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Posts Tagged ‘bluetooth’

LimiFrog is a Bluetooth 4.1 Wearables Devkit Based on STM32L4 with Lots of Sensors (Crowdfunding)

September 4th, 2015 1 comment

LimitFrog is a tiny board powered by STMicro STM32-L4 microcontroller with Bluetooth 4.1 connectivity, plenty of sensors, and that can run code bare metal as well as RiOT real-time operating system.

LimifrogLimiFrog specifications:

  • MCU – STMicro STM32-L4 ARM Cortex M4 micro-controller @ 80 MHz with DSP, 512KB flash, 128KB RAM
  • External storage – 8MB serial flash for data that supports FAT32 file system
  • Display – 160×128 RGB565 OLED display
  • Connectivity – Bluetooth 4.1 (Panasonic PAN1740)
  • Sensors (Follow this link for datasheets of most components)
    • Pressure, altitude & temperature (LPS25H)
    • 3-axis accelerometer, 3-axis gyroscope (LSM6DS3)
    • 3-axis magnetometer (LIS3MDL)
    • Ambient light, proximity and distance (VL6180X)
    • Ambient sound (SPU0414H5H)
  • USB – micro USB port for power and programming
  • Expansions – 11-pin (through holes) providing access to SPI, I2C, CAN, PWM, GPIOs, ADC, DAC, Analog out, and power signals (3V out GND)
  • Battery – 500 mAh (hours to weeks of battery life depending on application)
  • Dimensions – N/A (but small)

Limifrog_block_diagramThe “basic” version does not come with sensors, Bluetooth 4.1, nor OLED display, so these are optional, and three more versions are offered “Sense”, “Sense’m comm” and “Full Monty” if you want more features.

LimiFrog can currently be programmed in C/C++, and MicroPython support is in the works. The libraries include a USB stack, a FAT file system, and graphics support. As mentioned in the introduction, programs can run bare metal, or using RiOT real-time operating system.

Software Architecture

Software Architecture

The company also provided a code sample in C if you want to check what the API looks like.

The project has launched on Kickstarter, and rewards start at 39 Euros for the “basic” version of the board with a LiPo battery, software packages, 3D printer files for the case, and up to 99 Euros for the “full monty” including Bluetooth 4.1, the OLED display, and all sensors. Delivery is scheduled for January 2016, and shipping costs between 8 and 12 Euros depending on the chosen rewards. More information may also be found on Limifrog.io.

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LG Rolly is a Bluetooth Keyboard that Folds into a Stick

August 31st, 2015 4 comments

There are already some flexible Bluetooth keyboards that you can roll into your bag or pocket after being done typing on your smartphone or tablet, but LG is about to launch Rolly Keyboard, a solid Bluetooth keyboard for mobile device that can be rolled into a stick, which should may be sturdier than flexible keyboards, and it can also hold a smartphone or tablet in upright position with a display of up to 10″ in size.

LG_Rolly_Keyboard

LG’ latest keyboard (model KBB-700) is comprised of 17mm keys – a standard keyboard comes with 18mm keys – arranged into four rows, that can be folded into a stick as shown above. The company also claims the keyboard offers “satisfying tactile feedback not found on flexible silicone keyboards”.

The keyboard is powered by two AAA batteries supposed to last about 3 months during typical use, and pairing over Bluetooth 3.0 occurs automatically to up to two devices as you unfold the keyboard. If the keyboard is paired to two devices, you can switch between them by pressing a key.

The Rolly Keyboard will be unveiled at IFA 2015, and start selling in September in the United States, and soon followed by “key markets” in Europe, Latin America and Asia in Q4 2015. LG did not disclosed pricing nor availability.

Via Connectedly

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Tronfy MXIV Telos TV Box Review with Android 5.1

August 31st, 2015 15 comments

Tronfy MXIV Telos is a TV box powered by Amlogic S812 processor running Android 5.1 Lollipop and costing just above $90 (with coupon), so it will be interesting to find out how it performs compared to Mygica ATV1900AC also based on Amlogic S812 SoC, and Android Lollipop firmware (version 5.0.2), which I reviewed recently, and sells for $169. I’ve already checked the hardware in Tronfy MX4 Telos Unboxing and Teardown, so today I’ll check how the device actually performs.

First Boot, Settings and First Impressions

I started by connecting peripherals: A USB hard drive to one of the USB port, and a USB hub to the other USB port with a webcam, and two RF dongles for an air mouse and a wireless gamepad, as well as HDMI and Ethernet cables, and the power supply. I then had to press the power button on the unit to start it up, and the boot took a long 1 minute 38 seconds to complete with all peripherals, or 48 seconds without any USB devices connected. That’s not the best performance, but almost exactly the same slow boot as experienced with the Mygica box.

MediaBox Launcher (Click for Orignial Size)

MediaBox Launcher (Click for Orignial Size)

LightHome (Click for Orignial Size)

LightHome (Click for Original Size)

You’ll get to  choose between two launchers: MediaBox or LightHome. The user interface resolution is 1920×1080, as you can see from the screenshots. I’ve just picked LightHome for the rest of the review.  The top right icons indicate network connectivity, and the maginifier redirects to Google Now. Weather, date and time information is displayed on the left side, and shortcuts to Kodi, Eshare, Flix Universe, the Browser, Google Play Store, the list of apps, a file browser, and Settings, as well as Favorites are placed in the center of the screen, There’s also a “kill running apps” button and a widget for CPU, memory and storage usage.

Let go to the Settings app.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

Again that’s basically the same app as in ATV1900AC, and I’ve found it to be quite unstable: going to Network, changing between 12h/24h time display, adjusting screen rotation, etc… will always crash the app, so instead I went to “More setting” to access Android Lollipop settings and configure WiFi and Ethernet there.

Some useful settings include:

  • Network (crash)
  •  Display
    • Screen resolution: Auto, 480p-60Hz, 576p-50Hz, 720p 50/60Hz, 1080i 50/60Hz, 1080p 24/50/60Hz, 4K2K 24/25/30Hz or SMPTE
    • Screen position
    • Screen orientation (crash)
  • Sound – Digital sound (crash)
  • Preferences – HDMI CEC (crash)

Tronfy_MXIV_Telos(crash) means the settings look interesting, but I could not access it, since it would just crash the Settings app. At least, there isn’t three ways to access settings like in Mygica ATV1900AC, there’s only two, but most options are not accessible.. I could change the resolution to 4K30 and that one worked fine.

The 16GB flash has reportedly a single 16GB partition (which is impossible) with 10.55 GB space (perfectly believable), which means you’ll have plenty of space for both apps and data.

The “About device” section reports the model number is MXIV Telos, the device runs Android 5.1.1 on top of Linux 3.10.33, and the firmware version is 102L1. There’s also a “System Update” section there, and the system appears to connect to a download server, but there wasn’t any new firmware while I tested it, so I cannot confirm whether OTA upgrades are working properly. The firmware is rooted.

I used MeLE F10 Deluxe air mouse for most of the review, but I also quickly tested the IR remote control to check whether it was working OK, and the range is not too bad, as I only started to lose a few key presses at around 8 meters from the box.

Google Play Store worked very well, and I could install all apps I needed for review, and most apps I installed on other devices could also be installed, except apps that can’t be installed due to country restrictions. Sadly, after a while, the message “Unfortunately, Google Play Services has stopped” started popping-up every 5 seconds or so, whether I was actively using the Play Store or not, so the system became very difficult to use. I’m not the only one to have had this problem as others reported the issues on Samsung Galaxy phones, and provided a fix. I followed the instructions and could disable Google Play Services, but as I restarted the device, re-enabled the services, and updated it, the problem resumed, so I just disabled the services again to be able to use the device. If Google Play Services is disabled or not updated to the latest, applications such as the Google Play Store or Hangouts won’t work.

I’m pleased to say that Tronfy MVIV power controls work perfectly, as it’s possible to cleanly turn off and on the device, or go into standby using either the remote control or the power button on the device. The device also stays relatively cool, as the maximum temperature reached after Antutu 5.7.1 benchmark were respectively 42°C and 53°C on the top and bottom of the case.

The firmware itself appears to be stable and responsive, and I did not get any hangs up, but the settings is barely usable, and trying to access many settings will simply crash the app, so for example you can’t configure the audio device, meaning pass-through options are not accessible. Just like with Mygica box, the ART runtime used in Lollipop boosts app loading times, especially for games which load much faster than I’m used to.

Video Playback

Kodi 14.2 (customized or not) is installed and configured with Aeon Nox skin, but since there’s recently been a fix for Amlogic on Kodi 15.x that has been backported to Kodi 15.1 found on Google Play, I asked Tinydeal whether I should test the pre-installed Kodi 14.2 or the latest version, and they recommended  I keep using Kodi 14.2, so that’s what I tested.

Kodi_14.2_Aeon_noxBut first, I’ve taken a few screenshot to show what get while running Kodi. Kodi_14.2_Tronfy_system_info I’ve set the output to 1080p60 to check the framerate, and it’s indeed close to 60 fps, before switching back to 4K30 for testing. tronfy_mxiv_kodi_appsThey also have a few apps pre-installed.

kodi_traktShortly after starting Kodi, I was also ask to authorize Trakt, which automatically tracks the TV shows and movies you are watching, but I simply click on “No Thanks”.

All videos were played other Ethernet with the box connected to a SAMBA share. Let’s start with results with video samples from samplemedia.linaro.org, Elecard H.265/HEVC samples, and a low resolution VP9 video:

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny) – 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • MPEG2 codec / MPG container –  480p/720p/1080p – OK could be smoother (Kodi live log also reports ~20fps instead of the native 25 fps)
  • MPEG4 codec, AVI container 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • VC1 codec (WMV) – 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • Real Media (RMVB), 720p / 5Mbps – Software decode @ ~20 fps instead of 25 fps
  • WebM / VP8 – 480p/720p OK. 1080p could be a little smoother (18 fps instead of 25 fps)
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container (360p/720p/1080p) – 360p: OK; 720p: 15 fps. 1080p:  plays at ~12fps with audio cuts
  • WebM / VP9 (no audio in video) – OK

The results here are very similar to what I got on the Mygica device, and again the results are basically the same for higher bitrate videos, except for one little detail:

  • ED_HD.avi – audio only
  • big_buck_bunny_1080p_surround.avi (1080p H.264 – 12 Mbps) – OK.
  • h264_1080p_hp_4.1_40mbps_birds.mkv (40 Mbps) – Plays but at the wrong size (postcard like, zoomed out)
  • hddvd_demo_17.5Mbps_1080p_VC1.mkv (17.5Mbps) – 15 fps instead of 29.970 fps and zoomed out
  • Jellyfish-120-Mbps.mkv (120 Mbps video without audio) – Plays OK from network (Gigabit), but again zoomed out.

This is what it looks like when the system plays the video at the wrong size (zoomed out) :

Tronfy_MXIV_Telos_Kodi_PostcardNormally I use my AV receiver to test both PCM output and HDMI / (SPDIF) pass-through with videos using HD audio codec, but since I can’t set HDMI pass-through via the settings, I skipped the pass-through test, and the results with videos down-mixed to PCM are already depressing:

  • AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 – Audio OK, but video not very smooth
  • E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 – Audio OK, but video zoomed out
  • Dolby Digital+ 7.1 – audio only (black screen)
  • TrueHD 5.1 – Audio OK, but video zoomed out
  • TrueHD 7.1 – Audio OK, but video zoomed out
  • Dolby Atmos 7.1 – OK! Yeah!
  • DTS HD Master – Audio OK, but black screen
  • DTS HD High Resolution – Audio OK, but video zoomed out

Sintel-Bluray.iso Blu-ray ISO video and 1080i videos could play smoothly and in full screen.

Hi10p videos decoded with some artifacts in like ATV1900AC, but the video were again zoomed out:

  • [Commie] Steins;Gate – NCED [BD 720p AAC] [10bit] [C706859E].mkv – Audio & subtitles OK, and video plays with with some artifacts (wrong size)
  • [1080p][16_REF_L5.1][mp3_2.0]Suzumiya Haruhi no Shoushitsu BD OP.mkv – Audio & subtitles OK, and video plays with with some artifacts. (wrong size)

4K videos also have mixed results with only two videos that are watchable:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – Video zoomed out
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – OK
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) –  Playing @ 2 to 3 fps
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – Playing @ 2 to 3 fps
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) – Won’t play at all
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC) – Plays @ 3 to 4 fps.
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – Plays at 3 to 4 fps
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video) – Won’t play at all.
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – Looks OK to be, but Kodi reports ~25 fps for a 30 fps video
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – Plays in slow motion, audio/video sync issues, and audio cuts
  • Fifa_WorldCup2014_Uruguay-Colombia_4K-x265.mp4 (4K, H.265, 60 fps) – Only shows a still image, frequent audio cuts

I’ve also added a 4K 60fps H.265 video sample to my test procedure since some new processors can now support H.265 at 60 frames per second (in theory).  Software decoding explains why some video play at very low framerate.

LG 42UB820T 4K TV, which I use for all my reviews, does not support 3D, but I check whether the system can decode some stereoscopic 3D videos:

  • bbb_sunflower_1080p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (1080p Over/Under) – OK
  • bbb_sunflower_2160p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (2160p Over/Under) – Audio only, black screen.
  • Turbo_Film-DreamWorks_trailer_VO_3D.mp4 (1080p SBS) – OK

Following the catastrophic results with Kodi in this box, I just decided to skip video testing of AVI, MKV, VOB and MP4 movies, as I don’t see why I have to waste my time further with such a poor product. I did start the stability test with a complete 1080p MKV movie (~2 hours), but after seeing the video was only displayed at quarter size on the top left corner, I just laughed and stopped the test.
Video samples can be downloaded from “Where to get video, audio and images samples” post and comments.

Wi-Fi and Ethernet Network Performance

I’ve transferred a 278 MB file between a SAMBA share and the flash in both directions using ES File Explorer to test WiFi network performance. WiFi performance is pretty both with 802.11 b/g/n @ 2.4GHz (2.72 MB/s over a 65 Mbps link) and 802.11ac (4.15 MB/s over a 433 Mbps link).

WiFi Throughput in MB/s

WiFi Throughput in MB/s

For some reasons the system could only transfer in one direction with iperf, using “iperf -t 60 -c server_ip -d” command line:

  • wifi 802.11n:
    Client connecting to 192.168.0.113, TCP port 5001
    TCP window size: 85.0 KByte (default)
    ------------------------------------------------------------
    [ 6] local 192.168.0.104 port 36811 connected with 192.168.0.113 port 5001
    [ 6] 0.0-60.0 sec 0.00 � ��s 2459466104152450560 Bytes/sec
    [ 5] 0.0-60.1 sec 188 MBytes 26.2 Mbits/sec
  • wifi 802.11 @ 5 GHz n/ac:
    Client connecting to 192.168.0.113, TCP port 5001
    TCP window size: 85.0 KByte (default)
    ------------------------------------------------------------
    [ 6] local 192.168.0.104 port 35608 connected with 192.168.0.113 port 5001
    [ 6] 0.0-60.0 sec 0.00 � ��s 2459281583543020032 Bytes/sec
    [ 4] 0.0-60.1 sec 370 MBytes 51.6 Mbits/sec

Just to make sure there wasn’t any issues with my test setup, I install iperf in my Android tablet, and ran the test, and it could transfer in both directions.

I repeated the file transfer test over Gigabit Ethernet with a 885 MB file, and the results were best I’ve seen so far, just above Mygica ATV1900AC results.

Ethernet Throughput in MB/s

Ethernet Throughput in MB/s

Since with Gigabit Ethernet that test is often bound by the internal storage write and read speed, I also ran iperf, which showed the exact same oddity as with WiFI:

Client connecting to 192.168.0.111, TCP port 5001
TCP window size:  187 KByte (default)
------------------------------------------------------------
[  6] local 192.168.0.104 port 43066 connected with 192.168.0.111 port 5001
[ ID] Interval       Transfer     Bandwidth
[  6]  0.0-60.0 sec  0.00 � ��s  2459433968852288512 Bytes/sec
[  4]  0.0-60.0 sec  5.70 GBytes   816 Mbits/sec
[  5] local 192.168.0.104 port 5001 connected with 192.168.0.111 port 43073

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

Bluetooth is built-in, and everything I tried just worked straightaway:

  • File transfer with smartphone
  • PS3 game controller with Sixaxis Controller app following these instructions.
  • Bluetooth Low Energy support with Vidonn X5 fitness tracker
  • A Bluetooth headset

Storage

FAT32 (micro SD card), and the NTFS and exFAT partitions of a USB 3.0 hard drive could be mounted, and there was no problem with the SD card, however while the two partitions on the HDD are about 250GB large, but the system would only show 10MB partitions with 10MB free instead, basically meaning my hard drive was mounted as read only. The same bug occurred with Mygica ATV1900AC.

File System Read Write
NTFS OK No
EXT-4 Not mounted Not mounted
exFAT OK No
BTRFS Not mounted Not mounted
FAT32 OK OK

So once again I could not test USB storage performance, and I simply ran A1 SD Bench app to benchmark the eMMC flash performance, which read at 26.33 MB/s and wrote at 21.83 MB/s on average.

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s

The combined read+write performance is about the same as Mygica ATV1900AC here, not too bad for a significantly cheaper device…

USB Webcam

Skype worked fine both with the Test /Echo Service audio call, and a video call, however I could not run Google Hangouts since I only tested it after I had to disable Google Play Services.

Gaming

Unsurprisingly, gaming performance on Tronfy MX4 Telos was exactly the same as with ATV1900AC: Candy Crush and Beach Buggy Racing were both very smooth with default graphics settings, but Beach Buggy Racing was not quite enjoyable with maxed out graphics settings, albeit still playable.

Tronfy MXIV Telos Benchmarks

For some reasons, Amlogic S812 processor was limited to 1608 MHz in Mygica ATV1900AC, but it runs at full speed in MXIV Telos (1.99 GHz). The board name is n200.

Tronfy_MXIV_Telos_CPU-ZSo it should be no surprise that Antutu 5.7.1 score is a bit higher at 35,519 points against 34,137 points for ATV1900AC

Tronfy_MXIV_Telos_AntutuHowever, 3DMark score was about the same with 5,897 point for MX4 against 5,834 for Mygica platform.

Trongy_MXIV_Telos_3DMarkConclusion

Tronfy MXIV Telos hardware hold itself pretty well against Mygica ATV1900AC, with similar Gigabit Ethernet and storage performance, and pretty good WiFi performance, although not as perfect as on Mygica TV box, and it also has some extras like Bluetooth support and power control circuitry. I was a bit disappointed by the firmware on Mygica because there were still a bit too many bugs, but somehow MXIV Telos managed to do much worse, and it really feels like they had the hardware ready, and just load Amlogic Android 5.1 SDK onto the device and shipped it without any testing: Kodi is barely usable, many settings are not reachable because the Setting app will crash, my hard drive is read-only, and Google Play Store simply stopped to work after a while. Although to be fair, I’m not sure the latter is 100% related to that particularly firmware since people also had the same issues on Samsung Galaxy phones.

PROS:

  • Android Lollipop firmware
  • Very good Ethernet and good WiFi performance
  • Relatively fast internal storage
  • Video Output – 1080p 24/50/60 Hz, 4K @ 24/25/30Hz, etc…
  • Hardware video decoding for H.265 4K up to 30Hz in “4K MoviePlayer”
  • Bluetooth works for file transfer, Sixaxis gamepad, Bluetooth low energy, and Bluetooth headset.
  • Power handled by MCU with support for proper power off.
  • Skype works fine
  • Two launchers available

CONS:

  • Pre-installed Kodi is a disaster: many videos play at the wrong size (Zoomed out in the top left corner), several videos can’t play at all (black screen), H.265 is not working, audio pass-through is not working
  • Dolby and DTS audio not supported outside of Kodi.
  • Settings app will crash, so several settings are not accessible including audio output selection (PC/pass-through).
  • Incorrect partition size detected on USB hard drive leading to read-only partitions
  • Slow boot time (100 seconds will USB devices attached)

The hardware base is good, so you’d either have to rely on Tronfy to release a new firmware with bug fixes, or find another firmware compatible with n200 board, or try various versions of Kodi (this won’t fix the USD HDD nor Settings app issues though..) for it to be usable.

Tinydeal kindly provided Tronfy MXIV Telos sample for review, and in case you are interested, you can purchase it on their website for $91.85 with coupon tronfy4. As mentioned in the unboxing post, the hardware is based on Beelink MXIII Plus, that can be found on Gearbest, Geekbuying, eBay, Aliexpress, but you need to carefully check the specifications, as memory, storage and network connectivity options may vary.

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Orchard is an Open Source Hardware Multi-Radio IoT Board Used to Learn Coding, Hardware Design and Manufacturing

August 21st, 2015 No comments

Sutajio Ko-Usagi’s wiki is the place where you find documentation for open source hardware projects such as Novena laptop or Fernvale IoT board. There’s another IoT board supporting 900 MHz and Bluetooth radios called Orchard.

Orchard_Board

Click to Enlarge

Orchard board specifications:

  • MCU – Kinetis MKW01 ARM Cortex-M0+ MCU @ 48 MHz with 128KB flash, 16KB RAM
  • Connectivity
    • 900 MHz radio with +13dBm transmit power (for long-range applications)
    • Bluetooth LE radio (for short-range, low power connection to IP gateways)
  • Display – 128×64 OLED
  • Sensors – 3-axis Accelerometer,  microphone sensor
  • Debugging – FTDI serial port header, SWD provisioning & debug header
  • Misc
  • Lithium ion battery solution
    • Gas gauge for accurate battery life determination
    • Charging solution that can support high-capacity batteries
    • Integral 5V boost

The hardware files and ChibiOS 3.0 firmware source code are all available. The board does not appear to be for sale, but instead students taking part of MIT Media Lab Summer Manufacturing Bootcamp, in Shenzhen, China, modify the design, and create their own board and case over a period of 5 weeks so that they learn firmware coding (on a Raspberry Pi 2), electronics and mechanical design, as well as manufacturing thanks to the guides provided in the wiki.

Thanks to Nanik for the tip.

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Mixtile GENA is a Wearables Development Kit Inspired by Pebble Watch

August 21st, 2015 1 comment

The first Pebble watch with a black and white e-Ink display and Bluetooth for smartphone connection launched in 2012 via Kickstarter, and it  became one of the most successful crowdfunding campaigns so far. The watch can now be purchased for $100, but Focalcrest, a startup based in Shenzhen, designed Mixtil GENA development kit with similar features and user interface, although with different electronics components, that goes for $34 on Tindie.

Mixtile_Gena

Mixtile GENA specifications:

  • Processors
    • Mediatek MT6260 ARM7EJ-S processor @ 364 MHz with 8MB RAM and 16MB Flash
    • Nordic Semiconductor nRF51822 ARM Cortex M0 Bluetooth Smart SoC
  • External Storage – micro SD card slot (Up to 8GB)
  • Display – “Energy-saving” reflective LCD
  • Connectivity – Bluetooth 4.0 LE
  • USB – micro USB 2.0 port
  • Sensor – Gravity sensor
  • Misc – Up, Down, Enter and Power/Return buttons
  • Battery – 270 mAh/3.7V Lithium-ion battery (4 to 5 days on a charge for typical usage)
  • Dimensions – 27.6 x 40.2 x 9.1 mm

The company uploaded a video showing how to use the kit with an iPhone, that includes Bluetooth pairing, music control, camera control, notification, and fitness tracker function. Android support is also planned.

One major downside for a development kit however is the lack of documentation, and SDK, but this should eventually come online with JavaScript and Open API. Mixtile GENA actually launched on Tindie on July 8th, and a few people bought the device despite the lack of documentation and API, wrongly expecting relevant documents to be released by the time they receive it. One developer already published his first impressions about this “development” kit.

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Beelink i68 (Rockchip RK3368) TV Box Review

August 16th, 2015 16 comments

Beelink i68 is one of the first 64-bit ARM Android mini PCs available on the market, and could offer an update to Rockchip RK3288 TV boxes thanks to its eight Cortex A53 cores and support for HDMI 2.0 up to 4K2K @ 60Hz. I’ve already taken a few pictures of the device and RK68 board, so today I’ll report about performance, stability, features and video playback capabilities in the full review.

First Boot, Settings and First Impressions

The box has three USB 2.0 host ports and a micro USB OTG port, so for once I did not have to use a USB hub to connect all my devices and cables. I’ve inserted an Ethernet cable, an HDMI cable, an optical cable to the S/PDIF output, a Class 10 micro SD card, a USB hard drive, a USB webcam, an RF dongle for Tronsmart Mars G01 wireless gamepad, and finally MeLE F10 Deluxe RF dongle to the micro USB OTG port via the OTG adapter provided with the box. After connecting the power, you’ll need to press the red power button on the rear panel to start the device. The boot takes 44 seconds, which is OK, and might be faster with less peripherals connected to the mini PC.

Android Home Screen (Click for Original Size)

Android Home Screen (Click for Original Size)

The launcher is the standard Android Home Screen with icons for the Browser, Google Play, the list of App, an Internal player, and Settings.  The status bar is hidden by default, but you can pull it up with the mouse pointer. The user interface resolution is 1920×1080, but the system automatically detected the capabilities of LG 42UB820T 4K TV and set the video output to 3840x2160p60 (YCbCr420).

The settings interface is basically the same as on other Android 5.1 devices but with some options specific to TV boxes. The most relevant / uselful options include:

  • Wireless & Networks – Wi-Fi, Data usage for Wi-Fi and Ethernet (Accessing the latter crashes the settings), Bluetooth, and a “More” section with four sections: Tethering & portable hotspot, Ethernet, PPPoE and VPN
  • Device
    • USB – Connect to PC
    • Sound & Notifications – Volume for various sounds, and a Sound Device Manager to select Default Output, Spdif Passthrough, or HDMI Bitstream
    • Display
      • Cast Screen
      • Screen Scale
      • HDMI Mode:
        • Auto
        • 4096x2160p @ 60Hz (YCbCr420), 50Hz (YCbCr420), 30Hz, 25Hz, or 24Hz
        • 3840x2160p @ 60Hz (YCbCr420), 50Hz (YCbCr420), 30Hz, 25Hz, or 24Hz
        • 1920x1080p @ 60 Hz, 50Hz, 30Hz, 25Hz, 24Hz
        • 1280x720p @ 60 or 50 Hz
        • 720x576p @ 50 Hz
        • 720x480p @ 60 Hz
    • Storage – Two partitions: 1.94GB “Internal storage” with ~1.21GB free, 3.78GB “NAND Flash” partition

Beelink_i68_About_DeviceThe other usual options like Printing, Security, Language & Input, etc.. are still there. If you want the full details, checkout the walk-through video embedded a little further below.

I had no problems connecting with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Ethernet. As previously mentioned, HDMI output was automatically set to 4K 60Hz, although some time later, I could see it set to 1080p60 after rebooting, so it could be automatic detection is not 100% reliable. I had to adjust the “Screen Scale” to 100% to make use of all the “real estate” of my TV screen.

The “About device” section reports “I68” as the model number, which runs Android 5.1.1 on top of Linux 3.10.0_100. The firmware version is 100L1, and I also checked with system updates in that menu, but it appears I have the latest firmware, or Firmware update OTA is not activated. This firmware is not rooted.

Here’s the walk-through video showing more details about the settings, as well as some tests in Kodi and the internal player with a 4K 60Hz H.264 video, and a 4K 30Hz H.265 video sample.

I also quickly tried the IR remote control, and after inserting 2x AAA battery, it was perfectly usable at 2 to 3 meters from the box, but around 5 meters I noticed some keys pressed were missed. I still use my air mouse for most of the review, but I decided to move the RF dongle from the micro USB OTG port to one of the USB 2.0 host port because I lost control of the air mouse when I went to the USB settings…

The Google Play Store works very well, and the only apps I could not install require SMS capabilities (cellular), or are not available my locale anymore (e.g. CNBC Video). The only two apps that I believe should have installed, but are not available for my device, are Vidon Smartband and Plants vs Zombies 2 game.  I also installed the Amazon app in order to download Riptide GP2 which I got during a “free app of the day” promotion. You may have heard about Stagefright bug affecting earlier versions of Android, so I’ve run the Stagefright Detector app, and everything is clear. That’s one of the advantages of getting a recent Android version…

Beelink_i68_StagefrightThe power circuit does not appear to be controlled by an MCU. A long press (2 seconds or more) on the power button on the remote control or the unit itself, will bring a menu to Power Off or Reboot, but both options will simply reboot the device, so there’s no option to truly turn off the device. A short press will make the device enter standby mode, and another press will wake it up again. So you’ll have to choose between going into Standby mode or disconnect the power. The latter may lead to corrupted firmware, even after Standby mode is activated. When you connect the power adapter, the device won’t boot, and you need to press the button on the back of unit, as the power button on the IR remote control won’t work.

Beelink i68 stays pretty cool for a mid range device, as the temperature only went up to 42°C and 48°C on the top and bottom of the enclosure after running Antutu 5, and it got slightly warmer after 15 to 20 minutes playing Riptide GP2 at respectively 49°C and 56°C on the top and bottom of the case. These are the maximum temperatures I got while scanning the box covers with an IR thermometer.

The device feels just as responsive as boxes powered by Amlogic S802 or Rockchip RK3288, and the system is very stable, apart from a few bugs in the settings and Kodi where both apps may crash.

Video Playback with Kodi

The firmware was pre-loaded with Kodi 14.2, so that’s what I used for testing with various videos stored on SAMBA shares in an Ubuntu 14.04 computer and accessed while connected via Ethernet. I had not troubles to connect to my SAMBA share in either Kodi or ES File Explorer.

Kodi 14.2 on i68 Comes with Some Pre-installed Add-ons.

Kodi 14.2 on i68 Comes with Some Pre-installed Add-ons.

Let’s being with video samples from samplemedia.linaro.org, as well as some Elecard H.265/HEVC samples, and a low resolution VP9 video:

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny) – 480p/720p/1080p – Mostly OK, but I could notice some “image jump” occurring very rapid, maybe 2 or 3 times in the video, as if an older frame was displayed for a short. It might also have been a bit smoother
  • MPEG2 codec / MPG container –  480p/720p/1080p – Same results as for H.264
  • MPEG4 codec, AVI container 480p/720p/1080p – Same results as for H.264
  • VC1 codec (WMV) – 480p/720p/1080p – audio only
  • Real Media (RMVB), 720p / 5Mbps – Software decode @ ~18 to 22 fps instead of 25 fps
  • WebM / VP8 – Could be a little smoother
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container (360p/720p/1080p) – 360p and 720p – OK. 1080p plays at 15fps, for a 24fps video, ) with audio/video sync issues.
  • WebM / VP9 (no audio in video) – OK

Results are a little disappointing, although it’s possible some people find video playback to be acceptable, as the “image jump” issue does not occur that often and is very short (like one frame).

I’ve followed up with some higher bitrate videos:

  • ED_HD.avi – OK, except during fast moving scenes, where the video is not really smooth
  • 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, and it stops after 9 seconds
  • Jellyfish-120-Mbps.mkv (120 Mbps video without audio) – Sometimes OK, but most of the time not, with the fps fluctuating a lot between 12 fps to 60 fps… played from USB hard drive

I’ve played some HD audio videos both down-mixed to PCM using Kodi and the internal player “Video” app, and audio pass-through with Onkyo TX-NR636 using HDMI pass-through with BD/DVD input, and optical S/PDIF with TV/CD input. For audio pass-through, AC3 and DTS pass-through, as well as Dolby transcoding, were enabled in Kodi, as well as Spdif passthrough and HDMI bitstream in Android Sound settings as needed.

Video PCM Output
Kodi
PCM Output
“Video” app
HDMI Pass-through
Kodi
S/PDIF Pass-through
Kodi
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 OK OK OK. (Dolby 5.1) OK (Dolby 5.1)
E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 OK OK OK. (Dolby 5.1) OK (Dolby 5.1)
Dolby Digital+ 7.1 OK OK Dolby 5.1 Audio Formats Not Supported over S/PDIF
TrueHD 5.1 Slow motion video, and audio cuts OK Dolby 5.1
Slow motion video, and audio stops after a while
TrueHD 7.1 OK OK Dolby 5.1
Dolby Atmos 7.1 OK OK Dolby 5.1
DTS HD Master OK OK Dolby 5.1
DTS HD High Resolution OK OK Dolby 5.1

You may have noticed I’ve added a video with Dolby Atmos 7.1, as my AV receiver supports it, and I’ve found some free Atmos samples online. The pass-through results were always Dolby 5.1 when transcoding was enabled in Kodi, but if I disabled it then it would just about stereo audio (PCM 2.0) for all codecs.

Sintel-Bluray.iso and amay.iso (Ambra – Prism of Life) Blu-ray ISO could play without noticeable issues, as did my two 1080i MPEG2 video samples (GridHD.mpg & Pastel1080i25HD.mpg). I’ve yet to find a box that plays Hi10p videos:

  • [Commie] Steins;Gate – NCED [BD 720p AAC] [10bit] [C706859E].mkv – Audio OK, green screen only, and no subtitles.
  • [1080p][16_REF_L5.1][mp3_2.0]Suzumiya Haruhi no Shoushitsu BD OP.mkv – Audio OK, subtitles OK, but video with massive artifacts, and got stuck after a short while.

Since HDMI 2.0 support is one of the main selling point of RK3368 TV boxes, you’d think they’d work to make 4K videos, and especially 2160p @ 60 fps video, work in Kodi:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – Starts OK, but somehow the framerate drops to 10 fps, and becomes choppy  near the end
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – The first 10 seconds are stuttering, then it looks OK, only to become unwatchable a few seconds later due to low framerate.
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) –  Probably playing at 2 to 3 fps (Kodi live log says 8 to 11 fps)
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – Probably playing at 2 to 3 fps (Kodi live log says 8 to 11 fps)
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) – Won’t play, the system stays in user interface.
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC) – Probably plays at 3 to 4 fps using software decode as all eight cores are close to 100% CPU usage.
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – Probably plays at 3 to 4 fps using software decode as all eight cores are close to 100% CPU usage.
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video) – Won’t play, the system stays in the user interface
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – Not smooth, at 15 fps or less
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – Even less smooth than the 30 fps video (~10 fps) with serious video/audio synchronization issue.

I feel tired getting devices that don’t support 4K videos in Kodi… Nevermind, let’s try those with the “Video” app from a USB hard drive:

  • 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) – “Can not be played”
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC) – Green screen…
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – “Can not be played”
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video) – Audio and green screen…
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – Plays in slow motion, massive audio/video sync issues

That’s better, but too bad it fails to play the 4K 60fps H.264 video…

My 4K UHD television does not support 3D, but I still try to play some stereoscopic 3D videos to see if the system can decode them:

  • bbb_sunflower_1080p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (1080p Over/Under) – 10 to 15 fps, audio/video sync delay
  • bbb_sunflower_2160p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (2160p Over/Under) – Audio only (None of my hardware can decode this though, as it’s require two 4K decoders for 4K 3D videos…)
  • Turbo_Film-DreamWorks_trailer_VO_3D.mp4 (1080p SBS) – OK

I’ve played a bunch off FLV videos, and most can play, but the ones which can’t be played will crash Kodi. H.265, DViX/XVid, VOB/IFO, and MP4 could play, although some will get that “image jump” bug I got with Big Buck Bunny linaro samples from time to time. I also got three XVid video at standard resolution that would make Kodi crash, and some had audio / video sync issues.

I could play a full 1080p MKV movie without interruption, and Kodi log window reported only 2 dropped frames and no skipped frame, but while watching the video I did not always seem perfect, so I’m assuming the reported values in this device can’t be trusted. I experienced the same issue with sample videos.

Finally, I’ve downloaded Antutu Video Tester from Google Play (Version 2.2), which soon after informed me there’s a new 3.0 version, which I downloaded. However, I first ran the test in version 2.2, and the system only got around 230 points which is pretty low, but with the new version it got 532 points. So that means we can’t compare scores between versions. You can find the detailed results for Antutu Video Tester 3.0 below.
Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

The video samples used in this review can be downloaded via links found in “Where to get video, audio and images samples” post and in its comments section.

Network Performance (Wi-Fi and Ethernet)

I’m using ES File Explorer to transfer a 278 MB file between a SAMBA share and the flash three times, and average the results to test Wi-Fi and Ethernet performance. Results for Beelink i68 are not catastrophic, but rather underwhelming, with the average transfer speed @ 2.2 MB/s, ranking the box as one of the least performing device for WiFi connection, at least with my setup.

WiFi Throughput in MB/s

WiFi Throughput in MB/s

I also ran iperf with Wi-Fi using the command line “iperf -t 60 -c 192.168.0.104 -d” and the results are similar, but strangely a little slower than with SAMBA:

------------------------------------------------------------
Client connecting to 192.168.0.110, TCP port 5001
TCP window size: 85.0 KByte (default)
------------------------------------------------------------
[  6] local 192.168.0.104 port 45737 connected with 192.168.0.110 port 5001
[  6]  0.0-60.0 sec   116 MBytes  16.3 Mbits/sec
[  5]  0.0-60.1 sec   119 MBytes  16.7 Mbits/sec

GearBest claims the box supports Gigabit Ethernet on their product page, but when I connect the box to my Gigabit switch only a Fast Ethernet connection is detected. It could be the first devices sold don’t ship with Gigabit Ethernet, but by the end of the month or next month, the new production run will have Gigabit Ethernet, as I’ve been told is the case for Tronsmart Orion R68. Nevertheless considering the transfer is taking place over a 10/100M link, the performance is very good.

Throughput in MB/s

Throughput in MB/s

iperf confirms the very good performance (for 10/100M Ethernet) as running iPerf with the same command line as for WiFi delivers a transfer rate of over 90 Mbps in both direction.

Throughput in Mbps

Throughput in Mbps

Ethernet iperf output:

Client connecting to 192.168.0.116, TCP port 5001
TCP window size:  144 KByte (default)
------------------------------------------------------------
[  6] local 192.168.0.104 port 39845 connected with 192.168.0.116 port 5001
[ ID] Interval       Transfer     Bandwidth
[  6]  0.0-60.0 sec   656 MBytes  91.6 Mbits/sec
[  4]  0.0-60.1 sec   660 MBytes  92.1 Mbits/sec

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

I could pair my Mediatek MT6572 smartphone with issues, and transfer several pictures over Bluetooth.

I had to skip Sixaxis test with my Bluetooth PS3 controller, since the firmware is not rooted, and I did not try to root it.

Finally, I installed Vidon Smartband app to connect to X5 fitness band over Bluetooth LE, and the fitness band was detected, but for some reasons it failed to synchronize data, and always ends with “No bracelet connected”.

Storage

The system could mount a FAT32 micro SD card, as well as the NTFS and EXT-4 partitions on my Seagate USB HDD, but exFAT and BTFRS are not supported.

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

A1 SD Bench results are not pretty standard for transfers over a USB 2.0 connection. However, EXT-4 write speed is about twice as fast as NTFS write speed.

  • NTFS (/mnt/usb_storage/USB_DISK2/USB3_NTFS) – Read: 28.47 MB/s , Write: 12.97 MB/s
  • EXT-4 (/mnt/usb_storage/USB_DISK2/udisk1) – Read: 25.21 MB/s, Write: 27.40 MB/s
Beelink_i68_HDD_Performance

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s

Beelink i68 internal performance is OK, but not quite the best I’ve seen so far, which explains why it boots in around 45 seconds, instead of under 20 seconds for the fastest devices. The FORESEE eMMC flash read @ 26.56 MB/s, and wrote @ 13.93 MB/s in A1SD app.

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s

USB Webcam

First I connected my USB webcam to the micro USB port via the OTG adapter, and I did not work for either Skype or Hangout. Switching to a USB host port improved things a little bit, as the Echo / Sound Testing Service work fine in Skype, but for some reasons, I never manged to get the picture from the USB webcam.

Google Hangouts worked fine however.

Gaming

I played three games Candy Crush Saga, Beach Buggy Racing, and Riptide GP2. PowerVR G6110 was a bit of an unknown to me, but it performed pretty well with all three games at 1080p.   Beach Buggy Racing was super smooth, even after maxing out the graphics settings. Riptide GP2 was super smooth with default settings, and after settings the Graphics settings to the maximum, it was still playable, but I could feel it was not quite as smooth. Both racing games were played with Tronsmart Mars G01 wireless gamepad.

Beelink i68 Benchmarks

CPU-Z does not know Rockchip RK3368, but detected the 8 Cortex A53 cores @ 312 MHz to 1.2 GHz and the PowerVR G6110 GPU correctly.
Rockchiup_RK3368_Beelink_i68_CPU-Z
The model is I68 (rk3368_box) with 2GB RAM, and only 1.94GB storage detected, because the firmware uses two partitions. The UI resolution is confirmed to be 1920×1080.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

Beelink i68 gets 34,171 points in Antutu 5.7.1. which compares to 35,000 to 37,000 points I got with various RK3288 TV boxes, such as HPH NT-V6 or Uyesee G1H last year. So as expected, you should not really get a performance boost compared to RK3288 devices.  I’ll make a more detailed benchmark comparison between RK3288 and RK3368 in a post later on.

Please note that when the USB hard drive was connected, the 5V/2A power supply could not deliver enough power to complete Antutu, and the system would reboot during the multi-threaded floating point benchmark. I had to disconnect the hard drive the complete the benchmark successfully. RK3288 FPU would consume a lot of power, so I guess it’s the same for RK3368.
Vellamo_3_Beelink_i68
The mini PC got 1,288 points for Multicore test, 773 points for Metal test, 1,796 points for Browser test in Vellamo 3, which compares to respectively around 2000, 1500, and 2,500 points in Rockchip RK3288 devices.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

Based on my gaming experience, the GPU is not too bad, and scores 4,248 in 3DMark’s Ice Storm Extreme. This is not quite as high as the scores achieved with Mali-T764 GPU in Rockchip RK3288 though which ranges between 7,000 and 7,500 points.

Conclusion

Beelink i68 is a decent device, with a smooth and stable firmware, although Kodi still needs some work, but if you were expecting a performance bump with a 64-bit ARM platform compared to Rockchip RK3288, you’ll be disappointed, as Rockchip RK3368 does not reach RK3288 CPU or GPU performance. It’s no slug either, but there’s no performance advantage switching from a RK3288 based device to one featuring RK3368. The two main advantages I see are 4K 60Hz video decoding and output and Android 5.1 firmware. Unfortunately, albeit video output is fine, 4K video decoding @ 60 Hz does not really work for now, and Android Lollipop is coming to Rockchip RK3288 TV boxes.

PROS

  • One of the first 64-bit ARM TV boxes
  • Firmware is responsive and stable
  • HDMI 2.0 video output works up to 2160p60 Hz
  • Recent Android 5.1 OS
  • Very good Ethernet performance (for a 10/100M connection)
  • 3D Games run pretty well

CONS

  • Kodi 14.2 needs some work as
    • None of my 4K videos could not play properly
    • Many videos have problems to play perfectly smoothly, either because of low framerate, or some skipped frames
    • Some videos will make the app crash
    • Pass-through only works with transcoding to Dolby Digital 5.1.
  • Box advertised with Gigabit Ethernet, but the current samples only ship with Fast Ethernet (I understand this may be fixed for models selling next month onwards)
  • 4K 60 fps videos won’t play smoothly in either Kodi or the internal “Video” app.
  • Wi-Fi performance below average, although still usable.
  • The device cannot be turned off cleanly (Only standby or reboot are working)
  • The flash is divided into two partitions, and the 2GB app partition may get filled pretty quickly.

I’d like to thanks GearBest for providing a sample for review. They sell the version I reviewed for or $78.99, as well as a version with just 1GB RAM  for $71.18. Beelink i68 can also be purchased on Amazon US, eBayGeekBuying, and Aliexpress. Rockchip RK3368 TV boxes should be more cost effective than RK3288 ones, as for instance, RK3288 TV boxes with 2GB RAM, and 8GB RAM sell for a little over $80 to $90 including shipping depending on model.

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Motion Controlled Bluetooth Ring Mouse Sells for $50

August 6th, 2015 2 comments

Some companies sells Ring Mice such as Genius Ring Mouse 2, which is an RF ring you place on your index finger and control with your thumb more or less like a trackball, but there are also new generation rings using motion control. One of the product is the latter category is Fin Bluetooth Ring which allows you to control your computer, phone ot car radio by simply touching various parts of your fingers, however it’s been funded via an Indiegogo campaign, and based on their latest update they have not shipped rewards to backers yet. But I’ve recently been informed about a “Smart 3D Bluetooth Ring” selling for around $50 on Ebay using motion control and some buttons to control computers and laptops.

Motion_Control_RingSpecifications and features for the ring include:

  • Connectivity – Bluetooth 4.0 LE
  • Technology – “Human motion sensor”
  • Working Distance – Within 10 meters
  • Button – 3 buttons on the side emulating left, middle and right mouse buttons
  • Battery Life – Standby time: 460 hours; Working time: 48 hours; Charging time: about 2 hours
  • Dimensions – N/A

Beside the ring, the package is said to include a receiver (why? or is it RF instead of Bluetooth? That thing uses Bluetooth and a receiver),  a charging cable, and user’s manual. The device works with Windows and Mac OS, but if it’s detected as a standard HID, it should also work with other operating systems [Update: Because it requires a receiver, only Windows and Mac OS are supported]. It’s probably not as accurate as Fin will be, and it’s likely that its function is similar to an air mouse in a ring form factor, but it might be an interesting device, provided it works as advertised.

The Ebay seller left an UPC number, but none of the barcode lookup websites can find this product, and I was unable to find that ring on any other websites either, and video demos are also inexistent, so it’s hard to know if it indeed works as it should.

Thank you onebir!

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Categories: Hardware Tags: ble, bluetooth

LightBlue Bean+ Bluetooth LE Board is Programmed Wirelessly, Lasts One Year on a Charge (Crowdfunding)

August 6th, 2015 3 comments

Punch Through launched a crowdfunding campaign back in 2013 for LightBlue Cortado an innovative Arduino compatible BLE board that can only be programmed wirelessly over Bluetooth Smart. The board has since then been renamed to LightBlue Bean, and the company allegedly delivered rewards to backers on time, a rarity in the crowdfunding world. LightBlue Bean+, the second version of the board, is larger with solderless headers, supports more Bluetooth LE capabilities such as MIDI, and includes a battery. The project launched on Kickstarter yesterday, and already raised over $40,000, surpassing the $30,000 funding target set by the team.

LightBlue_Bean_BeanPlus

LightBlue Bean vs LightBlue Bean+

LightBlue Bean+ board specifications:

  • MCU – Info N/A (Bean has an Atmel ATmega328P @ 8MHz with 32KB Flash, 1KB EEPROM, 2KB SRAM)
  • Bluetooth
    • Bluetooth LE with support for 5 new capabilities: beacon, MIDI, HID, ANCS and observer role.
    • Hardware module undisclosed (Bean has an LBM313 Module with Texas Instruments CC2540)
    • Up to 400 meters range to other Bean+ boards, up to 250 meters range to iPhone
  • Expansions
    • 2x headers with 16 GPIOs also configurable as I2C, SPI, etc.. with 5V/3.3V selector
    • 2x Grove connectors for SeeedStudio modules, which appear to have become popular these days
  • Sensors – Accelerometer and temperature sensor
  • USB – micro USB port for charging battery only
  • Misc – RGB LED, on/off switch
  • Battery – 600 mAh rechargeable battery.  Good for over a year on one charge when programmed with a low-power sketch
  • Dimensions – 6.5 x 3.5 mm

LightBlue_BeanPlus

Please note that the smaller and cheaper Bean board will also be updated with the new BLE capabilities (MIDI, beacon…), so if your project requires a small module and/or is cost sensitive, you could still consider the first version of the board. Bean+ however should be easier to use for prototyping thanks to 2.54mm pitch headers and grove connectors.

The board is programmed with Sketches like another other Arduino compatible boards, but it can only be done wirelessly over Bluetooth LE. Supported operating systems include Mac OS X and Windows , but I assume Linux distributions such as Ubuntu should also be supported since you can simply use the Arduino IDE (TBC) [Nope: Their  schedule has no plan with Linux support]. Mobile devices supporting Bluetooth 4.0 can also be used for programming with Punch Through’s Bean Loader apps for Android and iOS.

If you want to develop your own app, software development kits for iOS/OS X and Android can be found on Punch Through github account. Finally, you can connect the board to the cloud, and program them visually using either Node-RED or OctoBlu interfaces.

Watch this entertaining video to find out some of the projects feasible with the board.

You’ll need to pledge $39 to get one Bean+ board, but you may also consider the popular $80 (early bird) / $84 “MEGA PACK” reward with two Bean+ boards and 5 Grove modules and corresponding cables. Delivery is scheduled for December 2015, and shipping costs $9 to $15 depending on your location.

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