Batteries not necessary

The moment the power goes out is no time to start pawing through drawers for batteries. One solution: flashlights that use a hand-crank generator to light the night.

Several companies carry a throwback Russian Army-style flashlight that works (noisily) with the continuous pumping of a lever. South African firm Freeplay has long sold a radio powered by a carbon-steel spring. Hand-powered cellphone chargers have been emerging.

A new player on the scene is RotoGlo (two for $20 at, which resembles a "Star Trek" phaser and runs one hour for each minute the user turns its retractable crank. It's multitasking sibling RotoRadio (pictured, $20) delivers clear audio, even without antenna extension, though the signal fades with motion. (You get a half hour of both light and sound per minute of cranking.)

In each model, a cluster of three small LED lights - rated for more than 10,000 hours of use - put out a reasonably strong beam. The radio version, with a larger conical mirror, is the brighter of the two. Durability is a question; ours was a short-term test. The company says RotoCharger - a crank-powered power source for charging digital cameras, cellphones, and MP3 players - is coming soon.

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