2023-05-30

SQFMI Watchy (first impressions)

I decided to get a Watchy to play with - mainly as a learning exercise, and I think for that it will be perfect. It was not that expensive (£48.80+VAT from Mouser, and free delivery). It comes as a kit which is very easy to assemble (probably because of the hassle of EMC, CE, UKCA, etc) but it is sold as a development device so not unreasonable, IMHO.

Hardware

The hardware is an ESP32, plastic case, rubber strap, battery, accelerometer, vibrator, real time clock chip, 4 buttons, a 200x200 e-paper display, USB connector, and battery charging circuit.

This is quite a nice set of hardware. My main concern is the e-paper display is not, in any way, protected, other than the recess in the case. I understand a screen protector may be available. As a watch it is slightly chunky, probably more than necessary. But it is nice. They have a milled aluminium case option as well.

Out of the box

Obviously it is a kit and needs assembly, which is very easy, but then it does work. However, I would have expected it to be a bit more slick to be honest. This has been around a few years now. Small details like...

  • Button pushes are not handled well, e.g. you can select an item in the menu and immediately have clicked the menu for the item - an example is Set Clock, which you have to press to select very briefly or you have skipped the "hour" and moved on to "minutes". Button response and handling could be a lot better. (Obviously the clock is ideally set by NTP over WIFi).
  • It lacks simple setting like time zone, even without DST, this seems like a setting a watch should have. It can be set, but by editing an include file in the code and re-flashing. The nicer default code also grabs weather but has a default city code set of New York, and you have to edit the include file to change that. A UI for that may be harder, but remember it has the option of serving a web page for more complex settings, so could handle this.
  • The 7 segment font is nice at full size but looks badly scaled down on smaller digits, which is a shame.
  • You expect to be able to upgrade the firmware, and there is an option. But the option says to go to a web site from bluetooth enabled phone, and click next. But the web site is the main page for Watchy and that has no hint of any tool for loading new code by any means. Why not have a simple WiFI OTA upgrade option?

P.S. I did not even consider, but for some, choice of 12 or 24 hour clock needs to be an option.

Trying some other code (examples)

Mouser say it works with Arduino, MicroPython, and ESP-IDF. The main reason to getting it was it works with ESP-IDF as that is what I use.

However, it seems it works with Arduino and PlatformIO. I see nothing on the web site about an ESP-IDF build environment.

I went for the simple option of loading Arduino. I don't like it, but it works, and the instructions were simple enough and only a few steps. It worked seamlessly to load new code, and that is where I found the include file for location and time zone and city.

There are a load of "example" watch faces, but they are all pretty crap. They are a fixed background and time in a different font. I mean there is one that looks like a DOS screen with time on the files listed. It is not good as a watch face really, but I see what they are getting at. But the others are all a similar theme, they just have time and maybe date in different font on a static image.

I would have hoped for something more interesting. Faces with sunrise/set, or moon phase, or an analogue face. But all the examples are boring. Now, I may well be missing a treasure trove of code somewhere on The Internet, but a poor impression to start with.

It would have made sense for the "standard" build to have a choice of "faces" as an option, all in the same code, even.

Learning exercise

As I say, the main reason is a learning exercise, so I hope to make my own code for this from scratch. This means e-paper drivers (I have done some before, so not hard), and accelerometer, and RTC, all of which should be simple. I can then make a nicer watch app for a start, I am sure. But not sure I would use as a watch. I know I have done a good job if one of the grand kids wants it when I am done. I was pondering showing solar production stats on it even.

But longer term there are a load of things I can learn using this as a test platform.

  • Ways to manage battery power, e.g. deep sleep until end of minute when updating time, and maybe the low power sub processor to check for button presses in between. That is all useful stuff to learn as they are features of the ESP32 and important for a lot of applications, not just a Watch.
  • Battery charging - I have not done battery based boards, but this has a battery and does charging. This is a good starting point to get my designs handling batteries sensibly.
  • Directly connected e-paper. I have played with e-paper but always as a "module", a display and board and some chips and a row of 0.1" connectors. This is directly e-paper to a connector on the board. This would be good to do on any design I have using e-paper. It makes it cheaper and smaller than using a module. So this gives me a way to do it (PCB wise) and a test platform.
  • Direct antenna. This uses the ESP32 chip directly with printed antenna. I have not dared do that myself. But if someone has done the work, I can copy what they did. It makes for less space and cheaper part and production than using the ESP32 modules. Definitely worth a try.
  • The accelerometer is not something I have touched before, so would be fun, but outside a watch I do not expect a use for it yet. The same is true of the RTC chip - they are generally quite simple.

Will I find the time?

This is perhaps more of a challenge. If I can get it off the ground with my own code, even just working the display, then I think I'll make a complete ESP-IDF based Watchy platform myself. I'll see how it goes.

Battery

And an update - I loaded the latest code and fully charged, and that was a week ago. It is still going. I am impressed, especially as it has been using WiFi to check weather to display and get NTP, regularly.

I am tempted to leave it until it stops. Being e-paper it should leave a time of death on its display in much the same way as an old mechanical watch in a murder mystery would do so, allowing a detective to prove the accurate time of death just after the medical examiner has got it wildly wrong.

Update: It lasted just under 3 weeks (20.5 days ish).

5 comments:

  1. The pretty crap watch faces are a common problem, honestly. I plan to spend a few weekends adding some nice complications to my PineTime (probably adding a whole extra screen filled with nothing but). I just need to find the time to do it, and being stuck indoors during hay fever hell season seems like just the time!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I love the esp32 but it's just a bit too much of a power-hog in my experience. The low power display will help a bit, but the relatively long connection intervals are a pain. I know the nrf52 devices are harder to use; less community etc. but having multiple-day battery life whilst connected on BT would be very handy!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The ESP32 has a stupidly low sleep power of a few micro amps, and has a low power mode secondary processor as well to allow wake on buttons and various things with very little power usage.

      Delete
  3. Battery charging isn't as easy as people think. The difficulty is ensuring they don't catch fire, or you don't exceed the datasheet limits and permanently damage the chemistry in the battery.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Indeed, but looks like there are some simple charger chips you can use. All good fun.

      Delete

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