Mega Review, Teardown: Oukitel A28 Smart Watch

At the present moment, Oukitel is one of the lesser known mobile phone brands from China. Symbolizing an “OK life for U and I”, the company has diversified its product range by launching their first wearable product – the Oukitel A28 Smart Watch.

This smartwatch went on presale on 6th July, and tries to position itself as the Android counterpart to the Apple Watch, offering good value (positioning itself around US$70) while also featuring a classic design and a premium feel. One of its biggest features is the integration of a heart rate monitor which is claimed to be “the same sensor with iWatch [sic]” and “the measured result is the same as iWatch [sic].” It is available in gold with a brown leather band and silver with a black leather band.

Once again, with many thanks to Gearbest, who were kind enough to supply a unit express shipped with DHL under the review challenge terms, during their pre-sale period for review.  Gearbest’s pre-sale period ended on 25th July, so it seems that the unit has now reached general availability. Lets see whether this unit proves to be as smart, and indispensable as it claims to be.

Unboxing

The item came in a wood coloured cardboard box with wrap-around, featuring a very simple black and white line-art drawing and their branding. No other markings as to specifications was on the outer package. The inner slide-out section featured a QC/inventory control label which shows the “freshness” of the stock (20th July) and another label showing the product serial number, model number and colour (silver).

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Removing the wrap-around, and taking off the lid of the box, we are greeted by the screen on the watch, which sits right at the surface of the watch, surrounded by a black half-centimeter or so border. The screen itself is already covered by a protective film, but not of the sort you’d want to remove. It is a thick plastic screen-protector type film which saves you from having to buy/make one, and apply it (hoping no dust gets in it). This is a nice touch.

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The rest of the package can be accessed by removing the upper foam surround, removing the watch, and rummaging around in the bottom half of the box.

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The watch itself is slightly bigger than the watches I normally wear, and has a thicker body profile. It is nicely surrounded by a chromed metal ring, and the watch-bands seem to be made of stitched leather. The band itself seems to be tailored for larger arms, with myself using the 2nd smallest setting available on this, and using the 3rd largest setting on the Vidonn X6 and Xiaomi bands.

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On the right side of the watch is the only button on the watch, which features as both the back button as well as the power button. This arrangement seems most suitable for those who wear the watch on their left hand.

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The other side features a small cut-out in the body, which allows for sound from the internal speaker to escape.

20150723-2229-2445Finally, the rear of the watch features a raised bubble window for the heart rate monitor sensor to shine through, as well as the charging and communication pins underneath. The back appears to be fixed by four Philips screws, one of which is covered for warranty seal 20150723-2235-2452purposes. The back is emblazoned with the text “Stainless Steel. Designed by MYGO. Assembled in China.” One thing I know for sure is that the rear doesn’t feel like stainless steel … it’s not even cold.

The watch itself does weigh slightly more than my regular watches, tipping my scales at 57 grams.

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Also included in the package is a charging “cradle” featuring pogo-pin style connection, a microUSB lead but with missing retention tangs and a short 10 page leaflet in both English and Chinese (on the reverse).

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The wire itself is a thin-type cable, with 28AWG conductors (the thinnest commonly used). This is acceptable because the current draw during charging is not likely to be very high (as the capacity of the battery is small).

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The supplied charger cradle is a simple, hollow, light plastic jig which fits around the watch and makes contact with the watch using a set of four pogo pins. It passively adapts the four pins to a female microUSB B connector for the cable to plug into. Cut-outs are provided around the power button and heart rate sensors.

20150723-2227-2443The lack of wireless charging is a bit of a disadvantage, as the watch fits relatively snugly into the charger cradle. Removing the watch from the cradle becomes relatively tricky, as no “eject” mechanism is provided.

The supplied user manual is relatively brief, but already gives us a good hint that this unit is built with the Mediatek MTK2502, an ARM7EJ-S 32-bit SoC intended for use in feature phones (2G) and Bluetooth wearable devices with always-on blocks and integrated power management. The manual itself is relatively brief and generic, with awkward English expression, and alludes to a 2D barcode which is not printed in the manual. Don’t worry, we’ll work out why soon enough.

The claimed specifications (data combined from Oukitel and Gearbest) include:

  • MediaTek MTK2502A SoC, with 128Mb RAM and 32Mb ROM
  • 1.54″ 240 x 240 resolution IPS LCD screen
  • Bluetooth 3.0 and 4.0 interface, 10m range, compatible with iOS and Android
  • Real leather watch strap
  • Heart rate monitoring, pedometer, sleep tracking, sedentary alarm
  • Audio recording
  • Remote audio, remote audio controls and remote camera
  • IP53 ingress protection rating
  • 250mAh Li-Poly battery with 100 hour standby

This item was shipped express via DHL, but that the item was “security checked” by DHL in Shenzhen, causing some tearing to the internal cardboard packaging (not pictured above). This inspection is possibly due to the product containing Lithium Ion batteries internally, and despite being supplied with paperwork and MSDS, it was still inspected and repacked. The paperwork doesn’t seem to correspond with the product, as it claims a GP 3.7v 890mAh cell is inside the shipment – seems a little big for a smartwatch. They also claimed the battery had a capacity of 3.3W, when they certainly meant 3.3Wh.

It also seems that the item I had received also had prior Bluetooth pairings on it, so it appears it may have been tested by the company prior to shipping. I suspect that the ones you order will not have these issues. All in all, critically, the product did not have any physical damage.

Initial Set-Up

Initial set-up of the product involves first charging the watch. Snapping the watch in the cradle, plugging the cable into a USB port on a computer or charger should be enough to start the charging process. However, as my watch appeared to be totally discharged, the computer wasn’t too happy with the device.

USB not RecogflashdiskHowever, there was no need to be alarmed, as the device just needed some time to absorb enough charge to boot up properly. After leaving it for about half an hour and then powering it on, it came right up and connected to the PC as a USB Mass Storage device.

The disk itself was empty, and just shy of 3.5Mb in size with one folder named Audio. This turns out to be the way to download/upload audio recordings to the watch itself (more about this later).

20150725-1911-2510In order to actually do the set-up, we need to begin installing the accompanying app on the phone or tablet. By choosing the Quick Response app from the watch itself, it displays a QR code where you can download the app from.

Application Set-Up with Android

The accompanying application is named Mediatek Smart Device, and at the time of writing the review, the version is 15.07.06, with name com.mtk.kctpublic.btnotification.

android-appversion

As is usual with such apps, the list of permissions required are extensive to facilitate integration with the OS.

android-app-privs

Upon starting the app, it begins by requesting access to notifications from the OS. This is needed to push notifications to the watch itself, and can be enabled by ticking the box within settings which is launched once the message is acknowledged.

android-notificationsread1 android-notificationsread2

The next step is to search for and pair with the watch. The pairing is a four step process, which begins with a scan for the devices near the phone or tablet. Upon selecting the device, the app will try to connect with the smartwatch.

android-pairing1 android-pairing2 android-pairing3 android-pairing4

At this stage, the pairing process should be authenticated by a response from the watch which indicates the passkey as displayed on the phone, but this doesn’t happen for some reason. You just have to continue with the pairing anyway, and then permit the watch to access your phone book (to synchronize its contacts). Once that happens, you are presented with the main UI.

android-mainui

The find device button allows you to page your Bluetooth watch and make it sound and vibrate, provided it is in range. The My Applications menu allows you to install downloadable watch faces and apps to your watch. But before you get too excited about this, there is only one of each, which feels like it’s only at “proof of concept’ stage.

android-apps

Under that is the Notifications menu, where you can choose to filter notifications on the device, to stop your wrist from being spammed by over-active apps, or those you really don’t care to receive notifications from. Another good feature is that it’s possible to block further notifications from an app from the watch itself, so you don’t necessarily need to go rummaging in your phone. The default settings receive notifications from all apps.

android-notificationfilter

The Alert feature allows you to configure the anti-loss feature, which is a proximity alarm (which seems to be based around the Bluetooth Low-Energy signal). This will cause an alert when your watch’s signal level falls below a calibrated threshold, or when the connection is lost.

android-alert

Scan allows you to scan for new devices to pair with. Change name is another “advertised feature” and allows you to change the Bluetooth friendly name of the device to something more personal – really only necessary if you end up trying to pair the device near others using the same device.

android-rename

Finally, the About menu provides information about the software, and device. It also is a place where you can check for application updates and firmware updates.

android-about

At this stage, checking for firmware updates results in a message claiming the feature is not supported. Checking for software updates claims there is no updates available.

android-fwupdateandroid-swupdate

It seems that the app itself is mainly a glue-app which helps with pairing, allows the notifications to be pushed from the device, provides a “search for device” and remote camera functionality and provides a framework for phone hosted apps to run. At this stage, even that seems to be in its infancy, with a very limited amount of “downloadable” apps and watch-faces. It doesn’t have any fitness data synchronization, storage or analytics, which seems to be a big missed opportunity.

Application Set-Up with iOS

ios-mediatek-appThe device, while positioned as an Android analogue of the Apple Watch, is also supported under iOS. In order to connect the device properly with iOS, the Mediatek SmartDevice app needs to be installed from the App Store. The app itself is designed for iPhone, so users on tablets will be restricted to a smaller viewport, and need to search for iPhone only apps to actually see it.

As usual with Apple stuff, installing it was hassle free thanks to the App Store.

ios-permissions-otherapps Upon opening the app, a similar request for permissions is made, which needs to be granted in order for the watch to deliver notifications correctly.

The next step in the process is to scan for, and pair with the watch, which then proceeds to leave you at the main UI, which is simpler than the Android version.

ios-searching1 ios-searching2 ios-mainui

Analogous to the Android version, there is the device name which can be clicked to change the device name.

ios-deviceUnderneath, there is a feature to find the device, in case it is lost but still within Bluetooth range. The alert feature is analogous to the one in Android, which is for anti-loss purposes.

ios-alert1 ios-alert2

Finally, there is a very enticing health data option as well. Sadly, when clicked, it doesn’t seem to have anything interesting – no graphs, no historical data. In fact, it was not populated at all, despite the watch itself having logged data. Once I tapped on the rows, they were filled with N/A’s, and despite all attempts to reset the device and re-log data, it was never displayed. What a disappointment.

ios-healthdata1 ios-healthdata2

There is an SOS call feature as well, although it is always greyed out and I don’t see why this is within the app. Maybe it was a feature to enable quick placement of SOS calls from the watch. Aside from this, the app doesn’t seem to have any other features, and is a relatively “young” version. The iOS version is missing firmware upgrade options, along with downloadable watch-faces, and phone/tablet hosted apps.

Again, it seems to be mainly a “glue” application, with a misleading Health Data entry that doesn’t actually work. This really dents the suitability of this device as a serious fitness tracker, despite its specialized heart rate monitor hardware.

Standalone Usage and User Experience

Interface

The watch has a very intuitive interface, which consists of one button on the right side which serves as a power on and off button (long press) and a back and sleep button (short press). Other actions are performed by using the touch-screen, which responds to pressing on icons and buttons, as well as gestures (e.g. upward swipe to toggle to watch-face from app screen, left to right swipe to return to go back within an app, and long press to initiate alternate actions). Applications are clustered on and accessed through a multi-page “home screen” as is the case with the major mobile OSes. It’s safe to say that if you are comfortable with using a smartphone, operating this smartwatch would be easy.

With the watch in the sleep state, a short press of the side button will wake the screen to show the watch-face. In all, five watch-faces are selectable by long-pressing on the watch-face, including one downloadable analog-watch simulation.

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Swiping on the watch-face clears it, allowing you to access the home screen. The home screen is cyclic, allowing you to go back to the beginning once you reach the end. In all, there are six screens to leaf through, with up to four non-rearrangeable app icons each. This example also shows the downloadable Yahoo Weather app installed. In all, this seems pretty similar to what is offered by some other generic MTK2502A based smart watches.

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Status icons are shown on the top tool-bar, and indicate the link status, which features are active, time and battery status (four segment):

  • Pedometer – Running foot
  • Sleep Tracking – Crescent moon
  • Sedentary Reminder – Circle with exclamation mark
  • Remote Media Audio – Headphones
  • Bluetooth Low-Energy – Green Bluetooth logo
  • Bluetooth (Regular) – Blue Bluetooth logo
  • SMS Alert – Mail icon
  • Remote Notification Alert – Speech bubble with exclamation mark
  • Alarm – Bell symbol

Generally, one app is running at any time, and exiting the app can be done by swiping the screen from left to right. After a period of inactivity, the watch returns to the watch face, and then to sleep. The watch maintains a Bluetooth link while it sleeps, and will light-up the display and alert the user to incoming events (SMS, Calls, Notifications). For this to work properly, the accompanying application must be installed on the paired phone.

We will look in detail at the applications in the following section.

Applications

20150725-1906-2477Phonebook offers access to the phone book synchronized from the phone. You can force a resynchronize by scrolling the list down, and then selecting the “Sync with phone” option. Entries are displayed four-lines at a time, with very clunky scrolling (not very smooth, limited inertia). It also indiscriminately syncs contacts with no phone number as well, and has no search, which makes it slightly frustrating to use.

20150725-1906-2478Dialler offers a basic dial-pad interface to allow you to dial a number directly. After keying in the number and hitting the call button, the watch will check to see if it is connected to Bluetooth Call Audio service – if not, it will prompt you to connect before dialling. Unfortunately, it means that any calls placed with Dialler must have the audio going through the watch – you can’t use it as a remote dialler and have the audio routed through to a Bluetooth headset. It 20150725-1906-2479also means that if you’re not careful, and you leave the pairing options on default, answered calls will come out of your wrist whether you like it or not. Here is a sample of a call with the watch.

Call logs offers a quick way to access recent calls so as to place another call. It’s more convenient than using the address book.

20150725-1906-248320150725-1906-248120150725-1957-2532Messaging is a partly-phone-hosted app for reading and responding to SMS messages, and so invoking messaging requires a short wait as it polls the phone to receive your messages. The messages are displayed in a non threaded view, three messages per screen. Unfortunately, once you have read the message, the watch offers no entry methods, and thus you can only reply with pre-set template messages (of which there are a few, but it doesn’t seem they are configurable). Unfortunately, this can cause frustration as very few templates will say exactly what you want, and a stray touch can lead to sending an SMS with no confirmation.

20150725-1907-2484 20150725-1907-2485Remote notifier is where your notifications from your phone are delivered. The most recent five notifications are stored (unless read and cleared), with more recent notifications pushing out older ones. There is also a facility to block certain apps from sending notifications remotely to your wrist straight from the watch, which is highly effective at stopping needless interruptions. Unfortunately, the experience with remote notification highly depends on the apps themselves, with many apps not actually revealing the message text within the notification (and thus cannot be read from the watch). Also, another issue is that acknowledging notifications from your wrist does not clear them from your phone – so then you get the “3 new messages” notification above with no chance to read their subject lines unless you clear them from the phone every time.

20150725-1907-2486Find my device is a basic service that helps you cause your phone or tablet to emit a noise so that you can find it more easily. Unfortunately, as this requires a Bluetooth connection to work, if it works, you’re within about 10m of your device. This limits its usefulness somewhat.

 

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The alarm app allows you to set alarms on the device. Up to five alarms can be set, with repetitions and customizable alert type and tone. The alarms can be toggled on or off individually.

20150725-1907-2491 20150725-1908-2493The calendar app just shows you the day, date and month by default, with a toggle for month view. This is about as useful as a paper calendar, as it doesn’t offer a way to show your appointments, nor to set-up appointments on your calendar, which is somewhat disappointing.

20150725-1909-2495Remote camera allows you to launch and take photographs remotely, with the vision being sent to you on the watch. While in theory, this sounds exciting, there are a few caveats – namely that the phone must already be unlocked for this feature to work, the video link quality is poor and aspect is distorted, that there is a horrible shutter lag of about one second, and the watch has a loud shutter sound regardless of settings. You get to see the shot that is taken for a split second, before it disappears. There is no provision to review photographs on the watch itself, and it’s not likely that you’d want to. Photographs are stored on the phone, and this is just a method of remote triggering.

20150725-1908-2494BT Music is basically just a screen that offers AVRCP remote control buttons. This can allow you to skip and reverse songs on the device. Unfortunately, I had no devices that supported sending the song title text to the watch, hence the message above. The other annoyance is that AVRCP doesn’t actually work unless media audio is connected, and this means you have a remote control, but only if the audio plays out of the moderately loud, small and tinny monaural watch speaker. This, again, limits the usefulness of the device, as I don’t think it’s a good idea to share your tunes with your fellow train and bus passengers.

20150725-1909-2496The BT connection app just seems like an app that’s not an app and is just filler. It should (by all reasoning) be in the Settings application where the other Bluetooth settings are. It allows you to check the pairing and disconnect or initiate connection requests from the watch. This is useful for re-establishing a link in case you have separated from your device and the link is disconnected. Unfortunately, in testing, I had many problems with using multiple partner devices with the watch – even one at a time. Often the BT connection app would stop connecting to the intended device (i.e. click to connect to device A, it sits on connecting for a while, and gives you an error message “Failed to connect to device B”). In this state, removing and re-pairing the connection didn’t always work and a full factory reset was necessary to restore working order.

20150725-1909-2497The file manager app is another one of those filler apps. There’s literally no reason at all to have this, given the watch’s measily 3.4MiB of storage. All of the files stored on the watch are audio files recorded by the audio recorder app, which can be managed within the app itself.

 

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The pedometer app is central to the fitness tracking features on this watch. It is a very basic pedometer, that requires no sign-in accounts, which is great. Activating the pedometer leaves it running in the background. However, it is of limited use for several reasons – the watch is taken off the wrist frequently for charging, thus long-term monitoring of your step count is inaccurate, and the history data only records the last 20 activations of the pedometer, and provides only numerical figures which cannot be downloaded anywhere, nor plotted, graphed or analyzed. This makes the fitness tracking functionality severely limited compared to even low-cost fitness trackers. In general, readings were similar to that of the Xiaomi Fitness Tracker, varying by about 0-15% above the reading from the Xiaomi for the days I had the tracker on for a whole day.

20150725-1910-2502 20150725-1910-2503Sadly, the sleep monitor app is even more basic, offering what is only a timer and a “sleep quality” descriptor which varies between Poor, General and Good. History is a text only log of the time, and the descriptor, with the same 20-record limitations as above.

20150725-1910-2504Sedentary reminder functionality is available, although with a warning that it might reduce battery life due to constant monitoring and the alerts it sends out. I avoided using this functionality for this reason.

 

20150725-1910-2505 20150725-1910-2506 20150725-1910-2507The heartrate monitoring app is probably the most enticing feature of the watch for prospective buyers. However, the functionality, as with the other fitness tracking functionality, is decidedly basic. The heart rate monitoring feature can be engaged manually, and can produce a spot reading of the heart rate from about 7 to 15 seconds. The readings can be in error, especially if the watch is not tight enough against the skin, you are moving, your blood perfusion is poor, or your skin is tattooed. As a result, I’ve had readings of 40bpm next to readings of 85bpm. Aside from spot readings, a continuous mode is also available which tries to continually show your heart rate on the screen, but it makes no record of the data in continuous mode. The recorded data is limited to 20 records of time, date, heart rate with no facility to chart, download or store.

20150725-1911-2508 20150725-1911-2509The sound recorder app allows you to record short notes. I think this is quite useful as there is no other data entry methods on the watch itself. The watch has a decently sensitive microphone, but owing to the limited storage and the MTK2502A’s heritage as a feature-phone processor, the recordings are made in .amr format (specifically, AMR-NB at 12.20kbit/s). This allows for about 36 minutes of recording on a clean folder. Recorded files can be played back on the watch, although only at the original recording speed and at a fixed volume through the small watch speaker. Other than that, you can transfer the recordings off via USB using the flash disk interface, but there is no facility for Bluetooth file transfer. A full factory reset of the watch doesn’t clear recorded voice, which is interesting. Here is a converted WAV file sample of a test recording I made using the watch.

AMR-NB recordings can be played on the PC using VLC, or if you would like, you can convert the files using ffmpeg to .wav files (or convert other sound files into .amr for loading back onto the watch). All AMR-NB bitrates seem to be supported for playback on the watch.

Convert from AMR to WAV:
ffmpeg -i input.amr -c:a pcm_s16le output.wav

Convert from other file to AMR:
ffmpeg -i input -c:a amr_nb -ar 8000 -ac 1 -ab [bitrate] output.amr

AMR Bitrates:
4.75k, 5.15k, 5.90k, 6.70k, 7.40k, 7.95k, 10.20k, 12.20k

20150725-1911-2510The Quick Response app is another app which is just filler. It displays the QR code from where the accompanying software can be downloaded from. There’s no reason why this can’t be hidden in the settings menu, as it’s used so infrequently.

 

20150725-1911-2511Calculator is just a basic calculator on the watch. This has no memory function or any special features. Due to the small button size, miskeying digits seems to be an issue. Sadly, the button in the bottom right doesn’t let you delete digits, and instead quits the calculator app. A very limited application, but potentially of use.

20150725-1911-2512Themes is another filler app. This could also be hidden in the settings, as it’s infrequently used and essentially sets the background image on the home screens. The images can be set to one of three pre-set images in the firmware, with no ability to customize.

 

20150725-1912-2513 20150725-1912-2514 20150725-1912-2515The settings app contains the screens necessary to customize your device.

20150725-1913-2517The BT settings page allows you to control whether the Bluetooth radio is on or off, and whether it is visible to others in the area.

 

 

20150725-1913-2518Clock allows you to configure the watch-face and whether time is synchronized from your device, or set manually on the watch itself.

 

 

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The Sound menu allows you to configure what sort of alert you would like, with the last option being Mute. Sadly, this is probably one option you would want quick access to, especially to mute notifications at night during sleep as there is no do-not-disturb feature, but is otherwise buried in the Settings. You also have a choice of one of five pre-set ring-tones and notification tones, all of which sound like old-fashioned polyphonic tones (owing to the MTK2502A’s abilities, I’m sure).

20150725-1914-2523Volume menu allows you to specify the volume for each of the categories of multimedia, ringing and notification. Sadly, it seems that regardless of the setting of alert type and volumes, the sound recorder always plays at a fixed volume, and the start-up and shut down jingle cannot be disabled. This is particularly annoying when the device goes into low-battery shutdown and loudly proclaims this to the world.

20150725-1914-2524The display menu allows you to change the menu style to show just one app per screen, if you desire. It allows you to change the brightness (default of 3, set to 5 to make images clearer) and the screen time-out, which is too short by default and can time out even while certain phone-hosted apps are loading.

 

20150725-1914-2525 20150725-1914-2526The motion menu allows you to toggle whether you want to use the motion sensor, and gesture features. It defaults to having the gestures turned off. This particular menu seems to be taken from somewhere as the drop-down selection boxes are different and frustrating to operate as they require a selection followed by tapping on the save button to take effect. I suspect this gives a feeling that the firmware was somehow quickly cobbled together.

20150725-1914-2527The international menu allows you to change whether the language is automatically synced with the device, and which order of name display is preferred.

 

 

20150725-1915-2528The apps menu is very “lonely” and just features one button to uninstall all add-on applications. Aside from that, there are no options here.

 

 

20150725-1915-2529 20150725-1915-2530 20150725-1915-2531The About menu is most interesting, as it lets you know of the MAC addresses, and which services are currently connected. In this case, I was running the watch with a phone that had no Bluetooth Low Energy hardware, and it was still functioning just fine (good to know). The firmware itself was released 17th June 2015, which is just a little more than a month ago.

20150725-1854-2476Finally, there is the Yahoo Weather app, which shows a black screen with some information, and a constantly rotating ring in the top right corner as if to say “it’s still getting something”. This app is a phone-hosted app, so it does start up with a lengthy “loading” screen, while it fetches the data to be displayed.

 

Other User Experience Notes

After using the device solidly for about a week, I was left with rather mixed feelings about the device, and many observations.

The hardware itself has limitations, owing to its feature phone heritage and the need to constrain power consumption so as to fit into a watch-sized device and maintain acceptable battery life. As a result, slightly clunky user interfaces, laggy distorted remote camera, tinny output audio, limited quality audio recording and limited ringtone choices are really fair expectations. On the whole, the screen was bright and generally readable at a wide range of angles and the interface responded well enough to be used by touch. The range achieved with the Bluetooth link was within the expected range, allowing me to roam around two to three rooms away while maintaining a connection.

By far the biggest hardware criticism I have is of the contact charging design. The use of a snug fitting plastic cradle creates a big challenge when it comes to removing the device. Even with fingernails, it wasn’t particularly simple to remove, and in one case I even resorted to a bladed screwdriver to separate the two. It should really be designed with an ejector mechanism, which pushes the watch out of the dock, or some removal “pull strap”. Combined with the need to wear the watch tightly to get accurate heart rate measurements, this eventually led to the breakage of one segment of the watch-strap pin.

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I persevered with some super glue and it continues to hold, but then I started having some charging difficulties. When the watch is fully depleted, attaching it to a USB port doesn’t allow it a full charge. Attempting to boot it up will not succeed if completely flat. After waiting a few minutes and trying again, will the watch boot and then continue charging.

However, I still continued to experience strange charging behaviour, with charging stopping for no reason. I determined the USB cable supplied was missing the retention pins on the Micro B connector, so I replaced the cable however problems continued to persist, and today, I was having “USB Device not Recognised” errors again. After cleaning the contacts on the cradle, and the watch, it seems to have worked, but charging terminated somewhat early, with the device claiming to be full well prior to the expected 1.5 hour charge time.

This could explain why I was receiving wildly fluctuating battery life, with 40 hours experienced on one light-load day with no pedometer active, falling to 21 hours on a heavy usage day using the pedometer and vibration alert. Incomplete charging may be to blame.

The battery charge indicator was also very non-linear, with the first segment lasting about the same as the next two segments. As a result, when the watch has only one segment left, it doesn’t take very long (a few hours) for the watch to complain of Low Battery and eventually go into Low Battery Shutdown on its own complete with the shut down sound which cannot be disabled. Unfortunately, when you can’t rely on the unit to run for two days continuously, you need to charge it at least once a day which necessitates some loss of fitness tracking data and possibility of forgetting to turn on the pedometer or sleep tracker.

The enclosure claims to be IP53 rated, which is good for an accidental splash, but not entirely water-proof to any measure. I did wash my hands and get a few splashes on the watch with no ill effect. The biggest points for water intrusion seem to be around the power switch and speaker slot. It seems that the speaker slot itself is relatively small, and at certain angles of the wrist, can be completely covered by skin causing wild changes in volume.

However, the hardware itself isn’t entirely to blame. On the whole, it seems to be capable, and the software is probably also letting the device down as noted by the many caveats listed under the section above. On the whole, it seems as if they’ve added as many icons as possible to the home screens to bloat the interface and pretend that the unit has more functionality which is not real functionality at all. This has a secondary side effect that it means that users have to leaf through more pages to get to the icons that they want. This is a source of frustration, and I think the interface could be much more streamlined to make the unit more efficient.

Further to this, despite the claims of being a fitness tracker, the unit is very poor at recording and analyzing the data. To have the required sensors, but to only store just 20 records with no export functionality seems to be a big let-down on the software side. Further to that, despite all the claims of being “identical” with the iWatch on the heart rate monitoring, there is no periodic recording (10 minutes) as with the Apple Watch which is a feature which many people would probably want.

The unit could also be much more flexible, in letting you route your audio separately to your commands, so you could use the watch as a remote dialler or remote control without actually needing to fumble with the phone to stop having the audio come out of the watch itself. Sadly, this restriction is probably operating system related as well – as disabling both media and call audio pairing for the device also causes it to fail to receive notifications.

Sadly, there was no real “remote control” of the phone in terms of interacting with the phone screen, or real input, which could be very useful in inputting custom text into messages even if just one letter at a time.

Further to this, I did encounter some problems with the software. After a while, the software on the phone may be automatically stopped, resulting in a loss of notifications on the device. Other times, it seems that something goes wrong with the app, and app loads on the watch (Messaging, Yahoo Weather) hang on the Loading screen. I have also encountered periods where the watch and phone could not connect to each other without a full reset of the app and the watch itself.

Missing functionality in a quick way to mute the watch during certain periods for do-not-disturb functionality was also disappointing, as using the watch to track your sleep can also result in poor sleep as the watch “wakes you” for unimportant notifications or floods your eyes with LED light which may have negative sleep-cycle consequences.

In the end, while it does have many functions that work, it still felt like a novelty item with basic but incomplete features. I questioned whether I really needed this in my life, and whether it was worth my “wrist real-estate” to accommodate it. After all, I don’t think I would be happy to play my audio from my wrist in “tinny” lo-fi, nor would I want to share my calls with everyone else. Templated message responses, and a fitness tracker with no analytics really doesn’t satisfy. The biggest feature that I use is remote notifications, but their performance highly depends on the app in question and responding still requires you to physically handle your phone. With that in mind, I think you might need to consider what role a smart watch might play in your life, and whether it will actually perform to your needs before making a purchase.

Teardown

As the device seemed to have a straightforward construction, and I was not completely enamoured by it, I decided to do a teardown for this review to reveal what is actually inside the device. Note that doing the following risks damaging your device and will void the warranty. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The back is easily removed by undoing the four Philips screws in the corners, including the one underneath the warranty label.

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The rear of the unit has Stainless Steel printed on it, but upon opening it up, it is clearly just white plastic painted to look like metal. There is no stainless steel in the back at all. This is deception.

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Looking at the rear of the watch, we can see the plastic frame upon which the internals are slotted into, with copious use of double-sided adhesive and printed flexible cable to make connections. The top seems to show a printed flexible antenna, with a round thing in the bottom left being the vibration unit. The heart rate monitor sensor can be seen, and it appears to have kapton tape over it. This is normally applied during soldering for protection but is removed in the final product. I removed the tape and found marginally more reliable heart rate sensing.

However, looking at the sensor itself, we can dispute the claim that it is identical with the iWatch. From iFixit’s Apple Watch teardown, in Step 23, the actual sensor used in the Apple Watch contains both infrared and visible green sensors, which have a wide detection area and don’t look anything like the above. Their claim that it is identical with the iWatch is just rubbish – what they meant was that it uses an identical technique … or it produces identical readings, which itself could still be disputed.

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The battery appears to be an unbranded unit of 250mAh with its own protection board. This doesn’t match the paperwork it was shipped with, which is probably why it was unsealed for security inspection. The main PCB is visible through the frame, with the MT2502A ARM SoC visible, along with a 25LQ128CVIG 16MiB (128Mbit) Serial EEPROM as the flash storage. This is less than the 32Mb claimed in by the supplier.

Once we peel off the rear flexible flat cable and pry out the vibration motor, we can get the frame out of the way and get a good look at the main board.

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As many of the connections are soldered, it seems that the speaker is also embedded within the plastic frame, so it cannot be completely removed without desoldering – which I avoided because it was so small.

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We can still get a decent look at the main board. Visible is another chip on a flexible flat cable, which is the touch sensor for the front panel. The microphone can be seen slotted in the top part of the watch into the frame itself. The only part that could be stainless may be the chromed surround. There seems to be a water intrusion label, as well as headers for alternate component designs including a microUSB B connector.

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Interestingly, no RAM is actually visible on the board, and a check of the MT2502A datasheet doesn’t provide any information as to how much RAM is actually embedded within the SoC. If we look around, many places claim it has 128Mb RAM, but this LinkIt module from SeeedStudio seems to have the right answer – it has 4MiB RAM and 16MiB flash (consistent with the earlier finding). If it really did have 128Mb RAM and 32Mb flash, it would be able to perform a lot more features, and probably better.

The flipside of the board hasn’t got any components at all, however is coded with the printing of AX9_V1.2 and date coded Week 21 of 2015.

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Finally, the screen itself seems to be embedded into the body – I didn’t try removing it, but the rear didn’t give much information as to the manufacturer, but does imply that it is IPS.

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Conclusion

The Oukitel A28 seems to be a relatively low-cost smart watch with lofty ambitions. However, in my experience, despite its attempts at classy touches, it falls drastically short of being the “Apple Watch” for those who want to be on Android. Its audio quality is basic, but sufficient for calling. The functionality of the watch is rather limited, and needs development if it is to meet user expectations. Specifically, the manually activated fitness tracking features are extremely basic with no analytics or long term data storage, text message replies are limited to text only and the application and watchfaces available number one each, respectively.

Users may be met with frustrations, as Bluetooth pairings sometimes fell apart on their own, causing some apps to sit at loading screens and issues with re-pairing cropped up. To compound this, it is supplied with a frustrating charging dock which is difficult to remove the watch from, along with the need for charging once a day. It is clear why Apple Watch went for wireless charging.

As a novelty item, it definitely fits the bill, with numerous onlookers piping up to say “Is that the new Apple Watch?”, to which you would reply with a beleaguered sigh “No …” and then begin to explain the whole deal. But as a concept, to take calls on loudspeaker and play audio from a tinny watch, and as an everyday “assistant”, it doesn’t seem to integrate well into my lifestyle. It’s hard to justify the wrist real-estate for something this limiting, although having notifications does mean occasionally less “taking out the phone from the pocket and glancing at it”.

Smartwatch purchasers are advised to consider what functionality they need, and determine that the product meets their requirements before considering a purchase, otherwise risk being disappointed. Generic watches like these are often hit-and-miss.

The Oukitel A28 is available from GearBest for AU$74.78 at the time of writing.

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Project: Physically Damaged USB Drive Repair & Data Recovery

A while back, on 16th July, I was contacted by a fellow Sydneysider, and a fan of my blog with a request for help. While, ordinarily, I don’t respond to these, there was a rather long story behind this particular request. To put it in a sentence, the person in question had experienced an act of goodwill, and in return, offered to return the favour which resulted in him being tasked with the job of repairing a USB flash drive that was physically damaged. The drive itself belonged to a uni student, who was apparently anxious to get some of his hard work back, as he needed it for the upcoming semester.

Rather wisely, the reader contacted me with photos of the drive, and had some doubts as to his abilities to repair the drive. He was right – it wasn’t as simple as it appeared.

Rather than trusting someone else to screw it up, I offered my services free of charge, to do my best (but not accepting any liability) to repair and recover the drive provided that he covered the postage to me. I also made it clear, up-front, that I wouldn’t be accepting any liability and that he should consult with professional recovery firms if he wanted some level of assurance. In the end, he accepted my offer of assistance, and hence, this post was born.

The Item

While I was generally in a good mood, despite my constant busyness, and eager to get cracking for a stranger (as I know semester started this week), sadly a string of circumstances led to the drive reaching me just this afternoon.

delivery

As requested, the item was posted with Registered Post, to safeguard against loss and provide some level of tracking.

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Inside, the item was well packed inside anti-static bag and an old SODIMM container, which was great as this helped the package survive the mailing trip and reduced any possibility of electrostatic discharge causing further damage to the components.

The Patient

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The patient was a Sandisk Cruzer. This drive seems to have suffered some violent physical impact on the USB connector, resulting in the complete removal of the connector from the printed circuit board (PCB). Other components on the board are intact.

Initially, the reader thought that the job would be a simple one, soldering the connector back onto the board. It isn’t. Look closely.

A printed circuit board is made from a thin copper sheet, laminated to a fibreglass resin base (FR4). The connections are made by etching this copper sheet into traces, and then soldering the components to these traces.

In the case of this drive, when the connector pulled away from the board, the pins lifted the traces of the bottom three pads (D-, D+, GND). This means it’s not a simple job to just solder it together because there’s nothing to solder to. The top pad (Vcc) is still intact, as the solder joint itself failed, letting the pin “lift free” of the board.

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The trauma is clear from the connector, with bending of the pins from the rear view (left image). From the underside (right image), you can see the brown colour of the lifted and torn copper traces still attached to three of the four pins.

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The underside of the drive had one flash component, of 8GiB. Interestingly, the drive also has a polyfuse on the rear (self-resetting fuse) to protect against overcurrent (which may happen if the drive gets wet with dirty water, or receives overvoltage or reverse polarity) which improves the chances that the drive might survive some mistreatment. It’s not something you find on lower quality drives.

The Repair

When I had received the images of the drive, I had already developed a game plan. But just for those who are following at home, key points to note are the following:

  • USB 1.1 and 2.0 consist of four connections – Vcc and GND (which provide 5v and 0v, i.e. power) and D+ and D- (which provide the differential communications channel). All of these must be connected for the drive to function.
  • The Vcc pad is fine, we can still use that. But D-, D+ and GND are missing.

What is needed is to find ways to connect the D-, D+ and GND connections. Looking at the PCB, the D- and D+ routing on this board is straightforward – they are two parallel traces on the top side with no vias (through-board) connections. The GND connection can be made to the connector shell pad as most boards bridge those connections together. Other than that, the “exposed copper bar” on the edges of the PCB also seem to be connected to the ground plane which would work just as well.

Now that the connection point candidates are identified, it’s important to remember that the green colouration of the board is due to a coating known as solder resist or mask. This stops you from soldering to the rest of the copper trace/sheet in order to prevent solder from running rampant across the copper and making it easier to solder and manufacture. It also helps insulate the board from contaminants which might cause conductivity between traces. Unfortunately, this means we can’t get to the remaining traces without removing this.

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In order to do this, I’ve decided to use a simple box cutter knife to scrape away at the solder resist layer and expose the copper trace underneath. Care needs to be taken not to cut the trace (especially if you don’t have much of it available to get to). Remember, the copper layer is very thin – we just need to expose enough of it to solder a credible connection.

The next step is to heat that up with some flux core solder and tin the copper. I salvaged some thin AWG28 wire from an old USB cable, prepared the ends by tinning them, in order to do the connecting using an “air-wire” method.

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After some very careful manipulation, this is the result. The connections to the D- and D+ traces were the most tricky, requiring steady hands and patience. AWG28 wire is not thick at all and yet, it was a challenge to ensure they didn’t short together when soldering.

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We’re all good to go to the next stage of recovery.

The Recovery

In all, the unit was intact to the point that when it was plugged in, it came up immediately with no problems.

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The data was still intact. A full image was taken, then an archive of the files made. That’s now being uploaded and sent back to its original owner. Success!

Drive-and-VolLbl

At this point, I can’t share anything more with you guys – all of the data is kept private.

Conclusion

From all of this, I think we can come to several rather disparate lessons:

  1. It’s always better to realize your own limitations and ask for help when uncertain. The worst we can do is give you either the cold shoulder, or a nasty reply, in which case, you should take it on the chin and move on. This is better than forging ahead with no game plan and potentially making things worse for yourself. This applies to me too – I wouldn’t ever accept a job if I didn’t feel I was suitably qualified to undertake it.
  2. Evaluate your options. How much is your data worth? Most data recovery companies are quite expensive, but it’s a much better guarantee of safety. If you are definitely not going to spare the expense for that, remember that many accidents could be recovered from with some skill. Do some research, find the right software, get cozy with Linux. It’s all worth it.
  3. Prevention is better than cure. Back-up as frequently to reduce the devastation from actually losing physical media. It can always fail unexpectedly, become damaged or lost.
  4. Resist the temptation to leave USB drives plugged into laptops while moving around. I don’t know exactly how this one came to be damaged, but I’d have to guess that this is probably the leading cause. Not only do you risk damage to the drive which can be difficult to repair, you also risk damaging the port itself.
  5. USB is tolerant of hacky cabling to some extent, and that’s partly why low quality cheap unshielded and untwisted cable seems to work (at least for a while). It also means that you can make such “air-wiring” fixes for temporary recovery, but do keep it short and tidy if possible. The worst that can happen is that you end up not getting a link or you get a slower USB 1.1 connection but still might get your data back.
  6. Store your devices properly. If you don’t, you can risk secondary damage from electrostatic discharge that could further jeopardize your data.
  7. Practice and experience are important, as are having the right tools. With skills such as soldering, practice helps you better understand and improve your technique, which helps you target finer pitch joints, and helps you produce more quality joints that don’t fail under mechanical stress. But if you don’t have a fine-tipped iron, or decent solder, you might never be able to get the right result no matter how hard you try.

Needless to say, the data is on its way back to its rightful owner, and I’ve ended up helping out two people along the way – one directly, and one indirectly. Maybe with this post, I’ve ended up helping others … indirectly.

That being said, this is not an invitation for you to start e-mailing me your stories and expecting me to do things for you for free … I will use the silent treatment where necessary!

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Site Update: Major Downtime at 29/07/2015 1044UTC – Cause: GoDaddy

I was going to spend some time in the evening (here in Sydney, Australia) doing some blogging when, to my surprise, I got an e-mail from my uptime monitor saying I had been downed for over 20 minutes. The downtime apparently started at 8:44pm.

When I migrated from my last host, I thought I was doing the right thing being hosted by one of the biggest hosting providers in the world, namely GoDaddy, and so far they haven’t been anything as annoying as my former hosting company who went down for 5 minutes every few hours. At GoDaddy, several times my databases would go missing from my cPanel, and my caching plugin will start screwing me over (probably because it had, at one stage, been interrupted while writing metadata due to resource exhaustion) but I had a way of dealing with that and keeping things alive. But it seems even the big players are not immune to downtime.

At first, I didn’t believe my monitor, as I thought they might just have a path issue to the server. Not so, I tried accessing my site and no dice. Cloudflare can’t get to the origin. I logged into cPanel, where everything was fine, and it claimed my account had no issues. I checked GoDaddy’s Status Page and that bore some bad news.

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Not too bad, at least they know they have a problem so I don’t have to call them. I waited patiently … but an hour later, nothing had changed and no updates were forthcoming. Getting into cPanel was now throwing up 500 errors as well, which wasn’t a great sign.

Even worse was that I found that the issue seems to be related to a routing or connectivity problem. The cPanel servers were alive enough that I could eventually get a database backup and full site backup running, but not reachable from the outside. They could not be pinged, and a traceroute shows the packets “getting lost” within GoDaddy Group’s internal network.

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I suspect the cause of this latest downtime to be routing related because of this, but we may never know unless they decide to tell us.

There was a storm on Twitter, with many disgruntled users tweeting @GoDaddy and @GoDaddyHelp, myself included, all was in vain as there wasn’t much communication at all. Only two tweets were issued by @GoDaddyHelp mirroring what was on their status page, with no ETA, or cause identified. Many users complained of long phone queue waits, a lack of helpfulness in general, and of being dumped to voicemail or being unable to initiate a live-chat online.

Others, however, were quite creative – my favourites included:

Of course, the guys at downdetector.com registered a spike in complaints … so we know we are not alone.

down-detector-godaddy

I did wait a little, patiently refreshing the page until three hours had passed and I was getting a little worried. At one stage they were claiming no significant issues but my site was still down. What’s the deal?

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After a few minutes, they reverted back to the truth – they were still down. So much for their communication. They really could have done a lot more to keep people informed as to what is happening, when a fix might be had, why this is happening, etc. Even just a regular “change” in wording might placate some users who think that “it’s about 5am their time, so they’re probably just having a snooze.”

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Anyway, it seems the service is back up again, after what is possibly the longest downtime in the history of running my site. Pingdom Tools pegs the downtime today at three hours and 32 minutes.

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That being said, many users may have signed up to GoDaddy on the impression that they would provide a 99.9% uptime – but a close reading of their terms and conditions for hosting gives the following:

uptimeguarantee

Key take-aways are that the uptime guarantee is determined solely by them, and at best, you get a 5% credit on your monthly hosting fee for that month. If you’re paying $8/month, you’ll get a credit of 40 lousy cents for not meeting their guarantee. Hardly worth the price to call them to request it given the cost of a phone call is about 25 cents.

My suspicions of a routing issue (or possibly connectivity issue) seem confirmed when I look at the post-downtime traceroute – notice how it terminates correctly, and there are two hops to the actual shared hosting server, from where the packet last got lost.

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On the whole, while it would be nice to have a back-up host, at this stage, it’s not quite worth the effort and time to maintain for a hobbyist running a personal site like myself. But I do feel for others, who may be running businesses and professional sites where downtime like this is unacceptable. If one of the world’s leading hosts can have this happen to them, I think it’s likely that any other host at a similar price bracket would probably have this happen from time to time. Lets try to not make this too frequent, mmkay?

For the less fortunate, it seems that even as of 1:42am Sydney time, there are still some issues that remain.

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UPDATE: It’s now the following morning, and the site now says the following:

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Interesting that a network hardware failure had caused this – I wonder what sort of redundancy failure had happened. Maybe it was a failure that caused corruption to routing tables or broadcasted bad routing information to other routers, causing it to topple. They claimed “some” customers and “intermittently” unavailable – judging from twitter, that seemed to be quite a few customers and continually unavailable right until the end of the outage window. No point saving face now, but hey, at least they told us why.

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