Saturday, August 8, 2009

Lixin e80 GSM Phone Review

Why do this?

You know, this reviewing cheap Chinese GSM phones could be a whole new area for this blog. This hardly qualifies as "open source", but then it is also an interesting phenomenon. Sure, the phones have laughable manuals, no support and oddball features, but on the other hand, they do have impressive basic functionality and come at a reasonable price. See my earlier blog on the i9 on the strange way they are produced. Here is another interesting tidbit from the i9 forums (available here, but you need to join the forum to access it) about how the clone phones are made:

The clone manufacturing business is not done in the primary plant of
CECT, nor in any primary Manufacturing plant. They are made in the
private plants, small and numerous, thus the varying differences in the
os. Before leaving for China we met with Mentor Graphics. They build
the Nucleus os which is the base os for the phone. We also met with MediaTek in Tiawan, the makers of the MT6225 chip.

It was very very very difficult to get into an area that actually manufactures the i9. We finaly did.

But they are only one of several locations. And one of several variations. And many only manufacture one portion of the unit.

These phones also give some insight into what Chinese consumers are getting their hands on and how quickly the manufacturers capabilities are growing. In my view, this is like looking at the first generations of Volkswagens, Toyotas or Hondas imported into Western markets - easy to scoff at but potentially a serious game changer!

Anyway, if there are any readers of this blog who want me to review another phone, just contact me and send it along and I'll have a go. While these units are cheap, I can't afford to buy a new one every week!

What set this off is that I decided I wanted something smaller that either my i9 or my Samsung phone that I could use in the US with my T-Mobile pre-paid SIM card. I trolled through eBay and, as usual, there is a whole crazy ecosystem of these kinds of unlocked GSM phones. I decided against the iPhone "mini" knock-offs (imagine, ripping off a phone that doesn't exist!) and went for just basic voice functionality. After a bit of sifting and sorting, I decided on the "Lixin e80", which is a nice, small, basic phone.

Basics


After placing the order with the usual small, anonymous vendor in Hong Kong, the unit eventually arrived. The shipping is free, but you do have to be prepared for about three weeks delivery time. The total cost was around $80 USD. I could probably have gotten the unit for cheaper, but with the shipping charges it would have worked out the same so I figured this was fair enough.

Here is a basic shot of the back and front of the phone:








As usual, good luck trying to find anything from the web about the unit! Going to www.lixin.com yields an entirely Chinese website and when you run it through Google's translator, it seems to just be a listing of various enterprises. The packaging isn't too much more help in explaining the features:



Then, of course, there is the hilariously Engrish manual:



There are various feature lists from various vendors selling the phone in Asia and the Middle East, such as:

Hot Spot

  • Dual sim card dual standby
  • Dual Camera
  • Bluetooth A2DP
  • FM radio(can output voice)
  • Schedule FM record
  • E-book reader
  • MP4,MP3
  • Quad band:GSM850/900/1800/1900MHZ
  • Magic voice:change your voice to others
  • Language :English/French/Spanish/Portuguese/Italian/Turkish/Arabic/Persian
That helps a bit, I guess.

Out of the box


The phone comes with a charger, headphones, spare battery, a sync cable/charger and a highly amusing manual:



When I got it, I actually found this was a pretty pleasant form factor, which a nice texture and feel in the hand. The quality of the manufacturing ("fit and finish") is very good really. It's main important features are:
  • Dual SIM
  • Quad-band GSM
  • Back and front cameras
  • Built-in flashlight
  • Micro SD support
  • FM Radio
  • MP3 & Video player
  • The usual voice, SMS & MMS support
  • GPRS data access.
A couple more shots:







It supports a Nokia charger jack as well charger jack for small 2mm connectors. Handy if you don't have the right charger around!



The LED flashlight is pretty bright!


Mandatory video


Here is a video where I run through some of the useful and less useful features:



Operating System


The phone appears to run a variant of the Nucleus OS from Mentor Graphics and the flow of most of the menus is somewhat similar to the CECT i9. The processor is the MKT6225, which is a bit underpowered for doing much more than basic features - which is all this phone does. It does ship with two batteries, which is pretty useful if you're going to be away from the charger for a long time. So far, I would say the battery life isn't stellar, but then I haven't really run an specific tests on that.

The phone seems to have basically no on-board memory, but it will accept standard MicroFlash cards. Supposedly it will accept up to 16 GB cards, but I'd be surprised. It has no problem reading my 2 GB card.

Voice and Data

The voice quality on the calls seems to be fine so far and reception is at least adequate. The volume in both hand-free and regular mode is quite high (in contrast to my Samsung T509). In fact, the e80 can be too loud so you need to watch that you don't hurt your ears!

It does pair to my Blueant Z9 Bluetooth headset with no problem at all and provides perfectly good Bluetooth voice quality. I don't have any Bluetooth headphones, so I can't test that (yet).

The dual SIM feature is handy if you are travelling around to places that offer pre-paid SIM cards or you just want to have one SIM for personal and one for work. You can choose to have both online and able to receive calls at the same time or choose to only receive calls on one (if you don't want work bugging you!). When you are busy on one SIM, calls into the other roll over to voicemail. What would be cool is if it gave you an indication that you had a call on the other SIM and allow you to put the first one on hold - or even conference the two SIMs together! Alas, that will have to wait.

The phone does support GPRS data (if you have it turned on your SIM card, that is). I was able to get it working, but it did take a lot of time fiddling with the settings to get it right. You need to do a lot of Googling around to find the correct settings for your carrier, but I found the Rogers settings documented in various places. The set up is basically the same as those for the i9. The actual performance of the GPRS features seemed pretty poor. After all the fooling around it took to get it working, I would say the GPRS is probably not all that usable.

Size


Just to get a sense of the size of the unit, here it is with (L to R) Samsung T509, Lixin e80, Real iPhone 3G, CECT i9:




This shows the comparison to the thickness of an iPhone 3G:


It has a nice feel in the hand - quite small.


Camera and media:


The back and front cameras, as you might expect, are pretty poor. The phone is labelled, improbably, as 8 Mega Pixels, but the best resolution of either camera is 640 x 480. Here area couple of shots at full size from my yard:









The multimedia capabilities seem to be adequate. The FM radio reception is a bit poor - especially without the headphones (I think these act as an antenna). The ability to record live bits of the radio is interesting. Supposedly the MP3 player supports playback of lyrics.

It does play back *.3gp videos stored on the microflash card. I haven't had much luck encoding my own, but the couple of clips that come with the phone aren't too bad. It will record full motion video, but it is quite poor quality.

Connecting to a PC and syncing


When you hook it up to a USB port, you are offered three choices:
  1. Mass storage
  2. Webcam
  3. COM port
Mass storage allows you to access the MicroFlash card and store files and so on just like a thumb drive. Like the i9, it does have the interesting capability of acting as a webcam on your PC for use with services like Skype.

When in the "COM port" mode, it is possible to do a limited amount of syncing of the phone using the same PhoneSuite software which appears to be from Media Tek. You can Google to find the software or get it from the i9 forums. I was able to import my contact list, but it took quite a bit of work since the PhoneSuite software would die if it ran into characters it didn't like or blank fields. Basically, I had to export my contacts to CSV format and then manually massage them until they would import. If anyone is interested enough, I can describe the format. I suspect you can also use it as a tethered data service for GPRS, but I haven't tested that.

Conclusion


Let's be clear, this is NO iPHone! The iPhone, of course, is more of a general purpose mobile computing platform than just a phone, anyway. The e80's data features are poor, it does not support Java Mobile, so you cannot run other applications or games on it and the features/interface are a bit quirky. However, it also does somethings my iPhone can't (or didn't do until recently):
  • Dual SIM
  • Removable battery
  • Act as a USB thumb drive
  • A handy little flashlight that isn't a downlaoded App!
  • MMS (only available recently on the iPhone via the 3.0 OS)
  • Back & front cameras
The Lixin e80 is a decent, voice only phone set. One you might buy for your kids or keep around as a secondary phone on a pre-paid SIM card. What might it point to? Just wait until these guys get a slightly faster processor and Android going!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Temperature Perfrormance

I finally have some actual performance data on the first solar cell.

This is from a test run that I did with 100 litres of water in a black plastic container over about 6 1/2 hours:


Time
Water TempOutlet TempBox Temp
Ambient
11:00:0020
21.737
20
12:10:0027
28.4
30
20
13:36:0033
34.4
43.5
22
15:00:0036
37.2
47
23
17:17:0037.8
37.8
30.5
23
18:20:0035.5
35.3
29
22

This shows the unit can pick up a fair amount of heat - 17.8 degrees C in around 6 hours. Since 1 Litre of water is equal to 1 Kg of water and it takes 1 Kcal to heat 1 Kg of water 1 degree, this means the system put 1780 Kcal of heat into the water which equals 7,447,520 joules or 2.0687 kilowatt hours.

This shows the result graphically:


What is interesting here is that as soon as the sun goes off of the tubes and box cools down, the system actually starts to radiate heat and cool the water!

As to whether this would help with the pool situation, the numbers aren't very encouraging! If it can heat 100 litres of water by 17.8°, this means it would heat 1,000 litres by 1.78° and 10,000 litres by only 0.178°! Unfortunately, the pool probably holds 40,000 litres, so even two solar units might only provide 0.112°! Well, I will continue with unit #2 and then see where it goes. I can also work on the positioning and angles for the units as well. Currently they are just pointed roughly South, but it may be worth checking different positions.

By the way, when I checked how much the 100 litres of water in the container was heated without the solar heater it was only one or two degrees, so the unit certainly does something!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Got it working!

Well, after some pause to get the right pump and to have the weather align, the first solar panel now is working - although, as expected, it doesn't actually have the oomph yet to really impact the pool's temperature.

Here are a few stats from today's run of about 5 hours:
  • Average pool temperature ran around 22°C - the impact of the cell was negligible.
  • The internal temperature of the box itself was around 35°C while the unit was running.
  • The outlet temperature was around 24°C showing that heat was, in fact, transferring to the water.
  • When I turned it off for an hour or so and then started it up, the water temp was 60°C - which shows it can develop some pretty good heating!

I did have to buy a new pump since my old one was just too small. This one is a nice little 1/4 HP submersible pump that has the benefit of running very quietly. I'm not 100% sure it will be able to pump through three units, but I at least think it will be able to handle two.



This shows the general arrangement. The pump is in the pool and the cell is propped up pointing south. This is just temporary until I prove out the design, then it's up to the roof of the garage.



Another shot from the front:




When I get it a bit more proved in, I'll try running my Arduino monitoring system then have the monitoring system actually turn the pump on and off.

The key thing I learned from the run today is that the cell needs to have the air purged out of it before it will run, so I need to hook it to the hose to flush the air and then quickly get the pump hooked up to it. In future, I may have to build an Arduino and solenoid valve based solution to handle the start-up purging automatically.