Posts Tagged ‘bluetooth’

CHIP Pro is a $16 WiFi and Bluetooth 4.2 System-on-Module Powered by a $6 GR8 ARM Cortex A8 SIP

October 12th, 2016 24 comments

Next Thing CHIP board and corresponding PocketCHIP portable Linux computer have been relatively popular due to their inexpensive price for the feature set, as for $9, you’d get an Allwinner R8 ARM Cortex A8 processor, 512MB flash, 4GB NAND flash, WiFi & Bluetooth connectivity, and plenty of I/Os, which made it very attractive for IoT applications compared to other cheap boards such as Raspberry Pi Zero and Orange Pi One. The first board was mostly designed for hobbyists, but  company has now designed a new lower profile system-on-module called CHIP Pro based on Next Thing GR8 SIP combining Allwinner R8 SoC with 256MB DDR3 RAM that can be used for easy integration into your own hardware project.

chip-proWhile the original CHIP board exposed full USB ports and interface for video signal, the new CHIP Pro is specifically designed for IoT with the following specs:

  • SIP – Allwinner R8 ARM Cortex A8 processor @ up to 1.0 GHz with Mali-400 GPU + 256MB DDR3 RAM (14×14 mm package)
  • Storage – 512MB SLC NAND flash, 1x micro SD port
  • Connectivity – 802.11 b/g/n WiFi + Bluetooth 4.2 with chip antenna and u.FL antenna connector
  • USB – 1x micro USB port for power and serial console access
  • Expansion – 2x 16-pin with 2x UART, parallel camera interface, I2C, SPI, 2x PWM, USB 2.0 OTG, USB 2.0 host, 2x microphone, 1x headphone
  • Power Supply – AXP209 PMU supporting USB power, Charge in, and 2.9 to 4.2V LiPo battery
  • Dimensions – 45 x 30 mm
  • Certifications – CE and FCC part 15
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The module is pre-loaded with the company’s Linux based GadgetOS operating system, but custom firmware flashing is available for orders of 1,000 modules or more. Potential applications include physical computing, voice recognition, smart consumer devices, portable audio devices and so on. Software support should be identical to what you already get in CHIP board, and you can already find some hardware design files specific to CHIP Pro on Github including datasheets for the system-on-module and Allwinner GR8 SIP.

chip-pro-devkitIn order to help you getting started as fast as possible, a development kit is also available with a baseboard and two CHIP Pro modules. The baseboard include a 5V-23V power jack, a 3.5mm audio jack, a micro USB port, a USB host port, some LEDs, a power button, and female headers for easy access to all I/Os.

CHIP Pro SoM will start selling for $16 in December of this year without minimum order quantity, and no volume discount, e.g. if you buy 1 million SoMs, you’d have to pay 16 million dollars. One issue with CHIP board is that if you asked Allwinner for a quote for module used in the board, it would cost more or about the same as the board itself. Allwinner/Next Thing GR8 is completely different, as you can actually buy it for $6 (including AXP-209 PMIC) to integrate into your own project. The development kit is available now for $49. More technical details and purchase links can be found on the product page.

Thanks to Nanik for the tip.

Silicon Labs Introduces $29 Thunderboard React Bluetooth 4.2 LE IoT Board and $69 Derby Car Kit

October 3rd, 2016 No comments

Earlier this summer, Silicon labs launched ThunderBoard React, a Bluetooth 4.2 LE compliant board with sensors and expansion headers for IoT applications based on the company’s BGM111 Bluetooth Smart Module, and to make it much more fun to work with the company has released a Derby Car kit controlled by the board.

thunderboard-reactThunderBoard React specifications:

  • Bluetooth Module – BGM111 Bluetooth 4.2 compliant module with integrated Tx and Rx antenna, and Cortex M4 MCU @ 38.4 MHz with 32 kB RAM and 256 kB Flash
  • Extra Storage – Footprint for 8Mb external flash storage
  • Sensors – Si7021 relative humidity and temperature, Si1133 UV index and ambient light sensor, Invensense MPU-6500 6-axis gyro/accelerometer, Si7201 hall effect position sensor
  • Expansion – 12 breakout pina to connect to BGM111 GPIOs
  • Debugging – 10-pin mini Simplicity debug connector
  • Misc – 2x momentary buttons, 2x LEDs, power selection switch
  • Power Supply – CR2032 coin cell battery slot or external power (Vext)
  • Dimensions – 44 x 25 mm
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Thunderboard React Block Diagram – Click to Enlarge

The firmware for the board can be found in Silicon Labs Bluetooth Smart SDK as a sample application, and developed using Simplicity Studio v3 and IAR Embedded Workbench for ARM v7.30. The company also provides Thunderboard Android and iOS apps with source code in order to control the board and monitor the sensors’ data. Data can optionally be synchronized to Thundercloud platform based on Firebase by Google, again with source code available on Github.

thunderboard-appBeside just getting the board to play with BLE, sensors, apps, and the cloud platform,  you could also buy the Derby Car kit. The wheels are not driven by any motors, so the car can mostly be seen as a case for the board, and used for motion sensing while the car is moving.

You’ll find more details on Thunderboard React product page, as well as the Quick Start Guide where you’ll find link to buy the board for $29, and the complete car kit (including the board) for $59.

$16 and Up RGB LED Bluetooth 4.0 Light Bulbs include Speakers

September 20th, 2016 1 comment

I’ve just stumbled upon “H1007 Smart E27 Bulb Bluetooth 4.0 Speaker” on GeekBuying. It’s a smart Bluetooth 4.0 RGB LED E27 light bulb that also include a speaker, and sells for $22.59 shipped. I find it’s a good idea, and after looking for other models, I’ve found the $99 Twist light, as well as a much cheaper “OY-QP-BM13” model on eBay going for $15.99.


H1007 (left) vs OY-QP-BM13 (right)

I’ll look at (HZ-)H1007 specifications first:

  • Light Bulb
    • 5W; adjustable RGBW; 330 Lumens; Color temp: 6500K
    • Screw Type – E27/E26
  • Connectivity – Bluetooth 4.0 LE up to 20 meters range
  • Audio – 3W amplifier; 3D surround audio
  • Voltage – 100 to 240V 50/60Hz
  • Dimensions – 72 mm diameter x 136 mm length
  • Weight – 146 grams

The body of the light bulb is available in white, red, golden, and blue, and it ships with a user’s manual in English and Chinese. I could not find the app on GeekBuying, but after a quick search I found a GearBest video showing how it works, and also discovered they sell it for $15.99.

The app is called Hlight and works for Android 4.3+ and iOS 4.0 or greater. Unfortunately, the reviews of the app on the Google Play Store are mostly negative with people complaining that the app does not work anymore, or pairing issues. The sound quality did not feel that good in the video either, and some people mentioned the light is a bit dim.

The “eBay” model should be brighter since it’s supposed to emit 800-840 lumens with a 6W white LED, and 3W RGB LED. It ships with its own basic remote, and Bluetooth range is said to be 5 to 10 meters. There’s very little information about the light bulb on the web, and I could not find the app.

Categories: Android, Audio, Hardware, Video Tags: Android, audio, ble, bluetooth, ios, IoT

Vernee Apollo Lite Helio X20 Smartphone Review – Part 2: Android 6.0 Firmware

September 11th, 2016 8 comments

I’ve already taken pictures and shown Antutu benchmark in the first part of Vernee Apollo Lite review, an Android 6.0 smartphone powered by Mediatek Helio X20 deca-core processor. Now that I’ve had time to play with the phone for over 10 days, I’ve ready to report my experience and write the second part of the review about performance, features, and issues I encountered with the phone.


General Impressions

First, the build quality feel pretty good, the phone is light and slim. I’ve only called once or twice, and voice quality was good, but I mostly use my phone over WiFi to browse the web, check emails, watch YouTube, and access social networks. More rarely, I also use GPS while running and during trip, and play some games. To be honest, the first few days did not work as expected, as many apps would either be much slower than last year Iocean M6752 smartphone or failed to start entirely with the message “Unfortunately app has stopped”. Fortunely, I eventually found that Android 6.0 Adoptable Storage was the source of those two issues, as when I installed a 32GB Class 10 micro SD card I used as storage device, and most app would install on the micro SD card, which has very good sequential speeds, but terrible random I/Os performance. The latter explain apps were not always responsive, and some apps simply don’t like to be installed on an SD card – at least on Apollo Lite Android firmware – like Firefox or, while others lose the ability to access Widget such as Adsense. Once I found out about the issue, I moved most apps back to internal storage, and everything felt much faster, and I could run Firefox, MAPS.ME, and access Adsense Widget.

However, I have to say it’s hard to really notice a big difference in terms of performance between my older Mediatek MT6752 octa-core Cortex A53 based Iocean M6752 phone, and Mediatek Helio X20 deca-core Cortex A72/A53 based Vernee Apollo Lite phone for most tasks, except for some 3D games, and handling large PDF files.

One big improvement over Iocean phone is the battery, since it’s much bigger on Vernee Apollo Lite, and usually last well over 24 hours with 3 to 4 hours of active browsing and/or YouTube watching per day. Charging is much faster too, and while Iocean would take over 3 hours to charge, I can charge Apollo Lite in just one hour from about 10% to 100% thanks it is fast Pump 3.0 charger. Overnight battery discharge rate is however a little high with WiFi and 3G (calls) enabled, as the charge goes down between 20 to 25%, meaning if my phone was fully charge before going to bed, I’d only get 75 to 80% charge in the morning.

Once I found a workaround for the issues related to adoptable storage, I was very happy with the phone, although a better rear camera, and slightly more accurate GPS would have been a bonus.

Benchmarks: Antutu, Vellamo, and 3DMarks

I’ve reproduced Antutu 6.2.1 benchmark results for people who have not read the first part of the review.

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A comparison with other models reveals Apollo Lite is right between 360 N4 smartphone (also based on Helio X20 processor) and iPhone 6 performance.


Vellamo benchmark shows Vernee Apollo Lite performance is roughly equivalent or even a little better than Samsung Galaxy S6 with Exynos 7420 Octa processor, or LG G Flex 2 with Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor.

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So far, I’ve always tested graphics performance using 3Dmark Ice Storm Extreme in my mobile and TV box reviews, but the ARM Mali-T880 GPU found in Mediatek Helio X20 SoC is a bit too fast for the task, and the score maxed out, despite frame rate not always topping at 60 fps.

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So instead I ran Ice Storm Unlimited, where Apollo Lite score 15,637 points, which almost places it in the top 200 Android & iOS devices for this benchmark.

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The GPU also supports 3Dmark Sling Shot, the reference benchmark for OpenGL ES 3.1, and the smartphone got 995 points. Since there are less OpenGL ES 3.1 capable devices, or simply because this benchmark is less popular, Apollo Lite would be ranked in 68th position among phones powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor.

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Storage and Wi-Fi Performance

A1 SD Benchmark app was use to test the performance of the internal storage (32GB eMMC flash), and my micro SD card, and Vernee seems to have gone with a cheaper eMMC flash only capable of 36.25MB/s read speed, and 12.05 MB/s write speed. The Class 10 SD card I used has much higher performance with 92.76MB/s and 55.92 MB/s write speed. However, you must remember those are sequential speed tests, and for app IOPS also matter a lot, and based on my experience app installed in internal memory run much faster than the one installed in the SD card, so that’s something to keep in mind.

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You can see from the chart below with mobile devices (smartphones / tablets) with a green dot, that Vernee Apollo Lite does not exactly have the fastest storage.

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s - Click to Enlarge

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

I transfered a 278 MB file over SAMBA using ES File Explorer three times to test 802.11n @ 2.4 GHz and 802.11ac performance, and I placed the smartphone in the exact same location where I usually review TV boxes and development boards in order to have results that can be comparable.

Throughput in MB/s - Click to Enlarge

Throughput in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

The results are quite surprised because Vernee Apollo Lite has both one of the worst WiFi performance with 802.11n @ 2.4GHz averaging 1.4 MB/s, and one of the best 802.1ac performance averaging 6.5 MB/s in my environment. Download and upload speeds are similar with 802.11n, but there’s an asymmetry with 802.11ac, as downloads average 9.5 MB/s, and uploads only 5 MB/s.

Rear and Front Facing Cameras

Rear Camera

I’ve taken photos with different focus points, and light conditions using “high quality” settings with renders 5376×3024 resolution JPEG images with quality set to 95. You can find 26 photo samples in the linked Google Photo album.

Click to Access Photo Album

Click on the Image to Access the Photo Album

The way the camera focus works is a little weird, as it only relies on focus before you press the button, and once you press the button, it assumes focus is already done, and shots immediately. In my case, this led to many pictures looking a little blurry or washed out due to a lack of good focus.

I also shot two videos using the default settings (medium). The first one during day time.

Video details: 3gp container, H.264 video codec @ 17087 kbps, MPEG-4 AAC stereo @ 48,000 Hz / 12 kbps, 1920×1080 resolution, 30 fps.

The second one during night time.

Video details: 3gp container, H.264 video codec @ 8250 kbps, MPEG-4 AAC stereo @ 48,000 Hz / 12 kbps, 1920×1080 resolution, 14 fps.

So overall, the rear camera is clearly not the strong point of this smartphone.

Front Camera

I’ve also take a few pictures with the front camera, which can be found in a Google Photo album. The images native resolution is 2560×1920.


Click on the Image to Access the Photo Album

I also made a 1h30 video call with Skype using the front camera, and the quality was perfectly satisfying.

Video Playback

I manually installed Antutu Video Tester 3.0 app in the phone in order to evaluate video playback, and Apollo Lite got 849 points, which remains acceptable, but still not reaching the best devices that achieve a little over 1,000 points.


The partially supported videos were so, because of failed audio playback of AC-3, DTS, and Flac audio.

vernee-apollo-lite-audio-failure Seven videos completely failed to play, but it’s hard to pinpoint the exact reason since for example, MKV files could be played, as well as videos with AVC codec, but a particular MKV + AVC video failed to play at all.


Battery Life

Vernee Apollo Lite battery is the most significantly improved over my previous phone. The large 3,180 mAh battery allows for well over 24 hours of use, with my typical use case being 3 to 4 hours a day browsing the web, watching YouTube videos, and checking emails. My previous phone, Iocean M6752, would barely last from morning to evening, but not quite reaching bed time.

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Another big improvement is that charging from basically 0% to 100% just takes one hour, while Iocean M6752 would take 3h30 to charge to 100% (one hour to 90%) while new, and 18 months, it’s even slower to reached an acceptable charge level.

In order to give a more formal evaluation of battery life, I ran LAB501 Battery Life app‘s web browsing, video playback (720p), and gaming tests. I started from a full charge until the battery  level reached about 15%, with Wi-Fi & cellular (3G, no data) enabled, and brightness set to 50%.

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Vernee Apollo Lite results

  • Browsing (100% to 15%) – 467 minutes (7h47).
  • Video (100% to 15%) – 396 minutes (6h36), or about 3 to 4 typical movies.
  • Gaming (100% to 15%) – 261 minutes (4h21)

Battery life in minutes

Vernee Apollo Lite’s 3,180 mAh battery, compares to the 2,300 mAh battery in Iocean M6752 smartphone, and 3,550 mAh battery in Infocus CS1 A83 7″ tablet.

The only real downside about battery life is that “Phone Idle” may consume a little too much, as the battery level drops between 20 and 25% overnight. Some members of Vernee complained about this since “OTA-2” firmware update, so a subsequent firmware update may improve this.



I could pair the phone with other Android devices, and transfer photos and files between them. Bluetooth LE works fine too, as I could retrieve fitness data from my Bluetooth 4.0 smart fitness band using Smart Movement app. I also used a Bluetooth 3.0 audio headset successfully.


GPS fix is super fast, as test with GPS Test, and maps app such as Google Maps or MAPS.ME. Accuracy is not perfect however when using Nike+ Run Club, the new version of Nike+ Running. The screenshot above shows the map and running path as shown from the app when WiFi and GPS “High accuracy” are enabled, and when only GPS device is used with WiFi disabled.The latter was tested since I’ve previously found out that disabling WiFi could greatly improve GPS accuracy.

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I follow a road around a stadium, so it should be a nice regular ellipse like shape, and it’s not perfect both in “High accuracy” mode with GPS , WiFi, and Cellular network, and in “Device only” mode with WiFi disabled. It’s basically the same. The undulations are about 5 to 15 meters which may be within GPS accuracy (TBC).

One problem I have with Nike+ Run Club is that the screen will turn off after 30 seconds (or whatever settings are set in Android), while the old app Nike+ Running had no such issues. I’ve worked around the issue by setting Settings->Display->Sleep to 30 minutes in Android settings before I go for a run.


Candy Crush Saga, Beach Buggy Bleach, and Riptide GP2 all played very smoothly as expected with an ARM Mali-T880 GPU. So I tried a more demanding 3D racing games with CSR Racing 2, and again it felt the game was rendered at 60 fps, or close to this framerate.


Multitouch app reports the touchscreen supports 5 touch points. The smartphone looks like it has stereo speakers since it has two sets of holes on the bottom side. However, I can mute the phone, by covering one of the hole… I’d say audio quality through the speaker is only average, and I recommend using headphones whenever possible, or external speakers. I also find myself often muting the phone inadvertently by placing my thumb right on the speaker location. It would have been much better to place the speaker on the back of the phone instead.

Video Review

If you’d rather see the smartphone in action, I’ve shot a video showing some of the settings, benchmark results, the camera function, GPS fix speed, gaming with Riptide GP2 and CSR Racing 2, handling a large PDF, and show there are no stereo speakers, but only one speaker.


Vernee Apollo Lite has good firmware, fast and stable (after I moved apps to internal storage), with performance similar to Samsung Galaxy S6 or iPhone 6 according to benchmarks, 802.11ac performance is one of the best I’ve seen, and the battery life is much better (~ 24 hours) and charging times much shorter than my previous Mediatek phone.. However it’s not quite perfect, as the camera does not always deliver pretty pictures, which has probably more to do with the firmware than the hardware itself, the company has gone cheap with the eMMC flash, 2.4 GHz 802.11n performance is poor, despite being stable,


  • Fast Mediatek Helio X20 (M6797) deca-core processor
  • Plenty of memory (4GB RAM)
  • Good 1920×1080 display
  • Excellent Wi-Fi 802.11ac performance
  • Outstanding gaming performance
  • Long battery life, and short charing time (~1 hour)
  • Fast GPS fix, and relatively accurate
  • OTA firmware update support
  • Support forums


  • Photos taken with the rear camera are not always very clear, with what looks like an auto-focus issue.
  • 4K video recording is supported by Helio X20, but not implemented in the current firmware.
  • Adoptable storage option with micro SD card may cause problems with apps crashing or losing features like widget support.
  • Poor WiFi performance while using 802.11n @ 2.4 GHz (with my router)
  • eMMC flash with average performance leading to longer boot time (~35 to 40 seconds) and app loading times (CSR Racing 2 feels especially slow to load races)
  • The back of the phone gets rather warm when running benchmarks or playing games.
  • Mono speaker only, and quality is just average. It’s also poorly placed on the bottom side of the phone where it is easy to cover it up.
  • GPL source code not released yet

Tomtop kindly sent Apollo Lite smartphone for review, and if you are interested in the phone, you could consider purchasing it from them for $209.99 including shipping with ApolloLite068 coupon. There are also several other sellers offering the phone including GearBest, GeekBuying, eBay, and Aliexpress for $227.99 and up.

You Can Now Buy ESP3212 ESP32 WiFi + Bluetooth Module for $6.95

September 5th, 2016 25 comments

After the official launch of ESP32 processor for less than $3, it did not take long before ESP32 modules hit the market, and Seeed Studio has already listed ESP3212, one of the first modules based on Espressif ESP32 Bluetooth LE + WiFi SoC, for $6.95 with shipping scheduled to start on September 23, 2016.

ESP3212-ModuleESP3212 module specifications:

  • SoC – Espressif ESP32 dual core Xtensa LX6 processor @ up to 240 MHz with 448 KB flash, 520 KB SRAM, 16 KB SRAM in RTC, WiFi and Bluetooth LE connectivity
  • Storage – 4MB Winbond SPI flash
  • Connectivity
    • 802.11 b/g/n/e/i WiFi (HT40) up to 150 Mbps
    • Bluetooth 4.2 BR/EDR and BLE
    • 3 dBi PCB antenna
  • Headers – 22x GPIOs (multiplexed with ADC, Touch, DAC, SPI, UART, CAN, ETH, IR, PWM, and I2S), 1x UART, Sense VP/Sense VN, EN pin. 3.3V and GND
  • Power Supply – 3.0 – 3.6V
  • Dimensions – 24 x 16 x 3 mm

ESP32-ModuleThe exact pinout of the module can be found on Taobao, section “3.2 接口定义”.

Number Pin Name Description
1 GND 接地
2 EN 模组使能端,高电平有效
7 IO32 GPIO32, 32K_XP, (32.768 kHz晶体振荡器输入),ADC1_CH4, TOUCH9, RTC_GPIO9
8 IO33 GPIO33, 32K_XN,(32.768 kHz晶体振荡器输出),ADC1_CH5, TOUCH8, RTC_GPIO8
10 IO26 GPIO26, DAC_2, ADC2_CH9, RTC_GPIO7
16 GND 接地
20 IO16 GPIO16, HS1_DATA4
21 3V3 3.3V 供电
22 IO17 GPIO17, HS1_DATA5
25 IO23 GPIO23
31 GND 接地

On the software side of things, you should be able to use ESP32 SDK available from Espressif website, aka ESP32 IoT Development Framework (IDF). If you prefer Arduino or NodeMCU firmware, the former is available for ESP32 in beta phase @ Arduino Core for ESP31B ESP32 and NodeMCU should be work in progress, but I have not found code specific to ESP32 on NodeMCU github repo.

Espressif ESP32 WiFi & Bluetooth SoC is Now Up For Sale for $2.85

September 2nd, 2016 12 comments

Espressif ESP32 is one of the most awaited chip for IoT applications as it combines a dual core processor, WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, and various I/Os. The good news is that you can now purchase ESP32 for 19 RMB ($2.85) on Taobao, or if you are not based in China, contact Espressif by email at sales [at]

ESP32Availability is however limited, and the maximum order is now 5 pieces. ESP32 modules and boards, as opposed to just the SoC, are not quite ready right now, but should become available in a few weeks. ESP-WROOM-32 is the ESP32 module developed by Espressif, and NodeMCU is also working on an ESP32 board, so we’ll get more good news very soon.


ESP32 Demo Board V2 with ESP-WROOM-32 Module

You can also find documentation, hardware and software resources on a Espressif ESP32 page , including a getting started guide, ESP32 SDK, ESP32 reference manual, ESP-WROOM-32 datasheet, and more.

If you are unsure whether your project would benefit from ESP32 over the cheaper ESP8266, I found an interesting table in Espressif Introduction document, showing how the processors are used in different applications.

ESP32_vs_ESP8266_ProjectsVia ESP32 Forums and RelentlesS

Dot is a Location Aware Bluetooth Beacon Used as a Digital Post-it, for Home Automation, and More (Crowdfunding)

August 25th, 2016 3 comments

Dot physical push notification is another Bluetooth beacon, but the company – Iota Labs – has designed and promote it in a location aware device that gets triggered when you move in a specific area with your smartphone. For example, somebody can leave a dot with a message such as  “remember to take the trash out” in the kitchen, and once you walk pass you’ll receive a notification, or you can use a dot to automatically turn on the light if you enter a room at night.

Bluetooth_dotThe full technical specifications have not been made available but here’s what we know:

  • MCU – Nordic Semi nRF51822 (or similar) ARM SoC with Bluetooth radio
  • Connectivity – Bluetooth 4.0 LE with a range up to around 45 meters
  • Misc – RGB LED
  • Battery – Replaceable battery good for 6 months to one year

Android and iOS apps will allow your to configure your dots.


It will also be hackable with a JavaScript API provided. Kunal Chaudhary, Dot project leader, explains further:

For advanced hackers we will likely leave the programming headers exposed, as well as 3-4 GPIO pins.  Hopefully at least one of the pins will be PWM capable and one will be Analog input capable in order to read a sensor.  We are hoping to have a glue-less case design so the internals can be easily accessed by hackers and for battery replacement.
As for the javascript API, we basically set it up so that a user can write up a script, upload it through our website, and then get it running on their phone within seconds. They write their script in a skeleton file that they download from us, and they basically fill it in with whatever functionality they desire. This JavaScript file runs in a headless UI browser on the actual app, executing the code and returning us a string of commands, from which we control the Dot. We built the API so that you can do very simple requests, or handle all the stuff under the hood like polling rate, distance, etc.
IFTTT might also be supported. All use cases are location dependent, for example the Dot can launch a GPS navigation app when you enter you car, work as digital post-it notes as explained above, control the lights/heating/aircon when you enter or leave a room, send notifications relevant to your location (e.g. tweets related to the sports event you’re watching on TV),  be used as a reminder device with the LED changing color whether you have brushed your teeth or not, and so on.

I find dot to be of limited use for my personal case, since I’m not the kind of person to carry my smartphone with me everywhere and all the time, nor I check it each time I have a notification, but if you and your phone are one at all time,s then it might be useful. There could be some other use cases I have not thought of too.

The project launched on Kickstarter yesterday, and has already surpassed its $20,000 funding target. You’ll need to pledge $20 for a dot, and they have discount for various quantities up to 10 dots for $170. Shipping adds $2 to the US, and $5 to the rest of the world, with shipping planned for March 2017.

M12N Amlogic S912 Octa-core TV Box Review – Part 2: Android 6.0 Firmware

August 24th, 2016 34 comments

Shenzhen Shiningworth MXQ Plus M12N is one of the first TV box powered by Amlogic S912 octa-core processor also bringing a faster GPU, VP9 and HDR support compared to the earlier Amlogic S905 processor. I’ve already shown the device, its accesories, and its internal degisn in the first part of MXQ Plus M12N review, so today I’ll spend time reporting my finding testing features and performance with Android 6.0 firmware.


Setup Wizard and First Impressions

Since there are only two USB ports, I connected my USB hard drive to one, and used a USB hub to connect input devices including two RF dongles for an air mouse, and a gamepad, as well as a USB keyboard to take screenshots. I also added Ethernet and  HDMI cable, and finally connected the power supply to boot it up.

M12N_Setup_Wizard_LetterboxBut as you can see from the picture the very first boot was not quite as expected, as all I can see what a mini version of the user interface in the top left corner of my TV (please ignore the vertical line(s) in my pictures, as it is a problem with my LG 4K TV). I contacted the Shenzhen Shiningworth about this issue, and they told me to try to reboot the device… To my surprise, the issue was gone, and I’ve never been able to reproduce it.


The very first screen will be a welcome from the setup wizard. Select/Click on Next to select the language.M12N_Wizard_Language_Settings

You’ll only have four choices at this stage: English, simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, or Japanese. M12N_Wizard_Overscan_Settings

The Next window is for overscan compensation in case you have black zones on the edges of your TV.M12N_Wizard_Network_SettingsThe final settings in the wizard is for Network. If you have connected an Ethernet cable just click Next, but if you want to use WiFi instead set Wireless from close to open, select your access point, and enter its password. Both 2.4 and 5.0 GHz (802.11ac) networks are supported.

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Once everything done you get to the main launcher with icons for Google Play, Kodi, YouTube, Netflix, “Local” apps, All apps, a Game app (KO GameBox), and a links to Settings. There’s also a customizable bar at the bottom for favorite apps. Boot is normally achieved in less than 30 seconds.

M12N_Android_AppsThe pre-installed app are mostly pretty common, except some IPTV apps – BangTV, Mobdro, and Show Box – which I’m not familiar, and check out later in the review.

MXQ-PLus_M12N_SettingsThere are 6 main menus in the settings:

  • Networks – Wireless, Ethernet, Broadband (PPPoE), and wireless hotspot
  • Device – BlueTooth, Keyboard, HDMI CEC control, Sound settings (PCM, SPDIF passthrough, or HDMI passthrough)
  • General – Device Name (default: MXQ Plus), Date & Time, Language, and More settings (Android 6.0 settings)
  • Security – Security redirecting to Android 6.0 Security Settings, Add Account
  • Display – Adjustment, Resolution, Wallpaper, Screensaver
  • MXQ About – Device Name, System Info, Developer mode, ROM update, and Restore factory status

About_MXQ_PlusI haven’t had any problems with neither WiFi or Ethernet connectivity, and I could setup HDMI output up to [email protected] Hz, however the system would almost always revert to 1080p60 after a reboot. The mow usual annoyance that I can’t turn off my AV receiver while it’s connected to the device still occur, even if I disable HDMI CEC. I could not find any HDR options in the settings.

While we have the most useful option in Settings app,  you can still access Android 6.0 settings via General->More settings, and set other parameter like accessibility, printing, developer options, Languages and Input (with many languages), and so on.

Like most new devices to the market, the TV box has a unified partition for apps and data with 11.87 GB storage, and at the end of the review I had only used 2.99 GB with all installed apps and some files copied to the download directory. So there will be enough space for the requirements of most people.

Going to About MediaBox section shows MXQ Plus running Android 6.0.1 on top of Linux 3.14.29. The firmware is not rooted. The company told me that OTA firmware is supported, but it won’t work through UPDATE&BACKUP app, which reports OTA failure connecting to server, and instead you’d have to go to Settings->MXQ About->ROM update. I have not been able to confirm whether it works since the company has not release a new firmware since I’ve received the device. [Update: The company has now pushed a new firmware on their OTA server, and I’ve tested it. See section below]

While I used MINIX NEO A2 Lite air mouse for most of the review, I’ve also quickly tested the infrared remote control, and it works with a range up to 10 meters.  Google Play store worked well, except for BLE (Bluetooth LE) app such as Mi Fit or Vidonn Smartband, which I had to side-loaded. I had no problem installing the free version of Riptide GP2 through Amazon Underground.

Power handling is OK with a short press on the power button of the remote control making the device go into standby, and a long press, popping up a window to power it off cleanly. I could also use the remote control to power it back on.

I measured power consumption in 6 different configurations:

  • Power off – 0.4 watt
  • Standby – 0.4 watt
  • Idle – 3.0 to 3.4 watts
  • Power off + USB HDD – 0.4 watt
  • Standby + USB HDD – 1.0 watt (HDD LED was turned off)
  • Idle + USB HDD – 4.2 watts

All good numbers, and behaviors. Unless you consider the 30+ watts consumed by my A/V receiver which I can’t power off while connected to MXQ Plus M12N…

Thermal design as seen in the teardown post with two thick thermal pad connecting the processor to the metal case, was not very convincing, but during use the case does not get very hot. After Antutu 6.x, top and bottom temperatures were both 41°C max, and after playing Riptide GP2 for about 15 minutes, the temperatures only went up to 43°C and 45°C respectively. The game frame rate was also constant during the whole duration of the game.

Considering Amlogic S912 is a brand new processor, and putting aside the very first boot letterbox issue. my first impressions were quite good with MXQ Plus M12N with the stable and responsive firmware most of the time. Other small annoyances and bugs included the lack of status and notification bars, the device preventing me from turning off my A/V receiver, and in two or three occurrences having the system ask whether I wanted to close or wait for an unresponsive app.

A Quick Look at IPTV apps

As previously mentioned 3 IPTV apps are installed.

BangTV plays Chinese TV stations in Mandarin, but also some in foreign languages (Russian, French, Arabic…) in SD resolution.

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Mobdro app categorizes live video feeds by Channels, News, Shows, Movies, Sports, and Music, and more.

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Once you enter a category, you will be presented by a list of channels with logo and descriptions.

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I could play Sky Sports F1 from the list in SD resolution, and it worked well, except the quality was rather low. Watching sports on TV is often a paying endeavors, so I assume this may not be legal everywhere…

Finally Show Box app starts in the News section, which you can navigate to access various entertainment news about movies and TV shows.

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But you can also select Movies and TV shows in the left sidebar, which brings you to a list of movies.

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I selected one, and it looks like it’s pointing to stream or download the movie through bittorrent.

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I’ve checked Tarzan for two minutes and it could stream fine at 720p (with somewhat low quality)… Again it may not be fully legal in all locales…

OTA Firmware Update

Note: this section had been added after the review since the company only pushed the new firmware one day later.

So soon after starting the device, I got a pop-up window prompting for an Update together with a short changelog.

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I clicked “Yes” and then… nothing. I asked the company if this was normal, and was informed that download occurs in the background, and a down arrow is shown during the process.


So I minded my own business doing other things for a few minutes, and finally I got another pop-up asking me to applying the update.MXQ_Plus_M12N_Firmware_Download_CompleteI clicked “Yes”, the system rebooted, applied the update, and then complete the installation for a reboot. Around 5 minutes later everything was completed, and I still had my files and apps. So no problem and it went smoothly.

Video and Audio Playback with Kodi, Antutu Video Tester, and DRM information

I’ll switch to local video playback. The first time you start Kodi, you’ll be asked whether you want to install Add-ons. I selected “Not install” myself, since I don’t need it for review.

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Kodi 16.1 is installed, probably a custom version built on July 4, 2016.

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I’ll play all videos from a SAMBA share over an 100Mbps Ethernet connectivity, unless otherwise stated (HDD = played from USB hard drive).

I’ve started with some Linaro media samples, and Elecard H.265 videos:

  • 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) – 1080p – 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • Real Media (RMVB), 720p / 5Mbps – OK (software decode)
  • WebM / VP8 – 480p/720p – OK (ff-vp8 software decode), 1080p – some frames are skipped
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container  – OK

I enabled automatic refresh rate in Kodi, but this did not work well.

Videos with various bitrates were next:

  • ED_HD.avi (H.264 / 10 Mbps) – Not 100% smooth (software decode)
  • 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) – Audio only, stays in UI
  • Jellyfish-120-Mbps.mkv (120 Mbps video without audio) – HDD: OK

The worry here is that the system can’t play some videos with software decode that could be played without issues in Amlogic S905X devices like MINI M8S II, so it could be the CPU is throttling under load.

I also tested PCM output (stereo downsampling) via Kodi and MX Player/MoviePlayer app using my TV’s speakers, and HDMI pass-through in both using Onkyo TX-NR636 receiver for advanced audio codecs.

Audio Codec in Video PCM 2.0 Output
(Kodi 16.1)
PCM 2.0 Output
(MoviePlayer or Video Player)
HDMI Pass-through
(Kodi 16.1)
HDMI Pass-through
(MoviePlayer or Video Player)
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 Audio OK but video not smooth No audio Dolby D 5.1 detected, but audio starts with noises, video not smooth OK
E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 OK No audio Dolby D 5.1, but with 3 audio cuts OK
Dolby Digital+ 7.1 OK No audio no audio Video plays in slow motion without audio
TrueHD 5.1 OK No audio no audio TrueHD 5.1
TrueHD 7.1 OK No audio no audio TrueHD 7.1
Dolby Atmos 7.1 OK No audio PCM 2.0 Dolby D 5.1continuous beep
DTS HD Master OK No audio DTS 5.1 with 2 audio cuts DTS 5.1
DTS HD High Resolution OK No audio DTS 5.1 with 1 audio cut DTS 5.1
DTS:X OK No audio DTS 5.1 DTS 5.1

No audio with PCM output using apps other than Kodi is expected since the processor is Amlogic S912, and not Amlogic S912-H with the proper Dolby and DTS licenses. HDMI pass-through is still in a sorry state, especially in Kodi. It’s still usable in other apps, as long as you are satisfied with 5.1 audio.

4K video playback is pretty good however, at least for supported HW codecs:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – OK
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – OK
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) –  OK
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – OK
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) – OK
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC) – OK
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – OK
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video; 36 Mbps) – OK.
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – Not smooth, and audio delay (as expected since hardware is not supposed to support it)
  • Fifa_WorldCup2014_Uruguay-Colombia_4K-x265.mp4 (4K, H.265, 60 fps) – OK
  • Samsung_UHD_Dubai_10-bit_HEVC_51.4Mbps.ts (10-bit HEVC / MPEG-4 AAC) – OK
  • Astra-11479_V_22000-Canal+ UHD Demo 42.6 Mbps bitrate.ts (10-bit H.265 from DVB-S2 stream) –  OK
  • 暗流涌动-4K.mp4 (10-bit H.264; 120 Mbps) – HDD: Slow motion, and many artifacts (Not supported by S912 VPU, software decode)
  • Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 30 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) – HDD: Not perfectly smooth for either NTFS or exFAT partitions
  • tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video) – OK
  • The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps + opus audio) – OK watchable but not 100% perfectly smooth.

I had already written about 4K video playback on Amlogic S912 SoC, and if you haven’;t seen it already you can watch some of the videos above playing in M12N in the embedded video below.

Sintek-4k.iso & amat.iso (non encrypted) Blu-Ray ISOs, and two MPEG2 1080i videos could all play without an issues. I was expecting Amlogic S912 to handle 1080p 10-bit H.264 video software decoding thanks to its 8 cores @ 2.0 GHz, but while a 720p Hi10p would play perfectly with audio, video and subtitles, the 1080p Hi10p video was not perfectly smooth, and even suffered from artifacts and audio cuts from time to time. The culprit could be M12N specific thermal design, so the issue will have to be confirmed or disproved with some other S912 models.

My TV does not support 3D videos, but I normally still checked if the TV box can decode the videos, and Onkyo TX-NR636 A/V receiver is capable of detecting 3D content (shows 3D icon) for MVC videos as shown in  Zidoo X1 II review, so I check whether the 3D icon is lit up:

  • bbb_sunflower_1080p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (1080p Over/Under) – OK
  • bbb_sunflower_2160p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (2160p Over/Under) – Audio only, stays in UI.
  • Turbo_Film-DreamWorks_trailer_VO_3D.mp4 (1080p SBS) – OK
  • 3D-full-MVC.mkv (Full-frame packed MVC 3D MKV) – 2D only, 3D icon not shown on Onkyo receiver
  • ISO-full3D-sample.iso (Full-frame packed MVC 3D ISO) – 2D only, 3D icon not shown on Onkyo receiver

I completed Kodi videos testing by playing various VOB/IFO, MKV, AVI, MP4, XViD/DViX, and MKV 720p and 1080p videos from my library and all could play fine. I also played one complete video for 2 hours without issues.

I’ve also run Antutu Video Tester 3.0 benchmark, and MXQ Plus got 865 points, which is quite similar to the 909 points achieved on MINI M8S II. The best devices normally get over 1,000 points.

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DRM info shows only Widewine Level 3 is supported. No surprise here.

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YouTube works fine, but is limited to 1080p max.

Video samples used in Kodi for this review can be downloaded via links in the comments section of my video sample post.

Network Performance

I copied a 278MB file between a SAMBA share and the internal storage test WiFi performance, both using 802.11n @ 2.4 GHz, and 802.11ac @ 433 Mbps.

M12N_802.11ac_WiFiResults are below average, and during the 802.11n test, I even got a stalled and failed transfer. Performance is also asymmetric with “downloads” (SAMBA-> flash) faster than uploads (flash to SAMBA). 802.11n achieved 1.6 MB/s on average, while the file was transfered @ 1.9 MB/s over 802.11ac on average.

Throughput in MB/s - Click to Enlarge

Throughput in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

For Fast Ethernet, I instead ran iperf -t 60 -c server_ip -d to test full duplex transfer, a worse case scenario, and performance is good:

Miscellaneous Tests


After pairing my Android smartphone with “MXQ Plus” I could transfer a couple of photos over Bluetooth. I side-loaded Mi Fit, and it recognized and sync data with Xiaomi Mi Band 2 fitness band, however the app was displayed in portrait mode.


I skipped Sixaxis app test with my PS3 Bluetooth game controller clone since the firmware is not rooted, and for some reasons the TV box completely failed to detect my Bluetooth headset.


My Seagate USB hard drive with 4 partitions got NTFS and exFAT partions recognized and mounted  and a FAT32 micro SD could also be moutned in read/write mode.

File System Read Write
EXT-4 Not mounted Not mounted
BTRFS Not mounted Not mounted

Once I tried to copy a file from NTFS to exFAT in ES File Explorer but it failed due to permissions issues. I had not such issues with File Manager app. A1SD bench app shows fast sequential read speed in both partitions with 30MB/s (NTFS) and 33.86MB/s (exFAT), but write speeds are on the low side at respectively 6.42MB/s (NTFS) and 23.83MB/s (exFAT). I checked the NTFS partition with ntfsfix in my PC, and repeated the benchmark but the write speed was still very low.

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s

I repeated the test for M12N Samsung eMMC flash, and the results were excellent with 99.00 MB/s read speed and 69.40 MB/s write speed, which really makes me wonder why the box are the “unresponsive” app issue.

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s


I’ve already written a specific post about Gaming on Amlogic S912 TV box, and performance is clearly better than on Amlogic S905 TV boxes. The included retro gaming app “KO Gamebox” is also interesting. You can see the performance in several games in the video below.

MXQ Plus M12N Benchmarks

I’ll refer to you to the post entitled M12N Amlogic S912 TV Box Benchmarks for details, but let’s say results are disappointing, and I was expecting a larger performance jump compared to Amlogic S905 platforms.



MXQ Plus M12N works reasonably well with a stable and responsive firmware, good 4K video playback in Kodi, and decent gaming performance, however it feels like the device does not fully leverage Amlogic S912 processor performance based on benchmark results and video software decoding performance, and it still has some bugs like lack of HDMI audio pass-through in Kodi, and no automatic frame rate switching, problem with remembering HDMI resolution, slow WiFi, and so on.


  • Recent, stable, responsive (most of the time) Android 6.0 firmware
  • Good 4K videos playvack for VP9, H.265 and H.264 in Kodi
  • HDMI audio pass-through for Dolby 5.1, DTS 5.1, and TrueHD 5.1 and 7.1 in Video Player/MoviePlayer
  • One of the fastest internal storage I’ve seen in any TV boxes leading to reasonably fast boot (< 30 seconds)
  • Good 3D gaming performance
  • Proper power handling, and low power off, standby, and idle power consumption
  • OTA firmware update support
  • exFAT, NTFS, and FAT32 file system support for external storage
  • IR remote control working up to at least 10 meters
  • Bluetooth file transfer and BLE are working


  • HDMI audio pass-through and automatic frame rate switching not working properly in Kodi. Dolby Atmos and DTS-HD 7.1 not supported in other apps
  • Disappointing performance compared to Amlogic S905 TV boxes (only ~ +10/15% boost in many benchmarks), and some videos (10-bit h.264) are not playing as well as in Amlogic S905X devices using software decode. Possibly a thermal design issue
  • User set HDMI output mode is not always remember, often falling back to 1080p60 after a reboot, even if I set it to 4K 60Hz previously.
  • “App not responding” issue appearing from time to time (not too often, but still noticeable)
  • Poor WiFi performance
  • Likely HDMI CEC issue as the device will not let me turn off my A/V receiver even after disabling HDMI CEC or automatic HDMI output
  • Bluetooth audio may not be working
  • Lack of status and notifications bars
  • DRM: Only supports Widevine Level 3
  • Dolby & DTS licenses not included (Only a problem for apps other than Kodi, for people not using HDMI or S/PDIF audio pass-through)

The manufacturer, Shenzhen Shiningworth, provide the sample for review, and wholesalers and distributors can contact the company to purchase in quantities. They also sell the MXQ Plus M12N to individuals on Aliexpress for $69.90. Alternatively you can buy their customers’ design, with a slightly different firmware, such as Acemax M12N for $65 on GearBest, or $69.99 on Aliexpress, as well as ENYBOX X2 sold on GeekBuying for $79.99.