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HE3D K280 3D Printer Review – Part 1: Build, Tweaks, and First Prints

December 6th, 2017 4 comments

Hello Karl here again with another 3D printer review. Today we are looking at an HE3D K280. I saw the brand for the first time on Gearbest a couple months ago and asked for it to review. I never heard of this brand before and have been wanting to review a delta style printer. In my case, I should have been careful what I asked for. It took me quite some time to get it to print utilizing the whole print bed. I experienced several challenges and after defeating them I enjoy this printer quite a bit. Delta style printers mesmerize me with the movements that they make and all the math that goes into moving the extruder in the X, Y and Z. Regular Cartesian printers are rather simple in this respect.

  • Build Volume – 280×600 mm
  • Heated bed
  • No Parts cooling
  • 2020 aluminum and all injected molded parts except effector
  • Bowden Style
  • 24V system

HE3D K280 Build

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Building a delta printer I found out is quite a bit easier to build than a Cartesian printer. The instructions for this kit are not the greatest. I followed the K200 Youtube videos for the majority of the build. I utilized the printed instructions that came with the printer and I also used the Facebook group. I wish instructions were all in one place but I was able to work through it. I contacted the HE3D Facebook representative and found him extremely helpful. I had about 6 hours build time.

I really liked that it came with some important spares/piece parts. Extra nozzles from .2 to .5 came with the kit. Extra heater block. Extra sensor for probing the bed.

HE3D Firmware

I hate to admit how much time I spent trying trying to calibrate this printer with the stock repetier firmware. I worked every night after the kids went to bed trying to calibrate for over a week. For giggles, I started compiling Marlin and I worked through all the configs, and if you use Marlin firmware you can go from build to printing in about 10 minutes with calibration. Here is a copy of Marlin Bugfix Config. Clone the Bugfix Branch and replace the 2 config files in the marlin directory. This branch is in active development so if an error occurs you might need to compare my configs with generic delta in the example configurations directory. I use Beyond Compare for this task.

One feature I like is the sensor that is included. It fits over the hot end and it is used for calibrating. When pressure is applied it closes a contact.

This sensor is used to calibrate the machine. While building I made sure everything was as square and as tight as possible. I pushed the endstops for the three towers against the top bracing. I also leveled the bed with a speed level.

Once the firmware is flashed, I connected the sensor from above to the pins shown in the manual and placed over the nozzle. I went to Delta Calibration under Prepare in the menu. And let it do its thing. It probes the bed and several points around the perimeter of the bed then homes then does it over and over up to 10 times. At this point all I needed to do is set the Z offset, and save the configuration to EEPROM. In the marlin firmware, I defaulted the offset to -.15 but as I ran through testing -.3 works just about every time for my sensor.

If you make a change and flash firmware again please go into the menu and have it restore failsafe. That was another pain in my side realizing some changes that I made were not taking affect.

After this, I had very successful prints and the nozzle was not digging into the bed near the perimeter.

Please note you must insulate your heat block with at least some Kapton tape or run the chance of heating error if using a parts cooler.

Bed

I did not like the bed mounting system that came with it. If you needed to get to the board it meant unmounting the bed and recalibrating the bed. So I designed some simple removable mounts. 3 are needed. They can be found here on Thingiverse. I put everything together like the picture below then place on 2020 and line everything up. Then tighten the t-nuts. After this I was able to pop the bed off with no tools and get underneath without worrying about calibration each time.

Parts Cooling

The K280 did not come with a parts cooler and it is a 24v system. A while ago purchased several 40mm fans and radial fans off of Ebay. In this case they were 12v. I didn’t want to purchase any more fans so I opted for a buck converter to step down the 24v to 12v. I connected and adjusted to voltage to about 13v. I used this parts cooler. In my second part I will print out this fan on Thingiverse provided by HE3D and try a radial fan.

First Couple Prints

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This turned out really good. I have a couple holes in the mouth but that is a slicing problem. I try to save time so I use very little infill and only 3 top layers.

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This one turned out very well as well. It took me several times to print. There was supports already in the STL that were generated by Meshmixer but were thin. After I scaled up the print it worked the first time.

First thoughts

I really wish the printers that I have been reviewing came with good build documentation with the printer and I didn’t have to search for it. This is the biggest downfall of these kit printers. Parts cooling is the next biggest item I don’t know why that is not standard. I was able to overcome the build with the help of the FB group and the HE3D rep was very helpful. One thing that I have to look into fixing is dimensional accuracy. I found parts were off more than I am accustomed to and I believe a calibration issue and will look into this in the next part. They were off over 1 mm. I will also try to find a 12” mirror to print on. I would like to thank Gearbest for sending a review unit. If you are interested in purchasing you can find a link here.

Categories: Hardware, Testing Tags: 3d printing, he3d, review

Tronxy X3S 3D Printer Review – Part 3: Upgrades to Fix Bed Leveling Issues (Permanently)

November 14th, 2017 3 comments

Karl here. I have had the Tronxy X3S 3D printer for a while now. It prints well but as I mentioned in previous articles I had to level for every print. Actually near the end I would just overpower the stepper motors while the skirt was printing and level. Leveling front to back was not affected. Only the z height. So this worked but it was frustrating. Before that I tried several different things to mitigate. I thought maybe the endstop for Z homing was inconsistent and replaced it. I tried heating the bed for extended period of time thinking that maybe some thermal expansion. Didn’t help. I finally did a major change to the X carriage with success. I even moved the printer to our local library and the bed stayed leveled for a demo. I call this a success, and will show how I did it. Inspiration for this modification came from the CR-10. This is the biggest mod I have done for any review so far.

3D Printed Parts for Upgrade

My objective was to reuse as much as possible of the original kit. I designed the bracket in Fusion 360 and remixed the Z motor brackets in Windows 3D Builder. To do this upgrade you will need to print 2 Z motor mounts an 1 X/extruder mount. They are published on Thingiverse.

Bed

The easiest place to begin with is the bed. This mod alters the extruder position so the Y stepper motor needs to be relocated outside the frame so no build area is lost. I had some extra belt I think came with this kit that I used. The belt lengthens from the original position.

X Carriage

First remove the Z motors and metal brackets. We will not be reusing the metal brackets. Remove the Z rods. Take off the top 2020 extruded aluminum from the top of the printer and slide the whole X carriage off, and disassemble the left and right wheels, stepper motors, belt etc. The triangle wheel assembly does not need to be broken down. Both extruder and X stepper will be located on the left now. I slid only the triangle wheel assemblies on with the new orientation. I made a little mark on the left and right acrylic wheel assembly to get my positioning right for 2020 aluminum. Center the 2020. I ended up with about 9mm on each side. You will need to drill a hole in the acrylic so a second nut can be used on both sides.

Drill hole through acrylic approx. where indicated by arrow on the bottom set of holes. Enlarge the bottom holes on the back piece so you can use a screwdriver and tighten. Take your time and drill slow. Do this on both sides.

Here is the left side. I mounted the steppers after installing.

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Mount the Z rod brackets upside down on the back in the top holes of the wheel assembly so that the Z rod lines up with the center of the 2020 below.

I tested the orientation of the Z rod nut upside down by changing one side. I really don’t think it matters.

Now mount the Z motors. I didn’t have the proper length nut so they look loose. No adverse effects. If it bothers you can install a washer or nut. The brackets are keeping it from bouncing.

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I have only done a couple test prints, but they turned out fantastic. I can’t say definitively, but I do think I see an improvement. I am running low on filament right now and will test more for final review. The goal was to fix the level issue but any improvement is good.

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Final thoughts

The leveling was driving me crazy on this printer, so I had to find a solution. I started with a goal of changing the orientation of the wheels and just started taking the printer apart. With more than one printer this makes it an easier task. By chance I was able to reuse the existing Z rod brackets and saved quite a bit of time. It did take 2 iterations of the X/extruder bracket, but ultimately didn’t take very long. I had one setback. On the first iteration I had the stepper motors touching, and the steppers got very warm so I put a 5mm gap between them and seemed to resolve the issue.

If you noticed my X axis limit switch is off set it is because I am running stock marlin, and did not build in the offsets so I just moved the limit switch to accommodate. I will follow up with a how to upgrade the firmware, and get rid of some of the annoyances with stock firmware.

After this upgrade I can say it is very much on par with the CR-10 now with some savings. After this upgrade you can get 350 x 330 x 390 mm. I didn’t realize until testing just now that 10mm is lost in the Z. You can get 400mm wide but there is a clearance issue with extruder hitting the triangle brackets. You could probably just clip on a larger mirror with no issues and stick with the existing bed and let it overhang.

I would like to thank Gearbest for sending the printer for review. They sell it for $269.99 including shipping.

Categories: Hardware, Testing Tags: 3d printing, hack, review, tronxy

Tronxy X3S 3D Printer Review – Part 2: Upgraded Heatbed and RAMPS Board

October 25th, 2017 4 comments

Karl here. So the bed I mentioned in the first part of Tronxy X3S review is not very good. It took about 10-11 minutes to heat up to 60 deg Celsius. I also mentioned I was going to upgrade the board to a RAMPS board. Today we are going to look at both these upgrades.

New Heated Bed

I can take no credit for this one but I wanted to pass this along. Folger tech sells a 12v 280w heated bed stick on pad. I picked this up for $20, but is now $22.

In order to do this upgrade you will need a MOSFET, 12V/30A power supply, and of course the pad above. Super easy installation. Remove the bed and stick on the self adhesive pad centered. Replace the power supply with new one. Should be self explanatory. In order to power this bed a MOSFET is needed. A MOSFET allows you to power a high current bed and not run all the current through the board. I won’t go into much detail about the MOSFET because it has been written about a lot.

I did try the new bed with the existing power supply and without a MOSFET. The stock power supply heated up very quickly. I don’t think it would make it through a 10mm cube before failing. I also connected the new bed directly to the board without the MOSFET and the connector started to fail almost immediately.

Bed heat up times drastically improved.

  • 60 deg Celsius in 2:15… took about 10 minutes previously
  • 100 deg celsius in about 10 minutes… I could not get it past 70°C before

You’re looking at about an extra $60 for this upgrade. Right now, a Tronxy X3S is $289 + $60 for this upgrade. Getting close to CR-10 pricing.

Here are some power measurements with a Sonoff POW.

Power usage idle and both hotend and heated bed on

RAMPS 1.4 Upgrade

I did upgrade to a ramps board. It was my first time using a RAMPs 1.4 and Arduino MEGA board. It was very easy to do. Wiring is well documented. I don’t feel I gained anything other than fixing a few annoyances with stock firmware, and a little bit of build volume on the x and y. Now if your board goes bad here is an inexpensive solution. I picked up this kit and this adapter from Zyltech.

Arduino MEGA

RAMPS 1.4 Board

RAMPS 1.4 Connection Diagram

There are few considerations:

  1. If you decide to use the stock LCD then you will not have an SD card to print from. The stock screen with the X3S does not have an SD card and octoprint is a good solution. If you need to print via SD card you can substitute this screen for the adapter.
  2. The Z motor connectors are very close. I used some male to female Dupont connectors for testing, so I could go back to the stock board easily.

Here are the changes from the stock Marlin firmware that I made.

So once I flashed the board, and made my connections I tested the directions and end stops. If a motor is moving the wrong direction you can adjust 2 ways. Flip the connector on the board or adjust in software. I chose to just flip the connector.

The only physical modification I did was move the X endstop to place the nozzle at the corner of the bed instead of using an offset.

Final Modification

This one was simple. Download and print. I printed a new shroud out of PLA. It was designed by my buddy on thingiverse.

The head design on the X3S is the same as the Tronxy X3.

Closing

I will be putting the main board back now, and printing a bunch of stuff for Halloween. I will share the final thoughts on this printer at that time. I would like to thank GearBest for sending me the Tronxy X3S for review. You can buy the 3D printer from them for $289.99 including shipping (Coupon GBX3S may shove a few dollars off the price).

Continue reading Tronxy X3S 3D Printer Review – Part 3: Upgrades to Fix Bed Leveling Issues (Permanently)

ACEPC AK1 Celeron J3455 Mini PC Review – Part 1: Unboxing, Teardown, and First Impressions

October 17th, 2017 39 comments

Karl here. Today we are going to look at the ACEPC AK1 mini PC. Here are some of the specs pulled from ACEPC’s website. The feature that is most notable to me is the included 2.5” hard drive compartment.

Hardware

CPU:Intel Celeron J3455
GPU:Intel HD Graphics 500
RAM:4GB DDR3L
ROM:32GB eMMC
WiFi:Ac3165 Dual Band2.4G/5G
LAN: Ethernet RJ45 10/100/1000M
Bluetooth: BT V4.0

Interfaces

USB port:2xUSB 3.0;2xUSB 2.0;1xType C;support USB disk and USB HDD
Card reader: TF Card (up to 128GB)
HDMI Port: HDMI 1.4
Microphone audio: 3.5mm Microphone jack x1

Unboxing & Teardown

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Looks like an mSATA connector inside but not listed on spec? – Click to Enlarge

Some close-up photos to get a better look at the chips, and overall hardware design.

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First Boot – Storage / Task Manager

Storage after first boot:

Storage after update:

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Thermal Testing with Prime 95

Cooling seems adequate. Below is a picture of Prime 95 after 5 minutes. I am glad to see it staying at about 2 GHz considering the base frequency is 1.5 GHz. After stopping, it loses 30° Celsius immediately and after 30 seconds back to around 50° Celsius.

Goal

One of my goals for the second part of this review is to use it in the living room as a silent PC and mini server. I want to stream games from my new rig via Steam in Home Streaming and/or Nvidia GameStream. I want to also test it as a Plex server. Plex is testing out some hardware encoding on its beta software and I will be installing it on this box. I used Emby for a long time, but got to a point I had to reboot daily. Home automation server and Minecraft server should be a cakewalk. I have installed Steam and Moonlight chrome plugin, and tested them for a few minutes. Both work as expected but Steam is the clear winner at 25% CPU usage. It would be really great if I could both stream a game and live encode TV from my antenna. I think it won’t be a problem but need to test. My in-laws canceled pay TV a while back and they stream live TV from our antenna through the Plex app on Mi Box. They are even more rural than we are, and get no channels unless they erect an outside antenna.

First Impressions

This is subjective but I do like the way it looks. Has enough IOs. I wrote this article on it and other than typing on Logitech K400(ugh), it was uneventful. The expansion for a 2.5” hard drive is a great feature in my opinion. I just added a hard drive taken from a laptop. I have only tested out Ethernet at this point. I am in my lab and testing WiFi here is unfair to any device. If you would like to see any specific benchmark/test please let me know in the comments below.

I would like to thank Gearbest for sending ACEPC AK1 for review. It is currently on sale for $149.99 [Update: coupon USBLOG9 drop the price further to $147]. The device is also sold on Amazon US for $199.99, and it can be found under other brands like Unistorm, WooYi, Findarling, etc.. on Aliexpress.

Tronxy X3S 3D Printer Review – Part 1: Build and First Prints

September 29th, 2017 4 comments

Karl here with part 1 of Tronxy X3S build. It is another large volume printer to fully assemble on your own. Taking between 8-10 hours to put together. I have high hopes for this printer. Key things I like: metal frame, dual X, large build volume. Just from looking at it I don’t like the fact that it has no parts cooler but is easy to remedy.

Tronxy X3S Specifications

Let’s look at some specs.

  • 300 x 300 x 400 mm hot bed (Actually get 330x330x400 build volume)
  • Hot bed temperature: 40 – 110 Deg.C
  • Nozzle temperature: 170-275 Degree
  • Marlin 1.1.5
  • Frame material: Aluminum Extrusion

I have not taken the hotend apart yet so not sure about the nozzle temperature going over 245°C. I will take it apart for the next part. If you are not familiar you don’t want to get lined nozzles above 245°C, or the lining starts to melt. An all metal hotend is required to go above 245°C.

Note: I have had this printer for a while and due to some issues and changing phones I am missing some pictures of the build.

Tronxy X3S Build

My plan on this one was to let my daughter and father build this one as an experiment. I took out the parts below fired up the laptop and inserted the SD card. I was missing instructions on the SD card. So this experiment was shot down right away. With some help from my daughter tightening things, and finding pieces we put the X3S together about 95% just looking at the pictures on GearBest. I got to X carriage arm and got stuck. I couldn’t see the details enough. I remembered that the X3 was a very similar design except larger. I went online, and found the instructions and was able to finish. We put it together over 3 sessions, and had about 8 hours total putting it together. Later on I found a fellow 3D printer enthusiast on Facebook with an X3S and he sent me over the files I was missing on the SD card.

Likes

  • The belts are steel reinforced.
  • Only 2 pieces are printed, and 4 pieces of acrylic (nor including acrylic for power supply and board)
  • Feet are included (wish they were taller to put controller case under the printer)
  • The frame feels very rigid

Dislikes

  • Bearings for belts and mounting to build plate.
  • Potentially weak power supply. Still testing
  • No parts cooler

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Heated bed

The bed on the Tronxy is not very good. It takes forever to heat up, and there is no way to make it to 100 deg Celsius. I installed a beefier power supply, and insulated the bed with cork. After this the highest, I got to was about 70°C. It’s only about 10 minutes to get to 50°C so relegated to PLA on this one unless you upgrade the heated bed. I have one on the way with a MOSFET. About a $30 upgrade. Will test with stock, and new power supply to see the difference.

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Little messy right now as I am working on it.

First Prints

So we put the printer together, and tested everything out. Checked movement in X, Y, and Z. Homed to make sure endstops worked, and all seemed good in the world. I had some binding on my right Z stepper. I bumped up the current on the potentiometer on the board. Still binding. I then took the Z stepper motor and rod for the Z, and positioned them in the coupler just enough to let the grub screws grip. Loaded the Z with lithium grease and finally loosened the Z screw brass nut just a little to let it move like an oldham coupler. This resolved the binding on the Z.

I started first print, a Benchy, and I noticed it was off center and just not looking right with over extrusion. After a while I figured out that the gears that came with the printer were 16 teeth and not 20 teeth for the X and Y axis. If this board had EEPROM enabled, it would be a matter of just modifying the steps per mm on the x and y appropriately and fix. I think I could have inserted some G-code at the beginning of each print but wanted to use with proper gears. Reducing the teeth will change the accuracy slightly. With this firmware you cannot modify the steps per mm. At this point, I was ready to start upgrading it. I connected the board to my PC and nothing. USB was bad on the board. There was a night between finding out the gears were bad, and board was bad. I had already ordered some gears, and notified GearBest of the bad board.

Fast forward a month. Gears are installed and new board installed. It was a reworked board. I can see some hand soldered spots on the board but everything is working. Finally started printing. I have not printed too much at this point but what I have printed look pretty good.

Facebook, Issues, and Reality

I have not found a good forum anywhere for 3D printing. By that I mean in a traditional forum format. Facebook is the only place that I have found that people work together and ask questions share experiences. I am a member for quite a few of them. All printers have issues that are reoccurring. CR-10 has a lot of broken couplers. Tarantula has broken acrylic (typically after installed, and not during shipping). Tronxy has all kinds of random things wrong. I have 2 outlined above.

Being that these are shipping from China directly with what looks to be slim margins there is a gamble when purchasing. If you have a missing / faulty piece that can be sourced locally just get it in my opinion. The board issue is another story in my case. I have to review with stock hardware so I waited. You can get parts replaced but you might have to wait.

In this case you are getting a 330 x 330 x 400 printer for less than $300 + potentially minor broken faulty parts. Shipping from around the world is tough. I would not even think about shipping it back.

For miscellaneous piece parts, I recommend https://www.zyltech.com/ if in the states. Really good pricing and service. For example on parts above. I ordered early on Friday and they were delivered on Monday. I have done several transactions now.

Wrap up

I did get a ramps board and adapter for the screen. I’m going to get it to work for second part with this review along with bed upgrade. I would like to thank GearBest for shipping the Tronxy X3s for reviewing. If you would like to pick one up you can get one for $289.99 including worldwide shipping, and they have a wider choice of 3D Printers on a dedicated page.

Continue reading “Tronxy X3S 3D Printer Review – Part 2: Upgraded Heatbed and RAMPS Board“.

Categories: Hardware, Testing Tags: 3d printing, review, tronxy

Designing a 3D Printed Jig to Flash Firmware to ESP8266 based Light Bulbs

September 18th, 2017 6 comments

Karl here. I have to say that my favorite part of 3D printing is designing things from scratch. Recently a reader was asking about a way to flash a lot of Ai Lights on a project he was working on. I suggested 3D printing a jig that pressure fits pins. He didn’t have a printer, and we exchanged contact information and he sent me one of the lights and some pogo pins from Amazon.

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Design in Fusion 360

I started by taking a picture of the light to get my pin placement. I set a scale by measuring a known distance then printed and tested. It took about 3 iterations to get them to line up in real life. Keep in mind camera lenses distort reality and knew It would take a couple times. I would just let a few layers print then stop and line everything up. I had a mostly working prototype in a couple hours. I did have to go back and add an additional pin after I found out that 100 needed to be grounded when powering up so took a couple more tries to line that pin up. The first couple times pressing into place it is very snug. After 3 or 4 times it becomes easier to remove.

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First Iteration

Building the Jig

I built this thing too many times, but I finally settled a reproducible method. First print at least 2 copies of the jig. Insert pins in jig then place on 2ng jig with pins up. 2nd jig is only for alignment and to keep straight. Once aligned super glue the pins to the jig and let dry. Do not get glue inside the pins or they will get stuck. When I was first putting this together I was doing it the other way, and glue kept on seeping down to the pins and making them stick. This method of gluing worked the first time.

After gluing solder on your leads, use some shrink tube, and make sure to connect pin 100 to the ground. I thought it needed to be temporary, but I forgot to disconnect one flash. I test flashed the light about a dozen time with 100% success.

The method I used to connect is with the leads connected to PC, I press the jig in place slightly offset clockwise a couple degrees. Press in, then turn counter clockwise until you hear a click. When it clicks into the pads and PC dings it is ready to flash.

This was a fun little project and if you would like to print it you can find it here.

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Review of Vobot Alarm Clock with Alexa

September 17th, 2017 4 comments

Karl here with a review of Vobot sent By Cafago. I had to Google it when I was asked to review it. Turned out it was an Echo type device with a pixel display and a battery. It started as an Indiegogo campaign. I had been wanting to try to do some sort of voice control with my home automation so I agreed to review it.

Vobot Clock C1 Specifications

These are pulled from Vobot’s website. No power supply is included but a long USB cable is.

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Vobot Setup

I let my wife do the initial setup as I figured that she would use it the most. She followed the instructions, and it seemed straightforward from what she told me. She said she had to reboot it once during a step but it continued the setup with no problems. She tied to our Amazon Prime account, and she quickly was playing some music. During research, I did find out that it was not an always listening device.

Firmware Update

I logged into myvobot.com today to see if anything had changed, and there was an update. It suggested that I rebooted the device so I did before updating. Without logging in I wouldn’t have known there was an update. Maybe I missed something but I don’t remember seeing or hearing some sort of notification. I received a verbal notification that it could take up to 10 minutes, but only took a few minutes. The thing is I have no idea what has changed or improved. There is no changelog.

Vobot Display

Display settings allow you to set Brightness, and the time to display Time, Date, Day of Week, Battery Status, and Date + Time.

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That’s what the time display looks like.

After pressing the mic button

Get this at times and the eyes blink

Date and time

Hard to catch this one..Starting to play music

Unplugging power and of course get different one when plugging in

Loading music stream

Teardown

I wanted to do a teardown when I first received the speaker, but I was afraid to break it. Now here at the end, I finally put some force behind it and finally got it apart. Only a few minor scratches and it seems to be fine. The teardown reveals that it is running on a Mediatek MT7688AN, and confirms battery’s capacity. 512MB NANYA storage NT5TU32M16FG-AC completes the list of the main chips. Maybe some enterprising soul will hack this and bring some imaginative new usage.

One big issue

Everything that I tried worked the way I expected for the most part . Home assistant can emulate a Hue bridge, but after reading in the forums, it only works with an Amazon Echo or Google Home speaker. Bummer, that is not the real issue I wanted to bring up. I really wish that it had an always listening microphone. You have to press the button to put it in listening mode. I understand that it has a battery, and would drain the battery but why not have it always listening when plugged in and use the button when roaming about.

Random final thoughts

OK now that I have a device that will take voice commands now what. I like the scrolling display. It is pretty cool and a little retro. I used this about 95% of the time just to play music. Don’t expect much from the speaker, but you can send audio to a home system through the 3.5mm jack on the back.

I know that there are 1000’s of skills but few attracted me. I did like the idea of calling another Alexa device but not supported. Arggh, OK maybe another issue. I did use the weather feature asking about the weather for the next day on occasion.

My 5 year old son was easily able to start music, and it could understand his voice which surprised me. The display is nice, and battery powered is a plus, but I don’t understand one thing. For just about the same price, I can get an Echo Dot which gets me always listening, and 100% works with all the features but no battery or display. I bet that the limitations with the exception of the always listening is inherent to all non Echo devices.

If you are looking for a portable Alexa powered device with a display then the Vobot might be for you. Seems sturdy. Descent battery life. I listened for about 2 hours and it still had a charge on the battery. To get an official Echo Tap it sets you back $120. It is the only official Echo that has a battery.

I would like to thank Cafago for sending the device for review. They provided a coupon code “V3127SA” for the Vobot which is good until 9/30/17, and brings the price down to $ 41.99/€36.1. You’ll also find it for $45 and up on other sites such as DX.com or Amazon.

Review of Sonoff RF Bridge, Sonoff 4ch Pro, and Sonoff POW with Sonoff-Tasmota Firmware

September 12th, 2017 No comments

Karl here. Today we are going to look at 2 new and one older Sonoff devices.

I spent very little time with the stock firmware on the device. I don’t like the fact that an Internet connection is needed, and I am not in control. As of the time of this writing I found the Ewelink was not configurable enough to meet my needs. There is one feature that is really nice that I could easily see keeping stock firmware. It is the Alexa Skill. It worked. I am also currently reviewing Vobot Smart Alarm Clock with Alexa integration and had no trouble controlling the Sonoff devices with Alexa. But unfortunately I am lazy and want everything automatic so I can’t keep it. With the RF bridge I was unable to trigger a light from a motion sensor. In comes Arendst ‘s Sonoff-Tasmota firmware  to the rescue. It gets better all the time. It is dead simple, and so configurable now. He continues to add features and devices.

RF Bridge

You may have seen my previous article building a 433toMQTTto433 bridge to use cheap 433mhz devices. I never did build a case for it, and it’s a little bit of an eyesore. When I found out about a nicely packaged one, I was excited to check it out. Like I stated previously, it didn’t work as I anticipated and was glad when I found out Arendst got one as well. He has a good wiki with on the github page and all the needed information to flash and configure so I won’t go into it. It flashed uneventfully. I was a little scared by the design that it was only going to be able to receive 16 individual codes and pass onto MQTT but that is not the case. It passes everything it receives. You can only send 16 different codes right now which need to be saved ahead of time. So after monitoring the MQTT server I ran into first hurdle. I was getting this example json value.

And actually I found after much frustration that “Data” is a nested json value. This took a while for me to figure out. After that it was relatively easy to parse in Home Assistant and move my automations over from the previous bridge.

and

From the previous article payload off is a made up value and is only used internally to turn the sensor off after a minute.

Just a couple gripes about the rf bridge which are superficial. There is a noticeable increased delay over the homemade bridge from the time it senses a trigger until the light comes on. It is only about half a second but a noticeable difference. And my wife pointed quickly that the led indicating it is on is very bright. I might remove it or install a varistor to tone it down. The receiver does not appear to be as good or might just be that it is in a case or my positioning. I am still able to cover my house but the trigger on my mailbox across the street doesn’t trigger. It was hit or miss on the old one but never triggers now.

FYI I am still running off the same batteries I initially installed in the 433mhz motion sensors over 6 months ago.

Sonoff 4ch Pro

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I also received the Sonoff 4ch Pro with 433mhz transmitter remote.

I tested it with stock Ewelink software and all tests done before worked. I quickly installed the alternative firmware from above, and again no loss in functionality. I was still able to pair and clear the 433 MHz remotes. It is weird that it does not indicate with a light that it is in pairing mode as of right now but when you press the button the light blinks when it is learned. The inching, self locking and interlock continued to work as well via switches. I can definitely see this being used for lighting, or if you needed to control multiple items in close proximity. Maybe simple access control. Possibilities are endless. On the product page, it shows wiring with motors as well which looks cool. If I find a unique or interesting project I will share.

The 4 button transmitter is very powerful. It transmits further than any of my other 433mhz devices.

Sonoff POW

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A buddy of mine gave me a Sonoff POW to play with. The Sonoff POW is very similar to the Sonoff Basic, but has the ability to measure power usage. I didn’t bother testing the stock software. I went straight to Arendst software. I didn’t have anything to measure power before and this is a welcome addition to my tools arsenal. I don’t need super accurate readings just a good idea what the draw is. I installed a light rated at 75w to test and got the results below. If a more accurate load is available you can calibrate the POW and instructions are in the Wiki.

OTA Firmware

Who wants to drag all their devices back to the PC and flash new firmware? I finally checked it out. It is really simple to do.

First uncomment BE_MINIMAL then export compiled Binary. After a while you will have a bin file in your sketch folder.

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After uploading comment BE_MINIMAL, upload again. The 2 steps procedure is because he is running out of space with all the features. He is trying to reduce the code down, and hopefully make this a single step in the future. If you have a web server there are instructions to automate this.

Conclusion

I would like to thank Itead Studio for sending the Sonoff RF Bridge, 4ch Pro and 4 button 433 MHz transmitter. They keep expanding their Sonoff line and make them hacker friendly. I would also like to thank Arendst for his tireless work on Sonoff-Tasmota firmware. If you are just looking to control your lights via Alexa, and don’t mind requiring the Internet to be available the stock firmware might work for you.