|Product Performed to Expectations:||10|
|Specifications were sufficient to design with:||10|
|Demo Software was of good quality:||10|
|Product was easy to use:||10|
|Support materials were available:||8|
|The price to performance ratio was good:||8|
|TotalScore:||56 / 60|
I have always known Taiyo Yuden for their capacitors and other quality electronic components. I was also aware that they made ultra compact Bluetooth modules too but I never had the need to purchase any.
This road test gave me the opportunity to see one for real and it certainly did not disappoint. For that, I'd like to thank Element14 and Taiyo Yuden for providing the product.
These modules are a masterful creation just to look at, but what’s the product onboarding process like and how do they perform. Let’s find out.
This road test was supposed to be just for the EKSHSNZWZ (nRF52832 based) Evaluation Kit but we were first provided with the EKSNSNZWW (nRF52811 based) Evaluation Kit before being sent the EBSHSNZWZ Evaluation Board. So you are now getting two reviews for the price of one.
These Taiyo Yuden Bluetooth Low Energy modules are based on the nRF52 Nordic Semiconductor chipsets. There are four different varieties:
The two modules being presented here in this road test are part of Taiyo Yuden’s ultra-compact range.
They are quite similar in many respects, but they do have some important differences (these are shown in bold):
|EYSHSNZWZ (nRF52832)||EYSNSNZWW (nRF52811)|
|Outline: 3.25 x 8.55 x 0.85 mm||Outline: 3.25 x 8.55 x 1.00 mm|
|28-pin Land Grid Array / 15GPIOs / SWD||28-pin Land Grid Array / 15GPIOs / SWD|
|Single power supply: 1.7 – 3.6V||Single power supply: 1.7 – 3.6V|
|ARM Cortex M4F 32bit processor||ARM Cortex M4F 32bit processor|
|512KB flash and 64KB RAM||192KB flash and 24KB RAM|
|Integrated System Clock (32MHz crystal)||Integrated System Clock (32MHz crystal)|
|SPI, UART, I2C, I2S, PDM and 12bit ADC||SPI, UART, I2C, PDM and 12bit ADC|
|Bluetooth® Version: 5.0 (2Mbps mode)||Bluetooth® Version: 5.2 (support : 2M / 1M / 500k / 125kbps / AoA / AoD)|
|Output power: +4dBm typ.||Output power: +4dBm typ.|
|Integrated high performance pattern antenna||Integrated high performance pattern antenna|
Bluetooth® and Japan, FCC, ISED qualified
Complies with standards required by RED (2014/53/EU)
Bluetooth® and Japan, FCC, ISED qualified
Complies with standards required by RED (2014/53/EU)
Taiyo Yuden are not the only manufacturer who use Nordic Semiconductor licensed wireless technology. In fact, Nordic Semiconductor provide a list of all the 3rd parties who use their chipsets. There are 74 3rd party modules listed for nRF52832 (although much fewer are generally available via distributors) and there are 12 listed for nRF52811 (although very few are generally available at the moment). As can be seen from the charts below the EYSHSNZWZ and the EYSNSNZWW modules are the smallest in the market and are also competitively priced for mass production purposes.
|EYSHSNZWZ (nRF52832)||EYSNSNZWW (nRF52811)|
To demonstrate that the Taiyo Yuden EYSHSNZWZ (nRF52832) module really is the smallest SiP on the market, here it is next to the ON Semiconductor’s RSL10 SiP module, which would also be considered as a compact BLE module.
But we shouldn't "judge a book by its cover", so let's delve a little deeper.
The product arrives in a sturdy foldable gloss-white and red box with the Taiyo Yuden logo and the words "Handle with care" and "Wireless Module" in bold print. Then there is a big label on the lid which tells you that you have an "Evaluation Kit" and it gives you the EVK model number and informs you which module is used. It is interesting to note that no digital references, such as website addresses, are shown anywhere on the packaging.
Opening up the box you then get a gloss white cardboard cutout which is protecting or hiding the contents from view. Removing that you then get a double-sided printed paper insert, titled “How to get Documents for Bluetooth low energy Module”. This insert provides you with important product information. On the front side there is the URL, http://www.yuden.co.jp/ut/product/category/module/lineup.html#Bluetooth which drops you into the yuden.co.jp website on a product category page at the bookmark reference #Bluetooth. On the reverse side, there is a confidentiality notice stating that the URL provided here is intended for the purchaser only and that the unique passcode provided is not to be shared.
My immediate reaction, as a suggestion for improvement, was that it would’ve been nice to have been given a QR code on the front side of this page, instead of requiring me to type out the URL manually. I also discovered that if you leave out the “www”, which is often taken as optional these days, it does not redirect you but instead tells you “no page found”.
Regarding the reverse side, I don't see the point of using secret passcodes etc. as I have not come across any other vendor that does this (usual practice is sign up with user details in website and this is sufficient). What makes this process rather distracting is that the Taiyo Yuden backend system then plasters watermarks on these confidential technical documents. This renders these documents useless for electronic based viewing and data extraction, such as clicking on the URL’s provided in the document and cut 'n pasting important information from the document into the IDE, for example. In my opinion, there are better methods out there that are actually more effective at digital data protection than this method, if that is the primary concern.
The electronics are then provided in bubble wrap and the Segger J-Link Lite is bagged in plastic with a mini-USB cable.
Using the URL give to us on the font side of the paper insert, we are then presented with the complete list, in tabular form, of the Taiyo Yuden’s Bluetooth product range. Linked to every product are two PDF documents (see last two columns in table), namely:
If we scroll down the webpage we will see all the Evaluation Boards listed. Alternatively, we can click on the link provided in the product listing (3rd last column), which will take us to the specific product page for the module (as shown below).
On this page we have a listing of all the PDF documentation, which includes user manuals and test reports, and there are also some ready made sample applications available (i.e. a DFU and a Mesh sample application – note that these sample apps were not tested in this review).
The document I found useful to get started with is the PDF document titled "Evaluation Board/Kit Manual". Within this document we are presented with a schematic for the Evaluation Board, a board layout diagrame and a table for the GPIO pin names.
Returning to our paper insert again. When we use the URL give here and type in our secret passcode, we are then provided with some quickstart technical documents. Despite the watermarks, these Taiyo Yuden Quickstart Guides provide a clear and concise set of getting started instructions. These documents offer guidance on how to get started using some of the free embedded code development IDE’s, such as Segger Embedded Studio, for example. The document then leads you into how to set up and use one of the Nordic Semiconductor examples, which come bundled in with the Nordic nRF5 Bluetooth SDK.
You can also find Getting Started guides for a variety of IDE’s and the RF52 product range on the Nordic Semiconductor website, if the Taiyo Yuden option is not to your liking. E.g. https://infocenter.nordicsemi.com/pdf/getting_started_ses.pdf. There are also a number of YouTube videos about how to use the Segger Embedded Studio IDE on the Nordic Website. https://www.nordicsemi.com/Software-and-tools/Development-Tools/Segger-Embedded-Studio/Get-Started
Let's now take a look at using one of the Nordic Semiconductor SDK examples, which are referred to in the Taiyo Yuden documentation.
We will start with the EBSHSNZWZ (nRF52832) board and use a BLE peripheral example found in the ble_app_uart folder. This example is also covered in the quick start guides for both the EYSHSNZWZ (nRF52832) and the EYSNSNZWW (nRF52811) modules. For those who are not familiar with the Nordic Semiconductor SDK, explanations about the examples are only found on the website (you can search for “UART/Serial Port Emulation over BLE” on their website or click here) as I found no supporting documentation, such as a “Readme” file in the example code folders.
The example works as explained, although I had to make one change within the sdk_config.h file to get the debug output on my SES debug terminal (I use a Linux OS computer). This is not documented. I found the solution on a Nordic Semiconductor forum webpage. So, to get the NRF_LOG_INFO messages with this example I had to change:
Here is a video walking you through the process of using Segger Embedded Studio to flash and debug the board. In this video I used the latest Nordic SDK (version 17).
The process is much the same to get started with the EBSNSNZWW (nRF52811) board. Although, for this board you need to make further config changes to both the sdk_config.h file and to the common compiler config settings. These are all clearly explained within the Taiyo Yuden Quick Start Guide.
There is no more hand holding from Taiyo Yuden beyond that example. You are left to work through the examples found within the NRF5 SDK yourself. As someone starting with Segger Embedded Studio and the Nordic SDK for the first time, I had no real problems getting to understand these examples. It probably helped that I have a good understanding of the BLE stack.
Looking through these examples, I wondered what sort of tests could be done.
I did find one very useful example demonstrating data throughput, which was done by Taiyo Yuden themselves. This demo can be viewed on YouTube and the code is also available on GitHub. This example used two nRF52832 boards. I thought about using the EBSNSNZWW (nRF52811) board together with the EBSHSNZWZ (nRF52832) board but this would require a good deal of code mods to get it working, only because the EBSNSNZWW does not have a central function and would require stripping out this functionality in the code. So I put this aside for another rainy day. Note that this code is based on the Experimential:ATT_MTU Throughput example found in the nRF5 BLE Central & Peripheral folder.
I then wondered if there was a way to test wireless communication distance. So I tried out a BLE link loss test, which can be done using the BLE peripheral Proximity example.
Here I used a nRF52840 USB dongle and the nRF Connect software for my laptop. This allowed my Laptop to act as the BLE central device. Then each peripheral device was tested separately.
Anyhow, running the test with my three different peripheral devices just confirmed to me that using the Link Loss as a test for distance is probably not that insightful to someone like me who is not a wireless communication expert. The distance results achieved by all three boards were pretty much the same where the link loss alarm was triggered at approximately 10 metres away when using 0dB as the transmit (TX) power and the default settings for the nRF Connect software and within the Link Loss code.
Here is a video showing the results. You will notice that I also added in some extra code to deliver an alarm on the peripheral device when link loss was detected. You may also notice that I was walking away from the BLE central device and no doubt my body mass would have played its part in partially blocking the signal. It at least confirms that despite the minute size of the modules, they perform just as well the another module with a PCB trace antenna. It is also worth noting that the Taiyo Yuden development boards also include solder pads for an external antenna.
I then spent a bit more time evaluating the EBSNSNZWW (nRF52811) board, as this is more constrained than the EBSHSNZWZ board as it has smaller flash size and less RAM. Thus only a few of the SDK peripheral examples have a PCA10056e option. Even so, I found that you also had to change to the S113 softdevice as this tended work in more cases than the S112 softdevice option. So for developers wanting to use this board for say a BLE health thermometer, for example, they would need to trim down the code for it to fit. I found that it did not work straight out the box.
It does work pretty well as a BLE beacon though. Here I tested out the EBSNSNZWW (nRF52811) board using the EddyStone beacon example using SDK version 16. As you can see the example uses up a good chunk of resource:
|Memory Resource||nRFConnect App screenshot|
Note, that for the Eddystone example to compile you need to perform an extra step, which is not documented, otherwise you will this error message: cannot find ../../../../../../external/micro-ecc/nrf52nf_armgcc/armgcc/micro_ecc_lib_nrf52.a: No such file or directory
The solution is found in the Nordic forum: https://devzone.nordicsemi.com/f/nordic-q-a/33846/nrf52-sdk-example-project-error---fyi
As I was very happy with the range of examples available I wanted to then explore what would happen if took a step into the unknown and developed something new. What would the experience be like.
I decided that for the first application I wanted to test out the NFC tag functionality, which is available for the EBSHSNZWZ (nRF52832) board combined with BLE functionality. This turned out to be a really fun project and I created a write up of the project in a separate blog: Take Contact Tracing to the next level by using a Taiyo Yuden EBSHSNZWZ board (with BLE + NFC)
I had been using Mbed Studio for a good few months now and I had noticed that there was a target definition for a Nordic nRF52832 dev board. I was thus very curious to see if Mbed OS and Mbed Studio would work with the EBSHSNZWZ (nRF52832) board. There was no ready made option for nRF52811 targets but it is theoretically possible to create your own custom target. As there was a chance of damaged the board I put that option aside for another day.
I knew that the J-Link debugger board had issues with Mbed but I had work around. I had a particle.io DAPlink debugger, which worked very well with the nRF52840 board and it proved to work with the nRF52832 board too.
I knew there was a BLE heart rate monitor peripheral device example available, so I decided to test this one out.
Well that proved rather painless. It worked without issue.
It just so happened that I had a MAX30102 (MAXREFDES117) module available and that there was some old Mbed code available on the Mbed website. So this looked like a decent enough channel as my final project for this roadtest where I could evaluate that the I2C bus works etc. Reviewing the code available it appeared to me that this code was not really suitable for BLE purposes as it was continuously polling the module buffer to see if there was any new data. The code would thus need to be remodelled to make it interrupt driven. That would be for another day.
Here is a video demo of the results:
As far as I could tell these are the worlds smallest compact BLE modules. I found that these modules really do perform and they would be my go to choice for any wearable application. With the minute size of the module and functionality available through the nRF5 platform, no doubt others out there will do it justice and come up with some very good novel applications.
The only negative I found was related to Taiyo Yuden corporation itself, in that there are no digital channels open for communication and for technical support. In my opinion, they have not moved with the industry. For example, I could find no forums available on their website and their social media engagement also appears to be quite limited. So when I discovered a small error in the Getting Started documentation for the EYSNSNZWW module, I could find no obvious channel to communicate this discovery. The digital channels are geared towards production issues. It is for this reason that I marked them slightly down on support materials available.
Taiyo Yuden are certainly an industrial led company and the quality of their products match, and are very competitively priced at volume. However, I felt that the pricing of the development boards were on the high side. Hence a slight marking down on that criteria. It is then a matter of personal preference as to whether you like a dev board with user LEDs and buttons included, but then these are assigned to specific pins, or whether you prefer a bare bones development board like this one.
Overall, it was a pleasure road testing this product and I learnt a great deal through this process. So, thank you element14 and Taiyo Yuden for providing me with this opportunity.
Nordic Semiconductor list of 3rd party vendors:
EBSHSNZWZ Evaluation Board/Kit Manual
EBSNSNZWW Evaluation Board/Kit Manual
Taiyo Yuden Throughput demo