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L8 SmartLight arrived — my first impressions

L8 SmartLight

IMG_0295I backed this Kickstarter project in July 2012 (yep, no typo!), it was funded in August 2012 and I received the product today, only one and a half years later. No comment. There was enough said about this over at the Kickstarter project page. I, personally, didn’t have a huge problem with it. I can wait.

The L8 SmartLight comes in a cute small square package. It contains the SmartLight itself, a micro USB cable, a wrist strap and a quick start guide. (Oh, and a kickstartergreen „thank you“ card .)

The L8 SmartLight device

My first haptic impression was: rather cheapish plastic. The surface is a bit inhomogeneous: at some locations a bit more rough and elsewhere smoother. One of the four edges on the front face looks like it’s not properly snapped in. You always want to try to push it into place. But I’m afraid that’s just the (ugly) design. The weight, however, is okay. Not too light, not too heavy. However, something’s making a rattling noise inside when you softly shake the L8.

Well, how does the SmartLight work? Let’s check the quick start guide! There we read „You need to get a SmartLight ID to connect to a L8 device using Bluetooth.“ To get this ID you have to go to my.l8smartlight.com. But what’s that? „This section will be available soon.“ WTF?!?! I can’t do anything with it (at least that’s what the quick start guide tells me) unless I have an ID and I can’t get an ID? So it’s just a paperweight?

my.l8smartlight.com page "coming soon"

my.l8smartlight.com page „coming soon“

Okay. Calm down I said to myself. You got the early developer edition. Maybe I can get it to work some other way. (But then again: wasn’t the developer edition just an early access to the sdk plus, later, the L8 itself?)  Let’s check the Kickstarter Project page for news on how to get the developer edition to work. Oh! There’s a recent comment from the makers — obviously many people have problems. Ah, here we learn that we don’t need such an ID I mentioned above. Why do they write it in their quick start guide then? Strange. 🙁

So, we are told that we can just use the app to get the L8 to work.

The app

However, the app (I’m on iOS) seems badly hacked together as well. It just won’t work together with the hardware. Sometimes the blue LED on the L8 is off (read somewhere this means that it’s in pairing mode), sometimes it’s on. iOS has often trouble connecting. If it’s connected the app often still shows a red dot beneath the L8’s hardware ID. The „Scan&Connect L8“ option doesn’t seem clickable (tap-able) at all. Nothing happens, not even a visual feedback that I pressed that button. There’s no „refresh“ option (i.e. by pulling the table down) to let the app check if there’s a new bluetooth connection. The „Power Off L8“ and „Clear L8“ Buttons don’t seem to work either. Bad, bad, bad. And it goes on.

The sensors section of the app has six fields. 5 of these are greyed out, only one is blue, the battery icon. This shows 0% for me. Regardless of whether the L8 seems to be connected (blue LED on) or not. None of these six buttons are clickable.

The L8APPS section of the app shows nice little screenshots of the 8×8 RGB LEDs from panel and suggests that there will be animations or something. Alas, nothing happens after pressing any of these „START“ buttons. 🙁

So there must be some web page for developers with information. Indeed, there is! However, this is really only for developing apps for the L8. I really don’t think that I have to fire up Xcode just to get the L8 to work!?

Okay, maybe the shipped firmware has bugs. Let’s see if there’s a support web page. Oh, wait, there isn’t. 🙁 Just praise and lots of images and marketing blah. And an FAQ with some general, mostly pre-sales questions & answers. No real useful information.

Firmware Upgrade

But wait! On my.l8smartlight.com I saw a download section. Oh, and yes! Finally! There’s a firmware and a firmware flashing tool. Even for OS X. What? Problems with Mavericks? Come ooon!! Lucky me, I still have one of my Macs running under 10.8. So let’s give it a try. (But … what firmware version is currently installed on the shipped unit? I don’t know. And I couldn’t find a way how to find it out. Nothing documented on this, either.)

Downloaded the dfu-util and the Firmware file. Installation of the tool worked fine. On the web page I read that I have to issue the command like this (after putting the L8 into DFU mode, THAT worked):

dfu-util -a 0 -D LightOS_v1.08.44.dfu

Because my shell already found the binary (it gets installed into /opt/local/bin) and I was in the directory where the firmware file was I didn’t need to put any absolute paths in.

What a surprise was the result of this command:

More than one DFU capable USB device found, you might try `--list' and then disconnect all but one device

Oh! Okay. Let’s try this option. Here’s the result:

 Found Runtime: [05ac:8206] devnum=0, cfg=1, intf=2, alt=0, name="UNDEFINED"
 Found DFU: [0483:df11] devnum=0, cfg=1, intf=0, alt=0, name="@Internal Flash /0x08000000/01*016Ka,03*016Kg,01*064Kg,07*128Kg"
 Found DFU: [0483:df11] devnum=0, cfg=1, intf=0, alt=1, name="@OTP Area /0x1FFF7800/01*512 g,01*016 g"

Err … now what? Am I supposed to disconnect „@Internal Flash“? What is „@OTP Area …“? Maybe „UNDEFINED“ is the L8? Sorry, that’s too vague and a dead end. Needless to say that there’s no word on this possible outcome on the manufacturer’s website.

Another funny observation: switch on the L8 (mine is in Bluetooth 4.0 mode) so that it shows its logo and the Bluetooth LED is off, then go to the iPhone’s Bluetooth settings and just sit and wait. Funny: to the right of the L8 SmartLight device name you can read „Not Paired“, then „Connected“, then „Not Paired“ again, then „Connected“. Changes every few seconds, irregularly. The blue LED reflects this correctly, btw.

I do have a Pebble smartwatch, though, and I thought maybe it’s interfering with the L8 (which, btw, would be bad, because I want to wear and use my watch while I operate the L8). But I disconnected the Pebble bluetoothwise from my iPhone — to no avail.

Charging the battery

Oh! And then I thought: maybe the battery is low. Let’s charge it! I plugged it into my iMac and the „screen“ (8×8 LEDs) changed to some random pattern every time I tried this. Once I had three green dots. Another time four non-consecutive colorful dots. Is it charging, I wondered? How can I tell? Is there some documentation that talks about what happens on the „screen“ when it’s plugged in like this and supposed to charge? You guessed right: no! At least, I didn’t find one. Because there’s not only no „support“ section on their web page, there’s no „documentation“ section, either.

photo 2-constrained-to-1024x1024

In the quick start guide (and only there) there’s a section about the battery. However, there’s no word on how to actually charge the device. Well, okay, plug it into a USB port. And then? How will I know what level the battery has? When is it fully charged? How long does it last? How does the L8 tell me it’s charging? What I found out: first you have to switch it off. Then plug it in. The power button starts to flash red. I *think* that means „I’m charging“. But I don’t know. So I have to switch it off to charge it? The FAQ says you can charge it while it’s operating. I checked. Yes. You can switch it on while charging. Then the red flashing LED changes into the usual white steady lit LED. But now the usual L8 logo is gone. IS it charging? How will I know? It’s a mess! Pressed the power button again for three seconds. Now that LED turns red, no flashing. What does THIS mean? And where’s a list of all the power key functions? Holding it for ten seconds switches the device into DFU mode, for example. Holding it for 6 seconds changes toggles the bluetooth mode. Can we have an overview, please?

Conclusion

All in all: one of the worst user experiences I had for a long time now.  Not worth the wait! Almost nothing is working. And this after soooo many months of waiting! What did they do in >18 months???

I really hope things will get better soon! And hopefully they will add IFTTT support, too!

  1. Thank you for the blog post. I saw your link in the Kickstarter comment section. I’ll read it over more closely tomorrow.

    I expect to run into similar and yet more issues. I had planned to use mine with Android devices and I’m a Windows user. I’m in the US and that assumes I will actually receive mine sometime this year. *sigh*

    • Hi Charles & thanks for your comment!
      Fiddling around with the L8 for a couple of days now I was able to bring it to life — in parts — with an Android phone and later with my iPhone. I will update my article as soon as I find time. But it’s still confusing. Plus, my L8 seems to be defect: one complete row (8 LEDs) aren’t capable of displaying the red component. Only green and blue (and mixed colors from these two) work. #fail #fail #fail

  2. Joseph Hagerty

    I’m having the same wrong-colored LEDS problem. I’m getting it on row 3 almost every single time, and on row 7 sometimes.

  3. smorgasbroed

    I got mine today and all I can say is: This completely sucks. The experience is just awful. No sign of a „smartlight“ … it actualy is a very dumb one.

    USB port fails to connect often, seems to be a hardware problem, fiddly connection. Hardware inside the case loose, if you shake the device a little, you hear it rattling. Besides that I am disappointed by the quality of case. It looks like the „tray“ has not been put fully into the „case“, as can be seen on the photos above, too.

    Platform software? Bluetooth seems to crash often, no app is working..

    Software as bad as it can get. I realize that this might be a developer version but software – desktop and apps on iOS and Android – are merely meager alpha versions. This software is faaaaaaar from the promises. You can’t even create patterns in the desktop version.

    Documentation? A very brief piece of paper not even telling you how the device signals it’s charging.

    All in all I’d say that the product – if ever finished and brought into a market ready state – will be worth like perhaps 30$ or perhaps 49$ if the finish and build quality was something aluminium, sleek shiny stuff and not this plastic stuff …

    Now, I backed this project with a hefty 80$. I realize that this was funding not buying. As I can see from the funding pledge I’d say that 90k$ was to low of an estimate and even the 200k$ received was too low to have a hardware project like this realized without further sources. This was planned way too optimistically and all in all communicated really really bad.

    Let’s see what this leads to in the next 3 months. My guess? Nowhere … this thing was dead from the beginning. Too bad …

  4. Dietmar

    Today my L8 arrived and it seems that I got a better one 🙂 OK, the ID thing was a little confusing but found a hint in the faq on the website. USB plug needs some power and some „good vibrations“ to fit into the USB socket but then does what it should do. Bluetooth connection only worked in absence of any other bluetooth devices after deconnecting my headset but works now. I connected to a Samsung Galaxy S3 and the app is working so far. Tested text message and some others which worked mostly. Unfortunately Mac users are still not well supported but hope dies last (but it dies 😉 So basic functions are working from beginning with my device and I will just have a full charging now before I test more features like e.g. notifications.

  5. I agree its not the expected user experience however mine was charging and worked fine after installing the drivers (if the battery is less than 5% don’t expect it to power on). you need to install the drivers, disconnect the SmartLight, then run the driver installer located here on a 64-bit system: C:\Program Files (x86)\SmartLight Inc\Drivers\VCOM__stsw-stm32102__v1.3.1\.
    If you’re running a 32-bit system, you’ll find the drivers in Program Files, instead of Program files (x86). once your drivers are good connect the USB cable firmly! then check in device manager for STM32 Virtual ComPort in FS Mode they should not have any issues. run L8 Control Center lite to control your L8 once you run it click on USB then you should be good to go. once done hit disconnect then upgrade your firmware by running L8 DFU Lite and upgrade to the latest driver at this moment it’s „LightOS_v1.08.46.dfu“ you do so by clicking „Enter Recovery Mode“ then upgrade and leave Recovery mode after seeing successful message. don’t disconnect while you do so or you will end up with a nice $80 door stopper 🙂
    last step, disconnect and connect your Android app as usual.
    hope that helps!

  6. Hamish

    I’m STILL waiting for the two I backed/funded over 3 1/2 years ago….

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