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Karl’s Home Automation Project – Part 2: 433 MHz / WiFi MQTT Bridge, Door & PIR Motion Sensors

March 2nd, 2017 11 comments

Karl here again for part 2 of my home automation project. We will be looking at how to automate your lights based on time of day and motion. In the first part we setup Home Assistant and uploaded firmware to basic Sonoff Wifi switches. Today we will setup a 433 MHz to MQTT bridge and some sensors.

433 MHz

Depending on your country 433 MHz is an open frequency to use to communicate with. There are hundreds of different types of devices that use 433 MHz to communicate information. We will be focusing on 2 today from Gearbest: WMS07 motion sensor (left) and WDS07 door/window sensor (2 parts, right).

I am not taking the door/window sensor apart, since it is super basic, but I’ve included some photos of the PIR motion detector.

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433 MHz Bridge

While contemplating how to get presence on a per room basis I ran across this project. It monitors 433 MHz signals and publishes it to the MQTT server. It is a really an easy project. It also has an IR to MQTT feature. I did have an IR receiver and tested it but have not implemented it. He has some good instructions on his page so I won’t go over too much. You can do the bare bones version and just leave off the unused sensors. I also went an extra step and added a light intensity sensor and DHT sensor to the project. It can be found here. I am not going to add those to this write up because trying to keep costs down.

What you will need is

  1. NodeMCU $5.69
  2. H3V4F Receiver Module $1.21
  3. Prototyping board $2.88

That is all that is needed. For about $10 you have an inexpensive 433 MHz bridge. You can put in a box if you want and hide it in a central location away from interference. I would suggest soldering headers to your board just in case something goes bad. I didn’t at first and made my life a pain. There are a ton of 433 MHz receivers. I purchased all the ones on Gearbest and this is by far the best. I did upgrade to a superheterodyne but I am not sure it is any better. I upgraded because I wanted to put the door sensor on my mailbox and get a notification when the mail was delivered. It is about 200’ away and is a little spotty even with a new 433 MHz receiver. I used this antenna design (see picture on right), as it seemed to work the best

Coverage is the biggest concern.  I have a brick single story ranch style home about 2000 square feet and it covers the inside with ease and a lot of the area around the house. If you have a multi-story house or would need multiple receivers you would need to change the MQTT topics to avoid getting duplicates. Below is the final project. To be honest temperature is really the only thing that is useful to me, but wanted to see what could be done. I purchase the DHT11 and the readings are not good. If you want to do this go with the DHT22. Below is a mostly loaded bridge. I don’t have an infrared transmitter yet. I have a different one coming that does the encoding/decoding on a chip and will follow up when I receive it. I am hoping it will be easier/better than using the Arduino library.

Motion Sensor

The motion sensor itself is really easy to setup with jumpers. I suggest turning the LED off, and the time to 5 min after finished setting up with the jumpers. If you notice there is a micro switch in the top left of this picture. It is meant to be a tamper switch but I use it as a toggle switch to quickly turn off the lights. The motion sensor is meant to be used for a security system but I just have them sitting on night stands and corner tables. It works really well to override or turn a light on when Home Assistant ignores the motion. A little squeeze of the box and the light will toggle states on or off.

After your bridge is set up and connected take the motion sensor out and put some batteries in it. Run your batch file to see what code is being sent. For this one we need 2: motion and tamper. Write these codes down.

Home Assistant

Below is the YAML code that I am using with Home Assistant. I made it find and replace friendly. If you copy and find the 4 items below it should work. I think it is relatively easy to follow. It is the typical timed lamp on motion that is on Home Assistant website with some slight modifications. I had to add the turn off motion script because the motion sensors only sends when it senses motion. I also had to add the tamper toggle switch. When you are adding multiple sensors you can only have one “binary_sensor:” group and one “automation:” group etc.

Find/Replace Explanation
generic use livingroom or masterbedroom etc no spaces
5555555 use the motion number you found earlier
8888888 make up a number around your tamper/motion number
9999999 use the tamper number you found earlier.

 

Door Sensor

For the mailbox sensor here is an example. Same thing on this one run the batch file and find the open and closed codes. I have it send me a notification via pushbullet.

Almost there

We are almost there. Lights are turning on and off magically. Life is good. But there is one situation where it’s not so good. The gloomy day. With the automations above we cannot determine if the blinds are pulled or it is gloomy. We still need the lights to come on under those circumstances to make it really cool. In the next installment we are going to take the motion sensors above and add a light intensity sensor to them. We will be able to do this cheap. We still have a pretty good budget. With the bridge above you open yourself to a bunch of battery operated sensors. You can also control devices, as well, with a transmitter. Any of the transmitters should work on GearBest. You can get the one linked and throw away the receiver. It’s only $1.25.  If you have any questions or concerns feel free to leave a comment.

Item Qty Price Total
Initial Setup Sonoff Basic 5 $4.85 $24.25
Headers 1 $1.50 $1.50
USB to TTL 1 $2.54 $2.54
$28.29
Motion Sensors NodeMCU 1 $5.69 $5.69
H3V4F Receiver 1 $1.21 $1.21
Prototyping board 1 $2.88 $2.88
Motion Sensor 4 $7.03 $28.12
$37.90
Grand Total $66.19

Karl’s Home Automation Project – Part 1: Home Assistant & YAML, MQTT, Sonoff, and Xmas Lights

February 27th, 2017 24 comments

Karl here. I am here to write about my home automation project. First thing I want to say is that I am very cost conscious and I don’t mind putting in extra effort into the setup of things to keep costs down. I did invest a lot of time and had to do a lot of reading to get my project going. It took while and I received a lot of groans from my wife while testing. I am still in the process of tweaking things.

I started watching a series of videos on YouTube from Bruh Automation. He introduced me to Home Assistant. It got me really excited. He uses a Raspberry Pi as a server but I already had a Wintel Pro CX-W8 Smart TV Box which I use as a server. I run 3 Minecraft Servers, Emby Server, iSpyConnect DVR (2 IP Cameras), Unifi wifi controller, and now MQTT Server, and Home Assistant. Below is screenshot of mostly idle.

If it weren’t for iSpy it would be around 5-10% most of the time. Emby transcoding is the only thing that is stressful and it is not used much. The reason I mention this is because after purchasing a Raspberry Pi with power supply and case, you are not far off from getting a z8300 box. Only downfall is dreaded Windows update auto reboot. I finally looked into it and disabled it. If you decide to use a Windows box, I would make sure you are running 64bit windows. One advantage to using a Raspberry Pi is there is an image on Home assistant with the basics pre-configured and just need to write it to an SD card.

Server side Setup

I won’t go into too much detail on server side, as I installed Python, Mosquitto, and Home Assitant (I followed the guide on their site for Windows)

Python was a breeze to install and just ran the executable and went with defaults. I already had it installed for something else and I am running 3.5.2 64-bit. There are newer versions now. Mosquitto was the most difficult. I followed this guide but substituted Win32OpenSSL_Light-1_0_2j.exe approx 2MB. A k version is available now. Home assistant was easy and used pip.

Christmas Lights

It was a little before Christmas when I started researching home automation. I had been reading about these inexpensive Sonoff devices here on CNX and I found a project on Github for some custom firmware by arendst that enabled them to be controlled by MQTT. (While getting the link it looks like a new project has started with some additional features here). My wife really likes decorating for Xmas and we have 3 trees and lots of lights. She mentioned getting some timers and boom I had my opportunity and ordered them the same night. After receiving It took me a couple nights and I had a simple automation turning Xmas lights on and off at specific times and life was good. I got an extra one to play with until Xmas was over. I redeployed the rest  around the house after Xmas.

MQTT

I really had no idea what this was and it took me a while to grasp. You can use a cloud based MQTT if you would like, but I prefer to run my own. MQTT is a service that relays messages between devices. There are 2 main items topics and payloads. To be able to tell a switch to turn on you send payload “on” to a topic, for example, “cmnd/testbench/power”. The light turns on and it replys back to a topic “stat/testbench/POWER” confirming that the light is on and the message is received. Because we are sending “on” to the topic each device using MQTT will need its own topic. Topics are case sensitive. I made a batch file to subscribe to all topics for troubleshooting so I could monitor the messages. The # indicates all sub topics.

Sonoff

I picked the Sonoff basic but there are also different varieties that add additional features which are supported by arendst software.

Arendst  has been very active with this project and adding/tweaking daily. When I first flashed the device, I did find a defect and notified him and he had it fixed and uploaded within the hour. He has very detailed instructions on the Wiki. First step before flashing is soldering headers. (I link to bent headers…which I initially thought I made a mistake but turned out it was good. They are easy to straighten) A USB to TTL adapter is also needed to upload from Arduino IDE. I recommend one like this because it provides both 3.3 and 5V.  After downloading and setting Arduino up, I only set my WiFi password and SSID in the sketch. After it boots the first time, it connects to your wireless network. Find the IP address in your router, and pop the IP address in your browser to finish the configuration. Set the MQTT server credentials and topic and your done. I never setup credentials on the MQTT server so it accepts any login. Finally after everything is programmed you need to connect it to mains. Beware do not connect mains while TTL is connected.  I bought some extension cords locally. Cut them in half and stripped back a ¼ inch of the insulation. Extension cords use stranded wire so I tinned them with solder to avoid any stray strands from shorting out. Then I screwed them down on the terminals making sure polarity was correct.

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YAML

YAML is unforgiving. It is the formatting that you configure Home Assistant in. A single space will stop Home Assistant from starting. Luckily on this last update if you restart Home Assistant through the browser it will test the configuration file before actually restarting. I purposefully put an extra space on line 54 to show it is easy to find any mistakes.

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I also recommend Notepad++ for editing in windows. You can break your configuration down into different files but I like one. Notepad ++ allows you to collapse the parts you aren’t currently working on.

I recommend adding one thing at a time and restarting to make it easier to find errors. And making a copy of the last working config before adding more. In the config below there are 5 sonoff’s and an automation to turn the lights on and off at specific times. This is extremely basic. I also recommend setting up one new device and be conscious of naming. When you get your config working properly on your first new device I copy the config to a new blank text window and do a find/replace.

Below is the screen capture of collapsed parts, and and full config (minus personal info).

Notice the test bench is on later firmware and the MQTT topic is slightly different

Next Steps

So now I have a smart home, right? Not in my opinion. I can turn lights on and off with a schedule or with my smart phone or at the light by pressing the button on the Sonoff. To me this is not smart. Setting a schedule is OK, but then you have the lights on unnecessarily and wasting electricity. Only real option is to press a button on the Sonoff but what difference is that than flipping a switch. Taking your phone out takes way too long, and I feel like it is going backwards. Below are estimated costs so far. By far the Windows Box will be the most expensive part if you choose to go that way. You can re-purpose just about anything that runs Linux to be a server. One other option is to run Linux on an S905x.

Money Spent

Cost of server not included nor shipping.

Item Qty Price Total
Sonoff Basic 5 $4.85 $24.25
Headers 1 $1.50 $1.50
USB to TTL 1 $2.54 $2.54
Total $28.29

If you find this entertaining or want me to go more in depth on a specific aspect let me know in the comments. I have been finding my time setting it up very satisfying. I am able to do some hardware and software work. I hope this might get your interest in home automation going, and find out it is not hard nor expensive. I would like to state none of the products linked were provided by the sites. I purchased with my own money.

The plan right now is to do a 3 part post. In the next post, we will integrate some inexpensive motion sensors and door sensors using 433mhz, then finally modifying the sensors to include a light intensity sensor.

Xiaomi Mi Box (US) Android TV TV Box Review

February 12th, 2017 19 comments

Introduction

The Mi Box is the first Xiaomi product I have used. I received it beginning of December and have been using it regularly since then. I have received 3 updates which went through uneventfully. I was very pleased with this box. I ended up getting one for my in-laws and one for my 4 year old sons bedroom. The UI worked as expected. I have an Nvidia Shield Android TV, and the Mi Box complements it very well. Having Plex Server running on the Shield and Plex on the Mi Box is pretty fantastic to easily share content. Not to mention way more cost effective than putting a Shield in every room.

What’s Inside

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The build quality is good. The power supply puts out 5.2v which is not typical.

I do wish it had more USB ports. A single USB is inadequate. I found myself swapping USB out frequently during testing. There is optical audio and it has the round form factor. Luckily the cable I had had the adapter attached to the end, and it worked fine. No Ethernet adapter is present either.

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Teardown Photos

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Android TV UI

For anyone unfamiliar with Android TV UI I took a few screen shots. Across the top in the first screen capture a recently used/suggestion line appears. The top line will update based on your usage games, TV shows, YouTube, news etc.

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Not all apps populate this. HBO GO, Plex, Netflix, do update. Immediately below there is a MI Box Recommends section which is static.

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I was able to disable it under setting > apps to unclutter the main screen. These screenshots were taken when I first plugged in the box. I personally like the UI of Android TV and appreciate that Google ensures all apps to work with remotes and a mouse/touchpad is not necessary.

 

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Casting

Another thing that I was forced to use because DirecTV Now does not have an Android TV app yet, is the casting feature. I had it on the Shield but never really used it. Between casting my screen from my phone to most video apps I found it very easy to use. My son will navigate YouTube Kids on his tablet and cast to the TV. This is a feature you won’t find on most android boxes and I found it very convenient and easy to use.

Voice Search

During my usage and showing my son how to use the voice search I grew to like it a lot. Voice searching that is able to return YouTube, Netflix and other video apps is really convenient. My son is 4 and doesn’t speak very clearly yet but it does a good job of recognizing his voice allowing him to find the video’s he wants. (minecraft, lego, minecraft, lego, minecraft, lego) 🙂

Passthrough and Auto Framerate

I spent many many hours trying to find a good combination in Kodi/SPMC/TVMC/FTMC and couldn’t get it to work consistently. DTS only worked for me. I hope they resolve this with software in the future.

Benchmarks/Testing

This is not really fair but I performed a side by side comparison of 3DMark: Xiaomi Mi Box vs Nvidia Shield. I thought it would be interesting to see. Fear not, the Mi Box does well with light gaming. I had no problems playing games that didn’t require a controller.

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WiFi is fair at about 15Mbps on my busy Unifi 2.4 GHz network. I also have a 5GHz N built into my router and strictly using it for testing. I was able to get about 30 Mbps throughput. I still prefer a wired connection when possible and was able to use a USB to Ethernet adapter on the MI Box. I moved 2 files below one on 2.4ghz and one on 5ghz. I don’t have an AC network to test.

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I ran a few other tests and info apps below.

Widevine Level 1 Supported – Click to Enlarge

36,151 points in Antutu – Click to Enlarge

Amlogic @ 2.02 GHz – Click to Enlarge

MIBOX3 board name: once – Click to Enlarge

While reviewing

So not all apps are available due to the restrictions of Android TV and Google necessitating the apps be remote friendly. But you might run into a situation where you want to side load. If you have a air mouse or some other hid device connected it’s not a big deal. In order for to launch them in the past you loaded sideload launcher from the play store, It allows you to see all apps regardless if they are Android TV optimized. It works and is pretty easy. While reviewing I ran across a pretty neat app. TV App Repo. It makes sideloading even better.  What it does is create a small app that is basically a shortcut to your side loaded non Android TV app. Now all the apps can be launched from main screen without navigating to the sideload launcher sub menu. It worked on the few I tested. On the community addition, there are a few apps that it hosts one of which was Amazon Prime video. But I didn’t have luck getting videos to play other than trailers.

Final Thoughts

I wasn’t going to perform any benchmarking on this box. I don’t think that it is relevant. But I knew it would be crucified. This box was in my opinion built to consume media and I think it does it very well. All the streaming media apps worked great. The only drawback is that HDMI passthrough and auto framerate switching did not work consistently enough in Kodi or Plex. Streaming from HDHomerun works well even over WiFi. Amazon Prime Video is missing from this box. I did try some other methods to watch and only was able to cast from a web browser successfully.

During testing I didn’t use Kodi much and stuck with the main streaming apps that are optimized for Android TV. I hope Koying, the maintainer of SPMC, a fork of Kodi, brings some love to the Mi Box in the near future or even the Kodi team.

If you’re not an audiophile this will make a great box to stream with and hopefully save some money. If you are an Audiophile the Mi Box complements the Nvidia shield on other TV’s where surrounds sound doesn’t matter.

I would like to thank Gearbest for sending a review sample and their patience while I reviewed it. I really like to use the products for a while and get a good feel for them. If you are thinking about getting a Mi Box, it helps CNX by clicking & purchasing through this link.

YokaTV KB2 Review – Amlogic S912 TV Box with 32 GB Flash

December 15th, 2016 14 comments

CNXSoft: This is another review by Karl about Amlogic S912 based YokaTV KB2 TV box.

Introduction

Today we will be looking at Videostrong YokaTV KB2. Below are the specs from Videostrong website.

yokatv-kb2-specifications

This is my first S912 device so I had high expectation. I have been using it for quite some time now with no major issues. I received approximately 6 OTA updates since I started testing and some welcome updates have come.

yokatv-kb2-package

yokatv-kb2-remote-control-power-supply

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Build

When I receive a box first thing I do is take it apart and check out the inside. I was excited when I found out it had 32 gig of storage. It is not too common.

yokatv-kb2-bottom-case

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Then when I opened the box I was really happy to see an antenna that wasn’t soldered on. Makes it easy to add a different one. +1 for KB2. Then I noticed the heat sink. It seemed a little small. I was right, it runs warm.

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Simple Mod

First thing to do: get this baby running cooler. When stressing the box, the temperature got over 80+°C a couple times. It ran between 70 and 75 °C on average before the mod. The case is mostly plastic except the bottom cover. Bingo! A couple squares of 5mm thermal pads between the board and the bottom of the case and thermal issues are gone.

yokatv-kb2-thermal-hack

I started SetCPU and ran the built-in stress test, it tops out around 72 °C, and quickly cools after stopping the test. I put a square approximately where the CPU is and while I had it open, where the memory is although I don’t think it is necessary. After the mod, the box runs about 60 deg Celsius.

Antutu

For this test I use SetCPU to set the Min and Max frequency for the CPU to 1.5 GHz which is the max for this processor. It will give the best score.

yokatv-kb2-antutu

Network Test

I am not sure why my WiFi was slow on the tests below. I don’t have an AC access point yet. The best I have is N, maybe that is the cause. Some friends over on Freaktab are getting some really good speeds on AC with this box. I might have damaged something when I opened the box.

Below are the results but take them with a grain of salt. I do a simple file transfer test of a large movie with optimum conditions for WiFi then one in more real world scenario.  

5ghz 3ft from NAS to internal SD

kb2-5ghz-wifi-nas-to-flash

2.4ghz 3ft from NAS to internal SD

kb2-2-4ghz-wifi-nas-to-flash

Gigabit Ethernet from NAS to internal SD (This is as fast as my NAS can transfer)

kb2-gbe-nas-to-flash

Next is more real world where AP’s have more obstruction.

5ghz 30ft from NAS to internal SD

kb2-5ghz-wifi-nas-to-flash-30feet2.4ghz 30ft from NAS to internal SD

kb2-2-4ghz-wifi-nas-to-flash-30feetSome More Benchmarks and Info

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Apps

I’ve used several apps and only Netflix and Direct Now had some issues:

  • Sling TV
  • Netflix (SD) – Stopped working after updating the app
  • Kodi
  • Chrome – Chrome works really well. I open a bunch of heavy URL’s and it performs excellent. Nothing scientific here. Go to several sites that I visit daily and I felt no lag.
  • Plex
  • Emby
  • HDHomeRun
  • Crackle
  • DirectTV Now – Worked with some hacking
  • Player-MediaCenter App – I will admit it has been a while since I tested out this app. It acts as a DLNA receiver and Airplay receiver. I didn’t have much luck in the past but I tested on my one Apple device the screen mirroring worked.

At some point Netflix stopped working. Keep getting few seconds of video then error 0013 “Sorry, we could not reach the Netflix service….” Not sure if it is Netflix update or box update that caused the issue. I went back and did some more testing to narrow the issue down. If I reverted back to the Netflix that came pre-installed I had no issue.

DirectTV Now is a new service in the US. With some persistence I was able to get it running. Video wasn’t perfect but neither was it on any devices I tested. It was surprising that it plays better on KB2 then Nvidia Shield. It is mostly watchable but stutters some. It is new so hopefully ATT will get this fixed soon. I had to do a couple things to get it working. After Googleing and a lot of experimenting I used 2 apps from play store: Hide My Root and Fake GPS. I also had to make 2 build.prop changes: ro.build.type=userdebug to ro.build.type=user and ro.build.tags=test-keys to ro.build.tags=release-keys. I tried on a couple different boxes after figuring this out and seems to work universally.

Remote Control

The remote is big but there is a built in app that is pretty convenient. There are 4 color coded buttons on the remote that you can customize to launch the apps that you want through an app on the box. There is also a dedicated app button that brings up a listing of all the apps. Everything else is pretty standard. You can also program the remote to turn your TV on and off through a learning feature. But alas I still prefer either an air mouse or touchpad with full keyboard.

yokatv-kb2-remote-control-configuration

Status Bar

Thank the gods…there is an option to turn the navigation buttons at the bottom of the screen off and on in Android settings…It is about a 50/50 split for people that like them and those that don’t. This was the first box that I have tested that gives the user an option.

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Audio Passthrough

All the below tests worked. I set Android to SPDIF. I tested with latest SPMC 16.4.2 and Kodi 16.1. Turned on pass-through DTS and AC3 and all the videos below worked with no clipping. I have a 5.1 system. If I didn’t have the AC3 ticked I would get no audio on some. First box with 100% working that I have tested on stock firmware.

yokatv-kb2-kodi-audio-pass-through-settings audio-file-list-dts-dolby-truehd4K Video

4k testing went well. I was able to play all videos smoothly with one player or another that it was supposed to play. Below are the test results. This box does not play 4k H.264 video @ 60fps per sec, so stutter is expected. Kodi and derivatives play best with amcodec turned off. The box ships with Kodi 17 beta but since it is beta, it is not very stable. I uninstalled it, and tested with Kodi 16.1 from the Play Store instead. I am not sure why 4k 8bit H.265 works better with amcodec turned on. I found the same results on S905x boxes. For the testing, I wanted to find the best overall solution and that is Kodi with amcodec turned off.

Test File Name With Amcodec Without Amcodec MX Player
23.976fps (in MP4) GoPro Epic Russian Wingsuit in 4K good
24fps (in MP4) SPRING 4K (ULTRA HD) good
25fps (in MP4) Burj Khalifa Pinnacle BASE Jump – 4K good
29.970fps, 51Mbps (hdmkv’s iPhone 6S 4K clip) iphone6s_4k good
59.940fps (in MKV) samsung_seven_wonders_of_the_world_china_uhd-DWEU wont play stutter stutter
60fps (in MP4) COSTA RICA IN 4K 60fps (ULTRA HD) w Freefly Movi wont play good
H264, up to 30fps Sony_Alpha_7R_II_video-test-4K good
H264, 50-60fps linkin_park_ultra-hd wont play stutter stutter
H265 8bit, up to 30fps LG_4K_View-the-Feeling good stutter good
H265 10bit, up to 30fps Samsung_UHD_Dubai good
H265 10bit, 50-60fps Samsung_UHD_7Wonders_of_the_World_Italy good
UltraHD HDR 10bit HEVC, 24fps Exodus_UHD_HDR_Exodus_draft good
VP9 The Curvature of Earth 4K 60FPS good not as good best

Alternate Firmware

Super Celeron has put together a nice modification of the latest stock firmware from 11/23. He cleaned up the firmware and made some adjustments to boot to bring idle down to about 1% and got auto frame rate switch working. See full changelog.

So to get 100% working pass-through and auto frame rate switching after installing the firmware above, as well as SPMC version 16.5.2. Codec acceleration is a little muddy at times. 4K files work best with amcodec off, and anything less work best with amcodec on. Below are my settings.

yokatv-kb2-custom-firmware-automatic-frame-rate-switching yokatv-kb2-custom-firmware-audio-pass-through yokatv-kb2-custom-firmware-video-codecsConclusion

I had this box for a while now and used it as my main box and it has performed really well. Consistent updates from Videostrong is much needed in the box world. I hope it continues. Gigabit Ethernet performed really well. Pass-through working 100% is fantastic and will make a lot of people happy. Video support in Kodi is really good. VP9 support is not 100% but MX player gives everyone an option if they have movies in that format.

I would like to thank Videostrong for sending a review sample. YokaTV KB2 can be purchased on Gearbest, Geekbuying, and Aliexpress for about $68.

Tanix TX5 Pro TV Box Review – Part 2: Modding and Testing

August 29th, 2016 14 comments

Karl here with part 2 of Tanix TX5 Pro TV box. In the first part we peaked inside took a look at the specs and quick look at the UI. In part 2, we will get into the nitty gritty. When I first received the box there were several issues: Play Store incompatibility, issue with language reverting to Chinese, and green screen on YouTube. Tanix quickly followed up with an update and resolved these issues.

Stuck in my ways

So I have to admit that I am pretty stuck in my ways when it comes to the way I use Android. It started long ago with my first stick the MK808 with Rockchip Rk3066. It was basically the phone version of Android on the TV and I really liked it. We have come a long way since then and some changes have occurred in the box market UI, like the absence of the navigation bar and notification bar. It is split both ways some people dislike and some like it. I really like them so I usually do what I can to enable them. This box is no different. It doesn’t come with either. I feel it should be a setting that can be easily switched on and off but that is not the case right now. So here is where the fun begins. Over on Freaktab we put together a pretty nice mod of the original firmware and that is what I will base this review on. I am thankful to those guys that helped test and give feedback.

What we tweaked

We started with notification and navigation bars taken from the Mini M8S II. It took a while to dial that in and get all the kinks worked out. We changed over the root application to SuperSu from SuperUser because the root worked better for some applications. Cleaned out all the unnecessary apps, and Kodi build that loads on initial boot. Pass-through didn’t work with DTS and it clipped a lot. itsmeedoofer found a way to enable it by doing a small change on every boot. I tried to fix with a script but was unsuccessful and ended up writing a small app to fix on every boot. gtznutz got the last of the boxes up and working. We ended up getting it to work on Tanix TX5 Pro, MINI M8S II, Nexbox A5, Nexbox A95X (All models), and COOLEME MB1 with a few caveats. For example, the only box that the stock remote will turn the box on is the Tanix.

Apps

Working Not Working
Plex Quicksupport
Kodi
Netflix
Google Play Movies
Crackle
Chrome
YouTube(1080)

Kodi

Audio

Kodi works really well. After using the pass-through fix I could play every test audio file I had with digital audio passing through to my receiver over spdif. I had confirmation that it was the same with HDMI pass-through as well. Below are the test videos and formats. I did notice that Kodi didn’t always report the correct format but my receiver always showed a digital input with 5.1 channels.

Audio-HD_File_List

4K

I am keeping my testing to strictly Kodi because I had very good luck. I could play just about every test video that I have with Amcodec disabled. The Amlogic S905X does not supports h.264 60 fps above 1080p so those 2 are expected. For the remaining, I Installed MX Player and added this playercorefactory to my userdata to play the rest. Playercorefactory is a file to allow you to use external players in Kodi. Just copy to the userdata directory. This makes it super easy to stay in Kodi’s interface and a realistic option and not have to jump around using different players for different files. I need to look at my VP9 test file…it might be corrupt. Every player had artifacts at the same point.

Test

File Name

Amcodec disabled

Amcodec Enabled

23.976fps (in MP4)

GoPro Epic Russian Wingsuit in 4K

Good

No Video

24fps (in MP4)

SPRING 4K (ULTRA HD)

Good

No Video

25fps (in MP4)

Burj Khalifa Pinnacle BASE Jump – 4K

Good

No Video

29.970fps, 51Mbps (hdmkv’s iPhone 6S 4K clip)

iphone6s_4k

Small Stutter at one point (MX Player Good)

No Video

59.940fps (in MKV)

samsung_seven_wonders_of_the_world_china_uhd-DWEU

Dropped frames

No Video

60fps (in MP4)

COSTA RICA IN 4K 60fps (ULTRA HD) w Freefly Movi

Good

No Video

H264, up to 30fps

Sony_Alpha_7R_II_video-test-4K

Good

No Video

H264, 50-60fps

linkin_park_ultra-hd

Dropped frames

Dropped frames

H265 8bit, up to 30fps

LG_4K_View-the-Feeling

Stutter

(MX Player Good)

Good

H265 10bit, up to 30fps

Samsung_UHD_Dubai

Good

Good

H265 10bit, 50-60fps

Samsung_UHD_7Wonders_of_the_World_Italy

Good

Good

VP9

Eye of the Storm 4K Ultra HD

Small Stutter and artifacts at one point

(MX Player Stutter and artifacts same point)

No Video

Wifi Test

Setup I have an Ubiquiti Unifi network setup (by the way this is a fantastic product) with 1 AP in my office and 1 AP at the other end of the house. I only have a 2.4GHz network. I performed 2 tests:

  1. Box within 6 feet of AP in office mounted in ceiling
  2. I go into my controller and reboot my office AP and force everything over to the other one and start the copy over. This second test is tough for any device. Lots of obstructions and about 50’ feet.

After the device peaks I took a screenshot.

Case 1

Case 1

Case 2

Case 2

Misc – Benchmarks, DRM Info, and Storage

Tanix TX5 Pro achieved 34,327 points in Antutu 6.x, a typical score for an Amlogic S905X TV box.

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Vellamo 3.x results are also within the expect range.

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The device supports Widewine Level 3 like most of its peers.

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A single 11.40GB partitions is available for apps and data out of the 16GB flash, and external storage is also supported and convertible to device storage (feature of Android 6.0).

Tanix_Pro_TX5_Storage

Closing Random Thoughts

I really like this box after modding and could easily recommend it to anyone. I am really pleased with the UI with the switch to 6.0. Adaptive storage is great. Video playback is really good. Wifi was solid. There is still some work to be done on the video side. Let’s see if Tanix will post some updates.

Unfortunately, I only have a 1080p TV and an older receiver with a single SPDIF only. So I am not able to perform every test I would like. Maybe one day I will talk my wife into a new one.

Thank you GearBest for sending a review sample. You could consider purchase the device from them for $46.35 including shipping. Tanix TX5 Pro can also bought from eBay, GeekBuying, and Banggood among others.

Tanix TX5 Pro TV Box Review – Part 1: Unboxing, Teardown, and Hands-on

August 8th, 2016 34 comments

Karl here with Tanix TX5 Pro S905X review. This is my first s905x box. I am splitting this into 2 parts because software is not quite up to snuff yet. I ran into some issues with language reverting back to default which is Chinese. This happens so frequently it is unbearable. I can almost read Chinese now. Youtube only shows green square with audio, and finally most apps show incompatible in the Play Store. I have notified Gearbest who is going to contact the manufacturer. On the bright side I am very pleased with UI compared to the s905 boxes I have reviewed.

Specs pulled from GearBest Website

General

Model: TX5 Pro
Type: TV Box
GPU: Mali-450
System: Android 6.0
CPU: Amlogic S905X
Core: 2.0GHz,Quad Core
RAM: 2G
ROM: 16G
Max. Extended Capacity: TF card up to 32GB (not included)
Color: Black

Media Supported

Decoder Format: H.265
Video format: 1080P,H.264,H.265,MPEG-1,MPEG2,MPEG4,VC-1,VP9 Profile-2,WMV
Audio format: AAC,AC3,APE,DTS,FLAC,M4A,MP3,OGG,WAV,WMA
Photo Format: BMP,GIF,JPEG,JPG,PNG

Product Details

WIFI: 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
Bluetooth: Bluetooth4.0
Power Supply: Charge Adapter
Interface: AV,DC Power Port,HDMI,RJ45,SPDIF,TF card,USB2.0
Language: Multi-language

Firmware Information

WiFi Chip: 2.4G + 5.8G
KODI Pre-installed: Yes
KODI Version: KODI 16.1 JARVIS

Power Requirement

Power Type: External Power Adapter Mode

Dimension and Weight

Product weight: 0.140 kg
Package weight: 0.600 kg
Product size (L x W x H): 10.50 x 10.50 x 1.50 cm / 4.13 x 4.13 x 0.59 inches
Package size (L x W x H): 19.50 x 11.50 x 6.50 cm / 7.68 x 4.53 x 2.56 inches

Package Contents

Package Contents: 1 x TX5 Pro TV Box, 1 x Remote Control, 1 x HDMI Cable, 1 x Power Adapter, 1 x English Manual

Unboxing Photo

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Teardown Photos

The box is a matte plastic and picks up fingerprints easily.

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AP6255 Wifi chip with 10/100 network. Storage is provided by Foresee ncefbs98-16g. I couldn’t find any specs on it.

Tanix_TX5_Pro_Board_Bottom

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06:61:60 MAC address does not look up to any specific company.

Random Observations/Thoughts

I am pleased to see a new launcher…seems pretty nice and is easy to use.

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I haven’t stressed the box but the thermal design seems fine. Metal slab with thermal pad making contact with CPU.  Button to put the device in flash mode, which typically is in the AV hole, is on the bottom of the device. Registers as a worldcup device with the drivers that I already have installed. I did some initial testing with S/PDIF, Kodi, and passthrough settings seen below and I got digital audio on my 5.1 receiver on all of them but I did have some audio clipping.

Tanix_TX5_Pro_Kodi_AudioTanix_TX5_Videos

I was also able to play most of my 4K test clips in either Kodi, MX Player, or built in players with the exception of the 60fps fluidly. I also found that the device had been booted once and factory test tool was in memory. I tried to find a way to launch it but was unsuccessful. I installed chrome and navigated to Youtube and requested the desktop site and was able to request 4k video but again green screen.

This is promising. I believe that once they get some of the bugs worked out it will be a good box. But until then I would wait. I can’t find a website for Tanix to give feedback. “Along” marking on the PCB could point to Shenzhen Along Electronics as the manufacturer.

I would like to thank Gearbest for sending the box for review. Hopefully they can light a fire under Tanix and get the software fixed.

In case, you’d like to purchase the device despite the current firmware flaws, you can do so on GearBest for $46.35 shipped. Other shopping options include eBay, GeekBuying, and Banggood.

[Update: The second part of the review is up @ Tanix TX5 Pro TV Box Review – Part 2: Modding and Testing]

How to Customize Amlogic Android Firmware – A Tutorial with NEXBOX A95X (S905) TV Box

August 6th, 2016 99 comments

CNXSoft: Bear in mind that there are multiple versions of Nexbox A95X. Yesterday, I published the review of Nexbox A95X with Android 6.0, with the model based on Amlogic S905X processor. In this article, Karl had a look at Nexbox A95X with Amlogic S905 processor, which he purchased a couple of months ago, but since he was not happy with the Android 5.1 firmware, he decided to customize it.

Karl here with a review of the Nexbox A95X S905 box. This took a while to even start. I received the box about 2 months ago and I dived right in and broke it. I didn’t have factory firmware, and wasn’t cautious enough and bricked it. I found some firmware that worked but it didn’t work very well for me. Email’s to Nexbox directly didn’t help and I was stuck with a bricked box… I later found someone who had factory firmware and was kind enough to share and I was back in business. But I still didn’t like it, as it felt sluggish when doing anything else besides Kodi and missing notifications and navigation bar.

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Quest to find better firmware

There is a dirty little secret with these boxes and it is a little unfair to the manufacturers who do make good software but you can just about flash any firmware on any matching processor box. The biggest thing is to match the WiFi chip. They will sometimes brick hard and to restore requires shorting pins on the NAND flash. It is pins 29 and 30 on this one (TBC). Short the pins while connect to PC, and apply power and you are able to flash new firmware. I never had to do it on this one. The A95X has an RTL8189ETV WiFi chip as can be seen in the picture above. So I did some searching for “S905 RTL8189 Firmware” and I found some, but they were not any better. If WiFi doesn’t matter and you have Ethernet you will have better luck or can use a USB to Ethernet adapter if the firmware supports it.

Review Turned into a How To

I wasn’t happy with anything (I know….I am needy). So what do we do? Go and try a manufacturer’s who put out good software regardless of WiFi and Ethernet. I had used Tronsmart’s S905 firmware on another box and it is pretty good. So I started there and flashed it and the box booted but without WiFi, nor Ethernet, and I assume no remote control either (I don’t typically use the remote and test with Logitech K400R). So I tried to use this firmware as ROM to port from, and now the time consuming part starts…

Setup

Before we begin I will put out the typical disclaimer that you assume all risk and don’t blame me. If you don’t want to have to do this buy a box from a good manufacturer. Several stand out… search for reviews in CNX Software, or other forums.

I do all my work in Windows, so no Linux is necessary but just recently upgraded to Windows 10 and with bash opens up some additional possibilities I have yet to explore. I did try mounting an img but it doesn’t support it yet.

Below is the main software that I use. If you know any other alternatives please leave a comment. Especially Beyond Compare only 30 day evaluation. It is not too expensive and I use it for other things. Install all the programs below with defaults and it should work except the Customization Tool. Install it to someplace other than Program Files. It will save button presses when needing elevated privileges.

Customization Tool

I will be going to go over the basics of this tool. When you first load the tool it will be in Chinese. The 2nd menu Item in the top will set it to English, and it will remember it the rest of the time.

Amlogic_Customization_English

The first step is to unpack the img files. Press the load button, and you will be prompted to what you want to unpack. I check them all at this point except the bottom one. There is an issue right now with the tool with the last one. Then choose the img we are porting to. This will take a while. Amlogic_CustomizationTool_Load

Amlogic_Customization_Tool_Settings

Once the img is unpacked navigate to where you installed the customization tool and rename the tmp directory to Tronsmart.

NEXBOX-A95X-Customization

Now repeat the process again with the Nexbox Stock img. Don’t close the Customization Tool until we are done.

Now we have 2 img’s fully unpacked and in each directory we have 2 folders: Level 1 and Level 2. Level 1 has all the individual partitions and we won’t be doing anything in there today. Level 2 has the different partitions broken out so we can manipulate them. We will only have to go into system to do this port.

NEXBOX-A95X_System

Now in the Nexbox firmware,  delete app, fonts, framework, media, priv-app in the system directory, and copy them over from Tronsmart.

At this point go back to the Customization Tool Press the Pack button and save it somewhere. If I was doing this the first time I would flash and do some testing to see if it booted, Wifi, remote etc. This also gets you to a good spot to go back to so in case something goes bad you don’t have to do the whole thing over again. As you are exploring it is good to do this often to save some headache and time.

Beware once you pack an img, as you must close the customization tool down and unpack the last one you packed. There is a bug if you pack make a change test then pack again without restarting and reopening. All the img’s after that first pack won’t be able to be unpacked by the tool.

Final Tweaks

Here is our chance to remove all the bloat and clean the img up. When I clean an img I take a picture of the app drawer with my phone and remove any unwanted apps from the app directory or priv-app directory. Be aware there is also a pre-install directory that won’t install anything. I removed everything to tidy up. I did try to fix quickly but didn’t spend much time on it.

I also replaced the Tronsmart boot animation with a different one. It is in the media directory.

Extra’s

You can also modify boot img and logos with this tool. I use gimp to modify logos. First I would navigate to the logo folder in the level 2 directory. The largest file bootup is a bmp file. Rename to bootup.bmp, right click on it go to properties and note the dimensions and bit depth. In this case it is a 32bit 1280×720 bmp img. Find whatever picture or logo…your imagination is the limit but you have to make sure your dimension and bit depth are exact. In gimp you export to bmp and choose 32 bit…if done correctly your file will be the exact same size as the original. Rename bootup and delete the original. When done you can pack and enjoy your new logo. I believe the tool itself will import but I like to do it by hand. The only thing I use the tool for is to unpack and pack the img.

Troubleshooting

So we haven’t touched a couple tools so far. That is a good thing. But if we did run into some trouble Beyond compare can drastically reduce the time to find. With this tool you can compare all the files from the stock rom, and the rom you are porting to. If I ran into troubles with booting start with comparing kernel in level 2. Maybe in one of the rc files a reference something differently. This can lead to many hours lost. I have lost many and not succeeded. Be prepared to do lots of reading and research. I included HXD and Notepad++ if you had to modify a file. In the Windows notepad it doesn’t recognize Linux carriage returns.

If you’d just like to install the custom image on your NEXBOX A95X (Amlogic S905 only) TV box, here’s the custom firmware link.

Review of No.1 D6 Android Smartwatch Powered by Mediatek MT6580 Processor

July 23rd, 2016 13 comments

Karl here with a new review. This one is a little different. A smart watch, but not your average smart watch, as most smartwatches supplement a phone. This is a standalone smartwatch. It runs full Android 5.1. It is the D6 by No. 1. It has a 3G radio and SIM card slot. I was really excited when I found out I could do this review.

Below are some pics from their website.

No.1_D6_Smartwatch

Another professionally shipped and packaged product and some box pics

Chinavasion_No1_D6_Smartwatch_Package

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No1_D6_Smartwatch_Specs

Here are the specs from No. 1’s website.

Product Overview
Model NO.1 D6
Product modeling Android Smartwatch
System Android 5.1
CPU MT6580 quad core Cortex A7 @ up to 1.3 GHz with Mali-400MP2 GPU
Screen Resolution 1.63″ 320 x 320 resolution
RAM 1GB
ROM 8GB
Wifi Support
Google Play Support
Features
Make calls Support
See text messages Support
Contacts Support
Heart Rate Support
Pedometer Support
Bluetooth BT2.1 + BLE4.0
Browser Support
Barometer Support
Voice Search Support
Alarm Support
Weather Support
Health Data Synchronization Support
Change Clock Face Support
Install App Support
Operation frequency GSM/ 850/900/1800/1900 ; WCDMA 850/2100
Language Chinese (Traditional), Chinese (simplified), Indonesian, Malay, Czech, Danish, German (German), German, English (UK), Spanish (United States), Filipino, French, Croatian, Italian language, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Netherlands, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese (Brazil), Portuguese (Portugal), Romania, Slovakia, Finland, Sweden, Vietnamese, Turkish, Greek, Bulgarian, Russian, Ukrainian language, Hebrew, Arabic, Persian, Thai, Burmese, Khmer, Korean, Japanese
Hardware
Speaker Support
Battery capacity 450 mAH
Antenna Support
Side buttons Support
Chargers Support
USB Support
G-SENSOR Support
Package weight 170g

First Impressions

The watch looks good to me. I had a few people say it looked big to them but I don’t feel like it is too big….in fact I wish it were bigger. Below are some pics I took. My pictures don’t due it justice so that is why I posted the professional pics above.

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No1_D6_Android_Smartwatch

First Tests

First thing I did was try to push it to the max and do some absurd testing. What does that entail? For me it was watching movies on a watch. Kodi Netflix MX player, Plex, HdHomerun, and Emby.

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To my surprise most worked pretty well considering it is a watch. With Emby I couldn’t use the built in player and had it use MX player and I couldn’t get Plex to work at all. This is not a deal breaker…it is really a ridiculous test but sometimes you do things just to see if they could be done. I also ran Antutu and got a 23221 on version 6.1.4….not too shabby for a watch.

No.1_D6_Antutu_6_Score

OTA Firmware Update

After a couple days I received notification that the watch needed to be updated. So I performed the updated and followed the instructions. It went through and when it booted the first time after the update it hung on the boot animation and got really warm. I waited a long time I took the battery out and when I turned it on next it booted properly. Then a 2nd update appeared but this time the watch soft bricked. I went to the website, downloaded the latest firmware, and installed it. It mostly went off without a hitch except I should have waited to plug in the watch until after I installed the drivers. It took 30 tries for me to catch the device in the device manager to install the drivers manually from the download. Included in the download were the drivers and flashing tool and img. It did not come with any instructions that I saw but it was easy to reflash. (Received another update today and it installed perfectly.)

Setup

I didn’t like the built in launcher at first so I installed Nova Launcher. Added 3 widgets one is clock, circle battery widget from the play store, and power control widget. Nova is pretty customizable so I was able to mimic an android phone setup. But I ended up getting errors with Nova and it would force close frequently and I had to choose default launcher over again.

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I really wish Nova worked better, didn’t close like this, and I think it takes a toll on the battery. I installed Apex launcher which worked pretty well and not too heavy but had to sacrifice too much. After a while I ended up back with the stock launcher. It’s good enough for a watch that runs full android with a small screen.

Use

So as I see it, there are a couple ways use the device. You can use it as a standalone. Pop a SIM card in and use it as your phone. A Bluetooth headset is necessary for this. Speaker phone is weak and there is no privacy. I tested first with a Ting SIM card. Popped it in and I was immediately up and running. I only made a few calls this way. I also tested with a Metro PCS SIM. Not quite as easy…I had to call and give Metro my IMEI number, and about 30 minutes later I was in business. I am not a fan of Bluetooth headsets so I didn’t enjoy this way. And I got caught at the end of the day once before I started charging midday without phone service. 2nd way is you can use it paired to your phone through Bluetooth and receive notifications, pass files to the watch and uninstall applications on the watch. Use it like a traditional smart watch. I didn’t find this particularly useful and when you get out of range of the watch both the watch and the phone beep. I opted to use it standalone. When out and about I turn on my hotspot on my phone and when home I use my home WiFi. This seemed to work best for me. You could also pair the phone and watch and also use hotspot. I just didn’t find notifications particularly useful. The good thing about this watch is you get many choices.

Battery

The battery has a 450 mAh capacity…which is tiny considering this processor is installed in full size phones. I really had to watch what I installed and had to be conscious of background tasks or it would destroy the battery. After testing to see if I could make it all day I started charging on my lunch break at work after that I didn’t have to be concerned with battery life. It charges relatively fast. After receiving the last OTA update when this review was nearly complete, I got significantly better battery life. I used it quite a bit the next day and I had about 20% left at the end of my work day with no charging. Depending on how it is used will significantly impact battery. I would recommend a second charging cable. It is proprietary with magnets that aren’t particularly strong. I found sometimes it was difficult to get it to stay.

Apps

I installed lots of different apps. Everything would install and was mostly usable. On a small screen it was sometimes difficult to navigate. I covered all the video apps already but I also installed ES File Explorer and to get on the pop bandwagon I installed Pokemon Go and it played fine.

No1_D6_Smartwatch_Android_Apps

There are thousands of apps and if you would like for me to test one leave a comment below and I will give it a shot. I live in the United States so some apps might not be available.

Radios/Antennas

Cellular, WiFi, or GPS worked ok. I had more dropped calls than I typically did with my smartphone. I do live in rural America so this will vary. WiFi range was OK. With Pokemon Go I did notice that trees were enough to disrupt the GPS signal.

Final Thoughts

It’s a pretty neat watch considering what it is doing in such a small amount of space. With this last update from No.1 battery life improved a lot. I wish it had come earlier in the review. It is definitely up the tech junkies alley and would make a cool gift. I am sure there are a lot of uses that it could be used for. There is a long thread on XDA as well covering the watch and I would imagine a custom ROM will be out soon. People are already flashing an img from another smartwatch on this one. Supposedly 6.0 will be coming to the watch in the near future and hopefully bring adaptable storage to the watch. If you have any questions feel free to post in the comments below.

I would like to thank Chinavasion for sending the NO. 1 D6 to review. It comes in 3 different versions: silver like shown in review, gold, and black. You can purchase it for $76.99 on their website. Alternatively, you can also find the watch on GearBest, GeekBuying, eBay, and Aliexpress for similar or slightly higher prices up to $90.