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Review of M8 Android Kitkat TV Box Powered by Amlogic S802 SoC

April 17th, 2014 10 comments

A few days ago, I wrote an Unboxing and Specs post about the M8, an Android TV Box powered by Amlogic S802 quad core Cortex A9 processor. The review took a little as I was waiting for a new firmware. I’ve now upgraded this S802 Box, and been able to complete a review. As usual , I’ll start by giving my first impressions, have a look at the user interface and settings, test different king of video files, evaluate Wi-Fi performance, and try to cover most hardware features including Bluetooth, external storage, USB webcam, and so on. The overall user’s experience, is very similar to Tronsmart Vega S89, but there are some notable differences I’ll go through during the review.

First Boot, Settings and First Impressions

Shenzhen Tomato sent me a sample unit which they call TM8 (Tomato M8?), but I’ll just refer to the device as M8 in the review. The device comes with a simple IR remote comes, but did not include two AAA batteries. I only use the remote shortly, as I prefer using an RF remote with Android, and I used Mele F10 air mouse during testing which includes a QWERTY keyboard, and a gyroscope to easily move the mouse pointer. Beside the IR remote, the sample I received only included a 5V/2A power supply, so i also had to take a spare HDMI cable. Retail versions of the box may included an HDMI cable however. Before connecting the power, I’ve connected an Ethernet cable, an HDMI cables, and the Mele F10 USB RF dongle. There’s no power button on the device, so as soon as you connect the power, a blue LED lits up, and the device boots to the same Windows 8 / Metro-style user’s interface as Tronsmart Vega S89.

M8 Home Screen (Click for Original Size)

M8 Home Screen (Click for Original Size)

At the top of the screen there are status icons (Ethernet/Wi-Fi/Bluetooth/Storage), the weather (only Chinese cities are available in the settings), as well as the time and date. There are also six main menus, the same a Vega S89, but with different apps: Online Video (One Chinese app), My recommend (favorite apps), Setting, The firmware in M8 as quite a few Chinese apps, which were not present or removed from Vega S89 firmware. There are also shortcuts on the bottom of the screen with 4K player, Music, Chinese IPTV app, and APK installer by default. You can add and remove the ones you want as you wish, and I’ve done this with XBMC and Play Store as you can see from the screenshot. The user interface resolution is 1920×1080.

The “Setting” menu gives you access to the settings shown in the same Metro-style with four sub menus: Network, Display, Advanced and Other.

Advanced Setup (Click for Original Size)

Advanced Setup (Click for Original Size)

The network settings allow you to select Ethernet or Wi-Fi, the display settings has exactly the same options as Vega S89: autodetect resolution, UHD / 4K output support, hide or show the status bar, adjust the display size, and screensaver. I’ve enabled the status bar, as it’s more more convenient to use that way, and the bar automatically hides when you play videos. The Advanced menu will let you start Miracast (Source only, not a display), enable the software Remote control (RemoteIME.apk, adjust CEC controls, set your location (only Chinese cities are available), set the screen orientation, and select digital audio output (PCM, SPDIF pass-through, HDMI pass-through). The Other button will give some details about the Android version (4.4.2) and kernel version (3.10.10). There’s also an OTA System Update menu, which does not work. You can access the standard Android settings by going through Setting->Other->More Settings. The Android settings in this box are based on the phone interface, not the tablet one, which requires a few more clicks.

You can check the user’s interface and settings in the video below. If you have already watched Vega S89 UI walk-through video, you may have well skip this one as it’s the same, except from the pre-installed apps which are a little different.

I’ve used HDMI output with 1080p during my testing, which was automatically detected as I started the device. But If I switch to manual mode, I can also see 4K video output at 24, 25 and 30 Hz, and as well as 4K SMPTE.  There’s also an AV output, which is automatically used, if HDMI is not detected. It works fine including stereo audio output. Once you are using AV output, you can go to the setup menu to select between 480cvbs and 576cvbs. To switch back to HDMI, insert the HDMI cable. and select the input on your TV. A reboot is not necessary.

M8_About_MediaboxThere’s 5.75 GB space reserved for the user out of the 8GB NAND flash, and right after firmware upgrade, there’s over 5GB free space on the single partition available. The firmware was rooted. Looking into the “About MediaBox” section shows the model number is  “K200″, and just like the custom settings section, it shows Android 4.4.2 is running on top of Kernel 3.10.10.

I could install most applications from Google Play Store including Facebook, ES File Explorer, Root checker, Antutu, Quadrant, Vellamo, Candy Crush Saga, etc… Sixaxis Controller failed to install returning an error in Google Play. It’s the same behavior as Vega S89, and I’ve been told all paid apps won’t install. I’ve also installed the Amazon Play Store, to use one of the free app of the day I previsouly downloaded on another device (Riptide 2).

As mentioned previously there’s no power button on the device, and all you can do is to used the IR remote to enter and exit standby mode. A real power off will require you to disconnect the power.    I’ve checked the temperature of the box after running a 3D game. The top was 55 °C, the bottom 43 °C, with my room temperature around 28 °C. This is exactly the opposite of Tronsmart Vega S89 where the top is “cool”, but the bottom is hot.

As expected performance is good, and the system is extremely responsive, but the firmware is not that stable, as I experienced several hangs up / freezes, requiring a power cycle. This happened during benchmarks, gaming and while taking screenshots. In two instance, the device apparently turned itself off automatically (Blue LED off), maybe due to overheating. I also had some text input issues from times to times (double characters) using Mele F10, and it also happened with Vega S89 but I forgot to mention it.

Video Playback

XBMC 13.0-beta 1 is pre-installed on the device, so I’ve used XBMC for video testing. I only used MX Players in case of errors, and to double check Dolby / DTS audio.. The videos are played from a SAMBA share on Ubuntu 13.10 using the Ethernet connection of the device. I had no problem for SAMBA configuration in XBMC nor ES File Explorer.

I started with the videos from samplemedia.linaro.org, plus some videos with H.265/HEVC codec from Elecard:

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny), 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • 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) – Failed. Nothing happens.
  • WebM / VP8 – 480p/720p/1080p is – OK. (1080p failed in Vega S89)
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container, 360p/720p/1080p
    • XBMC – Audio only then crash,
    • MX Player – Can play and audio works, but everything is in slow motion with many frames skipped.

I’ve also tested some high bitrate videos:

  • ED_HD.avi (1080p MPEG-4 – 10Mbps) – No video, audio only.
  • big_buck_bunny_1080p_surround.avi (1080p H.264 – 12 Mbps) – OK. No audio/video sync issues as in Vega S89.
  • h264_1080p_hp_4.1_40mbps_birds.mkv (40 Mbps) – OK
  • hddvd_demo_17.5Mbps_1080p_VC1.mkv (17.5Mbps) – Video is supported but some frames are skipped.

I’ve also tested common audio codecs below, using PCM in XBMC, and I got the same results as with Vega S89:

  • AC3 – Can decode audio, but video was very slow
  • Dolby Digital 5.1 / Dolby Digital 7.1 – OK
  • TrueHD 5.1 & 7.1 – OK
  • DTS-MA and DTS-HR – OK

MX Player, however, won’t output any audio when playing these files using the H/W decoder.

Sintel-Bluray.iso, a free Blu-ray ISO file, could play just fine in XBMC, and I could also navigate between the eight chapters of the video.

I’ve tested several 4K Videos in MX Player (XBMC does not work – audio only):

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 (60 Mbps) – OK
  • Sintel.2010.4K.mkv – Frequent pauses (buffering?) during playback after enabling S/W decode for AC3 5.1 audio. No audio output using the H/W audio decoder.
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 – Slow motion video playback in MX Player…

I also tested several AVI, MKV, FLV and MP4 videos, and they could all play, except one FLV which only had audio output. I did not experience the audio/video sync issues I found in Vega S89 in any of the videos.

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

Wi-Fi Performance

Using ES File Explorer, I’ve transferred a 278 MB file between a SAMBA share and the internal flash, and vice versa, repeating the test three times. I’ve tried testing the transfer at different times to avoid the issues I had with Vega S89. But the results were more or less consistent. Wit5h this device there’s a clear difference in performance between transfers between SAMBA to the flash, and vice versa. Transferring the file between flash and SAMBA took between 3:16 and 4:54, but in the reverse direction it took between 5:51 and 7:47.  The transfer times averaged a poor 5:02 (0.92 MB/s), which makes M8 the laggard among devices I’ve tried.

M8_Wi-Fi_PerformanceI’ve tried to play some of the 1080p videos from Linaro samples, and none of them could play without pauses due to buffering.

I’ll add the usual disclaimer about Wi-Fi: “Please bear in mind there are many factors when it comes to Wi-Fi performance, and the results you’ve got with your setup may be greatly different from the ones I’ve gotten here.”

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

Bluetooh is built-in in this Android TV Box, and you can enabled it only from the standard Android settings, as there’s no option in the Metro style settings. M8 won’t find any devices (I have a Linux PC with a Bluetooth dongle and an Android phone). How I can pair my phone (ThL W200) to M8. Unfortunately it does not seem to work that well, as I failed to transfer any files, as there’s no notifications after sending a picture from either direction. My Ubuntu PC can detect M8, but fails to pair.

I’ve skipped Sixaxis Compatibility Check (free app), as M8 can’t install paid apps, and in this case, Sixaxis Controller.

External Storage

I could use both an SD and a USB flash drive formatted to FAT32 successfully, and played some MP3 and videos.

USB Webcam

I could use a low cost no brand USB webcam with Skype. Video was OK, the “Echo Test” in Skype could record my voice using the webcam mic, and repeat my voice. I could also start a video call in Google Hangouts, something that did not work with Vega S89.

Gaming

I’ve tested  games: Angry Birds Star Wars, Candy Crush Saga, Beach Buggy Blitz, and Riptide 2. The first two are simple games that play fine on all recent dual core or quad core hardware. I’ve configured Beach Buggy Blitz to maximum graphics settings, and it could still run smoothly. Riptide 2 could run very well too. With the Mali-450MP6 GPU there should not be any problems running the vast majority of Android games with high graphics details.

Since we can’t install paid app, I could not test Sixaxis controller. I found it’s usually difficult to play games on Android TV devices, but I’ve seen SomeCoolTechs video review of the Vega S89 using G910 bluetooth gamepad that works with many games without much hassle, which I may have to check out. You could also use with your smartphone as a controller using Droidmote.

M8 / TM8 Benchmarks

CPU-Z gives bascially the same information for M8 as for Vega S89. The CPU is reported as a quad core Cortex A9 r4p1 clocked between 24 MHz to 1.99 GHz with an ARM Mali-450 GPU, and the board is also the same: k200. However, the firmware won’t be fully compatible as Vega S89 Elite (8 GB flash) uses AP6220 Wi-Fi module (2.4 GHz), and Vega S89 (16 GB) and M8 (8GB) uses AP6330 (2.4/5GHz).

M8_CPU_Z

The rest is also exactly the same including pixel resolution (1920 x 1008), “dp” resolution (1280 x 672) 1578 MB RAM (available to Android), and 5.75 GB flash for the user.

Antutu 4.3.3 (Click to Enlarge)

Antutu 4.3.3 (Click to Enlarge)

M8 gets 24,133 in Antutu from, the play store, against 22,603 for Vega S89 Elite. In Vega S89, Antutu detailed results showed “4x cores @ 1104 MHz”, but in M8 it shows correctly “4x cores @ 1992 MHz”. Firmware is newer in the M8, so this may one reason. Some people have reported reaching 30,000 points in Antutu, with allegedly the same firmware, so I wonder if it’s because of some thermal management, as my room is relatively warm at 28 degree C. Just as with Vega S89, the GPU benchmarks have been run in portrait mode (607×1080), instead of full screen mode, which means other apps are likely to have issues too. I’d like to point out M8 failed to completely run Antutu once or twice, so it may be possible they’ve extracted some more performance as the expense of stability.

Quadrant (Click to Enlarge)

Quadrant (Click to Enlarge)

With 6536 points, M8 gets a significantly better score than Vega S89 Elite (5363) in Quadrant.

Vellamo failed to run completely in M8.

Conclusion

M8 / TM8 has very performance, unfortunately the firmware is not always stable, and there still quite a few issues that needs to be fix.

Let’s summarize the PROS and CONS

  • PROS
    • Smooth and fast firmware.
    • Android 4.4 Kitkat
    • XBMC 13 pre-installed
    • Blu-Ray ISO and 4K video playback
    • 1080p user interface
    • 4K video output up to 30 fps supported
    • Good Ethernet performance (60 Mbps video playback OK)
    • Good video formats/codecs support
    • USB webcam works with Skype and Google Hangouts
    • HDMI CEC support
  • CONS
    • Stability problems. Not catastrophic, but the device may still hang a few times. Could it be temperature related?
    • Bluetooth not working.
    • Poor Wi-Fi performance.
    • Can’t install paid apps via Google Play.
    • Sometimes non-optimal user’s experience:
      1. Need to switch between XBMC and MX Player depending on video files
      2. Multiple input devices required, e.g. if you use an air mouse, you still need to access the IR remote to put the device into Standby.
      3. Bluetooth not available from default settings menu
      4. Only Chinese cities available for weather
    • H.265 not working smoothly (frames skipped). Probably not fixable (not supported by hardware, and GPGPU not supported by Mali-450)
    • DTS, Dolby, AC3 not supported by hardware, but software decoded in XBMC (Can’t be fixed, SoC related)

As with Vega S89, the firmware needs some work. The main problems are the stability of the firmware, and Wi-Fi performance is very poor. Bluetooth does not appear to be working properly either, at least with my phone. Compared to Vega S89, M8 however provides a better video playback experience without any audio/video sync issues, and the USB webcam could be used with both Skype and Google Hangouts. There’s the same need to jungle between XBMC, and MX Player depending on the video codecs or container formats used.

I’d like to thanks Shenzhen Tomata for providing a sample, and if you’re planning to buy M8 in quantity you could consider purchasing via the company Alibaba website. Individuals can purchase the box through Aliexpress or GeekBuying for about $100.

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Review of Tronsmart Vega S89 Elite Amlogic S802 TV Box

April 12th, 2014 18 comments

Tronsmart Vega S89 is an Android TV Box based on Amlogic quad core Cortex A9 processor. You can refer to Tronsmart Vega S89 specs for more technical details, and checkout my Tronsmart Vega S89 Unboxing post for pictures of the device and the board. As a reminder there are two models of the device: Tronsmart Vega S89 with 16GB flash and dual band Wi-Fi (AP6330 module), and Tronsmart Vega S89 Elite with 8GB flash and 2.4 WiFi (AP6220 module). I’ve been sent the Elite version, but both version should have similar performance. I’ll start by giving my first impressions, going through the user interface and settings, then I’ll switch to video and audio tests, Wi-Fi performance, and perform some other tests for Bluetooth, gaming, external storage, USB webcam, etc.. trying to cover most of the hardware features available on this device.

First Boot, Settings and First Impressions

Vega S89 (Elite) comes with an IR remote, but the two required AAA batteries are not included, so you’ll need to purchase some separately. As we’ll soon see the user interface has been designed to be used easily with an IR remote, but once you start using Android apps, you’ll probably want to use another input device. So I’ve also used the Mele F10 air mouse during testing. I’ve connected an Ethernet cable, the HDMI and AV cables, and Mele F10 USB RF dongle, and the power supply, before pressing the power button which is oddly located at the back of the device. The complete boot took 38 seconds, and loaded the Metro style user’s interface shown below.

Tronsmart Vega S89 Home Screen (Click for Original Size)

Tronsmart Vega S89 Home Screen (Click for Original Size)

On the top of the screen, we can see the network status, the weather in your locale (only Chinese cities are available in the settings), and the date and time. There are also six main menus: Online Video (YouTube, Netflix, and XBMC), My recommend (favorite apps), Setting, My Apps (all installed apps), Music, and Local. The last two are some apps to access/play local files with a not-so-slick interface that you are unlikely to use. There are smaller icons at the bottom, some shortcuts with the Browser, File manager, Gallery, 4K player, Google Play Store and XBMC by default. You can add and remove the ones you want as you wish. You can navigate this user interface with the remote arrow keys. For those of you who are not fond of 720p UIs, I’ve got good news, as both video output and UI are 1080p, and you can click the screenshot above to see it the real size.

The “Setting” menu gives you access to the settings shown in the same Metro-style with four sub menus: Network, Display, Advanced and Other.

Display Settings (Click for Original Size)

Display Settings (Click for Original Size)

When you first boot the device, there’s no network at all, so you need to go to the Network settings, and select whether Ethernet or Wi-Fi, and both are working just fine. In the display settings, it will detect the maximum resolution for your TV, 1080p60 in my case, and it’s supposed to support UHD / 4K output, but I don’t own a 4K TV to check this out. Other options allow you to hide or show the status bar, adjust the display position/size, and whether you want to use a screensaver. I’ve enabled the status bar, as I find it’s easier to navigate between apps and home screen with the Mele F10. The Advanced menu will let you start Miracast (Source only, not a display), enable the software Remote control (not tested, but you can download RemoteIME.apk on your smartphone or tablet), adjust CEC controls, set your location (unfortunately only Chinese cities are available),  set the screen orientation, and select digital audio output (PCM, SPDIF pass-through, HDMI pass-through). The Other button will give some details about the Android version (4.4.2), kernel version (3.10.10) and provides access to OTA System Update, which is not enabled. You can also access standard Android settings by going through Setting->Other->More Settings. The Android settings in this box are based on the phone interface, not the tablet one, which requires a few more clicks.

You can check the user’s interface and settings in the video below.

I’ve used HDMI output with 1080p during my testing, which was automatically detected as I started the device. If I switch to manual mode, I can also see 4K video output at 24, 25 and 30 Hz, and as well as 4K SMPTE. SMPTE stands for Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers, but I’m not quite sure what it means in this context. There’s also an AV output, but there’s no option in the menu. If HDMI is not connected, it will simply switch to composite output, which worked as expected, including audio output. You can then choose between 480cvbs and 576cvbs. To switch back to HDMI, insert the HDMI cable. and restart the device.

TVega_S89_About_Mediaboxhe product comes with a 8 GB flash, and there’s well over 5GB free storage on the only partition found in the internal storage which should be plenty enough to install as many apps as you wish. The firmware is not rooted, and developer options are disabled in the firmware. I’ve written an Amlogic S802 root how-to that will root your device and enable dev options. Looking into the “About MediaBox” section shows the device name is  “VEGA S89″, and just like the custom settings section, it shows Android 4.4.2 is running on top of Kernel 3.10.10.

I could install most applications from Google Play Store including Facebook, ES File Explorer, Root checker, Antutu, Quadrant, Vellamo, Candy Crush Saga, etc… The only one that failed to show up in the list is Real Racing 3, but this one appears to have disappeared from most Android TV Boxes. Sixaxis Controller also failed to install returning an error in Google Play.

The power button on the device is used to power on and off the device. A short press is needed to start the device, but a long press (about 10 seconds) is required to turn it off. You can use the IR remote to enter and exit standby mode, but not powering off the device. There’s no soft power button, so these two are the only options to turn off the box. You can’t do that with a mouse, unless maybe you install some thrid party apps. I haven’t tried. I’ve also been asked to check power consumption, but I did not have the right connectors with me to use a multimeter or check with Charger Doctor. I’ve checked the temperature of the box after running Antutu benchmark. The top was 40 °C, the bottom 53 °C, with my room temperature around 28 °C.

The firmware is extremely stable, I’ve never experienced a crash and the system never hung. With a quad core Cortex A9 processor at 1.99 GHz, it’s also very smooth, and slowdowns are very rare. At one point, my brother entered my room, and I could hear a “wow” when he realized how fast switching between menus was in Angry Birds Star Wars.

Video Playback

XBMC 14 alpha is pre-installed in the device, so I’ve decided to test videos with XBMC, reverting to MX Player to check issues, and double check some features. As always, I’ve played videos from a SAMBA share. I had no problem for SAMBA configuration in XBMC nor ES File Explorer.

I started with the videos from samplemedia.linaro.org, and I added some Big Buck Bunny videos with H.265/HEVC codec from another source (Elecard):

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny), 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • 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) – Failed. Only shows “Click OK when playback has ended”.
  • WebM / VP8 – 480p/720p OK, 1080p is very choppy. Most probably software decode.
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container, 360p/720p/1080p
    • XBMC – Audio only
    • MX Player – Can play and audio works, but everything is in slow motion with many frames skipped. The number of frame skips does not seem to be related to the resolution.

I’ve also tested some high bitrate videos:

  • ED_HD.avi (1080p MPEG-4 – 10Mbps) – No video, audio only.
  • big_buck_bunny_1080p_surround.avi (1080p H.264 – 12 Mbps) – Video appears to be fine, but after a while I’ve noticed a massive 4 to 5 seconds audio sync issue
  • h264_1080p_hp_4.1_40mbps_birds.mkv (40 Mbps) – OK
  • hddvd_demo_17.5Mbps_1080p_VC1.mkv (17.5Mbps) – Video is supported but some frames are skipped.

I still don’t own an audio system with HDMI or S/PDIF input, and if anybody have recommendation for a low cost system or way (around $100), that would allow me to test SPDIF and/or HDMI pass-through in future reviews, please please let me know. Anyway, I’ve still tested the audio codecs below, downsampled to PCM, in XBMC, and most worked perfectly:

  • AC3 – Can decode audio, but video was very slow
  • Dolby Digital 5.1 / Dolby Digital 7.1 – OK
  • TrueHD 5.1 & 7.1 – OK
  • DTS-MA and DTS-HR – OK

There’s HDMI and S/PDIF pass-through in the menu, and I’ve already reported Geekbuying tested HDMI pass-through with success (apparently) with most codecs. However, when I switched to MX Player to play these files, none of them had audio. That probably means DTS, Dolby and AC3 are not supported by the hardware, but XBMC can use software decoding.

I was not confident about this one, but I threw a Blu-ray ISO into the test, Sintel-Bluray.iso, a free Blu-ray ISO file, and it worked perfectly, it was also possible to switch between the eight chapters of the video. I did not have audio/video sync issues.

Amlogic S802 can support 4K video in theory. I tried with HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4, a 60 Mbps UHD video, and it failed in XBMC (audio only), but could play perfectly with MX Player from a SAMBA share over Ethernet. I also tried some HEVC / 4K videos, but they had the same frame skipped problems as  lower resolution videos.

Finally, I played some random AVI, MKV, FLV and MP4 videos. They could all play, but some AVI still had that massive audio/video sync issues, the audio being late by a few seconds.

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

Wi-Fi Performance

The Wi-Fi test consists in transferring a 278 MB files between a SAMBA share and the internal flash, and vice versa. I repeat the test three times. The first time I tried the transfer speed was catastrophic, sometimes running at up to 2MB/s, but most of the time hovering around 50KB/s, and in some cases even stalling, with the transfer taking 11 minutes and 30 seconds. I went outside, and came back 2 hours later, to repeat the test, and I was unable to reproduce the problem I had during the first test, so I discarded it, but this may be something to keep in mind. The transfer times averaged a decent 2:35 (1.79 MB/s), which bring Vega S89 in the upper middle of the field, with performance similar to MK908.

Tronsmart_Vega_S89_WiFIPlease bear in mind there are many factors when it comes to Wi-Fi performance, and the results you’ve got with your setup may be completely different than the ones I’ve gotten here.

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

Bluetooh is built-in in this Android TV Box, There’s no option in the custom setup, but you can enable Bluetooth in the Android setting. Vega S89 can detect my PC, but can’t find my phone (ThL W200). However, my phone could find and pair with Vega S89. The first time I transfered a file it got stuck at 29% and the transfer failed, but the second time was successful.

I’ve also installed Sixaxis Compatibility Checker to check if Sony PS3 Bluetooth Controllers, or clones, can work following these instructions. The drivers appear to be there, and I can pair my gamepad with the device, but the program segfaults when listening for controllers. I was unable to install the paid version “Sixaxis Controller” due to the error “Couldn’t install on USB storage or SD card” in Google Play.

External Storage

I could use both a micro SD and a USB flash drive formatted to FAT32 successfully.

USB Webcam

I could use a low cost no brand USB webcam with Skype. Video was OK, the “Echo Test” in Skype could record my voice using the webcam mic, and repeat my voice. I could not access the Video in Google Hangouts however.

Gaming

I’ve tested 3 games: Angry Birds Star Wars,  Candy Crush Saga, and Beach Buggy Blitz. The first two are rather easy games on the GPU, and run just fine on most hardware. I’ve configured Beach Buggy Blitz to maximum graphics settings, and it could still run smoothly. As with other Android TV boxes and sticks, there are caveats because of the input devices, and the first two games can be played with an Air mouse, but not the IR remote, and racing games are very difficult to play because you have to move the cursor from on side of the screen to the other to turn left and right. If Sixaxis controller works you can use a Bluetooth controller to play games, but it failed to install on this device. Another solution might be to use remote apps like such as Droidmote.

Tronsmart Vega S89 Elite (and Amlogic S802) Benchmarks

Before running the benchmark, I’ve gathered some details about this new processor and board with CPU-Z. It’s a quad core Cortex A9 r4p1 clocked between 24 MHz to 1.99 GHz, although I’ve never seen it at 24 MHz even at idle. Maybe this frequency is used in standby mode only. The GPU is also reported correctly as an ARM Mali-450.

CPU-Z_Amlogic_S802_Vega_S89

CPU-Z – Amlogic S802 in Tronsmart Vega S89 (Click to Enlarge)

The model is referred to as VEGA S89 (k200), with k200 possibly a reference design code from Amlogic. Pixel resolution is reported to be 1920 x 1008, and there’s mention of 1280 x 672 “dp” resolution, but I’m not sure what it means here. The device comes with 2GB RAM, but only 1578 MB is available to Android, the rest probably being used by, or reserved for the GPU, VPU, and some other hardware sub-systems. As mentioned previously there’s 5.75 GB flash available to the user from the 8GB NAND Flash.

Antutu 4.3.3 Score

Antutu 4.3.3 Score

I’ve installed Antutu from Google Play (Version 4.3.3) and the score I got was 22,603, which will be disappointing if you’ve read GeekBuying blog post showing a score of 30,000. I’ve been told I’m not the only one to get this score with this firmware, and the previous firmware was different. The factory tried with Antutu 4.4.1 and got 28,000 to 30,000. I’m not sure whether it’s a problem with Antutu (CPU in test is reported as 4x core @ 1104 MHz, instead of 1992 MHz on GeekBuying blog), or if it is an issue with the firmware itself. In any case, I’m pretty sure it will be fix in future firmware. You’ll also notice the GPU benchmark has not been run in full screen (607×1080), testing in portrait mode in the middle of my TV. It’s still much faster than the Antutu  score with Rockchip RK3188T @ 1.4 GHz in Beelink A9, especially with the 3D graphics test which is over 3 times faster (S802/Mali-450: 6800 @ 607×1080, RK3188T/Mali-400: 1960 @ 1280×672).

Vega S89 Quadrant Score (Click to Enlarge)

Vega S89 Quadrant Score (Click to Enlarge)

In Quadrant, Tronsmart Vega S89 is faster than HTC ONE X (Nvidia Tegra 3 @ 1.5 GHz), especially because of much better I/O performance.

The device gets 617 points with Vellamo Metal, and 1602 points in Vellamo HTML5, which is lower than the 859 / 1864 points found in GeekBuying review, so there might indeed be a performance issue with this firmware.

Nenamark2 is rendered at 60.2 fps which is the maximum framerate possible.

Conclusion

Tronsmart Vega S89 (Elite) has good performance, a stable firmware, but there are still quite a few issues that needs to be addressed to make it a better product.

Let’s summarize the PROS and CONS

  • PROS
    • Fast and stable firmware
    • Android 4.4 Kitkat
    • XBMC pre-installed
    • Blu-Ray ISO and 4K video playback
    • 1080p user interface
    • 4K video output up to 30 fps supported
    • Good Ethernet and decent Wi-Fi performance (N.B: Potential stability caveat with regards to Wi-Fi, TBC)
    • USB webcam works with Skype
    • HDMI CEC support
  • CONS
    • Sometimes non-optimal user’s experience:
      1. Need to switch between XBMC and MX Player depending on video files
      2. Multiple input devices required, e.g. if you use an air mouse, you still need to access the IR remote to turn the device off (Standby), and get up to press the power button.
      3. Bluetooth not available from default settings menu
      4. Only Chinese cities available for weather
    • Some video issues: Audio/video sync with some AVI and FLV files, H.265 not working smoothly (frames skipped), and
    • DTS, Dolby, AC3 not supported by hardware, but software decoded in XBMC (minor)
    • Current firmware does not seem to be fully optimized for performance based on Antutu, Quadrant, Vellamo benchmark results
    • USB webcam could not be used with Google Hangouts

The firmware clearly still needs some work, but I believe this is a good base, as it is very stable, and most issues can be fixed by updating the firmware. Tronsmart usually tries to fix major issues, and GeekBuying will most probably send samples to some members of Freaktab to make custom ROMs that many are fans of, so in time, firmware is likely to improve. One of the most annoying issue is the audio/video sync issue with some AVI files, so if you have many in your media library, these may not be watchable. The need to try a video in XBMC, and then switch to MX Player if it does not work is also annoying, but hopefully they’ll improve XBMC overtime.

You can purchase Tronsmart Vega S89 Elite for $105 and Tronsmart Vega S89 for $120 from Geekbuying, and Aliexpress. There’s a $6 coupon (YYTKMFIX) for Vega S89 Elite, and a $10 coupon (GSFJMTQF) can be used on GeekBuying until April 18.

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Fin is a Bluetooth Ring That Let You Control Your Devices with Your Fingers (Crowdfunding)

February 14th, 2014 8 comments

We’ve already seen smart rings with NFC rings that can be used for authentication and share small amount of data (e.g. business card data) with smartphones. Fin is a completely different type of smart ring that fits onto your thumb, and let you control Bluetooth enabled devices by tapping different phalanges on your fingers, and/or the palm of your hand.

Fin_SmartringHere are some of Fin smart ring specifications:

  • MCU – N/A
  • Connectivity – Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR, and 4.0
  • Sensors – No details, but Fin can track accurate movement of your thumb on the palm and detect each phalanx of your finger where you are touching.
  • IP Rating – IP67 (Dust and Waterproof)
  • Battery -  Li Po custom battery with micro-USB charging dock ; One charge will last for 1 week; more than one year durable.
  • Misc – LED indicator

The ring will work with Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, and Windows Phones.

Example of Fin's Phalange Assignment

Example of Fin’s Phalange Assignment

RHL Vision Technologies, the Indian start-up behind the project, lists the key differentiating features as follows:

  • Three different devices support with a single fin
  • Recognize each phalanx of fingers
  • Acts as security authemnticator
  • Gesture interaction on palm
  • Fashionable
  • Water-proof, dust-proof and durable.

Another advantage is that you can rest your arm on the table while using Fin, which won’t lead to tiredness associate with products such as Leap Motion, although it should certainly less flexible and accurate.

They’ve showed some demos such as answering the phone with a tap of a finger, adjusting the volume of your car radio without removing from the steering wheel, using your hand to play shooting games, controlling a VR headset, and so on.

Development is advanced but not quite finished with product development expected to complete in April, and software development in May, before starting delivering products in July. The company is looking for funds to complete development and start manufacturing via Indiegogo. At this time, they’ve received pledge for about $80,000 out of their $100,000 target, but since it is a flexible funding campaign, they’ll receive the funds whether they reach their target or not and mass production should go ahead. You can pledge $79 to receive an early developer sample with support for 5 gestures by June 2014, and $99 to get the final version in September 2014. Shipping is $10 to the US and Asia, and $20 elsewhere. The official website is www.wearfin.com, but there’s not much more info than on the Indiegogo page.

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STMicro To Launch $24 M24SR Discovery Kit for NFC Applications at Embedded World 2014

February 14th, 2014 No comments

STMicro will unveil an a new development board called M24SR Discovery Kit absed on the company’s M24SR dynamic NFC tags to help designers easily add  NFC connectivity to different kind of electrical devices such as fitness bands, loudspeakers, washing machines, water meters, and more.

STMicro MS24SR Discovery Board (Click to Enlarge)

STMicro MS24SR Discovery Board (Click to Enlarge)

There are two models for MS24SR Discovery kits: Standard and Premium editions. The Premium editions adds a headset and a Bluetooth module to pair it with a smartphone via NFC. Here are the key features of MS24SR-Discovery board:

  • MCU – STM32F103RGT6 64LQFP 32-bit microcontroller, with 1Mbytes of Flash memory
  • NFC – M24SR64-Y Dynamic NFC/RFID tag
  • Antenna – 31 mm x 30 mm, 13.56 MHz double layer inductive antenna etched on the PCB (ANT14)
  • Display – LCD Color Screen (320 x 200 pixels)
  • Misc – Different color LEDs, Joystick for menu selection
  • Debug – JTAG connector for microcontroller firmware upgrade and debug
  • Power – +5V via USB microB connector
  • Premium version only:
    • Bluetooth module with audio outputs connected to Jack 3.5
    • Headset

The M24SR Discovery Kit can be use to implement NFC applications such as “tap and pair,” URL connection, send an SMS or an email, and business-card download. The company provides antenna reference designs, application notes, eDesignSuite, reference MCU drivers, and an NFC Android App for the board. Support will be available via E2E community.

The standard edition (M24SR-DISCO-STD) will sell for $24, whereas the premium edition (M24SR-DISCO-PREM) will go for $49. You can find the user’s manual, hardware documentation, including gerber files and schematics, as well as download links to tools and software,  and links to buy samples on MS24SR-DISCOVERY page. The company will also showcase the solution at Embedded World 2014, on February 25-27, in Nuremberg, Germany, and distribute free M24SR discovery kits to visitors. All you need to do it pre-register for a free sample.

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U-BRAIN MicroSmart is a Tiny “15-Axis” Sensor Module with Bluetooth or Zigbee Connectivity

February 4th, 2014 2 comments

Usuda Research Institute & Systems Corporation has just announced U-BRAIN MicroSmart, a tiny and lightweight 3D modules module with a “15-axis” sensor, 5 GPIOS, as well as optional Zigbee and Bluetooth connectivity allowing up to 100 meter range. The module targets wearable devices used for fitness and health applications.

U-BRAIN_Microsmart
U-BRAIN MicroSmart (UBN-MS8) Specifications:

  • Processor -  MCU + DSP
  • Sensors – 6-axis position sensors, 3-axis posture sensor, 3-axis direction sensor, 1 temperature sensor, 1 audio sensor, and 1 light sensor.
  • Connectivity – Optional? Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR or ZigBee with up to 100 meter range.
  • GPIO – 5 GPIOS, TTL.
  • Power Consumption – 10 mA max during use, 100 uA max in sleep mode
  • Power – Via microUSB port
  • Dimensions – 20 x 19 x 3.8 mm
  • Weight – 2g to 5g depending on presence and selection of communication module

The module will support Windows XP/Vista/7/9.0/8.1, Android 2.3 and greater, iOS, Linux, Unix and ITRON RTOS. Middleware and software tools to handle signals and motion control will be provided, and products like Google Earth and Unity are also supported.

If your Japanese is good enough, you can find more information in the press release and product brief.

Via Tech-On

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$99 CSR µEnergy Starter Development Kit for Bluetooth Smart

January 3rd, 2014 No comments

CSR has recently launched CSR µEnergy Starter Development Kit, a low-cost devkit based on their CSR1010, CSR1011 and CSR1012 modules for developers designing Bluetooth Smart, aka Bluetooth Low Energy, applications.

CSR_uEnergy_development_kitMain features of CSR µEnergy Starter DevKit:

  • Fitted with CSR1010, CSR1011, or CSR1012 module
  • USB or CR2032 battery powered (link selectable)
  • USB SPI interface to development PC
  • Headers – 1x Headers for CSR1010/CSR1012 I/O, 2x Headers for CSR1011 I/O
  • Misc – 1x push button, 1x LED
  • Dimensions – 80x68mm PCB area

CSR_Bluetooth_Smart_Modules
The modules are based on the Bluetooth Smart ICs with the same name, and the following characteristics:

  • CSR1010 – QFN 32 lead, 5 x 5 x 0.6mm, 0.5mm pitch
  • CSR1011 – QFN 56 lead, 8 x 8 x 0.9mm, 0.5mm pitch
  • CSR1012 – QFN 32 lead, 4 x 4 x 0.65mm, 0.4mm pitch

All three come with 128KB memory (64KB RAM and 64KB ROM), CSR1010 and CSR1012 has 12 digital I/Os and the same functionalities (only the package changes), and CSR1011 has more extension capabilities with a total of 32 digital I/Os. CSR1010/CSR1012 are better suited to health monitors, cycle sensors, and are to be controlled with an existing host MCU, whereas CSR1012 is recommended for keyboards, remote controls, and advanced mice.

Beside the target board, the development kit includes a mini-USB cable to connect to Host PC USB port, a printed Setup Guide, a Quick Start Guide (PDF), and CSR µEnergy Starter Dev Kit CD-ROM.

The company provides the free CSR xIDE software development environment (using GCC), example applications for the most common Bluetooth Smart profiles, example host applications for iOS and Android, datasheets for CSR µEnergy ICs, hardware design guidelines, manufacturing packs for module reference designs, as well as production test and configuration tools. Support is available via CSR developer forum and wiki.

You can watch the video below for an introduction of the kit, and an heart monitor demo with an iPod Touch.

CSR µEnergy Starter Development Kit is available now for $99 + shipping with CSR1010 (Part no. DK-CSR1010-10169) from Digikey and Broadband, but CSR1011 and CSR1012 are still under development, and will be available at a later stage. Further information is available on CSR µEnergy Starter Development Kit page.

Via Embedded.com

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Rezence Wireless Charging Standard Gets Rid off Charging Pads, Leverages Bluetooth 4.0 LE

December 28th, 2013 1 comment

I’ve just found out via my twitter feed that Nordic Semiconductor had announced the availability of the Bluetooth LE-based S120 8-link central protocol stack and nRF51 Wireless Charging SDK for wireless charging applications based on a new wireless charging standard called Rezence.

Rezence_wireless_chargingThe Alliance for Wireless Power (A4WP) gave their wireless power technology the name Rezence a couple of weeks ago. Rezence uses magnetic resonance, instead of inductance used in first generation products, and bring several key improvements:

  • Greater charging range – Your device does not need to be placed on a charging pad, but it can be placed anywhere within range (I could not find data yet).
  • Multiple device charging – Ability to charge multiple devices with different power requirements at the same time, such as smartphones, tablets, laptops and Bluetooth headsets. Up to 8 devices with Nordic Semi solutions mentioned in the introduction.
  • Ready for the real world – Charging surfaces powered by Rezence will operate in the presence of metallic objects such as keys, coins, and utensils.
  • Bluetooth communication – Uses existing Bluetooth Smart (Bluetooth 4.0 LE) technology, minimizing the manufacturer’s hardware requirements.

The alliance also envisions smart charging zones in public places that can both be used for charging and “value-added services such as mobile payments, gaming, advertising, peer-to-peer data sharing and location based services”.

Several “big players” are members of A4WP including Samsung, Qualcom, Broadcom, Texas Instruments, NXP, just to name a few.Rezence_Block_Diagram

Power charging occurs via 6.78MHz resonators, and Bluetooth 4.0 LE (Smart) is used for out-band signaling between the power transmitting unit (PTU) and the power receiver unit (PRU), and although specifications are only accessible to paying members, several technical publications are available that can provide a better understanding of Rezence standard.

For example, according to a May 2013 presentation, there will be 5 categories to handle five different type of device / power requirements:

  • Category 1 – Bluetooth headset (On Roadmap)
  • Category 2 – Feature phone (3.5 Watts)
  • Category 3 – Smartphone (6.5 Watts)
  • Category 4 – Tablet (On Roadmap)
  • Category 5 – Laptop (On Roadmap)

Feature phones and smartphones are supported in Version 1.0 of the specifications, with other devices becoming supported at a later stage.

There will also be 5 classes of Power Transmitting Units:

  • Class 1 – On roadmap – Supporting 1 category 1 device.
  • Class 2 – 10 W – Supporting 1 category 1, 2 or 3 device.
  • Class 3 – 16 W – Supporting 2 category 1, 2, or 3 devices, or 1 category 4 device.
  • Class 4 – 22 W – Supporting 3 category 1, 2, or devices, or 1 category 4 device.
  • Class 5 – On roadmap – TBD

That means that none of the first generation of Rezence products might be handle to charge your tablet and smartphone simultaneously, and only one tablet can be charged at a time, but up to three phones, or headsets can be charged simultaneously. The document is dated from May 2013, and Class 5 PTU may have already been defined.

First Rezence compatible devices and chargers should start to become available in 2014. You may want to visit rezence.com to find out more about the standard.

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Categories: Hardware Tags: bluetooth, rezence, standard