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BLE Sensor Tag Demo Module for Android/iOS - Review

Scoring

Product Performed to Expectations: 8
Specifications were sufficient to design with: 7
Demo Software was of good quality: 5
Product was easy to use: 8
Support materials were available: 6
The price to performance ratio was good: 8
TotalScore: 42 / 60
  • RoadTest: BLE Sensor Tag Demo Module for Android/iOS
  • Buy Now
  • Evaluation Type: Semiconductors
  • Was everything in the box required?: Yes
  • Comparable Products/Other parts you considered: Numerous BLE Tag boards from other vendors.
  • What were the biggest problems encountered?: There is no way to measure current. The board offers no mounting options for use in a prototype. The mobile app is very limited in functionality.

  • Detailed Review:

    te sensor tag

     

     

    Important Notes

    This RoadTest is unique for me because I am RoadTesting the wrong device. Here is what happened. My normal process for these reviews is to avoid reading other reviews while writing mine. I do not want the experience of others to bias what I say or test. However, afterward, I like to compare them to see if I missed something. My intention is that I'm less likely to remove my bias. In this case, I realized, my board didn't match the other two reviews. Why?

     

    Well, element14 sent me a module in December. I threw it in my bag with the intention to do some testing over the holiday break. However. I couldn't find it after that. Assuming I had lost it, I decided to "do the right thing" and buy my own module to replace it. After all, it was only $20, and I needed to order other stuff from newark.com anyway. That was in early January.  As with most lost items, a few days after getting the new one, I found the old one. Until writing this review, I did not realize the board is different.

     

    Road testers were sent a WPP100B001 while the "Buy Now" link leads to the WPP100B009, which is what I bought. To be frank, the TE datasheets make identifying these boards nearly impossible. With that said. The comments about the module, the mobile app, and the sensor performance are all the same between the two boards. The only difference I feel I should mention is that the WPP100B001 actually comes with two temperature sensors on board.

     

    The WPP100B009 Module

    The unit arrived in an unremarkable box. It took me a few minutes to figure out what exactly it was. Then I remembered I was selected for the RoadTest. The antistatic bag provided limited clues to a starting point. Eventually, I found the datasheet, which has a section that tells you which guide to download based on Android, Windows, or iOS. I've provided links here to save you the google search that the datasheet forces on you.

     

    The board measures about 20 mm by 43 mm. In the picture above, you can see the business side with the micro, radio, and sensor. The backside is just a clip for the 2032 battery. As an evaluation module, I think this board misses the mark, significantly. The sensor package is touted as a low-energy solution. However, this board provides zero means for measuring current consumption. I suppose you could de-solder the battery clip and put some wires there. But it would have been nice to have some pads or something to connect with. Keep in mind that when measuring the kind of current this device would draw, you need a very low burden ammeter.

     

    Next, there are no easy access points to talk to the sensors. Which means if I wanted to implement my own BLE radio chipset, this board would not be of much use. I can't talk directly to the sensors, only through the onboard BLE. I can't even use this as a reference design because the data sheet for the module does not say what chip is being used.

     

    My final issue with the module is that there is no way to mount it into any kind of prototype. There are no mounting holes. And because of how the battery clip is attached, there are no clean edges for a clip. So the board really only exists as a platform to test the silicon but not test it in an application. I'm not all that happy with the board, so let's see how the sensors perform next.

     

    The Mobile App

    In my setup, I only have an iOS device to test with. I don't have a Windows computer nor do I have any Android devices (available). The instructions say to search the App Store for "TE Connectivity Sensor Solutions" or "MEAS Sensors Tag." At the time of writing, neither is in the store. There is, however, a "TE Sensor Tag" app with the same icon, so I installed that one.

     

    TE Sensor Tag App in the Apple App Store

     

    After launching the App, I had to press the small button on the board to start BLE operation. There is a blue LED that flickers quickly. The device immediately showed up in the list and I tapped it.

     

     

    Out of the gate, the app is showing me the temperature, humidity, and barometric pressure data. Those are the three things that the MS8607 measure. The graph seems a bit erratic to me, but it is due to the graph's scaling. So do not let the jagged readings throw you off. Sitting on my desk, all three measurements are relatively stable. (Note with the silicon on the WPP100B001 you would only see humidity and temperature on this screen. Barometric pressure was available by selecting another sensor.)

     

    MS8607 measuring temperature, humidity, and pressure

     

    It was at this point, I realized the app could not be rotated. To me, graph data lends itself best to landscape mode but this demo app is stuck in portrait. Here an example of why that is annoying. Here are two screenshots, side-by-side, where I grasped the TE sensor tag into my hand. You can see it reacts to the increased heat from my body, but it takes me two screens to see the trend. Also, am I missing the time scale on the X-Axis?

     

     

    For what it is worth, my Braun ThermoScan infrared thermometer says my body temp is currently 36.9°C. Granted, that is measured in my ear. Sorry element14 community, but I am not sticking the TE sensor tag into my ear.

     

    Now my complaints with the app might be brushed off. After all, the datasheet gives you some bare minimum information on how to communicate with it using BLE. However. In my opinion, the spirit of this test is the module itself. So to me, that includes the software that comes along with it to demonstrate the hardware. But more on my feelings about that in a bit. For now, let's go to another extreme and one that has a bit of calibration associated with it — my freezer. I placed the TE sensor tag into the fridge and shut the door.

     

    Recording Freezing Temperatures

     

     

    By the way, you might notice two things: my freezer is mostly empty and I have a box of thin mints. The attached note is from my brother. He sent me the secret recipe for making the famous Thin Mint cookies yourself.  Please do not steal this, now, family recipe.

     

    While it was in the freezer, I used the App's record mode to see what it would capture. It creates a CSV file with Date, Humidity, Temperature, Pressure, and the battery's level. You hit the record button, let the app run for a while, and then tap it again to stop it. On iOS the share sheet automatically opens. I saved the file to my iCloud Drive so I could open it on my computer. On my first attempt, I did run into one issue. I wanted to show the temperature change from idle to running. I collected data for about 15 minutes. When I stopped the recording, the app crashed. So I lost that track.

     

     

    Even though the file saves as a "comma separated values," the separator is a semicolon. I threw the data collected into a google sheet and graphed it. The TE iOS app saved samples at one-second intervals.

     

    data graph of temperature, humidity, pressure, and battery level

    The freezer control panel says it is set to -17 °C. The graph above is sitting in the freezer while it ran for about 10 minutes. The yellow battery level is useful because it tells how cold the board itself is getting. As it gets colder, the battery’s ESR goes up and its output voltage goes down. Looks like the compressor is blowing out a consistently cold temperature. Can anyone help me understand why the relative-humidity would shift so much? Is it related to how a freezer works? (See below.) Now that the board has soaked for a while, let’s see how it reacts to an idle freezer.

    The red line slightly trends up and to the right, as you expect. The freezer is slowly warming up over about a 6-minute span. Relative-humidity is also tracking the temperature change, which I would expect to see. And that poor battery. It is just getting killed by the cold temperatures!

     

    thermal camera capturing in my freezer

     

    I did grab my thermal attachment to see if it agreed with the temperature readings. For some reason, it was taking the picture upside down. So I've provided a right-side-up PIP-view of the temp reading. It says -12°C which I say agrees with the readings from the sensor board. (It took almost a minute for me to get the camera picture to work so I expected the temps to be slightly different.)

     

    Conclusion

    Regarding the sensors, they operate as expected. My disappointment is with the overall module. As an evaluation board, there isn't much I can evaluate other than some of the stuff I provided above. The lack of any easy way to measure current is really a bummer. I would have liked to experiment with ultra low current measurements, but I didn't want to go to the extreme of modifying the board. My inability to mount the board to anything totally leaves out an opportunity for me to put it into a project or prototype.

     

    So the overall value is "reasonable." The board is less than $20 on newark.com. You'll get a good idea of how the sensors work, though you'll be limited to how you can test them.


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