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Posts Tagged ‘wifi’

Broadlink MP1 is a $20 WiFi Power Strip with 4 Independent Sockets

August 29th, 2016 3 comments

There are plenty of WiFi sockets going around such as Broadlink SP2 or Kankun KK-SP3, but in some cases it might be both more convenient and cheaper to get a WiFi power strip, and Broadlink MP1 offers just that with 4 sockets that can be controlled and programmed (timer) independently, and sold for just $19.88 on Banggood.

Broadlink_MP1Broadlink MP1 specifications:

  • Connectivity – 802.11b/g/n WiFi, controllable over 3G/4G with smartphone
  • 4 multi-standard (EU/US/AU, but not UK) sockets
  • Power input – 10A/250V (max)
  • Power output – 10A/250V (max)
  • Rated power – 2000W Total
  • Misc – Power button
  • Dimensions –  254mm x 60mm x 32mm; 50cm sockets spacing; cord Length – 1.5m with AU plug (Adapter provided for other countries)
  • Weight – 450g

The power strip can be controlled via Broadlink ihc (Intelligent Hone Control) app available for Android and iOS, which lets you independently manually turn on or off or set timers for each sockets. You can also use IFTTT to control the sockets, but it may require Broadlink SC1 “housekeeper”.  There does not seem to be an easy way to control the power strip with a computer.

Broadlink_Android-iOS_App

The strip is also sold for around $25 and up on Aliexpress, GeekBuying and GearBest [Update: Now $19.78 promo]. It’s been around for a few months already, but I have not found any hacks yet, and could not find the processor used in the strip. However I know it’s likely not running OpenWrt and there’s no SSH access. Reading further, I did find another model, Broadlink MP2, with 3 power sockets, and 3 USB ports that’s said to be based on a Mediatek solution, and sold for $27.59.

More information can be found on Broadlink MP1 and MP2 pages (in Chinese only).

ReSpeaker WiFi IoT Board is Designed for Voice Interaction (Crowdfunding)

August 24th, 2016 No comments

More and more devices are supporting voice interaction nowadays from your smartphone to devices like Amazon Echo, but so far, I had not seen development boards specifically designed for that purpose, and that’s exactly what Seeed Studio ReSpeaker board does by combining audio capabilities, WiFi connectivity, and I/O headers.

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ReSpeaker Core board specifications:

  • WiFi Module – Acsip AI7688 Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n module based on Mediatek MT7688 MIPS SoC
  • Storage – micro SD card slot
  • USB – 1x micro USB port for programming and power
  • Audio – 3.5mm AUX port, WM8960 audio codec, 2-pin header for external speakers
  • Expansion – 2x 8-pin expansion headers for I2C, GPIO and USB 2.0 host connected to MT7688, built-in microphone.
  • MCU – Atmel ATMega32U4 @ 16 MHz
  • Misc – 12x RGB LEDs, 8x touch sensors, 3 push buttons
  • Power Supply – 5V DC
  • Dimensions – 70mm diameter
  • Weight – 70 grams

The board runs OpenWrt, and uses Text-to-Speech and Speech-to-Text capabilities from Bing and Google with the company having focused on the English language so far, but you should be able to add other languages fairly easily.  A “detailed and easy-to-use” Python SDK is provided to developers, and other programming languages/options such as C/C++, Arduino, JavaScript and Lua are also available. You can find more details and source code on the Wiki.

Beside the core board, the company also offers two add-on boards such as Grove Extension board to add I2C, UART, digital or analog Grove modules to your projects, and a Microphone array board with 7 microphones and 12 LEDs.

Mic Array (Top Left), Grove Extension (Bottom Left), and (Right)

Mic Array (Top Left), Grove Extension (Bottom Left), and Meow King Drive Unit (Right)

Finally if you want something hackable, but looking more like a consumer product, Seeed Studio has partnered with Meow King Audio Electronic to design Meow King Drive Unit with a 5W speaker and taking ReSpeaker Core and Mic Array boards. ReSpeaker Core is also compatible with ESP8266 based Wio Link, and its graphical setup interface.

Some fun projects include a smart speaker answering your questions, weather forecasting decorative cloud, voice controlled meeting scheduler, talking “I’m thirsty” flower, smart photo album showing photos from a given date or event, and more…

The project has launched on Kickstarter a few hours ago, and already raised $37,000 out of its $40,000 funding target. ReSpeaker Core with a 8GB micro SD card requires a $39 pledge (early bird, $59 normal), which goes up to $89 with ReSpeaker Mic Array, and $139 with the complete Meow King Drive unit kit with all necessary boards. There are many other rewards to choose from with various sensors, bundles, etc… Shipping is not included, and adds $10 for standard shipping (Tip: select Hong Kong irregardless of your country), or $20 for DHL shipping according to their latest update. Delivery is scheduled for November 2016, except for the Meow King kit  (January 2017).

PS: I have an early sample of ReSpeaker Core board, and I’ll post a review/guide in a few days.

Realtek RTL8710 Witty-like WiFi IoT Board with micro USB Port Sells for $8 / 35 RMB

August 20th, 2016 9 comments

Realtek RTL8710 could eventually become a serious competitor to ESP8266, as it’s based on ARM Cortex M3, provides many of the same features, and sells for roughly the same price. While currently software support is still work in progress and community is very small, I’ve recently written a quick start guide  using AT commands to control RTL8710 connectivity in station and access point mode, and commands are also available for GPIO, OTA firmware updates, servers… This however requires some soldering and a USB to TTL debug board, and is not quite as convenient as ESP8266 board like NodeMCU. Some RTL8710 and RTL8195 development boards are already available but they cost over $25, but I’ve been informed of a cheap no-name RTL8710 board with a micro USB port for programming and power, and well as headers with GPIOs, UARTs, NFC, and power pins, that looks somewhat similar to ESP8266 Witty board.

Realtek_RTL8710_Development_Board

RTL8710 “Witty” development board specifications:

  • WiSoC – Realtek RTL8710 ARM Cortex M3 MCU with 802.11 b/g/n connectivity
  • Serial to TTL Chip – CH340G
  • Expansion headers – 2x 13 pin with GPIOs, I2C, UART, SPI, NFC, and power signals (5V, 3.3V, GND)
  • Misc – RGB LED, temperature sensor, photo resistor, and button
  • Power – 5V via micro USB port, 3.3V via header
  • Dimensions – TBD

I’ve asked one Aliexpress seller whether it would be breadboard compatible, but they did not manage to answer my question. [Update: After estimating dimensions with pictures, it will most likely not be breadboard friendly]

Breadboard-RTL8710They did try to help however, by first sending some software manual with AT commands, followed by schematics and PCB layout pictures, all of which you can find here.

You can purchase for board for $8.82 on Aliexpress including shipping, and it’s also sold on Taobao for 35 RMB ($5.26). shipped in China. [Update: The board is also on eBay for $7.99 shipped]

Getting Started with B&T RTL-00 RTL8710 Module – Serial Console, AT Commands, and ESP8266 Pin-to-Pin Compatibility

August 18th, 2016 13 comments

The announcement of the ultra-low cost ARM based Realtek RTL8710 WiFi modules for IoT applications generated quite a lot of buzz since they can potentially compete with the popular ESP8266 modules. The main problem at the time was documentation and software support, but after some searches we could find that RTL8710 was part of Realtek Ameba family, and found some documents and an SDK for RTL8710/RTL8711/RTL8195. ICStation also kindly provided one B&T RTL-00 module for review, which costs $3.55 shipped per unit, and as low as $2.85 if you purchase 10 or more.

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The question here is how to get started? The answer can be found in page 8 of the Chinese datasheet for the module with GB0 and GB1 pins used for Tx and Rx to access the serial console. Time for some soldering…

RTL8710_Soldering

For the first test, we’ll just need Tx (GB1), Rx (GB0), GND and 3.3V, and cut breadboard wires to give me the flexibility to use it with a breadboard just in case.

RTL8710_Serial_Connection

Now you need to connect the module to a USB to TTL debug board with all four pins connected since it will also provide power.

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Insert the debug board into a USB port of your computer, and setup a serial connection @ 38400 8N1 using minicom, screen, putty, or other serial capable app. I struggled to get the full boot, until I found ATSR command would reboot the board:

If you type help you’ll see some AT commands:

You can find the full AT command set in RTL8710 forums, and somehow it differs from the AT command set found in AN0025 Realtek at command.pdf application note available in Ameba Standard SDK.

Time to have some fun by trying to connect the board to my WiFi router:

Success, and that was easy. Now AP mode….

ATPA needs four arguments with ESSID,password (8 to 64 characters), channel, and hidden or not (1 or 0). I could not find the new access point with my phone, connected to it and typed the password. The serial console outputted it.

The command ATW? will return lots of info about WiFi status:

I’ll complete those little tests by enabling the web server in the board:

You can now connect to the web interface to configure the access point.

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AT commands are all good, and you can configure WiFi, UDP/TCP servers, and even OTA firmware update, but there’s nothing about controlling GPIOs there… So that will be something to look into. [Update: ATSG is the command for GPIOs. See comment]

Dpape on RTL8710 forums discovered something very interesting: B&T RTL-00 module is pin-to-pin compatible with ESP12E module based on ESP8266, so if you already own a board with such module including NodeMCU board, you could unsolder the ESP8266 module, and replace it with RTL8710 and get going.

NodeMCU_RTL8710That’s exactly what he’s done and shown to work, with the module bought from Aliexpress, which appears to come pre-loaded with the exact same firmware. You’d normally not need the red USB debug board as shown above, but he removed the USB to TTL chip on NodeMCU previously, so that’s why…

ESP12E_vs_RTL00

The modules are actually only mostly pin-to-pin compatible, as for example GC5, corresponding to ADC on ESP12E, does not seem to support ADC, but only I2C1 SCL, SPI0 CS2, and GPIO_INT signals. But the power signals, Tx and TX, and most GPIO signal will match.

Realtek RTL8710 is still nowhere near ESP8266 in terms of community and software support however. However an ARM development board company – previously featured in this blog and many news outlets – is involved in the project, and I’ve been informed more details will be provided in 2 to 3 weeks. The current modules sold are for the Chinese market, and an international version is planned with a slightly different radio.

GOLE1 mini PC Tablet Review – Part 2: Android 5.1 and Windows 10

August 14th, 2016 6 comments

GOLE1, also called GOLE1 F1, is an interesting device because it’s quite difficult, it’s like the offspring of a mini PC and a tablet with a smallish  phone-like 5″ capacitive touch screen. It also dual boot Windows 10 and Android 5.1. I’ve already discussed about the hardware, and taken picture of the device, accessories, and motherboard, in the first part of the review, so today I’ll report my experiences with Windows 10 and Android 5.1, as well as the potential use cases. Since I’ve already reviewed Intel Atom x5-Z8300 mini PCs, as well as a dual boot Windows and Android Intel mini PC, I’ll focus on what makes GOLE1 different in this review.

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GOLE1 Dual Boot and Use Cases

I normally check my emails on my smartphone while having breakfast in the morning, but one day the charging micro USB cable was not connected properly to my phone, so I decided to try using GOLE1 has a portable device, as I had connected it a few days on my desk without actually booting it.

After pressing the power button a few couple, the device will boot and show GOLE logo with a Setup icon to access Aptio Setup Utility (UEFI / BIOS), and a couple of second later, you’ll be presented with a choice of using Android or Window, which default to the previously selected opertating system if you don’t press any keys after a 10 seconds timeout.

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You’ll notice my pictures are in portrait mode, simply because if GOLE is placed on its back on a flat surface it will boot in portrait mode by default. If you decided to enter Aptio Setup Utility, there’s no way to rotate the display here, and there’s no HDMI output either. If you want to use the more convenient landscape mode, you’d have to boot the device by holding it in the right position….

The very first I played with it, Windows was selected by default, so I decided to go ahead to use it to check my email, however I first found the display hard to read (I have breakfast outdoors), so I had to set brightness to 100%, and it was a little better, but not quite perfect, so I’d say the screen is poor for outdoor use due to the reflections.

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The second and even more frustrating issue that’s using Windows 10 on 5″ display amounts to torture as everything is so small, at least with the default DPI settings, as text is very hard to read, and everything is so small it’s difficult to tap with any accuracy… So after playing with it for 5 minutes, I decided to reboot, and switch to Android 5.1 instead.

GOLE1_Android_Tablet_Mode

That was much more usable. The display has a 1280×720 resolution so don’t expect an amazing experience, and viewing is rather poor even at maximum brightness, but at least I could use it to check my emails with gmail, and read some news. I used it for about 30 minutes, and I have to say it’s a little heavy, so it might not be ideal over longer period of time. If I had my phone sufficiently charged with me, I would never consider using GOLE1 as a portable device.

But maybe it’s better as a mini PC with dual displays support thanks to its extra HDMI port. So I connect a whole bunch of USB devices including two RF dongles for air mouse and gamepad, a USB 3.0 harddrive to the USB 3.0 port, and a USB hub for USB keyboard and mouse, plus the usual cable for TV (HDMI), display, and power. I first placed the mini PC flat on the table, and it will show in portrait mode in both the 5″ display and TV (Please ignore the vertical lines on the television, as it is the TV’s problem).

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That’s just a small issue, as you can move the device around to switch to landscape mode.

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The next problem is that it will automatically enter sleep mode after a few seconds of inactivity. That’s annoying, but there a simple fix, as you can disable sleep mode in the display menu. You can also change video output up to 3840×2160 @ 30 Hz or 4096×2160 @ 24 Hz if your TV supports it.

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This won’t change the user interface / frame buffer resolution however, which is set to 1280×720, and with the DPI settings used (fixed in firmware), text looks quite big on the TV. There’s also no option to force landscape mode, so you’d probably have to install Set Orientation app using Googke Play to make sure the screen is in landscape mode. The unusual position of the status bar on the right while in landscape mode, and the fact that both the 5″ display and TV display would be turned on during might be an annoyance while playing videos for example. So GOLE1 can be used as an Android TV box, but I don’t find it to be doing a good job at it. Extended display, i.e. different content on either screen, is not possible in Android.

So let’s boot Windows 10 instead in the same configuration, and by default the system is using mirroring mode.

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Windows 10 works fine, but by default the resolution set to 1280×720 on the TV too in that mode, so it’s not ideal. You can change it to whatever output you want however, and I did manage to change it to 1920×1080 @ 60 Hz. The text becomes completely unreadable on the small display, but it’s pretty good on the large disaply. You may want to force the orientation to landscape in Windows options so the 5″ screen don’t rotate to portrait mode.

I also tested Extended Desktop in Windows with the TV screen used as the primary display, and set to the resolution I want, e.g. 1920×1080 @ 60 Hz (up to 4K @ 30 Hz), while the 5″ display remains at 1280×720 resolution.

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This works, but just like in portable mode, the text on the 5″ display is hardly readable, and when you launch an app from the TV screen, it may launch in the small display, so you may have to drag it to the big screen to use it. I think this setup is most useful in very specific applications, where the 5″ display would be used with a remote app, and the big display showing whatever the user want, something like a digital signage system with the user being able to select options from the built-in touchscreen, and info shown on the large monitor. For most people, the best option might be to select Single Display mode to turn off the 5″ display completely.

I have not tried Ubuntu, but Brad Linder of Liliputing did, and actually successfully loaded both Ubuntu 16.04 and Remix OS operating systems from a USB stick. Built-in WiFi and Audio did not work, as expected since you need to work a little harder to enable Audio and Wifi, so he used a USB audio card and an external USB Wifi dongle… Mirroring did not work, but Extended Desktop was usable.

GOLE1 Android 5.1 Info and Benchmarks

Now that we’ve gone through the different configurations / use cases made possible with GOLE1, I’ll report some more information about the operating systems themselves, starting with Android. Note that while I’m mostly used the device in landscape mode, I took the screenshots in portrait mode, because it is more convenient for the review, as text would often be split over multiple screens in landscape mode.

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The device runs Android 5.1 on top of Linux 3.14.37. I had no trouble using Google Play, and browsing, but as mentioned previously the screen resolution and density use makes it really big on the large screen. Using it as an Android tablet was better, although the screen is small, and device heavy. I have not evaluate the battery life, because I got an early sample with a smaller battery.

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CPU-Z shows an Intel Atom x5-Z8300 quad core CPU up to 1.84 GHz with Intel HD graphics is used by the device called “AOSP on Intel Platform (cht_cr_mrd_w)”. Screen resolution is 720×1280 with 294 dpi, with 3847MB total RAM, and 4.82 GB internal storage.

GOLE1 got a decent 49,457 points in Antutu 6.0 (in landscape mode), but remember that the 1280×720 resolution will have posively affected the 3D graphics results compared to platforms running at a more common 1920×1080 resolution.

GOLE1_Antutu_6.0

The 64GB flash was expected to be faster than most 8/16GB flash used in TV boxes, and the results obtained with A1SD bench are indeed pretty good with 58.82 MB/s sequential read speed, and 46.03 MB/s write speed.

Read and Write Speed in MB/s

Read and Write Speed in MB/s

Normally, I’d also measure USB hard drive performance here, but none of my USB HDD partitions would show in Android.

I could use the Fast Ethernet connection without issues in Android, but WiFi performance varies much more between device, so that’s what I measured it connected to my 2.4GHz router. The device could also find my 5 GHz access point (802.11n only, no 802.11ac). WiFi throughput is tested by transferring a 278MB file over SAMBA back and forth using ES File Explorer. Download speed was acceptable at around 2.2 MB/s, but I got some stalling issue during one upload, and generally was slower, around 1.5 MB/s when no connection loss. The average was still a rather weak 1.8 MB/s.

WiFi Throughput in MB/s - Click to Enlarge

WiFi Throughput in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

GOLE1 Windows Info and Benchmarks

Windows 10 desktop in GOLE1 is completely standard, apart that the resolution is 1280×720 on your monitor or TV by default.

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One of the reason of adding an often useless 5″ display to a mini PC is to get it into the “tablet with small screen” category with Microsoft, so that you can install Windows 10 with a free license… So that’s no surprise Windows 10 Home 64-bit is activated in the device, although I though it was not valid for 4GB. If Microsoft was not such an obscure company people could check themselves whether the license is right, but AFAIK the license conditions are not published publicly.

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The system info windows also shows the model is GOLE1 (F1) powered by Intel Atom x5-Z8300 processor @ 1.44 GHz with 4GB RAM.

My USB hard drive connected to the USB 3.0 is still not detected in Windows 10, and I can only see the 49.6 GB partition. There’s 33.8 GB free, but I took the screenshot at the end of the review.
GOLE1_C_DriveWhile storage performance was very good for an Android TV box, Windows based mini PCs often achieve well over 100MB/s (up to 400 MB/s) sequential read and write speeds, and relatively fast random I/Os, which is not really the case here.

GOLE1_CrystalDiskMarkHWiNFO64 reported information is pretty standard.

GOLE1-HWiNFO64At first, I decided to skip Windows 10 benchmarks, because Intel Atom x5 processors performance is well known, so I only ran AIDA64 Extreme System Stability Test for 10 minutes, while monitoring thermal throttling stage, CPU cores frequency and temperature with HWiNFO64.

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The CPU temperature was rather high for all 4 cores at over 80 C, but HWiNFO did not report any throttling. However, when checking the maximum CPU frequencies, it’s obvious something is very wrong, because it never went over 1,200 MHz, while Intel Atom x5-Z8300 processor base frequency is 1.44 GHz, and turbo frequency is 1.84 GHz.

So I changed my mind about benchmark, and after letting the system cool down for a while, I installed and ran PCMark 8 HOME ACCELERATED 3.0 benchmark.

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GOLE1 got 1,254 points, which compares to 1,354 points on Atom x5-Z8300 based Tronsmart Ara X5, so about 7% slower which could be caused by the slower eMMC flash or some throttling, although the processor did not overheat, and frequency got up to 1.84 GHz during the benchmark.

I left GOLE1 connected to the mains all day during Windows 10 testing, and strangely, I could see the system reporting the battery was “Not Charging”.

GOLE1_Charging_IssueHowever, I also checked later, and the battery level went up to 40% still not charging, and latter down to 33%. So it looks like the system will not always charge to battery while Windows 10 is running, and you have to turn the mini PC off to charge it.

Conclusion

In theory, GOLE1 is an awesome little device which can be your Windows or Android tablet, Android TV box, or Windows 10 mini PC, as you see fit. But in practice, Windows 10 is really hard to use on a 5″ screen, Android works better, but the screen is high reflective making it poorly suited to outdoor use,  when you connect the device to your TV with Android, the resolution is limited to 720p, and you have to hack your way out to make it usable. In Windows 10, it’s a little better when using a TV in either Single Display, Mirroring, or Extended Display mode. The 5″ screen is still unreadable in most modes, so Single Display might be the best option. GOLE1 can do many things, but none of them very well. It might be useful in some specific applications, where you may want a touch screen display with a control app, to let the user access info or play videos on the large screen, or simply use it as a control panel for some machines without external display.

PROS

  • Innovative design combining tablet and mini PC
  • Dual boot of Windows 10 Home (activated) and Android 5.1
  • Affordable price

CONS

  • Windows 10 is close to unusable on a 5″ screen with the default resolution 1280×720 and DPI settings.
  • 5″ screen has poor visibility outdoors even with maximum brightness
  • GOLE1 is a rather heavy as a portable device
  • Poor WiFi performance, and unreliable at times
  • My USB 3.0 hard drive was no recognized in either Android or Windows (power supply issue?)
  • The system appears to default to Portrait mode when placed on a flat surface
  • Battery does not appear to be charging continuously in Windows 10
  • Minor – Android set to sleep very fast (a few seconds) by default, which is a real annoyance when connected to TV (Settings changes fix this)
  • GOLE1 is throttling under heavy load after a couple of minutes.

“Jack of all trades, master of none” is probably appropriate for GOLE1 F1. I’d still like to thank GOLE for giving me the opportunity to review GOLE1. You can purchase the device for $99 with 2GB RAM/32GB flash, and $154.99 with 4GB/64GB (as reviewed here) on GearBest (GBGF4 or TENOFF coupons may lower the price further). You’ll also find both models sold as “GOLE F1” on Banggood.

Evive is an Arduino Compatible Platform with Enclosure, Lots of I/Os, Buttons, and an 1.8″ Display (Crowdfunding)

August 12th, 2016 No comments

Engineers at Agilo Technologies, an Indian startup based in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, felt that the wire mess often produced while learning or prototyping with Arduino boards could be an issue, and it was easy to mis-wire your setup, so they’ve decided to create a user and student friendly Arduino compatible system with many of the items you’d normally use with Arduino board such as buttons, probes inputs, an 1.8″ color display, headers for ESP8266, Bluetooth, and XBEE moduels, etc.. and all of that enclosed in a neat case. Evive was born.

Evive_Arduino

Evive specifications:

  • MCU – Atmel ATmega2560 8-bit AVR MCU @ 16 MHz with 256KB flash, 4KB EEPROM, 8KB SRAM
  • Storage – micro SD slot up to 32GB
  • Display – 1.8″ TFT display; 160×128 resolution; 18-bit color
  • User inputs – Tactile and slide switches, joysticks, and potentiometers
  • Probes inputs – Voltage / Intensity sensing inputs
  • USB – USB device port
  • Expansion Headers
    • 3.3V I/Os header
    • Digital to Analog converter header
    • Timer inputs
    • Plug & play hardware interface for motors, steppers, relays, servors…
    • Arduino Mega headers for shields with PWM, Analog inputs, digital I/Os, etc… 3.3 and 5V headers
    • WiFi header for ESP8266 module (ESP-12)
    • Bluetooth header for HC-05 module
    • XBEE header
  • Misc – Power button (off, ext. int.), 7x status & user LEDs, RTC, buzzer, small breadboard
  • Power Supply
    • Variable 3.3V to 5V DC through DC jack or Vin
    • 2,600 mAh Li-Ion battery
    • Reverse polarity protection
  • Dimensions – Arduino compatible – Arduino Mega 2560 form factor

You can watch the specifications videos (4min30s) for a clear and detailed description of Evive specifications.

Evive_specifications

The system supports the Arduino IDE, Scratch, ROS, Matlab Simulink, LabView MakerHub, Atmel Studio, etc… You can find some hardware & software files, as well as documentation on Evivetoolkit github account, and several demo projects have been posted on Instructables, such as a DIY piano built with Scratch, a scientific calculator, a plant monitoring and watering system, an obstacle avoiding robot, and so on.

Evive has raised about $10,000 on Indiegogo (flexible funding due to India’s banking regulations) so far, with 14 days to go. Perks start at $89 for the early bird basic kit with Evive, a USB cable, and two multimeter leads. Various kits are also offer for IoT or Robotics projects, and you can also order packs with up to 10 kits. Shipping is free to India, $10 to US, and $15 to the rest of the world, with delivery planned for December 2016 (early bird), and January 2017. You may also want to visit Evive website for more details.

4Duino-24 is an Arduino compatible 2.4″ Color IoT Display Module with Atmel MCU and ESP8266 Module

August 10th, 2016 6 comments

I played with ITEAD Studio NEXTION serial color displays for Arduino boards and the likes a few months ago, and while the hardware seems good and the company offer a large choice of 2.4″ to 7″ models at a very affordable price, I didn’t find the Windows software to create the user interface to be very user-friendly. 4D Systems, an Australian company specializing in “graphics solutions”, will soon launch a similar 2.4″ display, but integrated into an Arduino compatible board also featuring an ESP8266 module for WiFi connectivity.

4Duino-244Duino-24 “LCD  IoT Display Module” specifications:

  • MCU – Atmel ATmega32U4 micro-controller with 32KB flash, 2.5KB SRAM, 1KB EEPROM
  • Storage – micro SD card slot (FAT16 support) for data and logging
  • WiFi Module – ESP8266 based with 802.11 b/g/n connectivity, 1MB flash, support for Wi-Fi Direct (P2P), soft-AP
  • Display – 2.4” LCD-TFT resistive touch display module with 240×320 resolution, 65K colors, and powered by PICASO embedded graphics processor with 14KB flash, 14KB  SRAM
  • Expansion – Headers with up to 20 digital I/O pins, up to 7 PWM, and up to 12 analog inputs
  • Programming / debugging
    • 1x micro USB for power and programming (ATmeaga32U4)
    • 2×5 way header for programming Picaso and ESP8266 via a 4D Systems Programming Cable or Adapter
  • Power Supply – 4.0V to 5.5V DC via power jack
  • Dimensions – Complete board: 72.8 x 53.3 x 14.6mm; Display viewing area: 36.72 x 48.96mm.
  • Weight – ~36 g.
  • RoHS and CE Compliant.

The display can handle full color images, animations, icons and even video clips. Windows fonts are also supported. The board can be programmed with the Arduino IDE, or the company’s 4D Systems’ Workshop4 IDE. I’d assume the latter is recommended if you want to design neat user interface. Sadly the program only works in Windows,  so Linux and Mac OS users will have to revert to run the program through Wine (TBC) or in a Windows virtual machine. The promo video explains fairly well the features and capabilities of this “IoT display”.


4Duino-24 will officially be launched on August 17, 2016, and it will sell for $79 US. However, you may want to go with the $99 US Starter kit as it includes the programming cable for the Picasso processor. More details should be available on 4Duino.com at launch about a week from now.

Thank you Nanik!

NEXBOX A95X (Amlogic S905X) TV Box Review – Part 2: Android 6.0 and Kodi 16.1

August 5th, 2016 41 comments

Last week I publish the first complete review of an Amlogic S905X device with MINI M8S II TV box review, and while the device work in a smooth and stable manner, some features did not work as expect such as HDMI audio pass-through. I’ve now had the change to compare  it to another S905X with NEXBOX A95X, not to confuse with its “homonym”: NEXBOX A95X with Amlogic S905 processor. I’ve already taken pictures of the device and accessories, and checked out the hardware in the first part of the review,  so today, I’ll report my finding playing with Android 6.0 firmware, Kodi video and audio capabilities, and check whether bugs and issues found on MINI M8S II are also present in the device.

First Boot, Settings and First Impressions

NEXBOX A95X is really a tiny device, so it’s no surprise that it only comes with two USB 2.0 ports, and I used one with my 1TB hard drive, and connected a USB hub to the other with 2 RF dongles for my air mouse and gamepad, as well as a USB keyboard to take screenshots.

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Click to Enlarge

The typical 30 second boot is a little faster than on MINI M8S II, possibly thanks to faster eMMC flash, or more optimized firmware. I was also happy to see a different launcher for once.

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Click for Original Size (1920×1080)

The top row of the user interface shows the current time, network connectivity status, and weather for your selected city. The Home screen has 8 pre-definied (and non customizable) icons for Kodi, YouTube, File Manager, Browser, Google Play, Kodi Center (add-ons installer), Netflix, and a shortcut to All Apps.NEXBOX-A95X_IPTV_Video_Streaming

The “Recommend”, “Online” and “Local” tab are folder where you can add or remove your favorite apps. The Online tab comes with HGTV Watch, HuffPost, Hulu, Pandora, and Plex by default.

NEXBOX-A95X-S905X_Launcher_Setting SystemInfo will show a summary of the device specifications and firmware, Other will only allow you to disable/enable “touch sounds”, Weather is used to set your city,  and Settings points to the usual Amlogic settings.

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Click to Enlarge

Again it’s very similar to other box, but like on MINI M8s II, it adds the HDR (High Dynamic Range) option, and storage also shows external storage like the 4 partitions of my USB drive. HDMI-CEC is also missing, which is a problem as I can’t disable it, and the box will prevent me from turning off my Onkyo A/V receiver.

NEXBOX_A95X_HDR

The one extra options I found on NEXBOX A95X is “Power key definition” to select either “suspend and resume” or “shutdown” when pressing the power key on the remote control.

Android_Power_Key_Definition I personally recommend using “Suspend and resume”, as you can also power off the device with a long press on the Power button.

If you are using a USB drive, the following window should show up a few seconds after the boot is complete. That’s a little annoying since it will happen for every boot, but there’s an extra option compare to M8S II, as you can setup the hard drive as internal storage.

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That’s great, unless you already have data on your hard drive, as it requires it to be formatted. So I skipped that step. But if you are going to use that hard drive permanently with the box, then that’s a good option, as you’ll have very large storage for app and data, and I assume you won’t be shown the “USB drive connected” after each boot.

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Click to Enlarge

So instead I setup a class 10 micro SD card as internal storage, and formatted it as shown above. Android complained that “This USB drive appears to be slow” however, but I could carry on, and was asked whether I wanted to “Move data to SanDisk SD card”, which I accepted by clicking on “Move now”. Once this is done you’ll strangely see the device storage with a total of 32GB, instead of 16+8 = 24GB, but at least that mean available storage has been increased thanks to the added micro SD card. I understand this is a new feature of Android 6.0.

Android_6.0_Internal_Store_micro_SD

About_NEXBOX-A95XThe flash on NEXBOX A95X (S905X) has a 16GB capacity, at least on my model, and is partitioned as a single unified partition for app and data with around 1.41GB used after the first boot (with micro SD card used as internal storage yet).

Another identical behavior between MINI M8S II and NEXBOX A95X was that HDMI output was set to 4K SMPTE (4096×2160 @ 24 Hz) by default. I set it manually to 4K 60 Hz (3840×2160) manually, but I noticed it would sometimes fall back to 1080p60 after a reboot. It’s quite easy to notice since the mouse pointer is much smaller (maybe too small) when 4K output is selected. Those common issues are likely due to Amlogic SDK, so I’d expect most Amlogic S905X TV boxes to suffer from those.

I clicked on “More settings” to enter Android 6.0 settings and access other options like Accounts, Language & input, Printing, and so on… The “About MediaBox” section reports NEXBOX-A95X running Android 6.0.1 on top of Linux 3.14.29. The firmware used for review is NEXBOX-A95X-AP6330-6.0.1 dated July 15th, 2016. The firmware is rooted. OTA firmware update is not supported.

The included remote control has a decent range as it worked up to 8 meters (but not 10m), and the IR learning function works well as I was able to register and use the power, input selection, volume, and mute keys of my TV remote control. However, as usual MINIX NEO A2 Lite was my favorite input device since beside acting as a remote, I also use it as a mouse and keyboard, and is much more convenient to use in various parts of Android and apps.

Google Play worked fairly well, except it would not install Mi Fit or Vidonn Smartband apps, possibly because of Bluetooth LE requirements. All other application needed for review could be installed from the store. I also downloaded Amazon Underground with the web browser to install the free version of Riptide GP2.

Power implementation is bit better than on MINI M8S too, mostly thanks to added option to go to standby mode. That means I could go into and out of power on/off, and standby using the remote control. Power consumption was measure with a power meter in 6 different configurations:

  • Power off – 0.4 watt
  • Standby – 0.4 watts
  • Idle – 2.4 watts
  • Power off + USB HDD – 1.1 watt
  • Standby + USB HDD – 0.4 watt
  • Idle + USB HDD – 4.1 to 5.2 watts

It looks rather good. The only oddity is that Power off with USB hard drive consumes more than in standby, and there does not appear to be advantages (in terms of power consumption) of going into power off mode, instead of standby. Standby will also save you some time, as you don’t need to wait for 30 seconds to boot. Power off might be a little safer for your data, depending on how the firmware has been implemented.

When I opened NEXBOX A95X the thermal design seemed OK, except the processor and heatsink were pointing down, instead of up, so in theory the heat could be end up being trapped inside the device. During use, the case gets a little hotter than MINI M8S, but not that much as the maximum temperature on the top and bottom of the case after Antutu 6 was respectively 45°C and 52°C max, and after 15 to 20 minutes playing Riptide GP2, the tempeatures went up to 50°C and 56°C. However, performance (e.g. frame rate) was constant during game play.

My first impressions with NEBOX A95X were pretty good, with the device running a stable and responsive firmware, and the main downsides were small annoyances like the USB drive connected windows after each boot, and the device preventing me from turning off my A/V receiver. The lack of OTA firmware support with the Update & Backup app reporting “Check Failed! Check Your OTA Servier Agent” (sic.) was also a disappointment, but a common problem with cheaper devices.

Audio & Video Playback in Kodi 16.1, and DRM Support

I can also see piracy add-ons pre-installed together with Kodi 16.x with more an more devices, and NEXBOX A95X is no exception.

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Click for Original Size

The box is using Kodi 16.1 like in M8S II, but the build date is different, so there may have been some modifications.

NEXBOX_A95X_Kodi_16.1

I’ll get straightaway with 4K video testing from a SAMBA share over 100M Ethernet, unless otherwise stated (HDD = USB hard drive):

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – OK
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – HDMI_4K_SMPTE (24 Hz): OK; HDMI_4K_60Hz: OK
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) –  OK
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – OK
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) – OK
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC) – HDMI_4K_SMPTE (24 Hz): OK; HDMI_4K_60Hz: OK
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – OK
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video; 36 Mbps) – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
  • Fifa_WorldCup2014_Uruguay-Colombia_4K-x265.mp4 (4K, H.265, 60 fps) – OK
  • Samsung_UHD_Dubai_10-bit_HEVC_51.4Mbps.ts (10-bit HEVC / MPEG-4 AAC) – Network: Audio cuts during playback, then silence; HDD: OK
  • Astra-11479_V_22000-Canal+ UHD Demo 42.6 Mbps bitrate.ts (10-bit H.265 from DVB-S2 stream) –  OK
  • Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 30 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) – HDD: System hangs after a few frames
  • tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video) – OK
  • The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps + opus audio) – OK most of the time, except for ~5 seconds period @ 2:08 with severe artifacts.

NEXBOX A95X does not suffer from poor video playback when 24 fps videos are played using 4K SMPTE (24Hz) video output, any improvement over MINI M8S II, but streaming over Ethernet may not be as good, as one 51.4 Mbps video suffered from audio cuts due to buffering. The system also completely hanged with a very high bitrate (243 Mbps) video played from the USB hard drive. The artifacts in one VP9 videos occurred at the exact same time on both devices.

I enabled automatic frame rate switching in Android and Kodi, but sadly this does not work.

Audio testing looked much more promising when I went into Kodi Audio output settings with not only AC3 and DTS options, but also TrueHD and DTS-HD options present in the settings.

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The results however were disappointing, so I also used HDMI audio pass-through using MX Player / MoviePlayer app too through my Onkyo AV receiver that can handle TrueHD, DTS-HD and Dolby Atmos.

Audio Codec in Video PCM 2.0 Output
(Kodi 16.1)
PCM 2.0 Output
(MoviePlayer or MX Player)
HDMI Pass-through
(Kodi 16.1)
HDMI Pass-through
(MoviePlayer or MX Player)
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 Audio OK but video not smooth No audio Audio OK (DD 5.1) but video not smooth OK (DD 5.1)
E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 OK No audio DD 5.1, but two short audio cuts OK
Dolby Digital+ 7.1 OK No audio “PCM 2.0/Unknown” switching, and no audio Video Plays in fast forward mode, system has no time to setup audio output
TrueHD 5.1 OK No audio “PCM 2.0/Unknown” switching, and no audio TrueHD 5.1
TrueHD 7.1 OK No audio “PCM 2.0/Unknown” switching, and no audio TrueHD 7.1
Dolby Atmos 7.1 OK No audio “PCM 2.0/Unknown” switching, and lots of “audio farting”. Continuous beep
DTS HD Master OK No audio “PCM 2.0/Unknown” switching, no audio, and video not smooth DTS 5.1
DTS HD High Resolution OK No audio “PCM 2.0/Unknown” switching, no audio DTS 5.1
DTS:X OK No audio “PCM 2.0/Unknown” switching, no audio DTS 5.1

Not really the results we want to see, even for new devices…

I also played a 2-hour H.264 1080p videos over Ethernet to test stability, and I had no problem there.

NEXBOX A95X supports Widewine DRM Level 3 only. This has to be expected however.

Nexbox_A95X_DRM

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Download links to video samples used in this review can be found in the comments section of this Video/Audio sample post.

Network Performance

I’ve tested both 802.11n and Fast Ethernet by transferring a 278MB file between SAMBA and the internal flash a few times, and averaged the results. WiFi supports both 2.4 and 5.0 GHz (no 802.11ac), the connection is stable, but the performance is rather poor with average transfer rate of around 1.6 MB/s.

Throughput in MB/s

Throughput in MB/s

The same test with Ethernet shows a more standard performance of 6.7 MB/s for a Fast Ethernet interface.

Throughput in MB/s

Throughput in MB/s

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

Bluetooth worked reasonably well, and I could transfer a few pictures after pairing NEXBOX-A95X to my Android smartphone, and get Xiaomi Mi Band 2 data after side-loading Mi Fit app. So that means Bluetooth LE is working. I could not use my Bluetooth headset, as the system kept on asking for a pin code during pairing, something my phone, and most other Android devices have never asked for that headphone.

Storage

If you’ve been following my reviews of Amlogic TV boxes, you may know my expectation of getting write support on my USB hard drive are pretty low, ever since Amlogic moved to Android 5.1 SDK and the “10MB bug”. But when I realized NEXBOX A95X would actually allow me to copy files and run benchmarks on some of the partitions of my USB hard drive I felt like the second was coming, and could barely control my emotion with tears coming out of my eyes after around 10 months of hardship :).

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

Contrary to MINI M8S II, the hard drive partitions are apparently detected as SD cards in NEXBOX A95X, so they were also listed as in A1 Bench, and I could run the benchmark on both NTFS and exFAT partitions of the driver with a very good 37 MB/s sequential read speed for both, and less impressive 6.78 MB/s & 17.66 Mb/s write speed respectively.

Read and Write Speed in MB/s

Read (Bluet) and Write (Red) Speed in MB/s

exFAT used to have very poor performance across devices, so maybe Android 6.0 improve exFAT support a lot.

The 16GB eMMC flash performance is OK with 45.8 MB/s read speed, and 15.24 MBs write speed.

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Read and Write Speed in MB/s

Gaming

I’ve focused on Riptide GP2 only, playing it with Mars G01 wireless gamepad. The game was perfectly playable using default settings, but not quite as smooth as I like when settings the graphics settings to “max resolution”. I kept playing the game for 15 to 20 minutes, and performance was OK, and constant over time. Amlogic S905X is not the ideal processor for gaming, but it’s good enough for casual gaming.

NEXBOX A95X (Amlogic S905X) Benchmarks

Before running running benchmark, let’s have a look at the info reported by CPU-Z.

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Click to Enlarge

Amlogic S905X processor is again confirmed as a quad core Cortex A53 processor running between 100 MHz and 2.02 GHz, and with an ARM Mali-450MP GPU. Internal storage partition capacity is 11.87GB, total RAM 1775 MB, and the frame buffer resolution is set to 1920×1080.

Despite having the exact same CPU frequencies, we’ve already seen in our Amlogic S905 vs S905x benchmarks comparison that Amlogic S905X did not performance quite as well. But with NEXBOX A95X the results are even lower possibly due to its non-optimal thermal design as previously discussed.

NEXBOX-A95X_Antutu_Amlogic_S905X

The device achieved 28,519 points in Antutu 6.x, against 33,553 for MINI M8S II.

NEXBOX_A95X_S905X_Vellamo_3.x

The picture is the same with Vellamo with Multicore, Metal and Browser being respectively 1,184, 824, and 1,641 against 1,491, 910, and
1,885 points for MINI M8S II.

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Click to Enlarge

3DMark Ice Storm Extreme score @ 3,703 points is also lower despite the CPU running at 2.0 GHz for most of the benchmark during. MINI M8S II achieved 4,183 points in that same test. So the system is slower, but it’s hard to pinpoint what happened.

Conclusion

NEXBOX A95X (S905X) firmware was stable and felt fast, although benchmarkls indicate a lower performance compared to competitors. Video playback in Kodi 16.1 for 10-bit and 8-bit H.265, H.264, and VP9 videos up to 4K @ 60 fps was also good, and I like some details like the ability to set the power button behavior, and setup external storage (micro SD or USB) as internal storage.

PROS:

  • Stable and responsive Android 6.0 firmware
  • Kodi 16.1 supports 4K 10-bit H.264, H.264 and VP9 videos fairly well
  • HDR (High dynamic range support) for the latest televisions (not tested as LG 42UB820T UHD TV does not support it)
  • Proper power handling (standby/power off) and low power consumption in all modes.
  • Internal storage expansion via external storage devices (micro SD, USB flash drive, USB hard drive).
  • Above average internal storage performance leading to fast boot, and low app loading times
  • exFAT, NTFS, and FAT32 file system support for external storage with read and write support (except in ES File Explorer)
  • IR remote control with IR learning function and good range (up to 8 meters)
  • Bluetooth working for file transfer and sync to fitness trackers (BLE)

CONS:

  • Video & Audio playback issues: HDMI audio pass-through not working well, automatic frame rate switching not working, Lack of Dolby & DTS licensed for downmixing to PCM 2.0 (stereo audio) in apps other than Kodi
  • Video output settings not always remembered. e.g. set to 4K @ 60 Hz, but fall back to 1080p60 at next reboot
  • Stable but poor WiFi performance
  • Lower performance compared to MINI M8S II, at least in in benchmarks
  • Lack of OTA firmware update support
  • Pairing issue with Bluetooth headset
  • DRM: Only supports Widevine Level 3
  • TV box will force my AV receiver to turn on, even as I manually turn it off (likely HDMI CEC issue)
  • Lack of notification and status bar, leading to some inconvenience after download or Bluetooth transfers for example.

I’d like to thank NEXBOX for sending the device for review, and resellers and distributions can contact the company via their website to purchase the box in quantities. The version of NEXBOX A95X featured in this review (Amlogic S905X, 2GB RAM, 16GB flash) is sold for $42.99 on GearBest and $51.99 on Banggood. Both sites also sell cheaper version with 2GB/8GB ($38.2) and 1GB/8GB ($33), and GeekBuying too. However, if you don’t think you need Android 6.0 features, VP9 and/or HDR, NEXBOX A95X model with Amlogic S905 processor might be a better option, and sells for around $25 with 1GB RAM.