Get your SIGFOX fix, for free

SIGFOX is the the narrowband radio technology that runs in the license exempt 800MHz band (868-869MHz).

It's a closed protocol but there's lots of equipment available for it and it's being rolled out in lots of countries, a device can send up to 140 messages which have a payload of up to 12 bytes per day. Note the payload can be zero bytes, which will just indicate the device is alive. The network can send a maximum of 4 messages to devices per day and the payload is up to b bytes.

In the UK the SIGFOX network was run by Arqiva, but they didn't move very quickly and they didn't understand start-ups particularly well, so now WND UK has taken up the reigns with a very aggressive roll-out plan, with a fully funded commitment to cover 94.8% of the UK by end 2018.

Even though the roll-out is aggressive, some areas may not be covered and this may not suit someone developing a SIGFOX solution, so WND is now offering small companies who are developing IoT proof-of-concept solution a FREE SIGFOX gateway and licenses for up to 100 devices to access the network. This actually works well for WND, as every gateway added increases network coverage and even if multiple gateways cover an area, they are mainly receiving messages so the network would sort that a message is a duplicate.

With LoRa networks already springing up (generally piggybacking on generic home or business connections), this gives SIGFOX the ability to do the same and may get some customers who are still awaiting solutions from the mobile networks with their LTE-M or NB-IoT solutions slowly coming on-line.

The WND contact for a SIGFOX PoC solution is Tim Harris.


The Gemini PDA, it's as close to a Psion as you'll get (and it's real)

Before the iPhone or even Blackberry, there was a PDA made by a company called Psion, well several, eventually culminating in the Series 5. It was a clamshell design with a keyboard on one side and the monochrome screen on the other. It could run applications and it did basic things like had a calendar, calculator and word processor, all driven by a toolbar running along the bottom of the screen. It also had a 'view' screen to see what was happening throughout your life (well days/weeks anyway).

Unfortunately Psion is no more, however a company called Planet Computers is trying to change that and though the actual Psion can't be resurrected, the Gemini is born. The company was set-up by Dr Janko Mrsic-Flogel who used to resell Psion hardware and develop software and has developed a lot of mobile cloud solutions under another company (Private Planet Ltd).

The Gemini looks and feels like a Psion 5

The PDA on the left is an actual working Psion 5 and the PDA on the right the Gemini - they do look remarkably similar. It's worth noting that the Gemini is also running a view screen that emulates the Psion calendar view, giving access to what's coming up in an easy to read manner.

The next picture shows another comparison, but with a lot of test keyboards too.

The various keyboards are for testing different membrane thicknesses and how 'clicky' the keys are. The current thinking is a softer keyboard which will probably appeal more to modern computer users who are used to the light touch, while programmers would probably prefer the keyboard with a deeper travel and more 'Cherry mechanical' keyboard feel (the programmers will probably lose out). But either way, it's perfect possible to touch type on either one.

Underneath the keyboard sits a big battery (removable Li-Ion 4220mAh) giving 12 hours talk-time and a full 2 weeks in standby.

The screen is a 5.99 inch FHD (18:9) with a resolution of 2160x1080 at 403 ppi and full colour. It looks very good. The Gemini doesn't come lightly spec'ed either with: -

  • CPU - Mediatek MT6797X Helio X27 with 10 cores (2 x Cortex A72 @ 2.6GHz, 4 x Cortex A53 @ 2.0GHz, 4 x Cortex A53 @ 1.6GHz
  • GPU - Quad core Mali T880 MP4 @ 875MHz
  • RAM - 4GB
  • ROM - 64GB
  • Sound - Stereo speakers (either side of display)
  • Microphone - integrated behind display and external 3.5mm jack
  • Bluetooth - v4.0
  • GPS - GPS and AGPS
  • USB - 2 USB C ports (OTG support)
  • Camera - front facing 5MP
  • Sensors - accelerometer, gyroscope, compass, magneto-sensor, light sensor
  • SD Card slot - takes at least 128GB, may take 256GB

The Gemini comes in 2 versions, WiFi only and WiFi with 4G. The specs for the 4G model are: -

  • WiFi - 802.11a/b/g/n/ac
  • GSM - 850/900/1800/1900 Mhz
  • CDMA - 850/1900 Mhz BC0 BC1+ EVDO
  • WCDMA - 900/2100 Mhz
  • LTE - 1/2/3/4/5/7/12/17/20/41 and VoLTE

The 4G models has SIM slot (under the top lid) and both have an external camera module space (for a later rear 5MP camera module). There are also 5 fully programmable RGB LEDs on the lid, which can be programmed for fun, but also to light up to indicate, say, who's calling. When the phone rings, it can be operated without ever opening the case.

The Gemini's default operating system is Android (currently 7.1) and it will run many standard Android apps, but in order to make it more Psion like, there's a toolbar at the bottom of the screen that can launch specified apps (as well as using various Psion like key combinations).

There's a dedicated voice assist button giving access to Google's voice system.

A quirk is the Gemini can also dual-boot and the second partition holds Linux (currently Debian, but Planet will open source at least enough of the Linux side so other variants can be installed). Linux can also be run as a VM under Android (yes it does work).

All Planet apps can be run locally (with no need for access into the cloud), or they can link into the Private Planet cloud service (or Google's).

There will be a range of peripherals, but on launch there's a USB-C to HDMI adapter and a USB-C hub with 3 USB-A sockets, Ethernet port (and maybe others). There's also a USB-C mains charger and a nice leather pouch.

Using the HDMI adapter, an external HD display is easily driven running video/etc.

The Gemini is currently selling 'in-demand ' on Indiegogo (the original target was for $200,000 and it's now at over $800,000).

The WiFi only version sells for $299 and the WiFi + 4G is $399 (prices are likely to go up by $200 after the campaign).

The Gemini is a very nice unit and completely usable as a mobile phone, but with a full features of a PDA with a touch-typable keyboard so allowing productivity apps and leisure apps like video to run, even at the same time and it will fit into a jacket pocket.


It's a badge of honour, that changes face

Another day, another Crowdfunded project, this time it's a Bluetooth connected connected badge (or Pin as those over the pond like to call them).

Pins Collective are the people behind the badge (which is round) is about 2 inches across and the colour display has a resolution of 300 x 300 pixels. Information is sent to the badge using an iOS of Android app (using BLE i.e. Bluetooth version 4+ so it's needs to be a reasonably recent phone). The battery lasts around 6-72h depending on what the badge has to do (animation, backlight, etc).

Currently the app is pretty basic (in iOS) allowing selection of an image and sending it to the badge (and of course pairing the badge in the first place).

The badge will display GIFs (including animated GIFs, so you can get some spiffy moving images). The app will I,port and convert various image file formats to the correct version for the badge. Images bigger than 300x300 will be cropped.

Wearing pictures of your colleagues can be quite annoying to them.

Currently they're available to pre-order through Indiegogo at $69.


Alivecor Kardia

Alivecor make products that read your EKG. The Kardia Band was previously reviewed and although convenient as it's always on your wrist (it's an Apple Watch add-on) it's extremely susceptible to movement, external interference and lots of other constraints so it's not always easy to get an accurate reading. It also takes a while to process the result as a lot of noise has to be filtered out.

The Kardia Mobile is much easier to use. It's a unit with two electrode pads on it (underneath there's a battery compartment which holds a CR2016 coin cell) which should give about 12 months of use.

Download the free iOS or Android Kardia app and then set-up an account. Then take a reading and the app will search for the Kardia Mobile device and pair with it (it uses Bluetooth 4 so a recent'ish iOS or Android phone must be used with a recent OS).

The app will wait a while, while you put your first and second fingers from both hands on either pad, then relax and the app will record your EKG. It needs to read about 30 seconds to get a sensible heart rate reading.

After the reading is saved it will tell you if there are any abnormalities or anything. As the pads are large and the signal is being received from across the body, the results are much cleaner and less susceptible to interference (compared to the Watch version).

The EKG Characteristics are single lead ECG, 10 mV peak-to-peak input dynamic range, 30 second to 5 minute recording duration, 300 samples per second sampling rate at 16 bit resolution.

There are extra features such as unlimited storage and history, summary reports for your doctor, blood pressure monitoring and tracking weight and medication (though the last two need manual intervention) that are available through the premium service which is available as an in-app purchase.

There's also a phone attachment strip that allows the Kardia Mobile to be carried with the phone (glues on to the phone).

The Kardia Mobile costs £99 direct from Alivecor.


Xiaomi Huami AMAZFIT A1603 Smartband

Xiaomi make lots of stuff, but they also work with partners and specifically Huami who make wearables (under the AMAZFIT brand). In the US it's known as the Amazfit ARC.

Though the functionality is almost identical to the Xiaomi Band 2, it looks much nicer and the silicon strap has a 'hatch' effect on it which is very comfortable to wear. The actual unit is permanently attached to the strap and has a soft 'brushed' metal feel. Underneath there's an optical heart rate sensor and charging pins and the top is a UV coated scratch resistant OLED display.

Like most trackers it measures steps but also sleep (you obviously have to wear it at night), distance and active calories. The battery life is VERY good (Huami claim 20 days). It can also display notifications from your phone (currently iOS and Android are supported).

As a bonus it's also water proof and can be used when swimming, though it doesn't track swimming.

There's a USB charging cable that is magnetically polarised so it 'snaps' on to the charging pins on the bottom of the unit, this also stops you getting it the wrong way around.

There is an Amazfit app available and through it's pretty basic, it does support all the devices features and notifications, alarms etc can be set through it. However, it the ARC also works with the Xiaomi Mi Fit app, which has a lot more features and links with Apple Health and Android Fit on the relevant platforms. The Mi Fit app also seems to have a few more advanced features like being able to track heart rate when sleeping which give more accurate results (though reduces battery life).

It's definitely a cut above the Mi Band2 in terms of looks and comfort and on a par with traditional fitness trackers from established US companies, though at a very competitive price. However, the apps of more expensive western vendors are generally quite a bit better with more functionality.

The list price is $99 from the US Amazfit site, but various Asian sites have it available for around £30 including shipping.


Kardia Band - an ECG monitor for your Apple Watch

The Kardia Band is made by AliveCor and is a watch strap for the Apple Watch (it comes in both 38 and 42mm versions). It replaces the standard Apple Watch strap and there's a big chunk of metal in the bottom strap.

To record your ECG place your thumb on the metal blob and your fore-finger onto the other side of your wrist. Run the Kardio app, sit back and RELAX. It's VERY sensitive to any kind of movement. After 30 seconds it will beep and then press save and it will try and filter out your ECG. If you move or there's lots of electric interference it's unlikely you'll get a good reading. Assuming you're not moving around much and the software processes the data, you'll then get a normal (or not) reading and you can scroll through the waveform, like it's been printed on paper and you move along along it.

AliveCor also make a Bluetooth version where you place your fingers on which is actually considerably cheaper and I'd guess gives better readings, but then you have to remember to take it with you or buy their special iPhone cases which wil hold the device.

The Kardia band does work and it's not reported any abnormal heart readings, which is probably a good thing. It's nice that you can take a reading whenever you like (as long as your wearing your Apple Watch), but it's very sensitive to environmental conditions.

The Kardia Band costs £199 in the UK directly from the AliveCor site (it's not available in the US as it's not FDA approved). The watch strap and metal insert have been improved since earliy version when the metal bit tended to fall out.

The Kardia Mobile Bluetooth sensor is available for £99 from AliveCor and is also available in the US.


Hologram - a developer friendly international SIM

Hologram is a US company that offers both a hardware cellular device called a Dash, back-end cloud services and international SIMs that can be used globally.

The Dash is programmable through the Arduino IDE (and is supported out the box in recent versions) and the Dash firmware directly supports Holograms cloud services.

The cloud services know about Dash devices and then various routes can be set, which allow things to be sent to the Dash or from the Dash to another service (like IFTTT, Slack, etc).

The SIM is a standard 2G/3G SIM that can be fitted in a Dash and then be used on any supported mobile network. There are various pricing models with paid plans starting at $0.40 per month with data costing $0.60 / MB (billed by KB) in a pay-as-you-go service or pre-pay: -

DataZone 1Zone 2

There are also US only plans: -


SMSZone 1Zone 2
OUTBOUND (from device)$0.19 / Message$0.30 / Message

Zone 1 is EU, US etc and Zone 2 Canada, bits of Africa/South America and other odd countries.

Hologram have just announced a Developer plan (1 SIM ONLY), which gives 1MB per month absolutely free (and then $0.60 per MB billed by KB) and they'll even ship it for free using code "DEVPLANBLASTOFF" (no quotes).

That's pretty useful so testing the service is easy, without spending a lot of data charges.

The Dash has some pretty nice features too, such as being able to sent program and even firmware updates OTA (though that's going to quickly eat data, especially for firmware updates).