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Hardware Review: OBDLink MX Bluetooth OBD-II Reader

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  • Hardware Review: OBDLink MX Bluetooth OBD-II Reader


    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.
    mp3Car.com Senior Tech Blogger (Want a product reviewed? Contact me.)
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  • #2
    This device is scheduled to be released to the public later this month. Any questions, comments, please feel free to send them my way.
    mp3Car.com Senior Tech Blogger (Want a product reviewed? Contact me.)
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    • #3
      Originally posted by Sonicxtacy02 View Post
      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.
      Wondering what software have you used for this? OBDWiz supports Mazda extended PIDs or?

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by marlasr View Post
        Wondering what software have you used for this? OBDWiz supports Mazda extended PIDs or?
        I honestly only had interest in the speed of acquiring the standard PIDs. I know that extended PIDs vary widely between different models of cars, so I have enough of a sample to compare one to another.

        I tested the device with the included OBDWiz software, as well as my own software product which utilizes this C# OBD Wrapper. Is there a particular product you'd like me to test for the extended PIDs?
        mp3Car.com Senior Tech Blogger (Want a product reviewed? Contact me.)
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        • #5
          Originally posted by Sonicxtacy02 View Post
          I honestly only had interest in the speed of acquiring the standard PIDs. I know that extended PIDs vary widely between different models of cars, so I have enough of a sample to compare one to another.
          So, you were querying Mazda's MS-CAN using standard PIDs? And got response?
          Or was it just passive CAN sniffing? I have little difficulties with understanding what you exactly did by "Utilizing (Mazda's) medium-speed CAN bus protocol". Maybe I am just wrong with thinking how this works... I was under impression OBDLink MX's MS CAN feature is for raw bus sniffing. That would involve listening to and collecting data, analyzing, reverse engineering, do some app to interpret the frames flying around...

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          • #6
            Originally posted by marlasr View Post
            So, you were querying Mazda's MS-CAN using standard PIDs? And got response?
            Or was it just passive CAN sniffing? I have little difficulties with understanding what you exactly did by "Utilizing (Mazda's) medium-speed CAN bus protocol". Maybe I am just wrong with thinking how this works... I was under impression OBDLink MX's MS CAN feature is for raw bus sniffing. That would involve listening to and collecting data, analyzing, reverse engineering, do some app to interpret the frames flying around...
            The only thing i did to test was connect the unit, click auto-detect in the software and check for values, i was able to see RPM, Speed, and other values. It wasn't my car, so I wasnt interested in tinkering too much with the communication system i'm not too familiar with
            Last edited by Sonicxtacy02; 01-03-2012, 04:39 PM.
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            • #7
              Any word on pricing?

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              • #8
                Originally posted by CyberBill View Post
                Any word on pricing?
                http://www.scantool.net/scan-tools/p...bdlink-mx.html $200 :/. Quite the price tag, but it looks like it's well worth it.
                "stop with the REINSTALLS, what do you think we got some lame-o installer!!!" - mitchjs
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                • #9
                  It's also worth noting that the build quality is perfect. You know how so many cheapie things about that big, you pick them up and they're really light... you squeeze them in the middle and they flex... the MX has none of that. It feels like a physically very high quality device. The sticker on the end for the LED indicators isn't just a vinyl sticker, it actually feels like one of those rigid sticky-backed things that will never, ever, peel off. It's the little things, you know?

                  I also notice that it's blazing fast.

                  The "unhackable" thing is genius, if you ask me. It's trivially simple, in that to pair it you need physical access to the device [to hit a button], while it's powered up. Other bluetooth OBDII dongles all sit there advertising themselves the whole time. This one doesn't. Such a simple thing but genius things always are, *after* someone else thinks of it

                  On power, my OBDLink2 came with the power saving settings off by default [the ST commands for wakeup and sleep voltage], which meant I had to go in and tweak to make it not flatten my battery. It's worth noting that once I had, that thing hasn't flattened a car battery since, and I rarely drive my car anymore. This device does low power mode automatically out of the box, which I'm delighted with, and is otherwise the same chip internally [I believe].

                  Finally, I'd note the size; one of the things that made me kinda-sorta slow my work on OBDII for a while was I simply don't have enough space under the seat of my bike to really get much stuff in. This is literally small enough that it can tuck back into the gap that the OBDII plug itself pulls out of. I'm getting something for nothing on space with this device, which... makes a really, really big difference.


                  In conclusion: This is my new device-of-choice for all my OBDII needs. The OBDLink2 will probably keep living in the car, but this thing is infinitely more portable and better for the bike.

                  Gary (-;
                  OBDGPSLogger, for logging OBDII and/or GPS data
                  OBDSim, an OBDII/ELM327 software simulator
                  mp3car forums: obdgpslogger, obdsim

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by CyberBill View Post
                    Any word on pricing?
                    scantool.net has the device listed at $199.95

                    Originally posted by chunkyks View Post
                    It's also worth noting that the build quality is perfect. You know how so many cheapie things about that big, you pick them up and they're really light... you squeeze them in the middle and they flex... the MX has none of that. It feels like a physically very high quality device. The sticker on the end for the LED indicators isn't just a vinyl sticker, it actually feels like one of those rigid sticky-backed things that will never, ever, peel off. It's the little things, you know?

                    I also notice that it's blazing fast.

                    The "unhackable" thing is genius, if you ask me. It's trivially simple, in that to pair it you need physical access to the device [to hit a button], while it's powered up. Other bluetooth OBDII dongles all sit there advertising themselves the whole time. This one doesn't. Such a simple thing but genius things always are, *after* someone else thinks of it

                    On power, my OBDLink2 came with the power saving settings off by default [the ST commands for wakeup and sleep voltage], which meant I had to go in and tweak to make it not flatten my battery. It's worth noting that once I had, that thing hasn't flattened a car battery since, and I rarely drive my car anymore. This device does low power mode automatically out of the box, which I'm delighted with, and is otherwise the same chip internally [I believe].

                    Finally, I'd note the size; one of the things that made me kinda-sorta slow my work on OBDII for a while was I simply don't have enough space under the seat of my bike to really get much stuff in. This is literally small enough that it can tuck back into the gap that the OBDII plug itself pulls out of. I'm getting something for nothing on space with this device, which... makes a really, really big difference.


                    In conclusion: This is my new device-of-choice for all my OBDII needs. The OBDLink2 will probably keep living in the car, but this thing is infinitely more portable and better for the bike.

                    Gary (-;

                    Always glad to hear someone else agrees with my sentiment. Using this device compared to my el-cheapo is like night and day. Top notch!
                    mp3Car.com Senior Tech Blogger (Want a product reviewed? Contact me.)
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                    • #11
                      Nice write up. I use the OBDII Link wired version, just purchased it last year. How long did you test it for? I found running the wired version for long periods of time 45 mins+ reading while at highway speed, there would be intances where the reader would hang (freeze). I would consider moving over to bluetooth once they do a fix for the Iphone, fix the freezing issue and lower the cost. I also had a very scary moment where it tripped my tire pressure sensors to always be ON. Nissan almost refused to reset the CPU, I convinced them to try it. It took several attempts but finally cleared. The Scantool guys were able to fix the problem but it was very scary and was shocked that a read only device could affect the sensors of my 350z.

                      Another concern is the amount of bluetooth devices connected at the same time. Iphone, Mini Dinovo Keyboard. How many devices did you hook up?
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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by -zip- View Post
                        Nice write up. I use the OBDII Link wired version, just purchased it last year. How long did you test it for? I found running the wired version for long periods of time 45 mins+ reading while at highway speed, there would be intances where the reader would hang (freeze). I would consider moving over to bluetooth once they do a fix for the Iphone, fix the freezing issue and lower the cost. I also had a very scary moment where it tripped my tire pressure sensors to always be ON. Nissan almost refused to reset the CPU, I convinced them to try it. It took several attempts but finally cleared. The Scantool guys were able to fix the problem but it was very scary and was shocked that a read only device could affect the sensors of my 350z.

                        Another concern is the amount of bluetooth devices connected at the same time. Iphone, Mini Dinovo Keyboard. How many devices did you hook up?
                        I had it running on a recent 3 hour roundtrip without issue. Perhaps that issue is solved, but i dont know exactly how long it'd take to make it freeze.

                        As for bluetooth devices connected i've had as many as 3. The OBDLink, Android smartphone, and apple BT keyboard. No issues in that regard, and i'm using a 5 year old "el cheapo" dongle.
                        mp3Car.com Senior Tech Blogger (Want a product reviewed? Contact me.)
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                        • #13
                          Will they be coming out with a USB version of this since USB has a higher bandwith? That I would be interested in purchasing...
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                          • #14
                            The USB version is out for a while: http://www.scantool.net/
                            OBDLink is the main dongle, which comes in wifi/bluetooth/usb flavors. Lots of variants, such as the SX which is a lot smaller...

                            They're all based on [I believe] this chip: http://www.scantool.net/stn1110.html

                            [Until I got this one, I'd been using a bluetooth/USB OBDLink]. It's worth noting that in my limited testing so far, the bluetooth doesn't seem to have been the limiting factor; I think the limiting factor is the underlying bus in the car. Not entirely sure, though.

                            Gary (-;
                            OBDGPSLogger, for logging OBDII and/or GPS data
                            OBDSim, an OBDII/ELM327 software simulator
                            mp3car forums: obdgpslogger, obdsim

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                            • #15
                              So the SX is just as responsive as this MX bluetooth version? I have a little bit of lag with the generic one I am currently using, however, since it is USB I dont have any connectivity issues during hibernation, it always works regardless. According to scantool.net the MX is 400 times faster than any of the competition.
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