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Product Reviews

  1. Hardware Review: OBDLink MX Bluetooth OBD-II Reader

    by , 01-03-2012 at 02:10 PM

    What is it?

    The OBDLink MX is the smallest & fastest bluetooth capable OBD-II device available today

    The Verdict:

    The OBDLink MX makes it all too clear that there's a large difference in effectiveness between generic and high-end OBD-II adapters. It's fast, small, and installs in seconds to any OBD-II capable automobile. Fact is, the OBDLink MX is the best OBD-II option to date.



    What’s in the box?

    The OBDLink MX comes with the OBD-II adapter, start guides for windows and android applications, and a licensed copy of Scantool.net OBDWiz software.


    Description:

    In 2007, I ventured into the OBD-II adapter market in search of a simple device to read as much data as my car was capable of providing. There were many options, mainly of the USB variety, which did nothing in my opinion to differentiate themselves from a generic "cheap" reader. This idea in mind, I went on good old Ebay and purchased a generic ELM327 OBD-II module. To this day, it still works. It doesn't update any more than 3 sensors per second, is not compatible with my newer secondary vehicle, and isn't anything I'd show off at all, but it works. It wasn't until I got a hands-on demo of the new OBDLink MX that I realized the world of difference a high-quality OBD-II reader is capable of.


    The very first thing that jumped out at me is how small this device is. In my cramped Acura RSX cabin, the generic reader does its best job at poking my leg every time I go full throttle. With no heavy gauge wire protruding, and being just a smidgen over the size of the OBD-II connector itself, the OBDLink MX gives me no problems in this arena. I will note that the indicator LEDs (four of them, each a different color) on the device's face do somewhat light up the underside of my dash a bit at night, but the positioning of most OBD-II connectors will mitigate this small issue.


    Equally as impressive as the size of the OBDLink MX is just how fast it is. Despite my primary vehicle sporting the ancient ISO protocol, the OBDLink MX provides PID updates at a noticeably faster rate than my generic ELM module. It's not real-time, but the information i want from my OBD-II system comes at a rate that is 5 times greater than the generic device. When you consider that this increase comes over a bluetooth virtual serial port versus the higher bandwidth USB port of the generic unit, that's darn impressive. Connecting the OBDLink to my Android smartphone is equally as easy as installation with a windows PC, and seems to make the PIDs update even faster, though some of that may be software manipulation at work. Either way, the device provides OBD-II data at a far greater interval than the PLX Kiwi Wifi OBD-II device I reviewed some time ago.

    To attempt to truly gauge the speed and compatibility of the OBDLink MX, I borrowed a buddy's later model Mazda RX-8. Utilizing it's medium-speed CAN bus protocol, the OBDLink MX provides data in an absolute fury. This is the absolute manner in which I envisioned receiving OBD-II values back in 2007. Using the OBDLink over CAN bus appears real-time, indeed.

    On top of these benefits, the OBDLink creates a solution that several other OBD-II devices ignore. When connected, other OBD-II adapters will drain your battery while the car is parked. The OBDLink MX is programmed to automatically shut off if activity is not detected on the bus for 10 minutes. This is feature that should be considered invaluable to a person who wishes to install this device permanently but frequently leaves there car parked for days at a time. The device also has built-in encryption methods which deem it "unhackable" by its creators.


    It is hard to find a fault in a device which does what it intends to faster than it's competitors with a smaller footprint. The small quips I've encountered with the OBDLink MX include its current incompatibility with iPod devices, including the iPhone and iPad. I was unable to connect to and poll data from the MX despite using a variety of apps. The only other nitpick I discovered in testing isn't really a fault to the creator at all, but the Bluesoleil bluetooth stack. The device at times will have trouble reestablishing a connection after resume from hibernation. The windows bluetooth stack showed no problem what so ever however. Based on other experiences, I will chalk that up to a Bluesoleil problem.

    The Positive:

    • Fastest OBD-II device I've encountered, even with outdated protocols
    • Smallest bluetooth capable device on the market
    • Easy one-touch installation method
    • Fully compatible with PCs and android (without root)
    • OBD-II software included with visual gauge support and logging
    • Can be easily removed and swapped into any OBD-II vehicle
    • Battery saving technology built into the device
    • Hack-Proof encryption


    The Negative:

    • Resume issues with Bluesoleil stack
    • Not currently compatible with iPod product line
    • Bit of a light show in the driver foot well at night when connected



    The Verdict:

    The OBDLink MX makes it all too clear that there's a large difference in effectiveness between generic and high-end OBD-II adapters. It's fast, small, and installs in seconds to any OBDII capable automobile. Fact is, the OBDLink MX is the best OBD-II option to date.

  2. Hardware Review: Car/Droid Double Din All In One Car Multimedia System

    by , 12-14-2011 at 02:10 PM

    What is it?

    The Bybyte Car/Droid is a fully featured double DIN multimedia system with a detachable 6.5" Android Tablet.

    The Verdict:

    As a whole, the Bybyte Car/Droid is a feature packed multimedia system giving you the bits of the best things a car PC has to offer. The device harnesses the power of a standard head unit with the power of Android, and sprinkles in a little iPod connectivity on the side. When viewed separately, the double DIN head unit still manages to incorporate most of what the device was made to do, while the Android tablet is crippled by its hardware limitations.



    What’s in the box?

    The Car/Droid comes jammed packed with every cable needed to connect the system to your vehicles audio wiring harness and other support devices. Included is the double DIN radio, the detachable Android tablet with case, a separate 12v power brick for the tablet, external GPS, a proprietary iPod connector, radio wiring harness, and a host of cables for optional accessories like rear DVD and rear camera support. An instruction manual is generously included, but strangely omits information regarding the head unit.


    Description:

    A double DIN radio, created to house an Android tablet with the backing of the popular Android Market. What's not to love about it? The idea behind the Bybyte Car/Droid is quite clear up front. The device can be used simply to play music, allow hands free phone usage in the car, or allow the kids to watch a DVD through a rear screen (not included). Bring the tablet with you, and do all of this, as well as just about anything that an Android device can do. Stream Pandora, listen to Sirius, or perhaps play a game. When factoring all this with the idea that you can easily connect your iPod device and control its music playback all through the 6.5" touchscreen the tablet provides, it seems that the creators of the Car/Droid have considered everything. Heck, you can even easily connect your built in steering wheel controls to the Car/Droid and configure their usage right from the tablet's interface.


    Sounds like everything that anyone that doesn't want to hack into a dash would desire from a multimedia vehicle system. The Car/Droid is technically just that, but beyond the surface is where you could find the device is not the dream system that non-hobbyist yearn for.


    Let's start with the good. The "Car" portion of the Car/Droid device is rather satisfying in itself. While not particularly modern looking or stylish, you do get a head unit that is absolutely jam packed with available features. In fact, the only features that the head unit does not allow for is the use of the included GPS receiver, and the rear camera connection. Because there is no touchscreen, and save for the small VFD on the face, no screen at all, you could hardly use or control a navigation system. The head unit will obviously allow CD playback, but will also accept a DVD and feed it to a rear screen, or you can connect a TV antenna and feed that through to a rear screen. You can accept phone calls with the device and speak through the built-in mic port (that surprising works well), and will even accept a micro-SD card for auxiliary playback.


    On the rear of the head unit, you'll find connections for all of the optional accessories, as well as your standard looking wiring harness for your speaker and power connections. There's also a fan which keeps the unit cool under the wildest of temperatures ensuring you have all features regardless of the weather conditions. The creators of the Car/Droid were wise in considering the mounting depth of the device and making sure the wiring will not interfere with installations in cramped DIN openings.


    The face of the head unit is sprawled out with control buttons for all of the media device options. You get six presets for radio, and can control Radio/TV/DVD/Audio with the same sets of buttons. Again, the device doesn't look as fancy as most aftermarket radios out today, but it at least has all of the controls needed without having to do too much hand surfing. Below the tablet dock mount are the volume and mute buttons, a source/power button, a host of buttons for some of the advanced features like phone and "pad" mode (more on this later), as well as the built-mic and IR receiver for the included remote control.


    The obvious key feature of the Car/Droid is the Android tablet dock, and plugging the tablet into the dock is done without fuss. Once docked, the Android tablet instantly displays your main menu in a touch friendly interface that I will call "radio" mode. Here you have options to change instantly between sources like Music, Radio, iPod, and Phone. While the main menu works well with the head unit to present you with whatever source you want, here is also where the first problem is presented. The Android tablet, at its best, displays a 800x480 resolution. To us car PC users, this is pretty standard, but the "radio" mode of the device does a very poor job of utilizing that resolution to its fullest. The main menu, and each screen under this mode uses colors and gradients you could easily find something manufactured by ColecoVision in the 80's. It's obvious that more work should have been done in the interface design of this mode.


    The alternative mode is "pad". Pressing the pad button on the head unit instantly transforms your tablet into a standard Android-style tablet. You get Android 2.1.x with the "Droid" portion of the Car/Droid device. To this date, the latest publicly released build of android is in the 2.3 range, so the Android tablet which comes with the Car/Droid is a few years out of date on the software side. Aside from the touchscreen friendly Home, Menu, and Back buttons which always display in the notification area on the tablet, it appears to be a "vanilla" Android experience. Still though, with Android comes the power of Android applications. With the Android market, you can download a host of applications which enhance the tablet's ability to act as a vehicle multimedia system. Google Maps can use the head unit's external GPS for navigation (internet is still required however). You can get better music applications, download Facebook, and most anything else you'd want to do while driving in a car. Because of the version of Android available to the tablet, some pretty large enhancements are not allowed. You can not use the popular Google Music streaming service, you can not get Adobe Flash. Good luck flinging your angry bird around.


    The top of the tablet has buttons for Android functions Power, Menu, and Back, as well as the button which releases the device from the head unit. The side of tablet has connections for power, USB, USB-Host, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and strangely enough an HDMI output. It's odd to see an HDMI output on a device which such small resolution. A plus of the tablet is that it too has a micro SD port for external storage. It also charges while docked into the head unit.


    Despite the appeal of the head unit, the centerpiece for the Car/Droid is the tablet and it's touchscreen. Sadly, you're restricted far too much by the tablets specifications to actually enjoy using it anywhere other than the car. For starters, you are limited by a restrictive touchscreen, which is particularly hit-or-miss when it comes to presses and debilitated when scrolling. It is also extremely reflective to sunlight or other light sources.

    The other specifications for the tablet aren't as impressive either for the most part. Inside you get a 720mhz processor, 256MB of RAM, and 8GB of internal storage, most of which is occupied by Android and pre-installed applications. Also of note, the battery life of the unit I tested was very poor. In fact, in the amount of time needed to post this review the battery meter went from 90% to 40% with minimal use. While the tablet is removable and this is a pro, i'm afraid you won't get much use from it outside of the car.


    The Positive:

    • Device capable of doing everything a All-In-One is made to do
    • Detachable screen ensures portability and security
    • Offers a very good hands-free phone experience
    • Head unit automatically controls and powers tablet when docked
    • Tablet can use the GPS connected to head unit while docked
    • Head Unit is feature rich and can do most of what the device does without the tablet installed.
    • SD Card ports on tablet and head unit allow for abundance of storage options
    • Simple iPod hookup and control


    The Negative:

    • Tablet is running outdated version of Android and is not upgradeable
    • Tablet specs limit the effectiveness of the Android experience in the car
    • Included controlling application uses poor resolution and poor graphic interface
    • Tablet as tested had a poor battery and is not replaceable
    • Low resolution and sunlight readability


    The Verdict:

    As a whole, the Bybyte Car/Droid is a feature packed multimedia system giving you the bits of the best things a car PC has to offer. The device harnesses the power of a standard head unit with the power of android, and sprinkles in a little iPod connectivity on the side. When viewed as separately, the double DIN head unit still manages to incorporate most of what the device was made to do, while the android tablet is crippled by it's own hardware limitations.

    For more pictures on the device, please check out my album.

  3. Hardware Review: Rupel iVox102h HD SSD Driving Recorder

    by , 12-05-2011 at 03:34 PM



    What is it?

    Purchase the Rupel iVox iVox102h on the mp3Car Store here.

    The Rupel iVox is a high-definition audio/video recording device with built-in GPS, accelerometer, and rear camera support. Video is recorded for playback on an included 16GB USB solid-state drive.

    The Verdict:

    The Rupel iVox102h is a feature rich recording device with all the bells and whistles. It’s “install and forget” configuration as well as its high quality image capturing means the iVox102H is a very versatile device. It seems its creator has done an amazing job of incorporating a variety of sensor capabilities into a useful and intuitive device.



    What’s in the box?

    The iVox102H comes with the high-definition camera, a 16GB solid state USB drive, a windshield mount with GPS built in, a 6 meter cigarette lighter power plug, and a rear auxiliary camera. Wire looms are also generously thrown in.


    Description:

    In car, I talk, a lot. A lot of the things I say cannot be repeated in this blog post. In fact, I should probably invest in installing a swear jar somewhere in my mass of PC components and wiring. The Rupel iVox102H was the device that taught me this. That’s because this high quality audio/video capture device sees and hears all that’s going on during my daily commute. It does a clever job of recording what I see as a driver on the busy streets of the DC metropolitan area, all while (optionally) recording all audio that echoes throughout my travels.


    Installation for the device is only slightly more difficult than installing a portable GPS unit. The included base, which features a built-in GPS receiver, simply sticks to your front windshield or dashboard. It connects to the camera with a standard VESA mount and 3.5mm cable so that the GPS data can be written to the camera’s 16GB solid state hard drive, or optionally, a SD card. Next step in installation is to simply run the power line to your nearest 12volt cigarette lighter port. Then optionally the camera will take a 3.5mm audio/video out and yet another 3.5mm jack for the included auxiliary rear camera.


    Once installed, the iVox102H powers on when power is supplied through the cigarette lighter port upon ignition, and powers down shortly after the vehicle is turned off. Optionally, you can connect the device to an always-on 12volt source and record 24/7, though, as always applies in the car, this will only work if you maintain 12volts or more at the battery.


    Shortly after powering on, the camera will automatically begin recording, emitting a simple “recording started” phrase which is elegantly created. This is the “normal” mode for recording. A secondary “event” recording mode is automatically created based on the built-in accelerometer crossing a preset threshold. In this automatic mode, the iVox102H will recapture the prior 15 seconds before the event, and continue recording the preceding 5 minutes after the event before returning to normal mode again. The idea behind event mode is that the moments that need to be captured are captured without the default 30 second splitting the camera saves the files at during the default setting.


    While the iVox is declared as an “HD” capable device, the reality is at its highest setting the primary camera records at 3-megapixels. The video quality is still good enough to capture a license place or an occasional street sign. The rear camera is of lesser quality, but is good enough to use in parking scenarios, which is what the creators designed it for.


    The iVox102h comes with a Rupel Viewer application which allows the video files created by the capture device to be displayed with metadata in tow. The app will show you your calculated speed, latitude, longitude, and built-in accelerometer values in a nice graphical interface. You’re also presented a Google map window which will show your recorded travels. The application, while useful for configuring the camera for things like quality, time format, and distance display, requires a very large resolution display (no car PC will display it), and doesn’t genuinely do anything special. All metadata is shown embedded on the video replay, so users are welcome to simply use they’re own video application.


    The Positive:

    • High quality video capture without the need for a PC
    • Composite video output means you can connect the device to a PC if you wish
    • Quality imaging and audio pickup
    • Auto-power on/off
    • Captures GPS and accelerometer data and uses it for event detection
    • Included software gives you all the video information in a nice GUI
    • Two channels means you can record from two cameras


    The Negative:

    • Camera itself is somewhat large for windshield mounting
    • Can run into cable management problems if connecting all accessories
    • Included application requires a high resolution display to use.


    The Verdict:

    The Rupel iVox102h is a feature rich recording device with all the bells and whistles. It’s “install and forget” configuration as well as its high quality image capturing means the iVox102H is a very versatile device. It seems its creator has done an amazing job of incorporating a variety of sensor capabilities into a useful and intuitive device.

    Updated 12-29-2011 at 02:06 PM by Jensen2000

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    Product Reviews
  4. Hardware Review: Xenarc 700TSU USB Powered Touchscreen Monitor

    by , 10-13-2011 at 09:27 AM

    What is it?

    The Xenarc 700TSU is a USB controlled and powered 7-inch touchscreen monitor with optional composite support.

    The Verdict:

    The 700TSU takes a pretty large leap forward into making USB only touchscreen devices available to use as primary monitors. It maintains the rather stellar build quality of other Xenarc devices, while reducing the number of cables needed to operate the display. It's rather bulky when compared to other USB monitors, but with that size comes some pretty nice configuration options the segment has not yet seen.

    See the Xenarc 700TSU on the mp3Car Store here.



    What’s in the box?

    The Xenarc 700TSU comes packed with much more than most USB monitors include. There's the monitor, and a USB & composite (2 sets) cable for starters. Couple those with an optional 5v power brick, a cigarette lighter adapter, VESA mount, a full featured remote control, stylus pen, driver cd, and a host of operation manuals.


    Description:

    If you are a regular reader of the product review section, you may have noticed an abundance of reviews and videos regarding touchscreens recently. This is a great thing for the community, as newer touchscreens seem to come out regularly with better brightness, sunlight readability, cabling and power options. As a whole, we've seen a pretty dramatic evolution of these devices, and the Xenarc 700TSU attempts to keep true to that idea.

    The initial concept we've seen before. The 700TSU is a 7-inch touchscreen monitor which can be powered and controlled solely by USB. This means instead of having to poke around for VGA, or HDMI plugs, one (or occasionally two) USB ports instantly power up and display your PC through this unit. This technology is available by use of a special driver suite called DisplayLink, and the 700TSU uses the latest version of this driver to display a clear and crisp image whether what's displayed is static or in motion.


    This capability with DisplayLink in the 700TSU is the best I have personally seen. First generation devices left pictures dull and grainy, and made videos appear distorted and choppy. The 700TSU looks every bit as good as a VGA quality screen, and the controller for the 700TSU actually allows resolution options, again, a feat unseen in the USB segment before. Even at wide angles the 700TSU does an excellent job of providing a quality image.


    Instead of settling for this enhancement in the device, Xenarc took a larger step forward by incorporating two sets of composite connectors. This allows for an even larger array of devices that can be used with this screen. Instead of requiring one USB, the 700TSU allows you to run one of it's two auxiliary power options to the screen and display the composite device, sound included. Xenarc was gracious enough to remember to include the auto-switch composite signalling, so that people who intend to install a backup camera still have that option available with the 700TSU.


    The only drawback to all of this flexibility is the fact that the Xenarc, when compared to the other USB touchscreens, is quite large. That's not to say that it is ridiculously large. In fact, appearance-wise it looks pretty much identical to the Xenarc 700TSV VGA monitor. Only when compared to competing products from Mimo and Lilliput does the 700TSU's girth stand out. Remember though that with those competing devices all you get is USB.


    The only other problem with the Xenarc 700TSU is an inherent problem with all USB touchscreens at this time. They all require the PC to be loaded with drivers to display. That means you get no BIOS, no windows loading notification, or anything until the DisplayLink drivers are up and running.

    The Positive:

    • High quality screen available with only a single USB connection
    • Composite connectors allow for various installations
    • Several different power options available
    • Auto-switch with composite connection included
    • Only USB touchscreen with a full configuration menu, brightness, contrast etc can all be set
    • Resolution options are available, a first in the segment


    The Negative:

    • Size of display is large compared to competing USB screens
    • That annoying wait for drivers to load before display works


    The Verdict:

    The 700TSU takes a pretty large leap forward into making USB only touchscreen devices available to use as primary monitors. It maintains the rather stellar build quality of other Xenarc devices, while reducing the number of cables needed to operate the display. It's rather bulky when compared to other USB monitors, but with that size comes some pretty nice configuration options the segment has not yet seen.

    For more specifications on the Xenarc 700TSU click here
    For a video comparing the Xenarc 700TSU with the other latest USB Touchscreens click here
    For more pictures of the 700TSU click here

  5. 7 Inch USB Touchscreen Showdown

    by , 10-06-2011 at 10:51 AM
    In this second series comparing the latest 7" touchscreens we have the Xenarc 700TSU, the Mimo 720f 2G, and the Lilliput UM70C/T USB connected monitors. Check out the video below to assist you in deciding if a USB touchscreen is right for you and which one should you currently consider.