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Testing VolksPC’s MicroXwin Android & Debian Distribution in MK808 mini PC

July 27th, 2014 7 comments

Earlier this week, I wrote about VolksPC mini PC running Debian and Android simultaneously, and the developers decided to send me a unit for testing. The hardware I received is the popular MK808 mini PC based on Rockchip RK3066 with 1Gb RAM, and 8 GB RAM, but loaded with MicroXwin unified distribution. MicroXwin is an implementation of Windows X that’s not using a client/server protocol, for instead communicates directly with the drivers for better performance, especially on low-end hardware.

I connected MK808 to my HDMI TV, added a USB hub to connect a USB keyboard as well as Mele Air Mouse, and powered up the device. The boot to Debian takes about 30 seconds, and 50 seconds for Android.

Debian with XFCE using microXwin (Click for Original Size)

As you boot it will enter in Debian with XFCE desktop environment, and you’ll notice two files, namely the Quick Start Guide and Release Notes that explain how to get started and configure the system. All configuration is done in Android, where you can configure the network, language and input, and date and time. The release notes provides the login credentials desktop/desktop and root/root in case you need them, explains how to start and start Android from a terminal window in Debian (stop  zygote / start  zygote), and lists some known bugs. To switch between Android and Debian, press Ctrl+Alt+F7, and as you’ll see in the video below, it’s truly instantaneous.

Android in MK808 (Click for Original Size)

Android in MK808 using microXwin (Click for Original Size)

Both operating systems share the same file system, so you can edit files in Debian, and use them in Android, and vice versa. However, I’ve noticed some directories and files may become invisible in Android, such as the Pictures and Documents directory in the user’s directory (/mwinx/home/desktop). For some reasons, I have not been able to login to a SAMBA share in ES File Explorer although a scan can find my server, and plugging in a USB card reader will crash Debian, and sometimes reboot the system. From time to time, I may also lose control of the USB keyboard, and Wi-Fi disconnects pretty often, so stability is not that great with that firmware.

However, I’m been pleased with the performance in both Debian and Android. Programs such as LibreOffice Writer, and Chromium browser both load under 10 seconds in Debian, and the system feels more responsive that I would expect from such hardware. I wanted to install es2gears and glmark2-es2 to test hardware GPU acceleration, but the packages normally used (mesa-utils-extra & glmark2-es2) could not been found by apt-get.

VolksPC_Debian_Chromium_Libreoffice

Back in Android, I’ve tried several apps (ES File Explorer, Google Play, Youtube..), also including games such as Buggy Beach Blitz, and they all work as expected. Running Antutu 4.x benchmark gives a score of 10521 points, which seems about right for a dual core processor with Mali-400MP4 GPU. If you start playing a Youtube Video in Android, and switch to Debian, the video still plays in the background and you can hear the audio. This means for example, that you can start playing music in Android, and work in Debian, or start a task in one OS, and it will still run, if you switch to the other one.

You can watch the video below to check out he boot time for Debian and Android,  the speed of the switch between Android and Debian, Wi-Fi disconnecting, and the loading times of LibreOffice and Chromium.

I’ve also run a few commands in a terminal windows to check memory and storage:

root@localhost:~# uname -a
Linux localhost 3.0.36+ #173 SMP PREEMPT Wed Jul 2 11:53:59 PDT 2014 armv7l GNU/Linux
root@localhost:~# df -h
df: cannot read table of mounted file systems: No such file or directory
root@localhost:~# free -m
             total       used       free     shared    buffers     cached
Mem:           853        815         38          0         24        441
-/+ buffers/cache:        349        503
Swap:            0          0          0
root@localhost:~# lsblk
NAME      MAJ:MIN RM   SIZE RO TYPE MOUNTPOINT
loop7       7:7    0   2.2G  0 loop 
mtdblock0  31:0    0     4M  0 disk 
mtdblock1  31:1    0     8M  0 disk 
mtdblock2  31:2    0    16M  0 disk 
mtdblock3  31:3    0    32M  0 disk 
mtdblock4  31:4    0    64M  0 disk 
mtdblock5  31:5    0   128M  0 disk 
mtdblock6  31:6    0     5G  0 disk 
mtdblock7  31:7    0     4M  0 disk 
mtdblock8  31:8    0   512M  0 disk 
mtdblock9  31:9    0   1.7G  0 disk 
root@localhost:~# 

It’s running an older 3.0.36+ as is common with RK30xx and RK31xx based devices, about 853 MB total RAM is available to the system, and df -h does not work because /etc/fstab is empty.

The take away from my testing is that this unified distribution has great promise, as performance is good, and I did not encounter display issues, but some serious work needs to be done to debug the whole system, as well as improve its stability. It’s not entirely clear however, whether the stability issues are related to microXwin implementation, or the underlying Android firmware for MK808.

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Tronsmart Mars G01 Wireless Gamepad Review on Android

July 21st, 2014 7 comments

One way to play games in Android TV Box with a gamepad is to use a Sony Playstation 3 Controller with Sixaxis Controller app. It can work, but you need a device that supports Bluetooth, with the right drivers, and most games require you to do the mapping manually which is not that user-friendly. Now, they make Android compatible Bluetooth Gamepad such as G910 which seems really nice, but I’ve been told it’s rather hit or miss, and some people have problem with the Bluetooth connection. GeekBuying instead recommends Tronsmart Mars G01, based on 2.4 GHz technology, that requires an external USB RF dongle, but which alledgly does not  have connection problems. It works with Android, Windows, and Playstation 3. The company sent me a sample, so I’ve taken some pictures and tried a few games with Tronsmart Vega S89 Elite TV box.

Tronsmart Mars G01 Unboxing

I’ve received the box in the following package.

Tronsmart_Mars_G01_PackageAt the back, some of the technical specifications are listed:

  • Connecting Tech – 2.4 GHz Wireless
  • Battery Capacity – 600 mAh (Up to 20 hours working time)
  • Working Current – 11 – 20 mA
  • Standby Current – 33 uA
  • Charging Current – 300 mA
  • Vibration – Dual-motor vibration
  • Interface – USB 1.0/2.0/3.0
  • Plug-and-Play – Yes
  • Compatible System – PC/PS3/Android
Tronsmart Mars G01 Package Content (Click to Enlarge)

Tronsmart Mars G01 Package Content (Click to Enlarge)

Inside the package, we’ll find the game controller (very similar to an XBOX 360 Controller), a tiny RF dongle that I connected to the USB OTG adapter on the picture above, a USB to micro USB cable for charging from a power adapter or a computer’s USB port, and a user’s manual in English. The user’s manual provides details about the layout of the controller,. how to use it with Android, Windows or PS3, and the different connection modes:

  • X-input – Used in Windows, and alternative method for Android.
  • Direct-input – Alternative mode for Windows
  • Android – Default mode use for Android.
  • PS3
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A closer look the device shows 10 buttons, on D-pad, two rockers, the micro USB port for charging, and a reset button. There’s also rubber on the sides of the gamepad to a better grip.

Tronsmart Mars G01 Review

The controller was already charged, so I could use straightaway. I chose Tronsmart Vega S89 Elite, because it’s a recent devide and with a Mali-450MP6 GPU it should handle games pretty well. Getting started is very easy, as you just need to insert the RF dongle in a USB port of your Android, press the T (blue) button, and it will connect immediately. As a side note, I did try the USB OTG adapter with the RF dongle on ThL W200 smartphone, but it failed to work, as this Android phone does not support USB OTG.

Back to playing on Vega S89. The first good thing is that you can use the Gamepad to navigate the Android menu. I then decided to try 3 games: Beach Buggy Blitz, Riptide GP, and DeadZone: Shadowgun, and interestingly I had three different results:

  • Perfect support for Riptide GP. I could exclusively use the gamepad from Android Home screen until I quit the game, and Riptide GP automatically detected the game upon the first run, and took me through a short tutorial showing how to use the gamepad. I did notice some lag in the control,. but I think it’s just Tronsmart Vega S89 being not powerful enough to handle the games with full graphics quality at 1080p. Reducing the graphics settings improves playability.
  • Good support for Beach Buggy Blitz, but it requires another input device (mouse or air mouse) to navigate the menu. You have to go to the settings menu to select gamepad mode, and you can define your own keys. Once you start playing, the gamepad works as expected, you can turn, break, recover, pause, etc…
  • Failed to work for Deadzone Shadowgun. I was unable to pass the login screen. None of the gamepad buttons nor my air mouse click could let me enter the game. However, it is reported as working, but maybe you have to enter the game using a remote client (e.g. DroidMote, RKRemote, etc..), and then the gamepad works. I haven’t tried.

You can watch me play the three games with Mars G01 in the video below.


For games that do not support Android mode, you can also use X-Input mode (X mode), but it’s not something I had to try. You can find the documentation for X mode in Android, as well Windows XP 32- and 64-bit driver on Tronsmart download page. You’ll also find a list of supported games in the X mode document. I quickly tried to insert in my Ubuntu 14.04 computer, and it’s recognized as a X-Box 360 pad of you switch to X-mode by pressing the T button for a few seconds:

[16404.342437] usb 1-2.4.3: Product:  Gamepad For Windows
[16404.342441] usb 1-2.4.3: SerialNumber: 00000000
[16404.388390] input: Microsoft X-Box 360 pad as /devices/pci0000:00/0000:00:12.2/usb1/1-2/1-2.4/1-2.4.3/1-2.4.3:1.0/input/input19
[16404.388530] usbcore: registered new interface driver xpad

I haven’t tried to play games, but it looks like it might work in Linux too (TBC).

Inside Tronsmart Mars G01

You’re quite unlikely to feel the need to open a gamepad, unless you plan to convert it into a robot, or need spare parts, but I’ve tried anyway. There are just 7 screws to remove, including one hidden under the “QC Passed” sticker, and the back of the enclosure comes out very easily.

Mars G01 Board with Battery (Click to Enlarge)

Mars G01 Board with Battery (Click to Enlarge)

The blue battery (600 mAh) is predominant, but we can also see the two vibrating motors. By the way, the latter were not used in the Android games I tried, and it looks like it might only work with some PS3 games according the user’s manual.

Two Chips on Mars G01 (Click to Enlarge)

Two Chips on Mars G01 (Click to Enlarge)

Taking the battery out reveals two chips that must be an MCU and the 2.4GHz transceiver with its pretty on-board antenna.

LEDs, Button and Plastic Bits (Click to Enlarge)

LEDs, Button and Plastic Bits (Click to Enlarge)

We can take the board completely out by removing to more screws, but there are just LEDs and buttons to be seen on the other side.

Conclusion

Even though Android and games support for Gamepad is still not perfect, I feel products like Tronsmart Mars G01 are a big step forward in terms of simplicity of use compared to Sixaxis solution for example. It also connects instantly, and does not require separate app/drivers for most popular games, but still provides the tools for key mappings for advanced users.

Geekbuying sells Tronsmart Mars G01 for $29.99, but you can also find it on Aliexpress or Amazon US for the same price, or you can save about $2 by purchasing it on DealExtreme for $27.97.

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VidOn.me AV200 Android TV Box Review

July 7th, 2014 1 comment

After providing some pictures of VidOn.me AV200 media player, and its PCBA, it’s now time for a review. I’ll start by giving my first impressions, and checking out the system settigns and user’s interface, go through my library of video test files, and cover most hardware features. As usual, I’ll also test Wi-Fi performance, but I’ve now added more tests including Ethernet performance, and USB hard drive support and performance with NTFS, FAT32, EXT-4, and BTRFS partitions.

First Boot, Settings and First Impressions

The device comes with an IR remote control with lots of buttons, including shortcuts, D-Pad control, digit keys and trick modes (play/pause, fast forward and rewind, next and previous), but the two required AAA batteries were not included, and I did not have spare batteries, so I did not use the remote control, which looks pretty OK for XBMC, and just control the device with my Mele F10 air mouse. I’ve connected an Ethernet cable, the provided HDMI cables, the Mele F10 USB RF dongle, and the power adapter to boot the device. It took around 40 seconds to reach the user interface, which looks pretty similar to the one provided with many recent firmware on devices such as Tronsmart Vega S89 or SZTomato M8.

VidOn.me_Android_Home_Screen

At the top left of the screen, clicking on the VidOn.me logo redirect you to their website. The small top right icons are for Download (with download speed shown in real-time), App (Kill, Move to SD card or Remove), Network connection, and date and time. The large icons in the center of the screen are for VidOn XBMC, and “folders” for TV shows, movies, games and music applications. The lower row is composed of icons redirecting to the list of apps, a file manager, and custom system settings. The Add icon allows you to add your preferred app to the row for faster access. The user interface resolution is stuck to 1280×720.

There are quite a few common pre-installed apps including Chrome, the Play Store, Gmail, YouTube, Pandora, Netflix, Pinterest, Skype, Fadcebook and Twitter. I had no problem installing other apps with Google Play.

The “Setting” menu gives you access to the settings shown in the same Metro-style with four sub menus: Network Settings, Display Settings, “Volume” Settings and Others Settings. Network settings let you choose between Wi-Fi and Ethernet almost no problem here, except the vey first boot, Ethernet is set by defautl as fixed IP without any IP, so you have to go to the Android Settings menu, via the Other Settings menu to configure Ethernet, not that user’s friendly… The Display Settings provide menus top configure HDMI output to 720p 50/60, 1080i 50/60 and 1080p 24/50/60, as well as slider for overscan adjustment. The  “Volume” settings are actually audio settings, that let you select the Audio output (HDMI or 3.5mm audio jack), whether it’s connected directly to a TV or via a decoder amplifier (pass-through), and adjust the volume. “Other Settings” are not settings at all, but report the model (Android Blu-ray Box), thefirmware version (V3.1.3), the MAC Address, and the n-board storage (1GB app partition, 4.14 GB internal SD card). There are also two buttons” System Upgrade” which allows for OTA or local upgrades, and “Advanced Settings” that are the Android settings you can find on any Android device.  There’s not much to see over there, except the kernel version is 3.3.30, and developer options are enabled. Ethernet configuration must also be done in the Android settings…

The device has been released last year, so I was expecting a super stable firmware, and it’s working pretty well most of the time, but I did get two random reboots, and once XBMC would not start at all, and I had to reboot to recover. There’s a power button on the device and one the remote, I did not test the latter, but pressing the former really shuts down the device properly, which is a plus.

Video Playback

The box comes pre-loaded with a special version of XBMC called VidOn XBMC Pro which I used for testing video playback. The first time you start the app, you have to register with VidOn.me and  login, or you can’t use XBMC, and I found that quite annoying. But I was pleased to be asked if I wanted to receive an automatic upgrade for XBMC, which I downloaded only to be told there was not enough space! That’s a new device where I only install 2 or 3 small apps (Root checker, and screenshot apps). That’s the result of silly partitioning like I had on my Android phone with 1GB for apps, and 4+ GB for data which is never used. So I used the App tool the provided to move some apps to the internal “SD Card”. When I went to XBMC again, they had to re-downloable the fully update yet again, which takes about 5 minutes, before it got successful…

But after a poor user experience due to forced registration and  problems with installating an update, I was pleasantly surprised as the user interface is very smooth and rendered @ 60 fps (1280×720), and I did not experience any slowdown.

Let’s start with video playback. Unless otherwise noted, the videos are played from a SAMBA share on Ubuntu 14.04 using the Ethernet connection of the device. I had no problem for SAMBA configuration in XBMC nor ES File Explorer.

Videos from samplemedia.linaro.org:

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny), 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • MPEG2 codec / MPG container, 480p/720p – OK; 1080p – The video can play but there seemed to be some sort of screen/color blinking every few seconds.
  • MPEG4 codec, AVI container 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • VC1 codec (WMV), 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • Real Media (RMVB) – The video can played but lots of frames are skipped.
  • WebM / VP8 – 480p/720p/1080p is – OK.

I’ve also tested some high bitrate videos:

  • ED_HD.avi (1080p MPEG-4 – 10Mbps) – Lots of frames skipped and massive audio/video sync issue
  • 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) – OK
  • Jellyfish-120-Mbps.mkv (120Mpbs) – Some buffering occurs, and the video is not really smooth at anytime. Tested using a USB hard drive (EXT-4)

I’ve also tested common audio codecs below using downsampling:

  • AC3 – OK
  • Dolby Digital 5.1 / Dolby Digital 7.1 – OK
  • TrueHD 5.1 & 7.1 – OK
  • DTS-MA and DTS-HR – OK

Even there’s no Blu-ray drive to be seen, AV200 is sold as a “Blu-ray” player, as it is supposed to play Blu-ray. I could play Sintel-Bluray.iso in XBMC without issue, and navigate between chapters. 3D Blu-ray are also supported, but I’m not sure how to test it yet.

I’ve also tested several 4K Videos since AllWinner A31 SoC does support 4K decoding, but unfortunately hardware decode does not seem to have been implemented in XBMC:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 (60 Mbps) – Audio cuts after 2 seconds, and video is very slow.
  • Sintel.2010.4K.mkv – Very slow playback, frames skipped.

I also tested several AVI, MKV, FLV and MP4 videos, and they could all play. Finally, I also played some “motion bar” videos to check 24Hz, 23.976Hz, 50Hz, 59.940Hz, and 60Hz support, but there seemed to be jitter a bit all the time, so results are not conclusive.

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

Network Performance (Wi-Fi and Ethernet)

I used to test only Wi-Fi, since I believed Ethernet performance would be pretty similar in all devices, but I’ve changed my mind, and will now provide both Wi-Fi and Ethernet performance results. The test consist in transferring a 278 MB file between a SAMBA share and the internal flash, and vice versa, repeating the test three times. Transferring the file between flash and SAMBA took 1:49 (2.55Mb/s), and in the reverse direction it’s a bit slower as it took 2:18 (2.01 MB.s). There was very little variability between the test which is nice, and on average the transfer was performed at 2.25MB/s, a pretty decent result.

AV200_Mele_M9_WiFiCS868, Mele X1000, and AV200 (aka Mele M9) all happen to have a metallic casing, and I wonder if it could be related in any way to Wi-Fi performance, albeit T428 also comes with a metallic enclosure but does not fare that well.

The Ethernet test does not really test pure Ethernet speed, but a common use case transferring the same 278 MB between SAMBA and the internal flash. From SAMBA to the flash was done @ 3.43 MB/s (1m21s), and from the internal flash to SAMBA @ 4.27MB/s (1m05s).

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

There’s no Bluetooth support in both the hardware and firmware, so even external USB Bluetooth dongles won’t be supported.

External Storage

I could use an SD card formatted to FAT32 successfully.
I’ve also purchased a USB 3.0 hard drive that I partitioned in 4 with NTFS, EXT-4, FAT32, and BTRFS. Here are the performance results achieved by copying files between the internal flash and the partitions.

File System Read Write
NTFS 6.17MB/s 5.05MB/s
EXT-4 Not supported
FAT32 6.31MB/s 13.9MB/s
BTRFS Not supported

I used a stopwatch, and did the transfer with ES File Explorer waiting for the transfer window to disappear. I mention this detail because the transfer is reported as finished much earlier, but ES File Explorer appears to flush the file to disk for a few more seconds (around 20) before the transfer window is closed.I used a stopwatch, and did the transfer with ES File Explorer waiting for the transfer window to disappear. I mention this detail because the transfer is reported as finished much earlier, but ES File Explorer appears to flush the file to disk for a few more seconds before the transfer window is closed.

The read transfer speed is unfortunately not representative of the true speed as it must be limited by the internal flash write speed. I also tried to copy from FAT32 to SAMBA but it’s even slower. I’ll need to find another way…

Gaming

I’ve tested two games: Angry Birds Star Wars, and Beach Buggy Blitz. Both are running fine, including Buggy Blitz set to maximum graphics settings.

VidOn.me AV200 Benchmark

I’ve just run one quick benchmark (Antutu) since AllWinner A31 is not exactly new, to check there was not performance issues.

Antutu Benchmark Results (Click to Enlarge)

Antutu Benchmark Results (Click to Enlarge)

A 11399 score for a quad core Cortex A7 @ 1 Ghz seems about right, considering a Rockchip RK3188T (4x Cortex A9 @ 1.4Ghz) now gets around 14,000, so the score is probably helped by the PowerVR GPU.

Conclusion

VidOn.me AV200 is performing quite well, especially when it comes with video playback, but I feel a little worried that I had 2 automatic reboot during my day of testing, especially since the device went through several firmware iterations.

Let’s summarize the PROS and CONS

  • PROS
    • Smooth and fast firmware.
    • Custom version of XBMC with Blu-Ray ISO and 3D support, and HDMI pass-through
    • Very Good video formats/codecs support
    • High quality metallic enclosure
    • Good Wi-Fi performance
    • OTA firmware and XBMC upgrades
  • CONS
    • Stability problems.
    • Their XBMC version requires registration and login to VidOn.me
    • 4K hardware video decoding not supported, at least in XBMC
    • Poor partitioning of the flash, leading to problems to install apps or updates.
    • Device is sold out, and can only be obtained as second hand, or by buying Mele M9.
    • Further firmware updates very unlikely due to above reasons.

VidOn.me AV200 has one of the best, if not the best, audio/video format/codec support I’ve ever seen from the device I tested, baring lack of support for 4K, H.265, and some visual effects in one of my MPEG2 files, but I tend to test recently released device, and the VidOn.me team had more time to iron out issues with this media player, which makes the two reboots I had all the more disappointing, but maybe I was just unlucky, and it did not happen during video playback (One in ES File Explorer, and one in the System Settings).

As mentioned before, you can’t buy VidOn.me AV200 anymore, but it’s the same hardware as Mele M9, and according to reports you can install VidOn.me firmware on Mele M9 or A1000G.

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Unboxing of VidOn.me AV200 Android Blu-Ray Box

July 5th, 2014 5 comments

I had only reviewed on device based on AllWinner A31 before, namely CS868 mini PC which turned out to be disappointing. And recently I’ve reviewed quite of few Amlogic and Rockchip TV boxes, so I’m happy to get a change and try again with another AllWinner A31 based device thanks to VidOn.me AV200 Android Blu-ray Box. I’ll start by listing hardware specifications and showing pictures of the device and the board today, and I’ll write a complete review in a few days.

VidOn.me AV200 Specifications

AV200 is an Android TV box with a metallic enclosure very similar to the one used for Mele X1000 Android Blu-ray box, and with the following specifications:

  • SoC – AllWinner A31 quad core Cortex-A7 @ 1.3GHz with PowerVR SGX544MP2 GPU
  • System Memory – 2GB DDR3
  • Storage: 8GB + SD/SDHC card reader
  • Video Output – HDMI
  • Audio Output – HDMI, optical S/PDIF, and 3.5mm headphone jack
  • Connectivity – 10/100M Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi
  • USB – 3x USB host ports, 1x micro USB OTG
  • Power Supply – 5V/2A
  • Dimensions – 190x124x45.4mm

AV200 runs Android 4.2.2 with an “enhanced version” of XBMC 12 supporting hardware video decoding, HD audio pass-through, Blu-ray navigation and 3D playback and a few other features such as a crash reporting system. It’s also supposed to support 1080p24.

AV200 Unboxing Pictures and Video

I’ve received the device in the simple package below that reads “VidOne.me Android Blu-ray Box”

VidoOn.me_AV200_PackageAs you open the box you’ll see two QR codes linking to VidOn.me player for Android phones or tablets. I’ll try that during the review.

AV200 and Accessories (Click to Enlarge)

AV200 and Accessories (Click to Enlarge)

The box comes with an IR remote (2x AAA batteries not included), an HDMI cable, a 5V/1A power adapter, and a Quick Start Guide in English, but with links poiting to setup instructions in simplified and traditional Chinese, Korean, French, Japanese, German, and Spanish.

VidoOn.me_AV200

A closer look at the device shows a nice metallic casing, a large Wi-Fi antenna, a USB port and SD card on one side, and at the back, an audio jack, a micro USB port, a power jack, an HDMI connector, an RJ45 port, two USB host ports, and an optical S/PDIF output. There’s also a power button, a small window for the IR receiver, and an LCD display at the front.

I’ve also shot an unboxing video for those interested.

AV200 Internal Pictures

Opening the box is fairly easy. There’s nothing under the rubber pad, so you can leave them in place. You just have to remove 4 screws, and slide the top cover. You’ll also notice the “Upgrade” button on the middle left of the picture below.

Bottom of AV200 (Click to Enlarge)

Bottom of AV200 (Click to Enlarge)

Once it’s opened we can actually three boards: the mainboard in blue, and the LCD and power button boards in Green,.

AV200 Board (Click to Enlarge)

AV200 Board (Click to Enlarge)

The board name is A31-G39A04-V1.30 and it has been designed on 2013-09-17, the MAC address starts with 00:CE:39, a range which interestingly is not assigned to anybody, and the Wi-Fi module used is based on Realtek RTL8188ETV. Searching for the board name, let me to an older article about a Mele media player, and it turns out it’s basically the same hardware as the Mele M9. Other interesting bits are the unsoldered pads: option for an extra 8 GB flash,  SATA connector + USB to SATA chip, etc… And if you want to have a similar model with SATA, Mele A1000G is apparently also based on G39A04. The firmware provided by VidOn.me is different than the one that’s available from Mele, so that will be the key differentiating factor here.

Cooling is achieved with a small heatsink on top of AllWinner A31. To further remove the board from the enclosure, you have to remove four more screws. But after doing that the board would not still come off, because there’s some thermal paste stick the PCB to the metal case, which should be good news in terms of thermal dissipation. Since I’ve not done the review yet, I decided against taking it further apart as it might affect performance.

I’d like to thanks VidOn.me for providing the sample. AV200 normally sells for $200 on VidOn.me, but it’s currently out of stock, and the site reads “new box is coming soon…”, and I could not find another place to buy AV200… So the only option appears to get a Mele M9 which for once appears the be the cheapest on DealExtreme ($110).

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Review of Vidonn X5 Fitness Tracker

June 29th, 2014 No comments

With all the activity / fitness trackers on the market now, I wanted to try on,e but I did not find they were good value, but when DealExtreme sold Vidonn X5 fitness tracker for about $27, I decided to jump and have a try. You can synchronize data with Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy enabled Android 4.3+ and iOS mobile device, but I don’t have any, so instead I used a netbook running Windows XP for initialization and fitness data tracking.

Vidonn X5 Unboxing Pictures

I was quite surprised how fast I received the parcel. It was shipped by China Post, yet I received it within 9 days. Usually small items can be found without package and shipped in bubble envelopes, but this device comes in a relatively nice looking plastic box.

Vidonn X5 Package (Click to Enlarge)

Vidonn X5 Package (Click to Enlarge)

The box just contains a user’s manual in Chinglish, and the fitness band.

Vidonn X5 Fitness Band (Click to Enlarge)

Vidonn X5 Fitness Band (Click to Enlarge)

Two clips are used to fastness the band on your wrist, and the “brain” is a USB device with an OLED display and one single button that is also attached to the band with two clips. Overall I find the device looks good, and build quality decent.

Vidonn X5 Review

The first time you’ll need to charge the device for 2 hours with a USB charger or one of USB ports of your computer or laptop. The first thing that surprised me is how small the digits are on the OLED display.

vidonn_x5_dx_vs_reality

Vidonn X5 Display – DX vs Reality

It was all the more disappointing that the digits on DealExtreme were shown much larger than in reality. I had also seen other pictures with the small digit but it did not strike me at the time. I planned to use it as a watch as well, but I was quickly disappointed because you need to press on the button to display the time, and it will show for about 5 to 6 seconds, before turning off the display. Not the most convenient as a watch… Visibility is bright environment is virtually nil, so if I want to know the time, I need to press the time, and use my hand to block the sun is order to see anything. Vidonn X5 was also advertised as IP67 on Deal Extreme, albeit only IP65 on the manufacturer website, and I though I could safely shower and swim with it… However the user’s manual stipulates “Waterproof so you can wear it when washing bu without showering”, and “Please keep the bracelet in dry environment. only for water, such as the usual hand washing, rain wet”, so it’s clear its Ingress Protection rating is not IP67 (30 minutes under 1m of water),  and IP65 (water proof water jets) is more like it. Having said that, I’m still showering with it, and it seems OK. Just make sure to dry the USB pins before charging as they will be wet.

End result: I almost decided to return the thing, but finally I complained to DealExtreme about the tiny digits, and the incorrect IP67 rating, and it appears I’ll keep the device and get $5 store credit as compensation.

A short press on the button will cycle through clock (time), steps, and calories. A long press will enter “temporary mode” start a timer, and you can cycle through the timer, steps, calories and distance as you exercise. A long press will revert to the mode where it monitors your activity continuously. The first i used it “temporary mode” worked, but the numbers of steps in the other mode was also zero, it turns out you really need to synchronize your device with a mobile phone or Windows computer by downloading the application for your OS, and running it. The online user’s manual explains how to do this in Android, iOS and Windows, but the one provided in the package skips Windows instructions.

Vidonn_X5_WindowsThe procedure is rather simple so I won’t detail it here. Just register an account, connect the device to your PC, click on synchronize to the the date and time on the fitness tracker, as well as optionally your personal information.  The first time, you’ll also be asked to install some drivers. You can also set 8 different alarms, but I have not tried that part.

I’ve now used the tracker for one week, and it seems to do a decent job at tracking activity. However, if you walk slowly it may not count steps, and it may record activities when you don’t walk, but just move your arm. I’ve right handed, and the band is on my left arm, which is probably the right thing to do, or it may over estimate your activity.  I’ve just synchronized the data. Let’s see what it looks like on the web based User Center.

Vidonn User Center (Click to Enlarge)

Vidonn User Center (Click to Enlarge)

The “Person” section will show the data for the current day in terms of steps, distance, calories, and how you slept last night (no good apparently). It also shows the details per hour. I worked in the garden at nine, and it shows a spike at that time. Clicking on trends shows the data daily for the last thirty days, weekly or monthly.

vidonn_user_center_dailyThe other thing I learned from this is that Vidonn X5 apparently only keeps 7 days data. Last Sunday, I went for a run and got about 9,600 “steps”, but it does not show here, so the data must be gone for good. This means you need to synchronize data more than once a week, at least every 6 days.

Other sections include Friends (added by phone, email, or nickname), PK Zone (Not it sure, but it may be to organize virtual events with friends), and Config to complete your profile (nickname, email, phone, height, weight, and sleep time). Sleep time is important if you want to get an analysis of your sleep.

In conclusion, despite various initial disappointments, I still find Vidonn X5 is a fun device, it’s comfortable to wear, and the web interface gives a nice overview of your daily activities, and sleep patterns. Yet it’s difficult to recommend for the price it normally sells. You can’t use it as decent watch, you can’t swim with it, you are not supposed to shower with it, you can’t connect it to an heart rate monitor that would provide much more accurate estimate of calories burnt during cycling. Despite the small 40mAh battery, it takes about one hour to fully charge, which you need to do every two or three days. Using a 5V/1.5A charger, charger indicates it draws 0.03A during charging instead of about 1A for my phone, or about 33 times slower. It should be expected that it charges slower, but not that slower.

If you can live with its shortcomings and limitations, it will be much cheaper than Fitbit Flex ($100), as it sells on DealExtreme for $39.44, Geekbuying for $40.99, and you can find it on Aliexpress for $35 and up.

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Review of Broadlink SP2 Wi-Fi Smart Plug

June 27th, 2014 15 comments

I have received Broadlink SP2 Wi-Fi smart socket for Android and iOS thanks to GearBest, a Chinese e-retailer, that was kind enough to send a sample for review. I’ll start by showing some pictures of the package and device, and report the results of my review with an Android phone (ThL W200).

Broadlink SP2 Unboxing Pictures

The company send me the parcel via DHL, and I received in the package below, the top with the picture, and the bottom with specifications in Chinese.

Broadlink SP2 package (Click to Enlarge)

Broadlink SP2 package (Click to Enlarge)

There’s only the smart plug in the package. The top is a universal plug, but the bottom is a Australian/ Chinese plug, so most people would need a wall adapter. It support 110 to 240V AC up to 10 amperes, consumes less than 0.5W without load, and it designed to handle 50,000 on/off events. The thing that surprised me was the size of the plug at first, and it felt larger than I expected.

Broadlink_SP2_Wi-Fi_Smart_SocketThere’s also a user’s manual with the box, but in Chinese only, you can read download it here and there.

As usual I tried to open the device, but the 4 screw are a bit special (like a slotted head but full in the middle, not sure how these are called), and I could only remove 2 screws with the tool at my disposal, so eventually I had to give up…

Broadlink SP2 Android Review

The first thing to do is to download and install e-Control app for Android or iOS either using the QR code on the package, or redirecting your mobile’s browser to the broadlink.apk,  Now you can plug Broadlink SP2 into your wall socket, and start the app.

Broadink_SP2_SetupThe initial setup simply consist of locating your Wi-Fi router, and input the Wi-Fi password, and after you’ll be shown your device with a pre-set name in Chinese, which you can change to your liking. I called it “Bedroom”. The most basic mode of operating is to use the On/Off button in the app (Grey: off, Green: On), or use the physical button to manually turn on or off the relay.

There’s also a timer function where you can set the On and Off time as shown below. You’ll also be notified when the relay goes on or off, with the downside that notifications are in Chinese…

Timer Settings (Click to Enlarge)

Timer Settings (Click to Enlarge)

The real-time power in the screenshot above is zero, because there was no load. So I connected a water boiler to give it a try…

Broadlink_SP2_Water_Boiler

And it works nicely, and you can start the boiler a few minutes before you get up, and the “real-time” power consumption updated every 5 seconds or so, shows a realistic value of about 700W in the boiling phase. I wish it could be possible to get an alert when the water is ready, and the power drops below a threshold, as sometimes I start the boiler, and forget about it….

Broadlink_SP2_Power_Consumption

In the control section of the app, you’ll see “Watch TV” and “Smart Living Room” which are scenes that you can setup if you have multiple smart plug. For example “Watch TV” could turn off the lights, close the curtains, and turn on TV.

The “Power” button will show a longer term history of the power consumption. It test that part, I’ve connected the smart plug to the main socket of my office. I started my computer at about 9:00, it did a full backup just before 10 which explains the spike in power consumption (250W), and at noon, I went into suspend mode where it drops to around 25W) for sometimes, and etc… The chart shows clearly the few breaks I had during the day, until I turn off my computer around 22h30.

One day of Office Power Consumption (Click to Enlarge)

One day of Office Power Consumption (Click to Enlarge)

The resolution in this view is only 30 minutes, and there’s no way to zoom on a full day, and it only shows about 3 hours of data on the screen in the 24h view. However it gathers data over 24 hours, and you can just scroll to check the power consumption chart. The scale in Watt is shown on the left, but as you scroll it disappear which is rather annoying.

You also access weekly, monthly and yearly views that show the appliance working time, the cost, and total power consumption. The “electricity price” is set in the setting menu, and there are options with off-peak and peak times. It will show RMB/unit price, but just put the value for your currency, in my case 4 Baht per unit. The whole application is rather in Chinglish than English, so degree should read as unit or kWh.

Broadlink_SP2_Electricity_Price_SettingsI could not find the Auto Home, Auto Away, and Auto Save functions advertised for the product, but you may need to login to QQ and Weibo to access these, and I haven’t tested that part… The cloud backup function provided to let you load your settings and data to the cloud certainly requires login to one of these two Chinese social networks.

In conclusion, Broadlink SP2 does the job it’s supposed to do, and I could not find issues with the hardware. The Android app is also not too bad, but a few extra features could be nice such as a more detailed 24h chart with the ability to zoom in/out, some extra notifications, better software localization and so on.

If you are interested, you could purchase Broadlink SP2 for $39.03 from GearBest which provided the device for this review, and you could use May05 coupon to get an extra 5% discount on Broadlink SP2 ($37) or any other products on their website. You can also find Broadlink SP2 on DealExtreme for $44 or Aliexpress starting at $39.99. All prices include shipping.

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Jynxbox M1V2 Pure Linux XBMC Media Player Review

June 3rd, 2014 25 comments

Theaterinabox.tv has sent me Jynxbox M1V2 TV box running XBMC Linux Gotham 13.0, and powered by Amlogic AML8726-M3 processor @ 1 GHz with 2GB Flash and 1 GB RAM. This is an upgrade of the first version featuring AML872-M1 and 512 MB RAM. I’ll go through the specs first, then show some unboxing pictures and video, and complete this post by reviewing the device by playing videos from the network and a USB flash drive, as well as going through the available add-ons in a video review.

Jynxbox M1V2/M1+ Specifications

Here are the specifications listed for Jynxbox M1V2 Pure Linux, aka Jynxbox M1+:

  • SoC – Amlogic AML8726-M3 @ 1GHz with Mali-400 GPU
  • System Memory – 1GB RAM
  • Storage – 2GB NAND flash + micro SD card reader (up to 32GB)
  • Video & Audio Output – HDMI up to 1080p (default: 720p)
  • Video Codecs & Containers- MPEG 1/2/4, H.264, X264, VC-1, WMV, M2TS, TS, RMVB, AVI, MKV, MOV, TS, MPEG, FLV, DivX, Xvid
  • Audio Codecs – MP2/ 3, OGG Vorbis, WMA, WAV, WMA PRO, PCM LPCM, MS-ADPCM, LC-AAC, HE-AAC, COOK, RA   Lossless,etc…
  • Connectivity - WiFi 2.4 GHz 802.11b/g/n, 10/100 Mbps Ethernet
  • USB – 3x USB 2.0 ports
  • Power Supply – 5V/2A
  • Dimensions – 108 x 105.5 x 19.5 mm

Jynbox M1V2 Unboxing

I’ve actually received two boxes by Fedex: one for review, one for giveaway. But since I’ll have to drive to the post office anyway, I’ll probably give away both next week or the week after.

Jynxbox_M1V2_Package

In the box, we’ve got the device, an HDMI cable, a remote with 2 AAA battery (included), a 5V/2A power supply, a warranty card and a Quick Start Guide.

Jynxbox M1+ and Accessories (Click to Enlarge)

Jynxbox M1+ and Accessories (Click to Enlarge)

Let’s have a closer look at this XBMC Linux box.

Jynxbox M1V2 (Click to Enlarge)

Jynxbox M1V2 (Click to Enlarge)

We’ve got network and status LEDs as wel as the IR receiver at the front, on one side two USB host ports and a micro SD slot, and at the back an Ethernet port, another USB port, an HDMI output, the DC jack and a power button.

You can watch the unboxing video below.

Jynxbox M1V2 XBMC Pure Linux Review

With this type of device, there’s mainly only one thing to test: multimedia playback, and especially video playback. Despite hte low end hardware, the user interface still feel smooth (~30fps), as long as no video is playing in the background. Once a video is playing, you can feel the limitation of the hardware. For example pressing the back key, to display the menu while playing video usually takes 2 to 3 seconds. It may be a “feature”, and I don’t really feel much delays, if at all, while browsing files with a video playing in the background. Another annoyance is that I got the message “Add-on is incompatible due to unmet dependencies. Would you like to disable it on your system? ” several times as lots of add-ons are pre-installed in the device (YouTube, Vevo, Navi-X, SportsDevils, and more).

I’ve played the usual videos from SAMBA shares using Ethernet, as well as a USB flash drive.  Later, I’ve also used Wi-Fi, configured with the Network Manager in Programs menu, to test video playback and estimate Wi-Fi performance.

I started with the videos from samplemedia.linaro.org:

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny), 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • MPEG2 codec / MPG container, 480p/720p/1080p – It can play, but there’s some sort of barely noticeable visual effects every few seconds, that makes like the pixels are jumping / colors are slightly changing. You may not notice it at first, but once you do, it’s obvious.
  • MPEG4 codec, AVI container 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • VC1 codec (WMV), 480p – Video stopped with audio cuts sometimes. ;720p/1080p – OK
  • Real Media (RMVB) – Can play @ 2 to 3 fps.
  • WebM / VP8 – 480p is sluggish, but sort of watchable,. it’s getting worse for 720p with audio cuts as well,. and 1080p is unwatchable. It looks like software decoding is on for this codec.

High bitrate videos could play, except Elephant dream which is always a challenge:

  • ED_HD.avi (1080p MPEG-4 – 10Mbps) – Black screen audio only.
  • 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) – OK

Another good news is that the box can decode all high-ends audio codec, but unfortunately, the box does not quite have the grunt to decode these video smoothly either from USB or Ethernet:

  • AC3 – Audio OK, but sluggish video
  • Dolby Digital 5.1 / Dolby Digital 7.1 – Audio cuts during playback
  • TrueHD 5.1 & 7.1 – Audio cuts during playback
  • DTS-MA and DTS-HR – Buffering and audio cuts during playback

I’ve also played several videos with AVI, MKV, MP4, FLV… container formats. Most of the time they could play, but sometimes while browsing the video, the menu would crash, and XBMC restart automatically, and within 5 seconds I would get back the home screen. It happened for at least two videos. You don’t need to click OK, you move the highlights on these videos.

A nice surprise was that I was able to Sintel Blu-ray ISO smoothly, including ISO navigation, and I could switch between chapters using Pg+ / Pg- keys on the remote.

Overall video playback is quite of a mixed bag, and the low-end hardware does show in higher bitrate videos.

I haven’t checked use a file manager to test Wi-Fi performance (is there one in XBMC?), but just played some of the high bitrate videos that worked with Ethernet:

  • 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) – OK
  • Sintel-Bluray.iso (~14.5 Mbps) – Buffering only one or twice during the 10 minutes I watched the movie.

The 40 Mbps “Bird” video could only play because Jynbox M1V2 must have a large buffer, at least bigger than the movie size (104 MB), as I’ve never been able to reach over over 25 Mbps over Wi-Fi from my office with any type of hardware. Nevertheless, the other video clearly show Wi-Fi is above average, as must ARM based devices I’ve tried won’t manage these videos over Wi-Fi very well.

The remote control is actually quite nice with XBMC, but it would still have been nice to have Play/Pause and Stop buttons. I was also unable to change audio tracks on video with multiple audio tracks, same thing with subtitles in Sintel Bluray ISO.

Among the adds-ons, I’ve tried YouTube which you work OK, as well as SportsDevil, VEVO, and TED, which for some reasons could not find any streams, but my network is not always reliable.

If you want to get a better feel about the device performance, the high bitrate video issues, and see which add-ons are pre-installed, you can watch the video review below.

Inside Jynxbox M1V2

I’ve also opened the device to have a look inside.

Jynxbox M1+ Board (Click to Enlarge)

Jynxbox M1+ Board (Click to Enlarge)

One interesting bit is the internal Wi-Fi antenna which may explain the excellent wireless performance of the device. U-boot and system images are dated 20130912, but XBMC 13 Gotham and the Linux kernel have been compiled in May 2014, so I’m not sure what “system” means here. I was unable to completed removed the board from the casing as it felt “glued”.

Conclusion

Despite a single core processor, the Jynxbox M1V2 is perfectly usable, but this may not be the device for you if you are playing high bitrate videos with DTS / Dolby 5.1 /7.1 audio codec, as it won’t handle these in a smooth way. Codecs support is also one the weak side. Let’s go through the PROS and CONS:

PROS

  • Relatively smooth user interface (considering the hardware) and stable firmware
  • Excellent Wi-Fi performance, and decent Ethernet performance
  • Blu-ray ISO support
  • Many add-ons are pre-installed

CONS

  • Some video codecs are poorly supported: visual effects in some MPEG2 files, performance issues with some VC1 files, and all Real Media and VP8 videos.
  • XBMC may restart while browsing videos
  • Some apparently sluggishness in some parts of the menu while playing videos
  • Lack of play/pause and stop buttons on the remote control.

Jynxbox M1V2 Pure Linux is available from Theaterinabox.tv for $80, their Amazon store for $89.99, and I’ve also found it for $99.99 including shipping by Hong Kong Post on Aliexpress. Considering the performance you get out of this XBMC media player, the price is a bit on the high side, and you could get quad core player for this price with better performance and video support, except maybe when it comes to Wi-Fi where this box appears to shine, at least in my environment.

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