Review, Teardown: SAL Wave S9065 DL 10W LED Downlight

The LED downlight reviews continue, with another anonymous donation for the review challenge. This time, we’re looking at the Sunny Australia Lighting (better known as SAL) Wave S9065 DL (Daylight 6000K) 10W LED downlight. SAL is a major Australian distributor of lighting products, and this particular product is said to be one of the most popular amongst LED downlights. Lets see how it fares when subjected to a full teardown analysis.

Unboxing and Features

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The unit is packed in a glossy compact cardboard box, featuring a pictorial image of the product and some of its most important features summarized as icons.

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One side features a bullet point listing of specifications, although quite vague and generalized. This particular unit has a 6000K “daylight” colour temperature, and offers 900 lumens with a 10W power consumption, for a 90 lumens/Watt efficacy. Notably, the efficacy varies as a function of colour temperature (due to LED efficiency constraints), thus their 4000K “cool white” achieves an output of 850lm (85lm/W) and their 3000K “warm white” achieves 800lm (80lm/W). This is a little better than some others, but far from the 110+lm/W achieved by recent products such as the HPM DLI9002. It has an IP44 “weatherproof” rating suitable for installation in protected outdoor environments. It claims to be trailing-edge dimmable, comes with 1.2m of prefitted flexible cable, and is double-insulated.

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It carries the insulation contact IC-mark, approved for abutting and covering the luminaire. The unit carries the regulatory compliance mark for Australia and is Made in China.

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The unit requires a 92mm cut-out for installation and has a 59mm height. It also has a 90 degree beam angle and >80 CRI (although the exact figure is not stated).

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Inside the unit, there is a single-sheet warranty statement and an installation instruction sheet. A spectral graph is provided, which is somewhat unusual, but the unit appears to lack specifications surrounding lifetime where no figure is available. A three-year warranty is offered, but in the fine print, it claims this warranty is only extended for residential operation up to ten hours a day, else just one year warranty for commercial application. While most residential consumers are unlikely to have such high duty cycles, it appears they are only willing to stand by their product for ~10,950 hours at the most. Considering many other manufacturers don’t have this particular limitation in their warranty statements, this seems somewhat surprising.

Interestingly, their website appears to have an updated installation instruction sheet which claims compliance with IC-F mark (abutted and covered) and claim that side clearance to building element of zero millimeters. Other manufacturers usually claim some nominal distance rather than zero, but I suppose it’s unlikely to indicate any significant differences in heat output, especially given the (relatively) low power consumption. Clearance to combustible elements or elements above fitting are not specified. Of course, the impact to lifetime from covering the luminaire is not stated.

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The unit itself shares some visual similarities with the DETA unit reviewed earlier in having a coloured screw-down cable retainer and moulded logo, but I suspect it is more a likelihood that the DETA unit had imitated the look of the SAL unit instead. The body of the unit has the connection order (neutral on the left, which is a little uncommon) and acceptable wire gauge near the terminal blocks which is convenient.

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The rest of the details are laser etched onto the side of the luminaire, with the IC mark label applied to the outside. As with other units, a spring-loaded “rat trap” style mounting is used. The lower section of the body does feel more like metal, with a thinner almost-paint-like coating on the aluminium which is probably better for heat dissipation than a thicker layer of plastic in some other products. The rear of the unit differs from the DETA in that it literally has a wave in the casing, which makes it a bit difficult to stand on its back.

The driver and the LED are connected in this unit, without any air gap or clear separation. This may mean that the driver is operating at higher temperature, being influenced by the waste heat from the LED array, potentially shortening its lifetime.

The unit does not include a gasket, which means that the recess hole is not “sealed”. This can lead to some heat loss through air movement around the edges, and the breathing of the roof-space through these holes could lead to some accumulation of dust around the fittings.

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The included flex and plug appear to be from Yunbiao Electronics, with appropriate electrical safety numbers moulded in – ESO130205 on the plug and ESO120686 on the cable.

The front of the unit appears no different to the majority of the units on the market with a simple plain white surround and almost-flush opalescent diffuser. An extra cost option of a satin nickel ring is available.

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Unit Teardown

Now, we arrive at the “fun part” of taking it apart and looking inside. First, it was noted that the cable retention mechanism works well, unlike that of the DETA, and positively grips the included flex cable. Once removing the screw for the cable grip, another screw needed to be removed to allow the rear cover to be removed. The rear cover is a simple plastic cap, with nothing special within it unlike the DETA.

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The main PCB is a relatively high-quality double-sided PCB with solder resist and silkscreening. It has marked upon it KADA-059401 2015-05-20 YM1505068 which implies that the product is produced specially by Kada LED for SAL.

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The board itself features good clearance around the terminal blocks, so that the mains wires won’t “poke” into the components like the DETA. For safety, we can see the use of a fully enclosed 500mA slow-blow fuse, and mains-safety rated mains capacitor for transient suppression and inductors for RFI supression. There appears to be no primary side MOV for surge protection, which could be a negative especially in areas where there are high incidences of surges. While switching converters in general are not too sensitive to power quality issues, having a MOV would offer peace of mind especially for fixed installation where easy consumer replacement may not be an option and labour is expensive.

No real “isolation” boundary can be seen between primary and secondary, despite the routed channels in the PCB. This is because the routed channels are more for the placement of L1 (inductor) and the wires connecting it due to the way the board is laid out. This is not a big issue, as the unit claims to be double-insulated, thus nobody is expected to be in contact with the output.

The heart of the unit (U1) is the iWatt (now Dialog Semiconductor) iW3614 which appears to be an older variant of the iW3688 used in the DETA. This particular controller appears to be slightly less featureful, offering compatibility with leading and trailing edge dimmers (no support for digital dimmers), but otherwise offering the same features of wide dimming range (1-100%), typical 85% efficiency without dimmer, tight LED current regulation (5%), and a variety of safety protections that operate on a pulse by pulse basis. However, this controller is somewhat less flexible in its configurations, using an isolated flyback converter topology. As a result, it seems that this controller could have had an isolated secondary, provided the PCB was laid out with appropriate clearances.

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The transistors, of which there are two, appear to be both Silan Microelectronics SVF4N65K 4A high voltage (650v) N-channel F-cell MOSFETs.

The capacitors, however, are somewhat disappointing. All the capacitors on the board are Pchicon branded, from Yiyang Pencheng Technology Development Co. Ltd. This particular brand appears not to be particularly well known, and in past experience, lower cost capacitors from unknown companies are less likely to have high reliability compared with their higher quality Japanese counterparts.

Regardless, this unit has three such electrolytic capacitors – a primary side 6.8uF 400v CD11GAL-series capacitor, and two secondary side capacitors, a 47uF 50v and 100uF 63v RF-series capacitor. All capacitors are rated for 105 degrees Celsius operation. The CD11GAL series is rated for a 6,000h load life, with the RF series rated for 3,000-7,000h load life. With this in mind, the capacitors are within the expected range for a ~24,000+ hour lifetime, although I would still be cautious of the quality of these capacitors given their unknown reputation.

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The underside of the PCB has various surface mount diodes, resistors and capacitors, as well as a bridge rectifier. A QC label is also neatly placed on the underside. The soldering quality is highly consistent for the components, and the terminals are long slotted types with lots of soldering area for support. However, it does seem that the amount of solder may be a little on the low side with the solder not fully flowing through the vias, although there are no major voids that can be seen.

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The LED array is connected by two silicone-rubber covered wires, which are tack soldered onto the bottom. One contact has a slight excess of solder, but otherwise, the quality of the connection is very acceptable.

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Removing the front diffuser exposes the LED array. The unit follows a similar structure to others seen before, featuring a loose white plastic conical insert to improve light output. This particular cone was not perfectly concentric, suggesting a small dimensional discrepancy, and this “uneven” diffuser may cause slight aberrations in beam distribution.

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Removing the diffuser exposes the “heatsink” which is shaped like a dog-bowl. The MCPCB is labelled AL-4C-10W-20S-2835-280mA, which gives us some information, although it is potentially a little misleading. The connections to the MCPCB are well soldered to the board. Sure enough, there are 20 LEDs on the board, and they appear to be 2835 SMD type (commonly 0.2W each, some up to 0.5W each), but the arrangement is a little different than would be suggested by 20S.

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A closer look at the patterning of the MCPCB exposes the fact that it is a design where pairs of LEDs are put into series. This arrangement is a little different than just distinct single-series or multiple parallel strings. For explanation, I will have to resort to some circuit diagrams which can get a little technical.

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This arrangement is a fairly simple all-series configuration. This configuration has been used by the products reviewed in the past, and basically has one path throughout the diode array, thus each and every LED is subject to the same current. This results in a mostly even heating and stress of the LEDs, equal brightness from each LED, and generally less problems although should any LED fail open circuit due to a failure of the LED or its connections, the whole array fails in one go. This is not a particularly big disadvantage, as we will see later. I personally find this configuration preferable in the vast majority of cases, although for various manufacturing constraints (e.g. limiting output voltage), it may not be the configuration employed.

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This is another possible configuration of two parallel strings. Something similar to this has been seen in prior reviews of retrofit LED bulbs and basically consists of the whole array of LEDs divided into a number of independent series string, with strings connected in parallel. This arrangement is also fairly common, but has problems with current balance between the two strings. As “no two components are the same” and the temperature each LED experiences is not the same, a potential for current share imbalance exists because the voltage drop of each string may not be equalized. Unless the LEDs are well matched or run significantly below their rated current, such an arrangement may lead to less than optimal lifetime, especially as LEDs age and their characteristics drift. In this arrangement, normally a single current driver provides a fixed current of about twice the current handled by a single string, and it is assumed that both strings will share the current equally enough that no one string is overtaxed. Where the current is not balanced, one string will likely heat up more as it takes the lions share of current, resulting in higher stress and premature failure, especially as warmer LEDs will reduce their voltage drop and increase its current share, thus resulting in a potential runaway feedback loop.

In reality, this may work initially, but over time failures can result. Where one LED fails open circuit, half the array suddenly becomes disconnected, resulting in the provided current being forced through the remaining half. This can result in the current driver flickering and flashing if it exceeds its maximum output voltage, but more likely, will result in dimmer output, a shift to a more blue output due to overdriving the LED, significantly increased heating in the remaining functioning LEDs leading to rapid failure of the remaining LEDs. This arrangement is not optimal, but is used quite frequently.

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The arrangement used in the SAL Wave looks like this. I have mentioned that it is a possible configuration in the past, but I did not come across a product with such a configuration until now. This arrangement has pairs of LEDs in parallel, put into a single series string. It maintains the reduced output voltage requirement of the above configuration, but has a few slight differences in the way it operates.

Because it is essentially a series arrangement of parallel elements, at each pair of diodes, the “sharing” of the current can be different, rather than having half the array at one current, with the remainder in the other. This could potentially lead to more imbalance events across the array and potential stress on individual LEDs, because with the two series strings in parallel arrangement, there is a statistical probability that the average of a large population will converge towards the mean – in other words, by having the sharing occur on a ten-diode voltage drop basis, there’s a better chance that if there are any particularly low or high voltage drops, that it would average out across a population of ten rather than of two.

However, for this particular arrangement, its failure mode could be more graceful. Any one LED failure only takes out that one LED and forces its one partner to run at a higher current. Where the current level is somewhat tolerable to the remaining partner LED, the array will continue to function with a small reduction in output rather than catastrophic loss of half of the array. However, regardless, any LED chip failure is the beginning of a downward spiral towards total failure as any partially operative array is unlikely to be a stable configuration, and thus, the failure behaviour is probably not as important as the potential for individual LEDs to be overstressed.

How well such an arrangement fares in practical terms depends on how well matched the LEDs are, both at the beginning of life and throughout the lifetime of the unit. It’s almost impossible to predict this with any certainty, at least, with the tools available to me at the present time.

The pattern also has excess area to improve heat transfer between the LEDs and the MCPCB, and ultimately the heatsink. One LED on the rightmost side appears to have some damage from solder splash onto the upper left hand corner, while not “fatal”, seems to imply the process of soldering wires to the MCPCB may affect the LEDs.

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The MCPCB is held onto the heatsink with three screws about two-thirds the way towards the outer edge. Further disassembly revealed that the MCPCB is screwed onto the heatsink with no thermal interface material at all. This is likely to result in higher thermal resistance than otherwise necessary, meaning that the LED array operates at a higher temperature and will have a shorter lifetime than absolutely necessary as a result as the heat is not passing through to the heatsink and out of the luminaire as efficiently as it could.

Applying some thermal grease at the factory would improve the thermal resistance by filling in voids between the metal surfaces, which provides further paths for heat to travel. This is common practice with other products, and isn’t particularly expensive. It’s a wonder why this particular unit was assembled without it.

Performance Testing Results

In the following section, I will discuss some of the obtained test results and subjective impressions of the SAL Wave downlight.

Impressions and Output Quality

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The output from the light was not quite evenly diffused, with a small “patterning” discernible from the outside. The colour temperature advertised was 6000K, although when tested with a camera and RAW-based white balance correction, the figure obtained was 5150K, a little less than expected. The output colour rendering quality appeared slightly, but not significantly, better due to the higher colour temperature.

When started up directly on the mains, a short delay of less than one second was evident, with the output stable and flicker free to the eyes. Output intensity seemed to be at the level expected for the claimed lumens. Acoustically, the downlight had no appreciable noise.

The physical build quality of the downlight seemed quite solid, and the thinner “coating” on the exterior of the heatsink seems to provide a better thermal conductivity and improves heat dissipation. The curved design of the rear does make placing the unit with the driver side down a little more difficult (e.g. during installation to prevent scratching the front surface).

Power Consumption

A 20 minute warm-up test was conducted with line voltage regulated to 230v +/- 1% using the Tektronix PA1000 Power Analyzer.

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The power trend shows a decreasing power consumption as the lamp warms, as is normal with LED products, reaching under 10W at 9.9W at 20 minutes.

Power and Power Factor vs Voltage

The power and power factor was recorded with the Tektronix PA1000 while varying the input voltage using a Variac.

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Within a wide range of voltages (down to 130V), the downlight maintained a nearly constant power consumption just below 10W. Power factor was reasonably high, at 0.85 at the high end of the acceptable voltage range, and reaching 0.92 at the low end of the range. This isn’t the best result, however, is quite acceptable especially as power factor is more of a concern for larger commercial installations. No harm occurred with 277V applied to the downlight.

Below 130V, the driver appeared to operate in a somewhat less regulated regime, with increased power consumption to a peak of close to 12W, followed by a nearly linear decrease down to 18V when the light extinguished. This is an extremely wide voltage operating range, beyond that which is necessary for proper operation in Australia, and also means that it is likely that the light will maintain full brightness even in brown-out conditions.

Inrush Current

The Tektronix PA1000’s Inrush Current mode was used to gauge the inrush current with the mains switched ten times in succession.

Peak positive current was recorded as 17.285A, and peak negative current at -17.234A. This is a relatively high reading, but unfortunately, the PA1000 does not provide the inrush duration, thus its full significance can’t be accurately established. However, it appears that the lamp may not have as effective soft-start mechanisms as other products on the market. This may be particularly important for dimmer applications where high inrush can cause stress on the unit and where many units are to be installed under the control of a single switch or on a single circuit.

Output Voltage/Current & Efficiency

Current driver output parameters were measured using the PA1000.

The output voltage was determined to be 31.30v with a 1.003 crest factor, with output current at 264.0mA with a crest factor of 1.009. This implies an extremely smooth output from the current driver with very little current variation. The output power is 8.2632W, which represents a conversion efficiency of approximately 83.5%, which is similar to that expected based on the datasheet. This is not a particularly high figure compared to others, where figures closer to 90% are becoming normal.

Dimming

Aside from specifying trailing-edge dimming from the manufacturer, no list of compatible dimmers was available. Dimming was tested with a variety of not-so-popular dimmers which I have in my possession.

Using the IKEA Dimma lead, which is a leading-edge dimmer (not strictly compatible according to the manufacturer, but compatible according to the controller datasheet), it was found that dimming only operated over a very limited range (~60-100%) with significant noise from the dimmer (possibly due to high inrush currents at turn-on) and flashing at low levels.

On a Nixon Universal dimmer, it was found that the dimming range was good, although highly non-linear. There were some instabilities in light level at the lowest level, and an occasional “flash” of brighter light when turning down from higher brightness. Turning on at the lowest brightness resulted in about a five second process where the light will flash several times before settling to a more stable output. This might be due to the minimum 10VA load requirement, although this light does theoretically meet that (or almost).

Using a DETA Universal 150VA dimmer, it was found that a stable, smooth and quiet dimming operation could be achieved with full range of control. However, it seemed that due to the “soft start” of the dimmer mechanism itself, the time to power on had lengthened to about two seconds. I suppose this illustrates the need to match the dimmer to the load and purchase more modern dimmers with lower minimum load requirements suited for LED applications.

Conclusion

The SAL Wave S9065 DL while superficially sharing some similarities with the DETA, is a completely different beast, with a fairly sturdy build quality and simple aesthetic. It offers trailing-edge dimming compatibility, IC abutted and covered (IC-F according to the latest data) rating, with IP44 rating suitable for protected outdoor installation, and comes pre-fitted with a 1.2m flexible cord. The daylight edition offers 90 lumens/watt, down to 80 lumens/watt for warm white, which is respectable, although not class-leading.

When closely analyzed, it appears to be a product of Kada LED, with a quality double-sided PCB and good soldering quality. The design dating from 2015 features an older iWatt/Dialog Semiconductor controller. As a result, it wasn’t able to reach as high of an efficiency and power factor as some of its competitors. Its dimmer compatibility seemed slightly worse as a result.

The unit uses Pchicon capacitors, a relatively unknown brand which deserves some caution despite its mostly appropriate manufacturer claimed lifetime ratings. The unit was also found to lack surge transient protective MOVs and thermal interface material between its MCPCB containing the LEDs and the heatsink which can compromise durability and lifetime. The arrangement of the LEDs in pairs connected in series also appears unique to the product, although it potentially carries a higher risk of overstressing individual LEDs due to current imbalance. Slight mis-shaping of the internal reflective card and damage to an LED unit from solder splash was also observed.

At this stage, it seems every LED product has its own strengths and caveats, and the SAL Wave S9065 is no different. While there were some positive elements, there were also areas where cost-cutting seemed to be apparent and could affect the lifetime of the unit. It’s not a particularly terrible unit, but it’s not a particularly great one either. One potential concern surrounds the fact that no lifetime figures are quoted for the unit, and the three-year warranty comes with a 10 hour/day limitation, otherwise it is only warranted for one year.

After completing the review, I couldn’t resist the urge to be a handy-person and improve the product by applying some thermal grease to the MCPCB, which (subjectively) seems to have made the heatsink somewhat warmer in operation, indicating improved thermal conductivity. Just me, being me, I suppose :).

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Melb2016: Around the “Den” & Leaving Melbourne (Part 11)

After a long series of posts, my time in Melbourne is just about up. This part covers the tail end of the trip, namely where I stayed and heading out of Melbourne.

The “Den”

Even though the trip was mostly funded by the university, that didn’t mean I could be as lavish as I had liked. After all, there is only a certain amount of money left in my funds, and I had to make it last as long as I could. As a result, I chose the cheapest hotel (not hostel and not backpackers) that I could find that was within walking distance of the conference, just in case I couldn’t get around any other way.

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That turned out to be the Ibis Budget, formerly Hotel Formule One, in the CBD. Conveniently located at the corner of two tram stops, it was extremely easy to get around. Because of its budget positioning, things were a little different – there was no hotel lobby on the ground floor, and barely any frontage.

In fact, reception was on first floor. At least they had lifts, although they were a little slow and very creaky. The staff were friendly and easygoing, but the offerings were generally quite slim. Even the complimentary tea and coffee cups had to be specially requested, as they weren’t always serviced by housekeeping.

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As I was a comparatively long stay, they were able to offer me Room 707, top floor in the side section, annotated in the photo above. This room felt a little run down, with blinds that were a bit mangled, walls with scratches, and a shower screen which didn’t roll freely. The shower was relatively small, but serviceable. The air conditioner was noisy and rattly. Even a CFL failed during my stay. Despite this, room access was all card controlled, and I felt relatively safe even though there was the occasional homeless person in the ground floor corridor taking advantage of the “open” powerpoint to top up his phone. Did I mention, I saw someone walking a sheep down the road as well, chased by six cameras?

The hallways were mostly quiet, but the neighbours not so much. Some nights they’d be rather noisy, but not too excessively. Even though my room could theoretically accommodate three people, I was the only one. I actually didn’t have much problems falling asleep – the bed was very comfortable and just the right firmness for me.

The hotel doesn’t really have Wi-Fi either – the only area they have it is in the reception/breakfast area on the first floor, and the Wi-Fi is pay-for access anyway. In the rooms, there is absolutely no signal. Rooms have no phones, but mobile coverage is pretty good. The booking I made was not inclusive of breakfast, although having peeked into the buffet, I didn’t think that was a great loss. There are many restaurants down the street anyway.

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Aside from these relatively minor niggles, I very quickly made it my home away from home courtesy of all the technology in my luggage. Because of all the extra room on the bunk, I could hang out my clothes to keep them from being excessively crumpled.

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On the night I was about to leave, I had many of the things somewhat closed, but there was a small corner table, and a small bar fridge (empty) as well, with a TV for me to keep up with MasterChef. No complaints on that side.

2016051509495207What you might be wondering is how a nerd like myself can get by without the most basic of needs – namely, an internet connection. The answer is, I came prepared! Of course, I had my relatively expensive Telstra 4G Data Pass, but I wasn’t going to waste it all. Instead, this phone booth across the road was my saviour.

Yep. In front of a Vodafone store, this phone booth had Telstra Air enabled – an open Wi-Fi network offering unmetered free data to Telstra customers until 1st September 2016 (at this stage). Of course, it’s probably not going to be free forever, but this was at street level across the road.

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IMG_20160509_134137Not a problem either. I came prepared – namely with an old 2.4Ghz Yagi antenna and some electrical tape. My photographic tripod had to “stand in” to hold the antenna in alignment while I wasn’t out on photography, but I bought along enough Nitto tape so I didn’t have to worry about taking it down and putting it up again.

I had it very accurately pointed at the phone booth and surprisingly, a very decent link was achieved even with the single-band single-stream 802.11n USB wireless adapter I was using (a TP-Link TL-WN721N). As a result, my desk was a little messier when actually doing some work.

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I suppose it was both a good and bad thing that I used a Yagi. I wouldn’t have received enough signal (or would have had too much interference) without it, so it kept me online. It also potentially kept me more safe due to the unencrypted nature of the AP, so eavesdroppers were less likely to “hear” my packets. It potentially might have had a negative effect on other users, because I might not have heard their transmissions (and vice versa), resulting in collisions. However, that being said, even on the day I arrived during the afternoon, the performance wasn’t too bad.

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Screenshot_2016-05-10-23-52-00_org.zwanoo.android.speedtestWith some tweaking and better alignment, I was able to improve the result. Rather interestingly, I also consulted this article to create an ad-hoc network using the Wi-Fi card inside my laptop so I could get my two mobile phones on the same connection as telsairwell – this was a speed test from the phone at night. Given it was free, I had no complaints at all – it was so good that I didn’t even spend 400Mb of my 3G allowance through my entire stay in Melbourne. Most of that was when I was away from the room.

The session does time out after a while (12/24 hours), but you can log right in again. The physical link is maintained, and I managed to do some decent downloading and catch up on TV shows. Some types of traffic appear to be blocked over the network, but that’s no big deal because I also have a slow but steady SSH tunnel at home to use, hosted by a Raspberry Pi.

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With that sorted, I was free to enjoy the evening views – of which there was some view, albeit a bit limited due to adjacent building overhang. On the last night, I couldn’t help but take a vertical timelapse of the view for a few hours.

Screenshot_2016-05-17-23-09-57_com.xiaomi.hm.healthMy stay in Melbourne, because of the limited time, really inspired me to make the most of it. It also pushed me to achieve my one-day step record, which currently stands at 22,271. For someone like myself, it’s not easy to achieve that, and I really don’t want to have to do it too often because my ankles really didn’t like it. But I can definitely say I made the most of my time.

Melbourne Impressions

While I didn’t stay in Melbourne long, nor did I visit Melbourne on a regular basis, I would have to say that I had a relatively positive experience of Melbourne overall. It felt like a very liveable city, with green spaces everywhere and good accessibility by walking or by public transport. It’s a city where there seems to be a lot of appreciation for diversity and culture, with lots of different artforms practiced and where heritage is celebrated and new blends with old. It also seems to be quite a progressive city when it comes to embracing technology.

The layout of the city is relatively simple, and getting around is very convenient. Major events are practically held at venues where public transport is well established. Signage is excellent, and it seems a lot of the action centers around the CBD which is not that big. There is quite a lot to see and potentially enjoy, and it seems they have done a lot to gear it towards tourists with official information centres, free CBD tram zones and city circle trams. Even the people down there seem a little more friendly, especially the staff, and are willing to take it a little easier.

In the CBD, shops are very much packed together and supermarkets are aplenty, although they are smaller than the ones in Sydney. There are many upmarket shops, which might be good for those interested in designer brands and clothing, but … not my style unfortunately.

The weather is a little cooler, but that’s the way I like it. The food is excellent, with a large variety of restaurants and what seems to be a greater attention to the quality of food. Would I visit again? Quite possibly, although I probably would spend more time in the outer suburbs away from the CBD to see the more “quiet” life and do more commuting and sightseeing.

Goodbye Melbourne

Inevitably, as with every holiday and trip away from home, it had to end. I packed my bag that morning, and had a feeling that I was both glad to be going home so I could take some time and process everything I had “collected”, but also I would miss the quietness and tranquility that comes from being a solo traveller, or at least, being away from the family for a bit.

Before I departed, I realized that I had packed a little too much from the conference, and would be over the allocated baggage weight. Because Jetstar wants to charge AU$15/kg in excess baggage at the gate, I decided to spend about AU$17 for a 5kg postal satchel and dispatch that back home the day before I was to leave, so it would arrive the day after I had returned. As planned, just by “feeling” the weight, I crammed the satchel full and attempted to dispatch it down a red street posting box only to find it was so big it wouldn’t fit. I went back to the post office, where it weighed at 5.001kg, and they let it through (after all, how accurate are those scales anyway?).

After packing everything, and having just the electronics I could afford to carry in my backpack, the bags weighed 7.00kg and 16.74kg respectively, which was less than what I came with. Because there wasn’t anywhere to put my luggage, and the hotel sometimes has long check-out queues with no late check-out, I checked out at 9am and was on the road on my last day.

I had breakfast at the McDonalds down the road, and trammed off to Docklands Park where I compiled the Tram Catalogue in Part 8 – this is a selfie of me on top of the hill.

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Even though I was away from the uni, I wasn’t away from the work, and a minor misunderstanding led to frantic calls while observing trams to try and iron out the situation. I enjoyed being in a less trafficked place, a little quieter, enjoying the outside which I rarely do. I was quite content, but Melbourne weather was having none of it, so it decided to drizzle on me. After a few passing drizzles, I got bored, and headed back towards Flinders Street.

I had lunch at Lord of the Fries, where I was again, somewhat disappointed with the result. After that, I went into Flinders Street station to catch a train to Broadmeadows, essentially reversing the route I had taken to get into Melbourne.

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returning-to-airportWhen they said Melbourne Metro was mostly owned by MTR Corporation, I didn’t expect to find these large Dewhurst buttons on the lift. In fact, these appear to be the same model of buttons used on the MTR networks’ lifts. And similarly to those lifts, they are very very slow hydraulic units too. What a surprise.

I arrived at the airport over 4 hours before departure, so I had some time to kill. Exiting from the 901 bus, I was in the lower level of the carpark. I wondered just how utilized the carpark was – Sydney generally doesn’t have any free space in theirs …

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… in contrast, this Melbourne carpark is practically empty. I wanted to take a photo of the city from this top floor carpark level, but because of all the security and cameras, I decided not to. After all, I didn’t know if I could even recall the lift or open the sliding auto-doors to get back into the lift lobby, since it appears almost abandoned, but not quite.

Looking into the city, the sky was an even darker grey, with a rain shower just about to hit the city. It seemed to be my luck that I seem to be flying on relatively poor weather days.

Luckily, within the terminal, there was free Wi-Fi and I had a fully charged tablet to enjoy it with. A lot of Wikipedia reading on Melbourne’s public transport ensued along with a call to a colleague back in Sydney easily consumed the majority of the time until I could check my bags in.

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20160517-Jetstar-Baggage-ReceiptSurprisingly, at Melbourne T4, you may have already printed a boarding pass but you still have to visit the machines to print off a few boarding pass and a bag tag to do a self bag drop, rather than the assisted bag drop in Sydney.

Before I realized this, I had my own printed boarding pass in hand wondering why the bag drop machines wouldn’t read the barcode and accept my bag.

After I sorted that out, it was interesting to see the automated bag drop machines were equally as bad at reading the barcode off their printed passes, but at least, the bag was accepted with an impartial weighing. The issued receipt appears to be an image, printed out of its original aspect ratio, and a little fuzzy.

Having checked the bags in, I passed the security screening to go to get some food. I bumped into a random stranger, who spoke Cantonese as well, and had a chat with her. She apparently missed her flight earlier that morning, so had to wait until the evening to return home. The impetus for the conversation? A boarding pass that was on the floor near where I was sitting. Luckily I had spotted it and returned it to her before it went walkabouts, otherwise she would have probably had to wait for yet another flight.

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On the approach of boarding time, I decided to have a pit stop, where I … spotted this interesting label-graffiti. Seems like there are fans of VHS cassettes elsewhere too.

IMG_20160517_172737The budget T4 in Melbourne is a pretty odd place. It’s like a building at the end of a long tunnel. Prior to boarding time, the screens tell you to “Relax, boarding in x mins”.

Boarding passes and other documentation deliberately do not state any gate number. At the entrances to the gates, there’s a banner too that tells you that the gate number will be shown when it’s time to board, and that you should relax in the departure lounge.

But once boarding time arrives, the screens change to Boarding at Gate xx NOW!

When you see that, they literally do mean boarding right now, and it is a mad rush stampede down the long tunnel to the gate to make sure you don’t hold anyone up. The reason for this design? Well, there’s no real “lounge” at the gates themselves. This is a way to reduce duplication in seating and space needed to run the terminal. It’s both smart, and problematic – those with special needs (e.g. disability) appear to be late, having to make their way with a very small time window.

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By that time, the sun was setting for the evening, and I sat in the allocated seat, hoping for an on-time departure. As expected, there was a passenger mix-up with someone not making it to the plane and others in the wrong seat that led to a slight delay.

Luckily, this was a cheap flight, as Tuesday return flights tend to be cheaper, and the plane was not full. As a result, I managed to slip into the window seat just before take-off – normally unless you pay for allocated seats, you’d have no chance at a window seat because they’d “reserve” them pre-emptively for those who would pay for seat allocation after being told they have a “middle” seat.

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Because of that, and the seat pocket design, I managed to have my Garmin eTrex 10 in the seat pocket holder and received a good lock throughout the flight. The flight involved a few turns out of the airport, but was otherwise an uncomplicated and smooth flight, with no major weather impacts.

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On the approach into Sydney, there was the standard “snaking” approach, which got captured on the GPS log as well.

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Conclusion

It was a very worthwhile trip taken to Melbourne, primarily to present at OzWater’16, which also turned into a great opportunity to explore “our backyard” and appreciate some of what Melbourne had to offer, both as a “normal” tourist and a “nerdy engineer”. I definitely had a great time and I felt I made the most of my time there. In fact, what was sort of a holiday turned into some of the most productive time I’ve had in the past few months, solely because of the motivation to ensure I made the most of everything.

While this appears to be the last part, since I’m home after all, that’s not all. There’s one more part. This one’s a bit of a special posting, but it will take a little while to compile, so look out for it when it finally arrives.

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GearBest: Counterfeit Item, Uncooperative Staff, PayPal Dispute Needed

With the constant influx of innovative, new, low-cost and high quality from lesser known Chinese manufacturers, a constant battle is to find a source of these products with a good price from someone that you can trust. Online marketplaces are often ripe with counterfeit products, take a long time to fulfill orders and often lead to disappointment. To that end, there are several vendors which often receive positive recommendations, one of them being GearBest. I had worked with GearBest over a period of a year in reviewing their products under review challenge terms. While they have never failed me in supplying review products, just recently, they failed to deliver as promised, and ultimately resulted in both time and money lost.

The Problem

The particular problem order was for a Xiaomi Redmi Note 2, 32Gb for my father. The unit arrived and appeared to be counterfeit. Specific indications included …

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… this particular anti-counterfeit authentication label which had suspiciously clean text, no “anti-peel” cuts in the corners, and no tactile sensation on the printing. When checked for authenticity, it was found to be checked over 700 times at the time of receipt.

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Why an authentic product would ever carry such a fake label is beyond me. Comparison with a previously received product which was genuine shows clear differences in the label – note the cuts, tactile printing, font, etc.

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There were also some differences in the rear label including a smooth textured label with printing defects – notice bleeding on the 0’s, especially in 1080p, alignment problems with 5.5″ line, as well as vertical alignment issues with the approvals text “GB/T22450.1” which is raised above the line level, and extra spacing near “YD/T1595.1-2012”. The printing alignment is also not completely straight.

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A genuine rear label is much better aligned and does not have such defects.

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The Chase

After documenting the issues, GearBest were immediately contacted. The chronology of the case is summarized in the following table:

gearbest-case-chronologyRespectably, the item arrived in 10 days after the order was placed, however, that’s where things went south. I co-operated with every request but they failed to communicate and come to an amicable resolution.

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Specifically, they:

  • Did not address the issue which is that the item appears to be counterfeit as its anti-counterfeiting label had anomalies.
  • Continued to offer the same lousy resolution of GearBest Wallet credit of US$10 + 5*cost of item in GearBest Points – but the “conversion” rate is 50 points per US$1, and the points cannot be greater than 30% of the purchase value and are only valid up to 6 months. As a result, they were only offering me US$24.375 of “in store” value with lots of caveats for a mistake they made.
  • Did not seem to care that I was a reviewer of their products and worked with them right up to the order date. This seems a very foolish decision on their behalf, but at least their after-sales team seems to play the hard ball with everyone.
  • Afterwards, was only willing to accept the product back with a refund into GearBest Wallet, but with shipment at my cost. Again, unreasonable as the mistake is on their part, and I will be both out of pocket in shipment fees and out of pocket in terms of being without real cash.
  • Did not care that I had contacted a person from within Xiaomi who confirmed the item I received was indeed counterfeit.

Specifically, I had to resort to using PayPal Buyer Protection, and open a case. As of the 12th May, I took a screenshot of their buyer protection policy link which stated:

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It clearly stated that the item was to be collected by the seller at their expense.

The Mediator

After opening a PayPal case, GearBest seemed to take their time on everything. Only after five days did they then open a ticket in return claiming that they noticed that I opened a case against them. I provided the information for the other ticket, and told them that I had wasted enough time and effort and provided enough chances for a resolution.

It was only after this that they were willing to accept a return, with them requesting that I use “standard” shipping and that I pay for the return. At this point, I felt disinclined to co-operate and deferred the decision to PayPal, as I believed that the seller would not be co-operative and could claim the item had “gone missing” on return and then I’d be at a total loss.

GearBest was not above offering a very similar lousy offer of US$20 partial refund through PayPal to settle the case. Such a resolution only benefits the seller, as the buyer is left with a potential lemon. Counterfeit products have no support from the original manufacturer, might not have the same features, quality, longevity, safety, etc. If you accepted such a refund and the item suffers premature failure due to poor build quality, or has been tampered with and contains backdoors, or maybe even blows up in your pocket and takes off a leg, there’s no-one you can go to. It also negates the fact that such products are illegal and infringe on the intellectual property of others.

After declining the offer, PayPal requested the item be returned at my cost to the seller. This seemed at odds with the screenshot I took above of their policy, so I had contacted them three times to enquire and complain about this, as this is the seller’s mistake and I should not be out of pocket especially given the policy.

The first reply was totally boilerplate with no reference to the link supplied nor sympathy for the problem. The second reply was similar, drawing an analogy to “returning an item to a physical shop”, and not referring to their policy. By the time the third reply appeared, I magically found the document link I had used suddenly turned into a “not found” and that their new policy said that the return cost was to be borne by the purchaser.

Reluctantly, I sent the item back at a cost to me of AU$36.31 by tracked (no signature) as requested by PayPal and provided the documentation as requested. A one week delay was inevitable, as I was in Melbourne for my conference.

The item was delivered by 29th May, according to the tracking, but no updates occurred to the case. I sent an enquiry about the case on the 8th June, which resulted in a request for delivery and lodgement confirmation which I immediately provided. It was only ten days later that I had received a refund, seemingly due to a time out in waiting for a response from the company.

The Fallout

This case shows a failure in the customer service of GearBest. They failed to resolve the problem while it was in their hands, and they failed to accept responsibility for their mistakes. They initially were very timely on the responses, but that soon faded as soon as they realized that I was not an easy target that they could get away with dumping a product on.

Their lack of timely response ultimately costed a total of 51 days lost in trying to resolve the issue and a net financial loss of AU$39.25 in postage fees and currency conversion losses in the refund, which is 20% of the original purchase price due to the fault of GearBest and their suppliers.

Their lack of timely response towards the end seems to be a deliberate measure to frustrate and possibly delay the publication of this article – which I had promised, would be forthcoming. As a result, I can say that they have definitely done themselves a disservice, as I won’t be shopping with them again.

While it would be immature to claim that people should boycott a particular store over a single bad experience, I think prospective purchasers should think twice especially when it relates to higher value items. Grey importers and resellers are often known for problematic after-sales support, and it seems GearBest is no different. Don’t expect them to understand your issues, and don’t expect them to provide reasonable resolutions. Don’t even expect them to answer to acknowledge receipt of your package – and potentially be completely out of pocket. Purchasers should weigh up whether it is worth the risk to purchase from a particular seller, in light of the potential hoops they may have to jump through to make ends meet, and the potential for being out-of-pocket, either completely or partially. In short, GearBest failed me big time, and even when forewarned about the article that would eventuate, they failed to take action.

Buyers should also be proactive and use all technical measures to verify the authenticity of the goods they receive, and have rightfully paid for. Settling for a counterfeit item is often a poor choice, as it lets the seller get away with illegal trading of counterfeit goods and leaves you with a sub-par product. Check those anti-counterfeit labels and look for packaging discrepancies.

It also highlights the need for buyer protection mechanisms when dealing with such stores. Without having used an “escrow” type payment service, in this case, PayPal with buyer protection, I would have had no leverage against the company who were deliberately misunderstanding and repeatedly offering unacceptable resolutions. The additional surcharge (in some cases) is definitely worth it for the peace of mind which can come about using such services.

However, that being said, PayPal could have done much better. Their case reviewers took a lot of time to reach conclusions, and the long periods of “waiting” for a response from the other party were excruciating. Worse still, is their customer service. When enquiring and complaining about having to foot the return shipping costs on three separate occasions, they failed to explain correctly in regards to what appeared to be a recently changed policy in regards to counterfeit items, and failed to inform me that I was eligible for Refunded Returns, which requires pre-registration and submission of details within 14 days of lodgement. As a result, I was out of pocket on shipping costs. I think it’s pretty obvious that if someone is complaining about something, and you have a product to address that particular complaint that you let your customer know!

Further to that, because of the way PayPal handles currency conversion, and because the transaction was charged in US$, a few dollars were lost in the refund because of the movement in exchange rates – which PayPal likely had profited from. This is not particularly fair, given the fact that it was termed a “reversal”. As a result, a buyer can stand to lose out even if they have their return postage refunded.

Conclusion

GearBest supplied a counterfeit item, and failed to resolve the problem amicably, reasonably or accept responsibility in the face of proof. Their lack of timely response ultimately costed a total of 51 days lost in trying to resolve the issue and a net financial loss of AU$39.25 in postage fees and currency conversion losses in the refund, which is 20% of the original purchase price due to the fault of GearBest and their suppliers.

I can say that they have definitely done themselves a disservice, as I won’t be shopping with them again. Prospective purchasers should really think twice about dealing with them, especially for high value items, and consider the use of Buyer Protection, following through with it if necessary. Without the leverage provided by PayPal, I would have had no chances of recovering any money at all.

While they present a positive side to reviewers, and have a large presence amongst websites with their aggressive marketing offers, their after-sales support is a problem and they seem prone to deliberate misunderstanding of the problem and continued attempts to “keep” any money they have obtained by offering in-store credit. To not acknowledge the problem in the face of clear proof is irresponsible, and the sale of counterfeit items illegal.

PayPal could have also done better in response to my complaints and enquiries about return postage charges which were to be borne by the seller under previous policy. If they had informed me about their own Refunded Returns scheme, I could have saved most of my losses.

As of the publication of this article, I am officially severing all ties with GearBest and I will no longer accept any more of their products for review. Articles already published will remain online, as the products themselves are not at fault, but I urge you to reconsider before purchasing from them.

Posted in Computing, Electronics, Opinion, Telecommunications | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments