Many times when we discuss Eton we refer to their excellent line of outdoor-focused emergency radios, with flashlights, phone chargers, and solar panels all built-in so you can be in touch no matter what is happening in the world. Eton doesn’t just want you to be on top of the weather when you are out in it, they want you to be able to track “climate events” from the safety of your own home. And while we all have smartphones and a ridiculous number of weather apps at our disposal, Eton offers the ZoneGuard Weather Alert Clock Radio, a stand-alone way to track the weather and important weather-related alerts. Is it worth having a dedicated radio/alert clock in the age of smartphones and tablets? Read on to find out!
A bit smaller than a paperback book, the ZoneGuard is rather compact although a battery/charger hump on the back does make it thicker at one point. The ZoneGuard can be mounted to a wall or, using the included plastic stand, it can be propped up. The hump that holds the batteries also accommodates the wall plug, so you can have it mounted and keep the wires flat against the wall. To power the radio by battery requires three AA batteries. (It is worth noting that we’ve had it on battery power only for the last week and the indicator shows no sign of budging off full. In other words, I wouldn’t worry about it running out of juice mid-power outage if you put fresh batteries in when the power dies.)
ZoneGuard has a number of features; it is an AM/FM radio, an alarm clock, picks up four weather bands, and connects to the S.A.M.E. system for weather alerts. As a radio, it works fairly well. We were able to pick up our local NPR station on FM with far more clarity than any other radio we have in the house, though it did require walking through the living room to find the best spot. I found the same issue to be true with the weather bands- some of them came in quite clearly, and others required me to wander the room and aim the antenna in different directions. If you think you will be relying heavily on the weather bands or the radio in an emergency, be sure to figure out if there are any areas where your radio signal is poor so you aren’t stumbling around in the dark waving the radio ahead of you.
S.A.M.E., or Specific Area Message Encoding, is an alert from N.O.A.A. that pushes weather alerts via county code. The ZoneGuard lets you monitor up to 25 county codes, so you can keep an eye on your area, your family and friend’s areas, etc. ZoneGuard will alert you via flashing lights (red, orange or green) and will also pick up a message letting you know what the alert is. I set up our area, but we’ve had pretty mild weather, and haven’t received any alerts. However, setting it up was easy, the LCD indicates the alerts are set, and I have no doubts that if and when there is an emergency alert in our area the ZoneGuard will let us know.
So is the ZoneGuard an everyday device, an emergency device, or a bit of both? It depends on how much use you’ll get out of the radio and alarm clock. The radio antenna works well and you can program multiple favorite stations. If you routinely head to NOAA for your weather updates, having the weather bands is a major plus. The alarm clock is a nice bonus too. It is very easy to program, and it is incredibly loud. I set it while playing with the clock, and left it downstairs in our living room. The next morning when it went off, it sounded as though it was in our bedroom.. even from downstairs. In other words, if you need a solid, LOUD alarm clock, this is a nice feature. The one drawback that stood out was the LCD screen- it is very cheap and has extremely poor viewing angles. In fact, you really need to be looking at the clock straight on to read it well, though there is a backlight that helps slightly. Still, in the dark, you won’t be able to glance at the clock and see what time it is without pressing power. Even in daylight you probably won’t easily make out an alert message or the time of day from across the room.
LCD screen issues aside, if you routinely deal with power outages in your area or you don’t rely on your smartphone for weather reports, the ZoneGuard is an inexpensive, easy to use device that keeps you in the loop no matter what mother nature has in store!
MSRP: $39.99 from Eton
What I liked: Compact; easy to set up; uses AA batteries; gets strong reception; easy to find weather bands and information; alarm is LOUD
What needs improvement: LCD has very poor viewing angles.