TEOTWAWKI.

The Xenon bulb is fairly bright, and casts a wide even beam. Wider than the UK 4AA that I pulled out for comparison, but, I'd say with less total light output. It claims to run for about 45 minutes off this rechargable NiCad battery. The manual recommends that you NOT leave it plugged into the included power adaptor continuously, as this will be bad for the battery. Peering through the clear plastic case, one can see this battery, a single unit (about the size of two AA's wrapped together) with the label "Golden Power" and "2.4V 1100 MAH". The self-discharge rate of NiCads means that, unless I'm diligent about charging this up occasionally, it'll probably be dead or nearly dead when I have an unanticipated need for it.

The LED light is about as bright as my Eternalight at its third-highest brightness level, and noticeably less bright than a Lightwave Illuminator (Lightwave 2000 in headlamp form). Total ight output may be comparable to my PAL Gold, though much wider (and thus not as bright in the center). About 25 seconds of reasonably vigorous cranking gets it wound up all the way, and it runs for just over 10 minutes on that wind-up. The light does NOT run while you're cranking, unless you have some juice in the NiCad and switch to the Xenon bulb. When the spring runs out, the light quits suddenly and without warning.

If you have some energy stored up in the crank when the light is in the "off" position, the spring will still unwind, putting out a very small amount light through the LEDs - less than the PAL-light's "always on" mode, but perhaps helpful in finding the light in the dark. I don't know how long it will last in this mode; it makes a small amount of noise this way, while it turns much faster (and makes much more noise) when the LED light is "on".

Let's do some math comparing this to the Eternalight at its 3rd brightness setting. The Eternalight should supposedly last 150 hours at this setting on a set of 3 AAs. To get that many hours of light from the Freeplay, you would have to wind the crank for about 3.5% of that time, or 5.25 hours. Since I get my AAs in bulk for much less than $0.25 each, it's like I'm getting paid less than fourteen cents an hour for that tedious cranking.

For a three hour evening of fussing around a campsite and reading in the tent, you will have to wind this light up around 18 times, spending at least 7.5 minutes of your evening doing it every 10 minutes (probably much more time cranking, really, as you won't be cranking as vigorously by the end of the evening). If you have left sufficient charge in the Nicad battery, at least you won't have to crank in darkness, though you'll still need to find the flashlight in the dark unless you start cranking it before it runs out - which would require a countdown timer or very frequent cranking breaks.

Basically, with this flashlight, you'll spend much of your time and attention on keeping the light going, rather than on the task at hand -- whether it's handling an emergency (where having the light run out after ten minutes could be disastrous), doing odd jobs around the house, or hanging out around a campsite. There are AA and C-battery driven flashlights that give much brighter light than the Freeplay's Xenon bulb for much longer than its 45-minute runtime, and there are LED-driven flashlights with brighter light and enough runtime to last through any emergency or camping trip -- all in packages that are smaller, lighter, quieter, more water- and shock-resistant, and handier to use.

This light is often found for over $70 retail - at that price, your money would be better spent on one of the fine LED flashlights often discussed in this forum, and/or a 2AA or 4AA incandescent. Even at $30 (half of this $59 package), a Lightwave 2000 will give more light in a vastly smaller and more convenient package, with battery life that gives almost as much freedom from running out -- and without any cranking.

The Freeplay S360 Radio

I am a bit more enthusiastic about the radio part of the package. The S-360 has a single power system, based on a small internal rechargable battery, which can draw power from the hand-cranked-spring-driven generator, a built-in solar cell, or be charged via an AC adaptor (not the same voltage as the flashlight, and not included in this kit). About a half minute of cranking got me a shade under 30 minutes of radio play. The spring mechanism makes a lot of noise, but it thankfully only ran about 5 minutes of that time - by then, it had dumped all its energy into the battery. If you don't like the noise, you at least have the option of cranking the radio now and then just before you leave the room, so that it'll be charged the next time you want to listen. The sound is quite reasonable for a small radio, and the size isn't out of line for a small radio with speaker. I just tried it outside in the mid-day sun, and it can indeed run right off the solar cell.

I wish they had duplicated this power system in the flashlight, even without the solar cell. If I could crank up the handle anytime during the day to charge up the flashlight's battery, and then use that battery to run either the Xenon or LED lamps, the 2020 would be a more practical flashlight.
 

Steelwolf

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mcjamison, I'm sorry you did not find the Freeplay 2020 to be as good as you expected. From what you said, am I to understand that the xenon light can only be powered via the battery, the spring powers only the LEDs, the battery cannot be recharged through the spring and the LEDs can't run off the battery? Man, that SUCKS!
frown.gif


I honestly thought the 2020 would be better than the Freeplay Supernova, because the LEDs would take less power than a xenon bulb. The Supernova is able to charge its battery through the spring and I thought the 2020 would be able to do the same. The xenon bulb in the Supernova has 2 settings, high and low, and can run about 7-8 minutes (claimed 10 minutes) at low setting straight off the spring. It is also claimed to run 2 hours at low and 45 minutes at high if the battery is fully charged. I have not tested these run times yet.

The reflector can be twisted off so that the bulb or battery pack can be replaced easily. This also exposes a switch, which turns the flashlight in to a flashing system. It flashes about every other 1/2 second and can flash at either intensity (high or low).
BTW, the intensity is controlled by the filaments within the bulb. The bulb is a 2 filament, 3-pin bulb. One of the pins is a common ground. 2.4V are fed across either of the other pins depending on the desired intensity, but not to both filaments at the same time. ie Low setting, one filament is powered; high setting, the first filament is extinguished and the second filament is powered.

The battery is basically 2 NiCd "AA" side-by-side and labled "2.4V 650mAH", but that is no great worry as one can easily reach it and replace it with a higher capacity battery if needed. I'm still looking to see how it can be modified to be a better light. As I mentioned, solar cells for daylight re-charging seem to be in order, as does upgrading the battery to either a higher capacity pack or removing the pack altogether and putting in a case so that alkalines may be inserted if required. I'm also looking at setting up a lantern format utilising LEDs as one more lighting option, but I'm still pondering this as the system does not naturally have the 3.6V required for white LEDs. Even the purported 3V output port is really only connected to the battery (thus 2.4V). Therefore, some sort of step-up circuit is required.
 

mcjamison

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<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR>Originally posted by Steelwolf:
mcjamison, I'm sorry you did not find the Freeplay 2020 to be as good as you expected. From what you said, am I to understand that the xenon light can only be powered via the battery, the spring powers only the LEDs, the battery cannot be recharged through the spring and the LEDs can't run off the battery? Man, that SUCKS!
frown.gif

<HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

Sadly, this seems to be the case. At least, this is what their documentation says, including the web page at http://www.freeplay.net/newsite/product/2020.html

It's possible that the docs are decieving - I don't think I've actually done the experiment of draining down the battery and seeing whether the generator will recharge it. I'll try to perform this double-check this week.

-- Jamie
 

mcjamison

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<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR>Originally posted by mcjamison:
It's possible that the docs are decieving - I don't think I've actually done the experiment of draining down the battery and seeing whether the generator will recharge it. I'll try to perform this double-check this week.
-- Jamie
<HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

Well, I tried it, and it appeared for a moment that my assessment was wrong - but alas, that was only some sort of "rested battery" effect. There were a couple seconds of light from the Xenon bulb, then nothing, after a great deal of cranking.
 

Steelwolf

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Perth, Western Australia
That really sucks.
frown.gif
But perhaps all is not lost, if you are willing to make a few customizations.

The first would be to run an extra pair of wires from the generator to the battery with a diode in-line. The diode is there to prevent discharge when the generator is not running. I imagine that you would not have to step down the output voltage from the generator as it will probably be made to generate about 3.6V to 4.5V. But check that first before you start soldering. If you don't have a voltmeter, then just look at the arrangement of the LEDs. Are they in parallel or in series? Parallel = 3.6V to 4.5V, series = 10.8V to 12V. If you need to limit the voltage, a zener diode of suitable breakdown voltage should be put in parallel with the battery. (probably 2.6V or thereabouts)

That modification will allow you to charge the battery from the spring. The more difficult part is how to run LEDs from the 2.4V rechargeable batteries. We have not found the best circuit to acheive this yet, but perhaps Peter Gransee could be persuaded to start selling his circuit as a sort of power pack module.

Best of luck.
 
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