With a knock at my door and some noise from the kids and dog, the UPS man hands me an unexpected box. Upon close inspection I see the Netwark and Element 14 logos peeking out from under the brown packing tape. My heart started racing as it dawned on me my first Road Test had arrived. This was quite unexpected since I hadn't received or had totally missed any email notifying me of this opportunity. Of the 4 or 5 Road Tests I applied for I couldn't wait to find out which one it was. I opened the box and was shocked to find this wonderful Agilent U1272A and Bluetooth adapter. I was shocked because this was the one item I applied for that I was sure I wouldn't get. Only after filling out the application did I catch the part about needing an Android device for this review. As I recall I did make it clear in my application that I own a couple of iPod Touches.
First order of business was to take everything out and see what was there and compare it against the parts list. As far as the DMM goes everything was present and accounted for. It was nice to see a copy of the Certificate Of Calibration along with printouts showing each meter setting and range, and the margin of error for each and the expected margin of error within a year. Upon opening the U1177A IR-to-Bluetooth adapter and checking the instructions for what was included in the box I found that the space in the box for the batteries where missing. But have no fear I found that the batteries where already installed in the unit. This leads me to believe it had been opened and wondering if there was anything else in there.
It has been a while since I had my hands on a DMM with more than the basic functions like AC/DC voltage and Ohms measurements I needed to take a good look at the included quick start guide. Not having much experience with a commercial grade DMM the quick start guide was a decent start. I'm sure those with more experience and familiar with these more advanced functions will see the quick start guide as a fairly helpful document. Being a relative beginner with all these new features it wasn't a whole lot of help. So I had to find some more in depth instructions for the unit. Fortunately Agilent has easy to find manuals in PDF format online. I want to be clear about this. I was not expecting the full manual in the box. This unit is targeted at the professional user and the full manual isn't needed for that target group.
I then moved on to the operating instruction for the Bluetooth adapter. I was rather disappointed in the sparse documentation for the adapter. The Road Test description mentioned the ability to pair the device with an Android phone or tablet. But nowhere in the documentation were there any instructions for pairing it with a phone/tablet or any indication of what app is needed to work with the adapter. The paperwork did give good instruction for pairing the device with your PC and makes mention of how to connect the DMM to Agilent GUI Data Logger via the adapter. It was only after I did a web search on Agilent GUI Data Logger did i find out that this was the software needed on the PC to utilize the Bluetooth connection. If this adapter is going to be targeted at Android users it should at least have some indication as to how to connect it and what app is needed. It just feels like some paperwork may have been missing from my box.
The meter fells good and sturdy in your hands. The rubberised plastic shell fells like it can take a decent impact without damaging the internals. The case has a raised lip around the outside edge of the face of the unit which will help prevent the screen from getting scratch and the buttons from being damaged in a fall. However the rotary dial sticks out enough that it could sustain some damage. The unit with Bluetooth adapter attached weighs in at 691 Grams or just over 1 pound 8 oz. Kind of a hefty unit but if your leaving it for remote data logging purposes it's not too bad.
If you hold down the Null/Scale button while turning the unit it will display the firmware version. In this case it’s on firmware version 2.00. Holding down the Trig/Auto/Hold button while turning the unit on will display all of the screen indicators.
I love the curvy design of the meter. It has a more aesthetic appeal to it than your typical DMMs which are rather fat and round. Making it fit in your hand much easier than comparable meters. The profile looks a little odd with the adapter riding piggyback. But the adapter is set up high enough and out of the way so it doesn't hinder your ability to comfortably hold the meter.
There are a few aspects of this unit that bug me. When you turn the unit on it gives a load beep. I don't know why it is set like this but it does get old fast. This is not a feature you find in Fluke meters but it is pretty standard with the cheaper meters I've owned. Another issue I have is the Off position on the dial. In every meter I've ever seen or used the Off position is at the end of the dial's rotation. Yet Agilent decided to place the Zlow at the end of the dial's rotation. So you have to pay attention when turning the meter off. Don't get me wrong I love the Zlow feature of the unit and wish it came on cheaper units. But they could have flipped the placement of the off and Zlow functions on the dial. Another feature I dislike about the unit is the oversized test leads and the insulation running all the way to the tip of the leads. I much prefer the smaller modified leads I have on my Radio Shack meter.
I found an odd quirk in the firmware I don't like. When you have used the continuity tester then move the selector switch over to another setting the back light will automatically come on. It doesn't happen all the time and i suspect it has something to do with the way the meter flashes the back light when it detects a short. If the back light happens to be off when you remove the leads from a short the back light won't come on when the selector switch is moved. But if the back light was on in the split second it takes to remove the leads from a short then the back light will come on and stay on when you move the selector switch.
The adapter connects to the back of the unit lining up its IR transmitter and receiver with the transmitter and receiver ports on the meter. It fits perfectly between the test lead clamps and snaps into place well enough to survive an moderate (3ft) fall without falling off. Removing the leads while the adapter is plugged in is easy. If you want to put the leads back into the clamps you will need to remove the adapter first. Unless you are using another set of leads other then the ones provided. The adapter snaps tightly into place on the back of the unit. It is apparent the adapter is not designed to sit away from the meter. Or rather the meter isn't designed to transmit and receive data over any kind of distance since the IR transmitter and receiver are inset into the case as far as they are. The Adapter has to be connected to the meter to connect with the meter.
Now let’s see about connecting the adapter to the PC. The operating instructions do a good job of giving you step by step instructions to pair the adapter with a PC running XP. When it came to starting up the Agilent GUI Data Logger it had trouble connecting with the meter. After checking the Bluetooth connection I found that the PC wasn't detecting the adapter. A quick restart of the adapter fixed the problem. When a connection is made between the PC and Adapter the Remote icon pops up in the top left corner of the meter indicating the connection.
According to the operating instruction that came with the adapter you are able to use Hyper Terminal to configure the adapter using AT commands. From what I understand of it you can go in and configure the adapter's settings as needed from there using the command functions listed in the instructions. But I see no reason to change the default configuration of the adapter.
The adapter is basically the wireless version of the U1173A IR-to-USB connectivity cable. It is able to connect with the Data Logging software and perform firmware updates just like it's USB cousin.
Agilent’s GUI Data Logger Software is fairly easy to use. It wasn't hard to figure out the basic functions of the software without needing the user manual. A simple search of the Agilent web site yielded the 23 page user’s guide. Be sure to read it and see all that the software has to offer. Once the meter is connected to the PC all you have to do is select the Data Logging button in the app and hit the play button to get the readings to display on your PC. At any time you can pause or stop the readings on the screen.Measurement data from the multi-meter is captured automatically and sorted in the Data Logging Table. Just hit the Data Logging tab to see the spreadsheet. The meter itself also has the ability to store readings into its own internal memory. These readings can then be retrieved and logged with the software in the Memory tab.
A very interesting feature of the software is the ability to control the meter from your PC. The controls are limited and based on what function on the meter you have selected. For example in the picture the meter is set to Ohms. So the available options are toggling between Resistance, Conductance and Continuity. You also have the option to set the rage. Once you have made your selections you hit the Send Command button and the meter is updated with those parameters. You'll have to select the Data Logging button again and hit the play button again to get the Virtual meter to show the current readings. Also in the Left hand column you have option to enable and disable auto power off and the back light. It seems to default to disabling the auto power off. If you enable the back light the meter immediately turns on the back light. Upon disabling the back light the meter allows the delay time on the back light to kick in. Another interesting feature if the Find Meter button. When you hit the Find meter button it makes the meter beep and activates the back light.
One issue I see with the software is it doesn't seem to indicate battery level for you. The feature is there as you can see at the bottom of the software screen shots. I don't know if its just not working or if the Bluetooth adapter isn't able to pass on that information. I encountered some instability in the software with some random crashes as I was jumping around between menu options and trying the various functions. Any time I tired to recreate the actions i believe lead to the crash i could not repeat the problem.I do hope future updates will enable the battery level on the meter to be reported to the PC. I'm also looking forward to an APP for iOS so those of us with an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch can take full advantage of the Bluetooth adapter.
I took the opportunity to look at the release notes for the software. The most recent update disabled all secondary display features the software had. So in the Virtual Meter screen all you see is a line where there should be the same secondary readings that the meter has. I'm guessing the secondary display was the cause for several bug in the software. I do hope Agilent is able to work these issues out and bring back all the features of the software.
Agilent GUI Data Logger 188.8.131.52 Release Notes
1. Offer only None and Frequency modes in secondary display.
2. Removed Temperature, Pulse Duty, Pulse Width, dBm, dBV modes in secondary display.
3. Disable Dual Display On/Dual Display Off button located at Remote Controls.
4. Disable Secondary button located at Data Logging Table.
5. Bug fixes for U1230 Series, U1240 Series, U1250 Series, and U1270 Series.
I have found one major change that needs to be made to the Bluetooth adapter that can affect its overall usefulness. After about 5 to 10 minutes of the adapter not detecting a signal is will shut itself off. While this is good for saving the battery there should be an option to disable this feature. This will allow technicians to have several meters set up at various locations around the work place. As the technician makes their rounds the Phone/Tablet app will pick up when one of the meters is in range and connect to it giving the technician the info they need. Since I haven't been able to evaluate the app I'm not sure if it will remember previous adapter settings and allow an automatic connection. If not then the app should be updated to allow for this when the adapters are upgraded for this feature.
With everything connected and working well I took the Meter and adapter across my house with line of site between the adapter and the Bluetooth dongle on my PC. The PC lost connecting with the meter at about 25 feet. When I put about 15 feet and 3 house hold walls between the meter and PC the 2 lost the connection. Not too bad since both the Agilent adapter and Bluetooth dongle are rated for up to 30 feet. So as far as I can tell the adapter has pretty good signal strength.
Finally we get to battery life. The Bluetooth adapter used 2x AAA sized batteries. After about 28 hours of continues use the red battery indicator starts to blink and there is a bit of a flicker in the green power LED. At just under 30 hours the adapter power level is still high enough to keep it on but not enough to maintain a connection even 2 feet away from the PC. Testing the batteries they are down to 1.1volts. I am rather disappointed in the battery life on the adapter. I can understand the choice to use a pair of AAA batteries to keep the adapter size down while still offering decent battery life. But I for one wouldn't mind a slightly larger and heavier adapter if it means longer run times on the adapter. At the very least move up to using AA batteries. Personally I'd like to see it running on 4x AAA batteries to double the run time. I'd rather not have to change the batteries every day. Kind of defeats the purpose of remote data logging equipment for any period of time. Especially if you need more then 24 hours worth of data.
Near 55 hours of constant use has finally drained the batteries enough to loose one of the three bars on the battery indicator. The back light has been used as little as possible this round so I can get the max run time out of the 4x AAA batteries. Any time I do engage the back light (either with the back light button or from a continuity test), while the batteries where new, I lost one bar on the battery meter. That bar would return once the back light was turned off. So the back light does put a bit of a strain on the batteries. After 151 hours of use the meter has finally started to flash the battery indicator. According to the manual that indicates less then a day of use left on the batteries. As I understand it a decent DMM should be able to run at least 100 hours before needing a battery change. So it looks like the U1272A has pretty good battery life. I've used multiple different settings through this process. At the 174 hour mark the low battery indicator is flashing on all settings except for the ACV and ACmV settings. On the AC settings the battery indicator shows 1 bar but the screen appears faded. Its hard to tell in the pictures but it is very noticeable otherwise. The battery indicator on the AC side won't loose the last bar and start flashing till you almost can't read what is on the screen. I believe this to be a firmware issue and have reported it to Agilent.
At this point if you try the use the back light the light comes on great but the screen is faded to the point you can't read it. Below is a picture of the screen with the back light on.
At a little over 220 hours of testing the screen on the AC side is nearly unreadable and the other screens are starting to fade. So I think its safe to say this meter has a good workable battery life of about 200 hours. So I replaced the battery with a fresh set and start testing with then back light on all the time. This will give me a good idea of the minimum battery life the unit has. After 12 hours of running we are back to the same problem as before. The AC settings show a single bar on the battery indicator while all other settings are flashing the low indicator signal. When the back light is turned off we get 1 bar back on the battery indicator. So that back light is a major power drain. Wouldn't want to turn that on by mistake while doing any long term remote data logging.
After about 30 hours of use with the back light on the screen is unreadable and the batteries are nearly dead. If you run the back light all the time you can expect between 26 and 30 hours of usable battery life. I love the nice and bright back light but having the option for multiple brightness levels like Fluke meters have would be a nice feature.
Overall this is a great unit with more features then I can cover here. The battery life of the unit is outstanding though I wish the adapter's battery life was better. Some improvements can be made to the software package for the PC. Such as the ability to automatically connect to the Bluetooth adapter when the PC detects its presence. There does seem to be some stability issue with the software. If other operations are taking place on the PC the software does loose connection with the adapter even though the PC still detects it. Like I said this only seemed to happen when I was doing other things on the PC. When left overnight the software wouldn't loose the connection. But overall the software gives you everything you need for monitoring equipment remotely.
I wish I could have done a more in depth review of these items. Unfortunately I couldn't get a hold of an Android device I could borrow for a couple of days to test that side of the Bluetooth adapter. I also couldn't get the adapter to pair up with either my Vista or Win7 system. But I was able to install and run the GUI Data Logger software on the systems and run it without a problem. So pairing issues aside I'm sure there isn't any difference running everything on a Vista/Win7 system. A round of Road Tests have already been done on the U1272A. This review is more focused on the U1177A IR-to-Bluetooth adapter, its functions and software. If you would like to learn more about the U1272A HH DMM then check out the reviews on the user's manual.
The issue I encountered with the battery indicator not reading correctly on the AC settings has been reported to Agilent. I look forward to seeing a future firmware update that may address this issue. I also hope an iOS app is being developed to take advantage of the IR-to-Blutooth adapter.