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CHIP is a $9 Linux Development Board Powered by Allwinner R8 (Crowdfunding)

May 8th, 2015 45 comments

It’s quite common to find MCU board for less than $10, but if you want to run Linux, you’ll need to spend a bit more, unlessit’s sponsored, and today, the cheapest you can get is probably the $20 Raspberry Pi Model A+, unless you go with some OpenWRT compatible routers. But there’s now a new board in development, called CHIP, with Allwinner R8 Cortex A8 processor, 512MB RAM, and 4GB NAND flash, as well as wireless connectivity, that will bring cost even lower, as you can pledge $9 on Kickstarter to fund its development.

CHIP_Allwinner_R8

C.H.I.P specifications:

  • SoC – Allwinner R8 Cortex A8 processor @ 1 GHz with Mali-400 GPU (Compatible with Allwinner A13)
  • System Memory – 512 MB RAM
  • Storage – 4GB NAND flash
  • Connectivity – 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi + Bluetooth 4.0
  • Video Output – 3.5mm jack for composite video and audio (HDMI and VGA available via adapters)
  • USB – 1x USB host port, 1x micro USB OTG port
  • Two expansion headers
  • Power – 5V via micro USB OTG or battery
  • Dimensions – 60 x 40 mm

The board is said to run a Linux distribution featuring the mainline kernel. There’s also some sort of portable gamedpad called Pocket C.H.I.P that integrates the board and that you can get for $49. The board should ship in December 2015, and Pocket C.H.I.P in May 2016….

The project looks exciting, but when you look at the details, it’s not quite as ground breaking as it may first seem. Shipping is $20, unless you live in the US ($5), so you’d buy a $29 board, which brings it very close to competitors. The internal flash, WiFi and Bluetooth are clear winners in this price range, but I assume few people will use composite output, so you’ll need to spend a few more bucks ($10 to $15) on adapters, and if you need these, you won’t get the board before May 2016… What do you think?

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Wintel W8 Review – Dual Boot Android & Windows TV Box

April 27th, 2015 8 comments

Wintel W8 (aka Kingnovel K8) is an Intel Atom Z3735F mini PC inspired from Sunchip Wintel CX-W8 (the hardware is a little different), but instead of just running Windows 8.1, the device can dual boot Android 4.4 and Windows 8.1 with Bing. I’ve already taken pictures or torn down Wintel W8, so today, I’ll focus on the software part of the review, first checking dual boot functionality and Windows 8.1 broefly ince it should be very similar to MeLE PCG03, before spending more time on Android as it’s my first Android Intel platform.

Dual boot in Wintel W8

When you boot the device, you can select Android or Windows icon, with a 10 second timeout that will boot your latest choice. There’s no menu within Windows to start Android, and vice versa, so to dual boot you need to reboot first, and select the operating systems right after UEFI. The best way to checkout how this all work is to watch the short demo below where it first boot into Android, reboot, and switch to Windows.

If you watched the video, you must have noticed that if you change OS, it will reboot again. One person on Google+ mentioned that the system is switching between the 32-bit UEFI firmware (for Windows) and 64-bit UEFI firmware (for Android), which would explain why it needs to reboot, and you have to make sure you don’t turn off the device, or a power failure occur during that process, or you may brick your device! Same thing if you mistakenly try to install Windows 8.1/10 with the 64-bit UEFI firmware.

Wintel_W8_UEFI_BIOS

Click to Enlarge

However, when I checked Aptio Setup Utility both version looked exactly the same whether I selected Android or Windows.

A Quick Look at Windows 8.1

Windows 8.1 will bot in about 40 seconds on Wintel W8 because the FORESEE eMMC flash used in the hardware is not quite as fast as the Samsung Class 5 eMMC flash used in MeLE PCG03 and many other Intel Bay trail mini PCs.

Windows 8.1 Metro Interface on Wintel W8 (Click for Original Size)

Windows 8.1 Metro Interface on Wintel W8 (Click for Original Size)

Windows 8.1 with Bing is not activated in my sample, and clicking on activation failed. However, since my sample comes from Kingnovel it’s not a retail sample, and resellers can certainly request for a valid Windows NTE license if required.

Wintel W8 PC Info and Storage in Windows 8.1 (Click for Original Size)

Wintel W8 PC Info and Storage in Windows 8.1 (Click for Original Size)

Another detail you should probably pay attention when getting a dual boot firmware is the space reserved for Windows… Wintel W8 C: drive is 18.6GB large with 14.8GB free. Considering I already struggled with 32GB space on Mele PCG03, I’d really recommend trying to get a version with 64GB flash, and soon models with 128GB storage will also be up for sale.

Since I’ve already reviewed Windows 8.1 with Bing on MeLE mini PC, and that firmware customizations are not really an option with Windows, that’s all I’ve checked in the Windows side of the firmware.

Wintel W8 Review with Android 4.4

First impressions and Setup Menu

While in Windows, you’ll probably want to connect a wireless or USB keyboard and mouse, these may not be the most convenient in Android, so as usual I connected the RF dongle of my MeLE F10 Deluxe air mouse to control the mini PC. I’ve also connected HDMI and Ethernet cables, before powering up the device which will boot automatically as you connect the power adapter. It also takes around 40 seconds to boot into Android.

Android Home Screen (Click to Enlarge)

Android Home Screen (Click to Enlarge)

The firmware is using the stock Android launcher, with a 1920×1080 resolution. Pre-installed apps include Kodi 15 Alpha 1 and Google Play Store. After setting up Ethernet, and login to the Play Store, I could install all apps required for this review just like on ARM based platforms, but I did notice some games such as Shadowgun: Deadzone, Dead Trigger, Angry Bird Star Wars, etc.. could not be installed, but many other games could. Whatsapp was also greyed out, but not Facebook or Facebook Messenger that both could be installed. I also side-loaded Amazon AppStore and installed Riptide GP2 without issues.

The settings allow you to configure Network settings like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and Ethernet, and services including VPN, Tethering and PPPoE. There aren’t any really useful Audio settings, but Day Dream is enabled in the Display settings, and an HDMI section will allow you to compensate for overscan if needed, and select various HDMI output:Wintel_W8_About_Tablet

  • 1080p @ 60/50/30/25/24Hz
  • 1280×1024 @ 60Hz, 1360×768 @ 60Hz, 1152×864 @ 60Hz
  • 720p @ 60 or 50Hz
  • 1024×768 @ 60 Hz, 800×600 @ 60Hz
  • 720×576 @ 50Hz, 720×480 @ 60Hz (16:9 or 4:3)
  • 640×480 @ 60 Hz, 720×400 @ 70Hz

The firmware also has a separate function for video post-processing called “Intel Smart Video” that will “improve video quality by reducing noise and eliminating artifacts with interlaced content”.

Since most storage is reserved for Windows, the partition in Android is only 4.36GB out of the 32GB flash with most of it available.  Developers option can easily be enabled, and Printing menu is enabled by default, although you’ll probably prefer printing in Windows 8.1 instead.

The “About tablet” section indicate the model number is w8, and Android 4.4.4 runs on top of Linux 3.10.20. There’s also a line showing IFWI version 5.6.5, but I’m not sure what that means. The firmware is rooted. You can checkout all Android settings in the 2-minute video embedded below.

There’s an IR receiver, but it’s supposed to only work in Android, and I’m not quite sure how to set it up. One of the most important features of an IR remote control is to allow turning on and off the platform, and there’s no problem with turning off and rebooting the device in Android or Windows 8.1 with MeLE F10 Deluxe or another air mouse, but it’s just not possible to turn it back on without pressing the power button on the unit itself. If you had a power extension with a remote control, you should be able to start the box automatically.

Wintel W8 does not get hotter than ARM TV boxes, as I measured respectively 42 and 50 C on the top and bottom of the case after Antutu 5.7, and 50 and 56 after 15 minutes playing Riptide GP2.

Overall Android on Intel Atom Z3735F feels just like Android on recent ARM platforms such as Rockchip RK3288, with the exception that some games won’t install, and the games experience for some games may not be as good. The firmware is not only smooth, but extremely stable too, and I did not experience any noticeable slowdown or freezes during my testing. The only issues I had was with Kodi 15 Alpha 1 which may exit from time to time or even freeze, but it’s probably because they chose to load an Alpha version of Kodi, instead of Kodi 14.2 stable release.

Kodi 15 Android on Intel Atom Z3735F Processor

I’ve already tested Kodi on Intel both with Kodi 14.1 in Windows 8.1, and Kodi 14.2 in Linux (Ubuntu 15.04), and I was impressed by the performance in both system, although Z3735F does not support HDMI audio in Linux, so I had to use an inexpensive USB sound card instead. Let’s see how Kodi 15 Alpha 1 (pre-installed) works on Intel Atom Bay Trail-T processor by playing videos from a SAMBA share over Ethernet.

Results with video samples from samplemedia.linaro.org, plus Elecard H.265/HEVC samples, and a low resolution VP9 video:

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny), 480p/720p/1080p/1080p60 – OK. However 1080p60 video renders at ~36 fps according to Kodi overlay debug info.
  • MPEG2 codec / MPG container, 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • MPEG4 codec, AVI container 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • VC1 codec (WMV), 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • Real Media (RMVB), 720p / 5Mbps – RV8 (OK, but first time I had a greenish background, which disappeared the second time). RV9, and RV10 –play at 16 fps instead of 25 fps.
  • WebM / VP8 – OK
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container (360p/720p/1080p) – 360p & 720p OK. 1080p will play only about 3 seconds before freezing. I can’t go back to Kodi, and going back to the Home Screen and restarting Kodi does not work, so I had to reboot the device (Tested twice).
  • WebM / VP9 (no audio in video) – OK

Some higher bitrate videos could play more or less smoothly:

  • ED_HD.avi – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_1080p_surround.avi (1080p H.264 – 12 Mbps) – OK.
  • h264_1080p_hp_4.1_40mbps_birds.mkv (40 Mbps) – OK
  • hddvd_demo_17.5Mbps_1080p_VC1.mkv (17.5Mbps) – Not smooth, plays at 12 to 15 fps instead of 29.97 fps
  • Jellyfish-120-Mbps.mkv (120 Mbps video without audio) – Not smooth, plays at 12 to 15 fps instead of 29.97 fps

HD audio codecs have been tested down-mixed to PCM using Kodi and MXPlayer, and audio pass-through has been tested with Onkyo TX-NR636 using HDMI pass-through with BD/DVD input. I enabled pass-through in Kodi for AC3 and DTS, as well as Dolby Digital transcoding, and did not change anything in Android settings.

Video PCM Output
Kodi
PCM Output
MX Player
HDMI Pass-through
Kodi
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 Audio OK, but the video could be smoother No audio OK
E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 OK No audio OK
Dolby Digital+ 7.1 OK No audio Dolby 5.1
TrueHD 5.1 OK No audio Dolby 5.1
TrueHD 7.1 OK No audio Dolby 5.1
DTS HD Master OK No audio Dolby 5.1
DTS HD High Resolution OK No audio Dolby 5.1

So the firmware does not support any advanced audio codec as shown with MX Player results, so but since Kodi implements its own audio decoding by software all formats can be down-mixed in Kodi. Lossless audio codecs HDMI pass-through is not supported, but again Kodi handle that by transcoding unsupported audio codec to Dolby Digital 5.1. I’d like to note however that enabled HDMI pass-through makes Kodi relatively unstable, as it might randomly exit when starting to play videos.

Sintel-Bluray.iso could play so unencrypted Blur-ay ISO are supported The two 1080i MPEG2 videos (GridHD.mpg & Pastel1080i25HD.mpg) could also play, but GridHD video would sparkle. Both Hi10p H.264 videos failed to play:

  • [Commie] Steins;Gate – NCED [BD 720p AAC] [10bit] [C706859E].mkv – No audio / no video. Back screen.
  • [1080p][16_REF_L5.1][mp3_2.0]Suzumiya Haruhi no Shoushitsu BD OP.mkv – No audio / no video. Back screen.

Bay Trail-T processors can’t output to 2160p (4K UHD), but they should still decode H.264 videos up to 2160p30:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – OK
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – OK
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – 10 fps
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – 10 fps
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) – Won’t start
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC) – Won’t start
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – 10 fps
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video) – Kodi will exit
  • tears_of_steel_4k_H264_24fps.mov – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – Not smooth, plays @ ~20 fps.

My LG 42UB820T television does not support 3D, but I still tested whether the platform could decode some stereoscopic 3D videos:

  • bbb_sunflower_1080p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (1080p Over/Under) – Looks OK, but plays at 36 fps instead of 60 fps
  • bbb_sunflower_2160p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (2160p Over/Under) – Looks like a still picture slideshow
  • Turbo_Film-DreamWorks_trailer_VO_3D.mp4 (1080p SBS) – OK

All my AVI, MKV, IFO and MP4 videos (720p/1080p) could play fine without issues such as A/V out-of-sync. Most FLV videos played, but some only had audio with black screen. A full 1080p movie (1h50 / MKV / 3GB) could play without interruption and no dropped or skipped frames at all for the whole duration.

Kodi 15 Alpha 1 is not that bad on Intel platform, but it certainly does not perform as well as Kodi 14.x in Windows 8.1, with some videos not playing smoothly, HDMI audio pass-through makes Kodi unstable, and Kodi may exit while starting videos. So I’d still recommend using Kodi inside Windows 8.1 instead of Android 4.4.

Links to various video samples used in this review and be found in “Where to get video, audio and images samples” post and especially in its comments section.

I’ve also run Antutu Video Tester where Wintel W8 gets 460 points about of 700+ possible despite failing to play a fair amount a video due to lack audio codec and HEVC video codec among other things.

Antutu Video Tester Results (Click to Enlarge)

Antutu Video Tester Results (Click to Enlarge)

It’s not quite as good as HiSilicon (700+ points), or Allwinner (600+) platforms, but still better than the score I got with Open Hour Chameleon (Rockchip RK3288): 262 points.

Network Performance (Wi-Fi and Ethernet)

I’ve tested networking performance by transferring a 278MB file over SAMBA three times with ES File Explorer. Wi-Fi performance is very good with an average transfer rate of 3.58 MB/s, making it one of the best 802.11n performer.

Throughput in MB/s (Click to Enlarge)

Throughput in MB/s (Click to Enlarge)

I’ve repeated the same test with the 10/100M Ethernet connection, which achieves 6.78MB/s which is quite good for a Fast Ethernet connection.

Throughput in MB/s

Throughput in MB/s

Run iperf instead with the command iperf -t 60 -s server_ip -d confirms the good performance.

Wintel_W8_iperf

Throughput in Mbps

iperf output:

[  4] local 192.168.0.104 port 5001 connected with 192.168.0.111 port 33327
------------------------------------------------------------
Client connecting to 192.168.0.111, TCP port 5001
TCP window size:  272 KByte (default)
------------------------------------------------------------
[  6] local 192.168.0.104 port 59163 connected with 192.168.0.111 port 5001
[ ID] Interval       Transfer     Bandwidth
[  4]  0.0-60.0 sec   652 MBytes  91.2 Mbits/sec
[  6]  0.0-60.0 sec   423 MBytes  59.1 Mbits/sec

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

I had mixed results with Bluetooth. Photo transfers over Bluetooth between Iocean M6752 smartphone and the box worked fine, but Vidonn X5 smartband (Bluetooth Low Energy) could not be found by the relevant app, and my Wireless PS3 gamepad clone failed to connect with Sixaxis Compatibility checker, although the drivers appears to be there.

Storage

Both a micro SD card and USB flash drive formatted with FAT32 could be mounted by the system. However, only the NTFS partition of my Seagate USB 3.0 hard drive could be mounted and accessed.

File System Read Write
NTFS OK OK
EXT-4 Not mounted Not mounted
ExFAT Not mounted Not Mounted
BTRFS Not mounted Not mounted
FAT32 OK OK

The system also only appear to support one USB storage device at a time, so when I connected my USB flash drive it automatically unmounted the NTFS partition on my hard drive with a notification popping up as follows:

Warning: One more MSC devices attached
Warning:  only one USB mass storage device can be used.

I ran A1 SD Bench to benchmark USB hard drive and internal flash performance, but I have to gave with the former, since I could not find a supported mount point. in ES File Explorer it shows as usb://1004/USB3_NTFS, where USB3_NTFS is the volume name, but this string is not recognized in A1 SD bench.

Read and Write Speed in MB/S (Click to Enlarge)

Read and Write Speed in MB/S (Click to Enlarge)

So finally, I only tested the eMMC which turns not to be so bad after all. It’s still much slower than the 160MB/s achieved with CrystalDiskMark on MeLE PCG03 in Windows 8.1, but compared to Android TV boxes, the read speed is acceptable, and the write speed is very good.

USB Webcam

I could install Skype and Google Hangouts, but once I connected my USB webcam I lost all input to the mini PC (keyboard and air mouse unresponsive) for 30 seconds or so before I could use the system again.

The camera was detected in Google Handhouts (Camera icon shown), but I could not get any image during calls. I tried to call “Echo / Sound Testing services” but I could get the lady voice at all despite the system audio working. Trying to call a real person, who just get me the Android home screen, and start Skype again.

Conclusion: if you want to use Skype / Hangouts on Wintel W8, use Windows 8.1…

Gaming

My three usual test games namely Candy Crush Saga, Beach Buggy Racing, and Riptide GP2 could all be installed and run on the box. I control Candy Crush Saga with the air mouse, and game play was nice and smooth. I then then switched to Tronsmart Mars G01 wireless gamepad for Beach Buggy Racing and Riptide GP2. The former was behaving just like on higher end Android TV boxes, with a higher framerate even with quality settings set to the maximum. Riptide GP2 was playable with high quality settings, but far from optimal, and the user experience appeared to deteriorate with time. I played  15 minutes (5 races), and the game felt slower at the end.

As mentioned in the “First impressions” section, some famous games (Dead Trigger, Shadowngun…) can’t be installed on the platform, and I’m assuming it might be because these have not been ported to x86 target (TBC), so to play Android games better go with Rockchip RK3288, Tegra K1/X1 or Qualcomm Snapdragon S8xx based platforms.

Wintel W8 Android Benchmarks

Before running benchmarks per se, let’s see what CPU-Z has to show for this Intel mini PC.

CPU-Z _ Intel Atom Z3735F Mini PC (Click to Enlarge)

CPU-Z _ Intel Atom Z3735F Mini PC (Click to Enlarge)

It correctly detects an Intel Atom Z3735F processor @ 498 MHz to 1.83GHz processor with HD Graphics. The screen resolution is 1920×1080, total RAM 1887 MB, and it has 4.36GB reserved for Android OS.

Wintel_W8_AntutuWintel W8 got 30,682 points in Antutu 5.7, which is fairly similar to the score with MeegoPad T01 running Android-x86, and I have compared to Rockchip RK3288 processor.  Rockchip RK3288 devices now get around 36,000 to 39,000 points.

Wintel_W8_VellamoBut Antutu can easily be cheated, so I’ve also run Vellamo 3.x, and compare it to the results I got with HPH NT-V6, another Rockchip RK3288 TV Box.

Vellamo 3.x Test Wintel W8
Intel Atom Z3735F
HPH NT-V6
Rockchip RK3288
Browser 2,683 2,549
Multicore 1,423 2,003
Metal 1,077 1,457

The Intel platform slightly outperform the ARM device in the browser test with the stock Android browser, but Rockchip RK3288 clearly has the edge in  metal and multicore benchmarks.

3DMark_Ice_Storm_ExtremeFinally, 3DMark Ice Storm Extreme shows the limitations of the Intel GPU, as 4771 points is significantly lower than 6,400 points in Allwinner A80 platforms (PowerVR GC6230), and 7,000+ points with ARM Mali-T764 GPU found in Rockchip RK3288.

Conclusion

When it comes to Windows 8.1, I don’t believe there’s much difference between vendors with a given processor, in that case Intel Atom Z3735F, except with eMMC speed, and thermal management. Wintel W8 does not seem to overheat at all, and although the eMMC may not be quite as fast as other low cost bay Trail mini PC I find it’s still acceptable. But dual boot with Android is the selling point of this device, and the Android firmware is actually fairly good with Google Play support, and very stable, but some applications like Office, Kodi, and Skype should still better run in Windows 8.1, and 3D graphics performance is a little weak compared to recent ARM targets.

PRO:

  • Dual boot image with Windows 8.1 with Bing and Android 4.4
  • Google Play pre-installed.
  • Relatively fast processor
  • Stable and fast firmware.
  • Very good Wi-Fi and Ethernet (10/100M) performance

CONS:

  • 32GB internal storage may not be enough for many people: 18GB in Windows 8.1, 4GB+ in Android, and it’s a bit slower than other Intel Atom mini PCs, but performance is still decent.
  • 3D graphics performance is a little weak, and some games can’t be installed in Android.
  • Pre-installed Kodi 15.1 Alpha 1 is not quite as stable, and video playaback is not as good as in Windows 8.1, so use Kodi 14/15 in Windows 8.1 instead
  • Skype and Hangouts not working in Android, but should be OK in Windows 8.1
  • Bluetooth Low Energy not supported
  • Windows 8.1 is not activated (in my sample)

The dual boot firmware helps Wintel W8 being a better device, as some of the cons, such as average Kodi or poor Skype support in Android, can easily be worked around by rebooting into Windows. So this type of device could really be great with 64 or 128GB internal storage, as with 32GB it’s likely to be frustrating over time, with the user having to free space regularly.

Kingnovel provide their K8 box for reviews, and resellers / wholesalers can purchase it in quantities (with 32, 64 or 128GB storage) by contacting the company via their Kingnovel K8 product page, or alternatively you could consider Kingnovel K8-II based on the same hardware but with a metal case instead. Individuals can pre-order Wintel W8 with the same dual boot firmware on the partner’s Aliexpress store or Geekbuying* for $126, although I’m not 100% whether Windows 8.1 with Bing is properly licensed, or they simply use the tablet version. Another model called Wintel CX-W8 can be purchased on Aliexpress for less than $100, but with Windows 8.1 only, and most definitely without a proper Windows license at that price.

[Update: * I’ve been told the following:

Geekbuying website which shows the K8 is not released by Kingnovel…
Actually, There are two original manufacturers for K8, There is a true situation need clarify to you.Our software is not the same as other’s.  our software is “A key switch external” for Android OS and Windows OS. it is very stable for running system.their software is “A key switch internal” for Android OS and Windows OS. It need to upgrade bois every time once switched. it will occur big risk for drop procedure easily.
So basically, that should mean Kingnovel K8 should not be easily brickable like Wintel W8 sold on Geekbuying]
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UDOO Neo Combines Arduino, Raspberry Pi, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Sensors into a Single $49 Board (Crowdfunding)

April 21st, 2015 6 comments

UDOO Neo was unveiled last February as the first hobbyist board features Freecale i.MX6 Solox Cortex A9 + Cortex M4 processor. I was expecting UDOO to design support board since their earlier UDOO board combined Freescale i.MX6 processor with an Atmel MCU, and the new processor allowed for integrating the same functionality into a single chip. The board is now on Kickstarter where you can pick UDOO Neo Basic for $49 (Early bird is $35), or UDOO Neo for $59 (Early bird was $45) adding an Ethernet port, some sensors, and 1GB RAM, instead of 512 MB for the Basic version.UDOO_Neo_Kickstarter

But both versions of the board basically share the same specifications:

  • SoC – Freescale i.MX 6SoloX ARM Cortex-A9 core @ 1GHz with 2D/3D GPU and ARM Cortex-M4 Core @ 166 MHz
  • System Memory – 512MB (Basic) or 1GB DDR3
  • Storage – micro SD slot, 8-bit SDIO interface (on expansion headers)
  • Video Input/Output
    • micro HDMI port
    • LVDS interface + touch (I2C signals)
    • Analog camera connection supporting NTSC and PAL
    • 8-bit Parallel camera interface (on expansion headers)
  • Audio – HDMI, I2S and S/PDIF (on expansion headers)
  • USB – 1x USB 2.0 Type A ports, 1x USB OTG (micro-AB connector)
  • Connectivity
    • Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n (Wi-Fi Direct supported), Bluetooth 3.0 / 4.0 Low Energy
    • UDOO Neo only – 10/100Mbps RJ45 connector
  • Arduino UNO compatible and extended GPIOs headers giving access to the following:
    • Serial – 3x UART ports, 2x CAN Bus
    • 8x PWM
    • 1x I2C interface, 1x SPI interface
    • 36 GPIOs
    • 6 Analog inputs
  • Sensors (UDOO Neo only) – 9-Axis Accelerometer, Magnetometer, & Gyroscope
  • Misc – Coin Cell RTC Battery Connector, Green Power Status LED, Configurable Red LED
  • Power Supply – 5V DC Micro USB;  12V DC power jack
  • Dimensions – 85mm x 59.3 mm

The board features Arduino compatible headers, and can be programmed with an Arduino IDE running on a separate PC or in the board itself. It has similar functionalities as the Raspberry Pi as it runs Linux (and Android), and offers similar interfaces, but adds Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Smart, and 9-axis motion sensors. So if you have a project that requires the power of Linux, and the I/O flexibility of Arduino, UDOO Neo boards should cost a little bit less than competing solutions, be easier to configure, and provide a more compact solution.

UDOO_Neo_Arduino_Raspberry_PiThe ARM Cortex A9 core will run Android 4.4.3 + Linux 3.10, with UDOObuntu distribution to become available before the board ships, and the ARM Cortex M4 should run MXQ RTOS. Android and Linux source code will be provided. They also claim UDOO Neo will be open source hardware like the original UDOO. However, a Google search for the older board only shows UDOO schematics in PDF format, but after checking a bit more, I found the documentation page where the Gerber files, BoM, and mechanical files are also freely downloadable. Since the original schematics are not available, it’s not 100% open source hardware, but it’s still better than what is provided for the Raspberry Pi boards.

Since it’s UDOO project team have been around for a while, there’s already an active community, and several example projects for the older boards, but many should be adaptable to the Neo boards, and since it’s Arduino compatible, you can also leverage existing Arduino libraries and sketches.

The Kickstarter campaign started yesterday, and they already raised over $40,000 out of their $15,000 goals. Beside the pledges for UDOO Neo boards, they also have various kits including one with a 7″ LCD touchscreen display, a power supply, and cables, and bundles with up to 5 boards. Delivery is scheduled for September 2015.

A few more details may also be found on UDOO Neo product page.

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Mediatek LinkIt Assist 2502 Open Source Hardware Board Targets Wearables and IoT Applications

April 10th, 2015 No comments

After LinkIt ONE, Mediatek Labs has introduced a new IoT development kit based on their Aster M2502 ARM7 processor with LinkIt Assist 2502 comprised of AcSiP MT2502A IoT SiP Core module, a 802.11b/g/n module, a GNSS module, and an exchangeable 240×240 16-bit color capacitive touch LCM Board. The AcSiP module can also be purchased separately, so you could use LinkIt Assist 2502 board for early development, because moving to your custom hardware based on AcSiP MT2502A module.

Mediatek_LinkIt_Assist_2502LinkIt Assist 2502A specifications:

  • MCU – AcSiP AI2502S05 module with  MT2502A (Aster) ARM7 EJ-STM processor @ 260MHz, 4MB RAM, 16MB flash
  • Display – 240×240 LCD module; 16-bit color depth; transflective; based on ST7789S driver IC.
  • ConnectivityAcSiP_MT2502A_Module
    • Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n via AcSiP CW01S module based on MT5931 SoC
    • Bluetooth 2.1 SPP and 4.0 GATT dual mode (part of MT2502A)
    • GPS via AcSiP CW03S module based on MT3332 chip supporting GPS, GLONASS, and BeiDou.
    • GSM 850/900/1800/1900MHz / GPRS class 12  (part of MT2502A) with micro SIM slot
  • I/Os
    • 14x digital I/O (Voltage 2.8V)
    • 4x analog input (0~2.8V)
    • 2x PWM
    • 2x external interrupt pins
    • 1x I2C (master only) @ 100Kbps, 400Kbps, 3.4Mbps
    • 1x SPI (master only) @ 104Kbps to 26Mbps
    • 1x UART (Rx, Tx), 1x UART on USB
    • Xadow (Seeed Studio) connector
  • Audio – Speaker, headphone jack
  • USB – micro USB port for charging and development
  • Misc – Power button, 2x user buttons, vibrator
  • Power Supply – 5V via micro USB port; 3.7~4.2V Li-ion battery (Battery is required to boot)
  • Dimensions – Board: 53x53x16 mm (with display); Module: 17x15x1.8 mm
Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

The kit includes LinkIt Assist 2502 Board, the 240×240 Touch LCM Board, a 240mAh Lithium-ion battery, and a user’s manual. The company provides the hardware design files including Eagle schematics and PCB layout for the main board and LCD module, as well as datasheets for the main ICs and modules.

Beside the hardware platform, Mediatek Labs also released MediaTek LinkIt Assist 2502 SDK providing a  plug-in for Eclipse IDE (with CDT) and tools to update development board firmware and upload software. Key feature of the software development kit:

  • C-based API
  • Compiles LinkIt Assist 2502 execution file format (.vxp)
  • LinkIt Assist 2502 API libraries used to create apps for the HDK
  • Communication functions for TCP sockets, HTTPS, Bluetooth 4.0 GATT and more
  • User interface through LCM display module with support for vector fonts (powered by Etrump), graphics, JPEG decompression, and more.
  • Compatible with Eclipse IDE (Indigo) with CDT plug-in (8.0.2 or later)
  • Supports Microsoft Windows XP, Vista, 7 and 8 (So Linux users are out of luck)
LinkIt Assist 2502 Software and Hardware Architecture

LinkIt Assist 2502 Software and Hardware Architecture

More details about the hardware and software can be found on MediaTek LinkIt Assist 2502 Development Platform page. LinkIt Assist 2502 kit will soon sell for $119 on Seeed Studio (currently out of stock), while AcSiP AI2502S05 module costs $29.50 in single quantity.

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iPazzPort KP-810-35BTT Backlit Keyboard Features a Switchable Touchpad / Numpad Zone

April 8th, 2015 No comments

I’ve read many people praise Logitech K400 Bluetooth keyboard for use with Android mini PCs, as it’s functional and costs just $25 on Amazon. I’ve just come across another similar keyboard with iPazzPort KP-810-35BTT that adds backlit keys and the touchpad zone can be switched to numpad by the touch of a button.

iPazzPort_KP-810-35BTT

Click to Enlarge

Key features listed for the keyboard:

  • Backlit QWERTY keyboard with touchpad supporting multi-touch and scrolling bar.
  • Connectivity – Bluetooth 3.0; max distance: 10m
  • Power Supply – 3x AAA Batteries
  • Dimensions –  314 x 112.5 x 17mm
  • Weight – 218g
  • Material – ABS

Backlit_Bluetooth_KeyboardIt’s a standard Bluetooh HID keyboard so it should work with any OS including Windows, Linux, Android, Mac OS, iOS… One possible downside is the lack of left / right mouse buttons. I have such touchpad without separate physical mouse buttons on Acer Aspire E5 laptop, and while a left click is easy to do, a right click might be more complicated, and click and slide – for example to move a window – is a real challenge. The specs mentions multi-touch support, but I’m not sure that mean gesture like pinch and zoom are supported in Android.

iPazzPort KP-810-35BTT can be purchased for $33.99 on Pandawill, and a few dollars more on sites like DealExtreme or Geekbuying. There’s also a 2.4RF version of the keyboard called iPazzPort KP-810-35 that sells for $26.99. A few more details can be found on the manufacturer page.

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Categories: Hardware Tags: bluetooth, keyboard, touchpad

EasyFinder Integrates Bluetooth Location Technology into AAA & AA Batteries (Crowdfunding)

April 5th, 2015 1 comment

Products leveraging Bluetooth Location technology have been around for a couple of years with tags like SticknFind, that you can stick to any devices and locate them with your Bluetooth enabled smartphone. A Texan inventor decided to integrate this technology into a rechargeable battery to easily let people find their remote controls or other battery operated device.

Esyfinder_BatteryThe Bluetooth transmitter is part of an AA battery, but they also provide a AA sleeve if your device requires larger batteries.

Once you’ve installed the battery, you need download and install EasyFinder app on your Android or iOS smartpphone, tablet, or smartwatch. It will let you register the battery, and estimate your device position, and once you are close enough, you can make the battery ring to find it more easily.

Easyfinder_appIn case you perfectly know where your remote control is, but you just lost your phone somewhere, you can touch the logo on EasyFinder battery to make your phone ring.

The inventor is looking to raise $30,000 via an flexible funding campaign on Indiegogo. A $25 pledge should get you an EasyFinder battery (Early Bird), but a $35 pledge will also include a charger, and other rewards include multiple quantities or an early beta sample. Shipping is $8 to North America, and $12 to the rest of the world, with delivery scheduled for November 2015, except for the Beta which should be sent in October.

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Iocean M6752 Smartphone Review

March 24th, 2015 No comments

Last week I provides specs, took some pictures, and run Antutu benchmark on Iocean M6752, a 64-bit ARM smartphone powered by Mediatek MT6752 octa-core Cortex A53 processor with 3GB RAM, 16 GB eMMC, and a 5.5″ FullHD display. I’ve been using the device as my main smartphone for over a week, and I’m now ready to write a full review for the phone.

General Impressions

At first the material and color used on the back cover feels a little strange, but I quickly got used it, and the build quality seems pretty good, and the phone is very light. I must have made one or two calls during the week, and I mainly use my smartphone to check emails, run social network apps, browse the web, play some casual games like Candy Crush Saga, watch YouTube videos, and make Skype calls, and for these tasks I could not really fault the tablet for any of these applications. I was not a believer in Full HD display for smaller phablet screen, but now that I have tried, I can say the 1920×1080 display looks significantly sharper than the 720p display on my older ThL W200 smaprthone.

Battery life is decent, although it might be a challenge to get a day of battery life at time. I also noticed the charge drop from 100% to 85% overnight with cellular and Wi-Fi enabled at night, which still seems a little more than I would have expected. The phone boot in about 20 seconds, and I have to say overall I could not fault the phone during my week of testing, except for GPS.

Benchmarks: Antutu, Vellamo, and 3DMark

I’ve alread shared the Antutu results last week, but here’s it is again today. With 37,008 points in Antutu 5.6.2, Iocean M6752’s score is not quite as high as the latest flagship models Samsung Galaxy Note 4, Meizyu MX4 or OnePlus One, but it’s still pretty good, as it places it between Google Nexus 5 and Samsung Galaxy S5 both based on Qualcomm Snapdragon 800.

Antutu 5.6.2 Results (Click to Enlarge)

Antutu 5.6.2 Results (Click to Enlarge)

It’s always better to run a few other benchmarks, as Antutu score is easily cheated, so I also ran Vellamo 3.1 and 3DMark’s Ice Storm Extreme benchmarks.

Vellamo 3.1 and Ice Stoerm Extreme Benchmark Results

Vellamo 3.1 and Ice Storm Extreme Benchmark Results

Vellamo 3.1 scores confirm the very good performance of the device, but 3Dmark benchmark score shows the limitations of the dual core Mali-T760 GPU used in the Mediatek processor, as for example Allwinner A80 gets around 6,500 points (PowerVR) and Rockchip RK3288 over 7,000 points (Mali-T764).

Vellamo 3.1 Comparison (Click to Enlarge)

Vellamo 3.1 Comparison (Click to Enlarge)

Internal Storage and Wi-Fi Performance

I used A1 SD Benchmark to test the performance of the internal storage. The results are pretty amazing, with 114.17 MB/s read speed and 77.79 MB/s write. However the utility reported “cache reads”, and this should obviously overstates the performance of the flash, but this is probably due to the 3GB RAM available in the system allowing for lots of caching.

Read and Write Speed in MB/s

Read and Write Speed in MB/s

Despite the probably inaccurate results, the flash is certainly fast, as the phone boots in 20 seconds. For reference, Infocus CS1 A83 tablet, second on the chart, boots in 15 seconds, and HPH NT-V6 (Rockchip RK3288) in 20 seconds, so the flash performance should still be at near the top.

Wi-Fi performance was tested by transferring a 278 MB file over SAMBA using ES File Explorer three times, and I placed the smartphone were I normally place TV boxes and development boards for a fair comparison.

Wi-Fi Performance in MB/s (Click to Enlarge)

Wi-Fi Performance in MB/s (Click to Enlarge)

Wi-Fi performance is excellent, as M6752 phone managed to transfer the file @ 4.1 MB/s on average (32.8 Mbps) only outperformed by two other devices, including one with 802.11ac Wi-Fi that’s not available with the phone.

Please note that the testing environment, including your router firmware, may greatly impact the relative Wi-Fi performance between devices.

It would have been nice to test 3G and LTE download/upload speed, but I don’t even have a 3G SIM card, and LTE is not supported yet where I live.

Rear and Front Facing Cameras

Rear Camera

The 14MP camera does an excellent job, just as good if not better than my Canon point and shoot camera, and better a very clear during day time, but as usual still pictures and videos in low light conditions are not very good. The auto-focus works well, and close shots including small text are clear. The  flash also does it job at night for close subjects. Video records only at 1280×720 by default, and I have not found a way to change the resolution in the camera app. Still picture default resolution is 4096×2304.

You can check photos samples, as well as video samples shot during day time, at dusk, and a night below that should be watch at 720p resolution. The original day and dusk videos are recording in 3GP format with H.264 video coded at 30 fps amd AAC stereo audio, but the night video drops to 17 fps.

Here’s the day time video.

Dusk video – http://youtu.be/POdcc-MUL1w

Night video – http://youtu.be/honLvSGV1Gk

Front-facing camera

The 5MP front-facing camera is OK, as long as the subject is not moving too much, and I’ve also used it in a Skype call without issues. Here are a few samples. Resolution is 2560×1440.

Video Playback

I installed Antutu Video Tester to test video playback on the smartphone, and results are mediocre with only 382 points against 700+ for the best device out there.

Antutu Video Tester Results (Click to Enlarge)

Antutu Video Tester Results

Many audio formats are not supported including wmav2, dts, ac-3, and flac. The processor also does not support 4K videos at all. It might be possible to improve video playback by installing thrird party media player apps like MX Player or Kodi.

Battery Life

I probably used the phone 3 to 5 hours a day browsing the web, checking email, watching YouTube video and playing some games, and a full charge in the morning would take me to the evening for sure, but maybe not up to late at night.

I used LAB501 Battery Life app to test battery life for web browsing, video playback (720p), and gaming. I started from a full charge until the battery  level reached about 15%, with Wi-Fi and Cellular on, and brightness set to 50%:

  • Browsing (100% to 14%) – 303 minutes (5h05).
  • Video (100% to 12%) – 255 minutes (4h15). So good for about 2 full movies on a charge.
  • Gaming (100% to 15%) – 166 minutes (2h46)

So this confirms the 2,300 mAh battery will be depleted pretty quickly, at least compared to the results I got with Infocus CS1 A83 tablet with a bigger 3,550 mAh battery, but also a larger 7″ screen.

It took the phone 3h30 to fully charge from 0% to 100%. You can however get a 90% charge is about 10 hours, so the last 10% may take a lot of time.

Miscellaneous

Bluetooth

I could pair with my other mobile devices without issues, and transfer pictures in either direction. Bluetooth Smart (BLE) also work, as I could retrieve fitness data from Vidonn X5 smartband.

GPS

When I ram Google Maps, and GPS test app at home (with Wi-Fi on), GPS seems to worked pretty well. But then I went for a short run, and checked GPS “performance” with Nike+ Running. This is a road around a stadium, so the tracking should look like an ellipse. Just for yourself…

Nike+_Running_Iocean_M6752I did wait for a GPS fix before running, and the phone was placed on my left arm, so it should have had line of sight to GPS satellites during the run. GPS is the weakest point of this smartphone. I just used the default settings, and I have not tried some Mediatek GPS hacks yet.

[Update: Turning Wi-Fi off will greatly improve accuracy]

Gaming

Candy Crush Saga, Beach Buggy Bleach, and Riptide GP2 all played very smoothly, even with high graphics details thanks to the Mali-760MP2 GPU.

Others

The touchscreen supports 5 touch points according to Multitouch app.

The smartphone has stereo speakers on the back, but they sound quite poor, and are nowhere near the good quality I get with Infocus C2107 tablet, so if you plan to use that smartphone to listen music with other people, you’ll definitely want to use external speakers.

Video Review

If you want to get more details about the phone, I’ve filmed a video going through the user’s interface (mostly settings), showing some benchmark results, tryout a largish PDF in acrobat reader, playing Candy Crush Saga and Beach Buggy Racing, and more. The fisheye effect in the video is due to my using an action camera (SJ1000).

Conclusion

Iocean M6752 is really a great smartphone for the price, with a large and sharp screen @ 1920×1080 resolution, excellent Wi-Fi performance, a fast processor, lots of RAM, provides performance close to flagship models from better known brand, and most features works very well. Unfortunately, GPS does not seem reliable, video recording seems to be limited to 720p30, video playback is not so good (according to Antutu Video Tester), and it would be nice to have a couple extra hours out of the battery.

PROS

  • Relatively fast 64-bit ARM processor
  • Lots of memory (3GB RAM)
  • Clear and crisp 1920×1080 display
  • Outstanding performance for internal storage and Wi-Fi.
  • Pictures looks good in good lighting conditions, both for close ups and landscape shots.
  • Good gaming performance
  • OTA update (first time ever I get an OTA update on one of my Android phones…)

CONS

  • GPS is a disaster. It will lock relatively fast, but may not be very reliable.
  • Antutu Video Tester score is a little low (<400) mostly because of audio codec failures, and 2160p videos are not supported.
  • A slightly longer battery life would be nice, although it should be good enough from morning till evening.
  • Video recording might be limited to 720p, and quality is pretty poor at night.
  • Rear speakers do not sound very good

GearBest provided the Iocean M6752 smartphone for review, and if you think this might be a phone you’d like to get, the company offers the phone for $219.99 including shipping with Coupon “Iocean”. Other sellers include Tinydeal, Geekbuying, and Coolicool with price starting at $222.99.

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Firefly introduces FireBLE Bluetooth Low Energy Board

March 23rd, 2015 1 comment

So just as today I wrote about XBAND BLE Sensor board, the makers of Firefly-RK3288 also announced their own Bluetooth Low Energy board aptly named FireBLE, and also integrating a 6-axis gyroscope and accelerometer, but instead of being based on Nordic or Cypress, the company went with an NXP BLE chip.

FireBLEFireBLE board specifications:

  • SoC – NXP QN9021 ARM Cortex M0 MCU @ 32MHz with 94KB ROM (protocol stack), 64 KB SRAM, 128KB flash
  • Bluetooth – BT 4.0 single mode. Central and peripheral mode with up to 8 simultaneous connections.
  • Sensors
    • MPU-6050 3-axis gyroscope and 3-axis accelerometer with an on-board Digital Motion Processor (DMP) capable of processing 9-axis motion fusion algorithms.
    • Battery and temperature sensor
  • USB – micro USB port for power and programming
  • Expansion – 3 expansion headers with access to SPI, UART, I2C, GPIO, and PWM, as well as OLED display interface.
  • Debugging – JTAG, support SWD online simulation on-board USB to serial.
  • Misc – Joystick, reset button, battery connector, 3x programmable LED
  • Power – 5V via micro USB port
  • Power Consumption – NXP MCU: Tx: 8.8 mA Rx: 9.25 mA; deep sleep: 1.8 uA
  • Dimensions – 80 x 45.5 mm

FireBLE_BatteryIt’s much bigger compared to XBAND, but at least it should be easier to power and program thanks to its micro USB connector. The board will support OTA firmware update via a smartphone, and targets various applications such as sport & health, smart home, PC device, smart TV, smart watch, automotive applications, and more. FireBLE SDK, schematics (PDF), CAD files, firmware, drivers, and tools are available in the Download section, and there’s also a Wiki (in construction) with some extra documentation and tutorials.

FireBLE is not available just yet, and price has not been disclosed. The board seems to be the first member of FireSmart family, which could be composed some boards targeting Internet of Things applications. Further details may be found on FireBLE product page.

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