I want to devote today's post (18th of October 2020) to my newest "secret weapon" against hydraulic malfunctions. So far I've had it for about a week, so this article should be considered as a mere unboxing or, maybe, a first impressions report at best rather than a full-blown review (which I, of course, will provide in the future), but for now I want to share my early thoughts because I seriously believe that this tool/gadget can come in handy in my "metier".
So, without further adieu - I present to you my new daily driver, handpicked by yours truly after his old Caterpillar phone died a violent death (I don't want to say much about these pones, but I can assure you it was the last Cat phone in my life...) - the Ulefone Armor 9 in all of its glory.
But why this model? Well, for one and only reason - the FLIR camera. (In case you don't know - FLIR stands for "front-looking infrared").
Temperature measurement (whether you use an infrared thermometer or do it in a very "Yolo" by-hand fashion) gives invaluable information about the health of a hydraulic system and often can immediately pinpoint a malfunction, so I am hoping that even such an entry-level sensor (the Armor 9 uses the Lepton 2.5 with a resolution of 80 x 60 pixels and a frame rate of 8 fps), will be a huge step-up from my old "point and shoot" thermometer.
I am so glad that this technology can fit into a smart-phone nowadays. And, by the way - this article is not sponsored. The phone was paid in full by the company I work for, and we have no affiliation with the Ulefone or any vendor. I picked this model by the following three criteria:
1) must have a FLIR camera
2) must have the highest performance to price ratio (it cost us about 380 eur, delivery included)
3) must not be a CAT phone
Now to the first impressions and field tests.
The Armor 9 is a large and bulky phone. I have reasonably big hands and long fingers, and it is big even for me. I definitely feel the pocket I put it in. I will order a protective case for it, so it will get even bulkier. I, personally, don't mind it - this one is work only phone.
Rugged phone or not - it has a large 6.3-inch screen. I am sure I'll crack it sooner than later.
The Android 10 is stock, and the processor is fast, so unlike my CAT phone, this one can actually be used as a smartphone, and the large screen makes viewing pdf files in the field a possible task.
The fingerprint sensor is a joke. I'd rather they didn't have it installed at all. Seriously. The sensor is on the side, and when you take the phone in your hand - you've already touched the sensor several times and activated the "too many attempts" lock mode, after which you will spend several seconds placing your "best finger" on the sensor and wondering why the damned thing is not unlocking! Pattern is way faster. To the phone's defense - when you work you most likely wear gloves, so there's no point in using the sensor anyway.
The sound is decent, especially the loudspeaker. I would even call it great, but I am not that much of a connoisseur of other modern phones, so I am probably not the best judge. All I can say that even taking into account the fact that working on phishing boats for several years has taken away the best part of my hearing, I can still use the hands-free mode on this pone problem-free.
The camera, again, is another step-up from my old CAT phone, and now I don't have to fetch my "social" phone whenever I need to take a decent picture. The pictures look great. not as good as on our iPhone or the S-10, but still absolutely usable.
In all - this is a normal smartphone. More tolerant of dirt and splash damage, but I am sure it can still be easily damaged because it is so big. 6 months from now I will be able to say whether it is rugged or not (after I've taken it for a spin in the mines a couple of times).
Now, this is the part that matters - the FLIR camera, the main reason I went for this model.
A couple of weeks ago I sold a new Kawasaki clone, and since these pumps don't come adjusted - I had to go to the client's and set the pump on the excavator, so it was a good opportunity to try out the FLIR camera and see if it could at least reliably replace my old temperature gun.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that the readings were spot on. Here you can see me using my old thermometer, and here is the FLIR reading. The app allows you to export the normal image, the low-res thermal image, and a mix of both. Very handy. The app is buggy, I can promise you that, but it is usable. I do hope it will get updated with time.
And now I would like to show you a couple of tests that demonstrate the "thermal imaging magic".
As you know, when you use a temp gun, you should pay attention to the surface you are pointing at, and nothing illustrates this better than the following example. This is the picture of a sink that has the hot water tap open. The temperature in this spot reads 57 degrees C - the only thing is - the sink is this spot is at room temperature. If you look at the FLIR layer of the same picture - you will immediately see why. What you're "seeing" in the infrared spectrum is actually the reflection of the hot bottom of the sink. An infrared thermometer could easily mislead you here, however the IR image shows you exactly what is going on!
Another thing only a FLIR could do - look at this picture of the water heater. Nothing special here, right? And now check out at the thermal - you can clearly tell where the hot water pipe runs. Very neat, right? I can already see myself running about hydraulic installations with a phone in my hand looking for hotter pipes as indicators of excessive leakage! Is it even possible with this tool? I don't know, but I sure as hell will find out!
OK, now - these are my very first impressions. So far - even with all the bugginess of the app and the low resolution of the IR sensor - the phone feels like a usable tool. Stay tuned for a thorough review after I put it through some heavy use.
I can imagine that some of you will say something like: "Dude, we've been using FLIR cameras for decades, dude!" Yeah... I am glad for you. Of course, I've heard of thermal imagery. I don't live on the moon, you know. I just somehow haven't used it. This is my first FLIR experience, so please forgive my "virgin" excitement.
In any case, professional IR cameras even today are quite expensive, so the 380 eur smartphone with this function I can always carry around seems like a great deal to me. At least it is worth looking into.
This post is in no way a recommendation to buy this smartphone. These are just my first impressions, presented from the standpoint of a hydraulic tech. I don't have a formed opinion yet. I am sure that in six to twelve months I will have one and be able to say if this was a good buy or not.