After hearing about the Freeplay Summit, I thought it would make an interesting radio to check out. This is after all the next generation of the famous Freeplay Baygen radios. For a brief time a few years ago I had the original Baygen Windup radio until a rancher in Costa Rica talked me out of it one night over dinner. [true story]. The old Baygen windup was fairly simple but it worked.
Frequency Coverage & Memories
The first thing to do is obviously turn the radio on. First I give the radio a few cranks and pressed the POWER button to turn the radio on. After toggling the BAND button, I notice that the radio is preset to the Euro 9 kHz MW (AM) turning steps. Not noticing any switch on the radio, I am forced to pull out the faithful owners manual to switch the Summit to 10 kHz MW (AM) turning steps.
To set the Summit to 10 kHz MW (AM) tuning steps, the radio must be turned off and powered on while pressing the memory preset button 2 at the same time. To set the radio back to the 9 kHz steps, the Summit must be powered up while pressing the memory preset button 1. NOTE: Switching from 9 kHz MW (AM)/50 kHz FM to 10 kHz MW (AM)/50 kHz FM turning steps will erase all 30 memories.
After playing with the radio for a few minutes with the initial few cranks, I take the owner's manual advice and charge the radio's internal battery for 24 hours with the AC wall wart.
TUNING: Tuning the radio is done by pressing the two UP and DOWN "SCAN" buttons on the right side of the display. There is about a ½ second mute when tuning.
VOLUME: Volume is controlled by holding down the UP or DOWN "Volume" buttons to a desired level on the left side of the display.
MEMORIES: The Summit has 30 memories. 5 - Shortwave, 5 - Longwave, 10 - MW (AM) and 10 - FM. Notice that the radio only has 5 memory buttons. On the right side of Memory 5 is a button labeled +5 that is used to store and recall memories 6 through 10. Storing a memory is fairly simple. Press MEM and then the memory number button. Storing a memory in the 6-10 bank can be a bit cumbersome. Press MEM then +5 then which ever memory number you wish to store for memories 6 to 10 (1 = 6, 2 =7, etc) To recall the memories is fairly simple. To recall memories 6 to 10, press +5 first then the memory number you wish to recall.
SLEEP: Anyone who uses a bedside radio appreciates this feature. Unfortunately the sleep function on the Summit works in reverse to every other radio I have used. The SLEEP button must be pressed and held down while the display counts up in 10-minute increments up to 60 minutes max. If you go past the 60-minute mark then the radio shuts off and you must repeat this process again if you wish to engage the sleep function. The sleep button is about as frustrating as trying to set the clock on a common digital clock radio. Note that the radio can be turned on by simply pressing the sleep button but radio will only stay on for 10 minutes before shutting off.
LIGHT: Pressing the light button illuminate only the LCD display. The light does not stay illuminated while pressing any other buttons (i.e. Volume, Scan, etc). The display only stays illuminated for about 4.5 seconds.
BAND: Toggles through the various bands in this rather confusing order - LW - FM - MW - SW
ALARM - ALARM SET - TIME SET - SNOOZE: If you can set a typical bedside digital alarm clock radio you won't have any problems here
What's Reception Like?
FM: FM reception is quite good. Reception improved by attaching the windup wire antenna to the midget 10" stock antenna.
MW (AM): The Summit holds it's own on MW though not a DX machine. While turning around at night, a station could be heard on just about every channel.
SW (Shortwave): Perhaps the biggest disappointment. The summit suffers terribly from images or in other words, hearing stations on frequencies where they really are not supposed to be. The 10"stock midge telescopic antenna is all but worthless on shortwave. Use of the wind-up wire antenna is a must for shortwave. The bandwidth appears at times to be as wide as 30 kHz depending on the strength of a station on the adjacent frequency. You could be listening to Radio Habana Cuba on 6000 kHz and on a good night be tuning them in as far down as 5985 kHz and as high as 6015 kHz.
Scan Button: Holding the SCAN button down for about 1 second puts the Summit into a "search mode". The radio tunes up or down depending on which button you hold down until the Summit finds a strong signal to lock on to. This feature seems to work on FM but on MW and Shortwave the signal has to be super strong. When I tested the radio on MW one night, I could not get the radio to lock on to a single station except a 1 kW MW station about a mile from my house. Shortwave doesn't fair much better. Getting a station to lock on in the "scan mode" is almost impossible. For all intent and purpose, this feature is practically useless.
Sleep: The "up sequence" from 10 to 60 mintues is totally reverse to what all other radios that I have seen which feature a Sleep function. Adding insult to injury, the radio shuts off once it passes 60 minutes thus forcing you to start all over again. It's great that you can turn the radio on by pressing the SLEEP but not very useful. Giving the SLEEP button a quick poke only gives you 10 minutes of time before the radio shuts off.
Memory Beeps: The loud beep every time you press a memory recall button is outrageous. This isn't a car radio but a portable radio. If you are using headphones, the beep is almost deafening.
Lack Of Memories On Shortwave: With only 5 memories and no direct frequency entry, the user is forced to pick one station per band for quicker access to the shortwave frequency desired.
Frequency Coverage: The 49 meter band starts way too high at 5950 kHz. A good portion of 49 meters is missed.
Too Wide Bandwidth/Imaging Problem: This definitely needs to be improved upon. Radios costing much less do much better with this frequent problem. Hearing a station and not splatter 15 kHz off frequency is unacceptable.
No Carrying String: The Summit comes with a black cloth bag that is supposed to be used to carry the radio around in but once you put the radio in the bag, there is no room for the added accessories (i.e. The wall wart and the ever so necessary wind-up antenna. A carrying string would be more handy. The radio is also very bulky and is hard to turn while sitting in the palm of your hand. Fortunately the radio appears to built pretty tough incase you drop it.
Longer Telescopic Antenna: The telescopic antenna only serves to receive medium to strong FM signals. On shortwave it is practically useless. The bottom line: If you forget the wind-up wire antenna you are screwed.
Battery Life: The user's manual claims 20 hours of use when the radio's internal NiMH batteries are fully charged. Though I didn't time the radio after a full charge, the radio appeared to perform to what the Freeplay claims. There is plenty of life in the radio when fully charged. 30 seconds of cranking the radio gives about 30 minutes of playtime. Before the batteries totally run out, the Summit's radio will not play but it leaves enough power to run the clock for a period of time so you do not have to reset the clock every time the batteries die.
PlaySkool Tough? The radio appears to be rugged and able to take a few falls.
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