This Hand-Cranked Cell-Phone Charger Is An Essential Disaster Tool

Hurricane Sandy left many New Yorkers without power, and thereby without cell phones. The Eton crank-charger would have helped them stay in the know.

I was lucky enough to miss out on Hurricane Sandy, because I can’t imagine facing floods, let alone while holed up in an apartment without power, only to lose access to the only device keeping me in touch with the greater world: my smartphone. Because when you do the math—taking into account that the average smartphone only runs a day or two on a charge—you realize that many New Yorkers had been entirely cut off from communications for days before regaining power.

Etón, makers of licensed emergency gear cobranded with the American Red Cross, has what may be the new most essential disaster tool: the BoostTurbine.

It’s industrial design at its simplest, as the BoostTurbine is basically a hand-cranked USB jack (and nothing more besides the internal battery). One minute of spinning the turbine generates 30 seconds of talk time, or "a few critical texts," for a phone. That’s long enough to call 911 or leverage SMS to get various disaster information. I suppose it could be used to check in on your fantasy football team, too, if survival isn’t your chief priority and you’ve been blessed with the forearms of a linebacker.

As of today, the BoostTurbine is available for pre-order, starting at $50. (A colorized version, the BoostTurbine2000, will run you $10 more.)

Order it here.

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  • Tony R.

    I'd put a cell phone charger in the "optional" category for emergency equipment. In a severe emergency, you can't count on the cell phone network operating anymore.  Cell repeaters may have a backup power source, such as a propane-powered generator that comes on automatically, but when the propane is depleted, they'll go down as well.  If fiber optic cables are severed due to sabotage or natural disaster, those cell phone repeaters go off the network and you can't make or receive calls on your cell phone.  Even if the cell phone network is still working, chances are that emergency services are stretched so thin that they can't come to help you.  Most experts in disaster planning suggest that individuals and families should be prepared to survive on their own with no outside help for at least three weeks.  In other words, prepare like you're going on a three-week camping trip to a primitive campsite with no electricity, no natural gas, no phones, no running water and no flush toilets.

    That said, look for a hand-crank emergency generator that will still work after its internal lithium-ion battery is fried from over-cranking or that has circuits to prevent battery failure.  Many of these gadgets on the market use a lithium coin cell to power an LED flashlight, as well as to supply current to recharge a cell phone, but the simple generator circuit is fully capable of producing enough current to destroy the lithium cell the first time you use it.  Eton's datasheet doesn't say if the BoostTurbine2000 has a charging regulator to prevent its internal battery from being destroyed.

  • Wjorth

    Coincidentally, I was looking at the Eaton hand crank chargers along with many others this weekend for the same reason. I could not find any of the hand cranks that puts out 5v needed to really charge the iPhone 4, 5, and iPad. The best I could find puts out 4.2, barely enough to generate some trickle charge. If you just need a minute or two of emergency calling, the Eaton and many less expensive ones will do the trick. But if you want to have your phone on standby for a while, keep looking.

  • Guest

    Voltage over USB is fixed (5 V DC). What you want to look at is amperage - if something can put out over 0.5 A over USB, it should be enough to charge a phone, 1.0 A should do most smartphones and some tablets (though I understand some tablets, like the iPad, need a higher amperage).

  • Dave

    Here's another handcrank generator. It's not an Apple-esque brick, but I'm not sure a brick is what you want. It's output is a 2-prong socket and one minute of cranking gives you one minute of talk time.

    Take a look