The K-Byte Zipit Wireless Messenger
About this page:
Since there is very little but PR fluff on the web about this device, I decided to order one and write up my experience with it. This page will largely be just my notes as time goes on. I intend to hack this device (if possible) to make it more useful. Please excuse the ugly formatting.... I may eventually go back and clean this up if people find it useful, but for now I just wanted to get the word out and keep a track of all my thoughts and bug reports and meet up with other Zipit owners.
Sorry for the slow updates to this page. Work has been crazy busy with a tape Silo upgrade, and I managed to tweak my Zipit pulling it apart. Pictures of the internals are here and here. More details to come if people request. I had to keep the resolution down, but you can see that the WiFi chip is from Agere and the main processor is a Cirrus EP7312 [Press Release makes it sound like streaming audio isn't too much of a pipe dream] ARM processorlikely running at 90mhz. Plenty of embedded Linux versions available for this chip!
Jesse (coderxtreme) also adds that sniffing network traffic shows that the Zipit first connects to zipitwireless.net (.com is their "soon to come" site) to fetch what looks like a serial-number based file containing version numbers. He was able to locate a 2MB .bin file that we believe to either be the firmware itself or at minimum a bootloader. Running 'strings' on it shows nothing interesting, so I assume it's encrypted in some form. Hopefully not related to the DRM functionality of the Cirrus chip. More to come! ARM hackers wanted!
The Zipit seems to have been launched around September/October 2004. There is limited information on their page zipitwireless.com, but it is sold as an instant messaging device (primarily for kids) that connects over WiFi. It is marketed under the name K-Byte and possibly Lite-On, but is manufactured by Aeronix (I assume that is the right company). Some blurbs I read promise a "future update" to enable streaming audio. I am not holding my breath on that or any other functionality.
The price is $99, which seems pretty cheap for basically a wifi client, LCD screen, and enough computing power to run a basic multi-IM client. However, compared to a cellphone (especially subsidized on contract), I guess it's not that cheap if your phone supports IM (I currently use Agile Messenger on my Nokia 3650 through T-Mobile. But either way, it is a cool toy, and NOBODY else has one yet!
Being in the WiFi business, I had to have one if only for the potential hackability or use as an access point detector. My hope is that it will be somewhat expandable (either by open source or through input to the company)
Currently it appears the device is being sold exclusively through Target (why?), although it appears to only be sold online (and Target charges tax, even though it will arrive in an Amazon box, who doesn't charge tax... use a 10% off coupon). I checked 4 local Targets and none had seen or heard of the device. It looks like Target is currently out of the light gray model, so I ordered the dark charcoal one. It's slightly lighter color than my Motorola text pager.
I read a few press releases that says Best Buy may also be carrying it. My local Best Buy did not have it, and have never heard of it. I have not checked online yet cuz I'm lazy.
Details about the device
It looks like the picture, kind of a slightly larger Motorola 2 way pager. It is a clamshell with the 4.25 inch diagonal screen on top and a qwerty-style keypad and extra buttons on the botton. The screen is much bigger and the keyboard is much better sized (for my big hands), but there still seems to be a lot of empty space. Folded up, it's about the size of a Blackberry (maybe thicker), but with no easy way to attach to your belt. It is NOT comfortable in your pocket.
The device itself has a very toy plastic feel to it, but it does seem to be fairly sturdy. The hinge seems about as solid as any cellphone or pager flip, but we'll see how it holds up. They rubber on the keypad seems surprisingly good.
The battery door contains a single screw that opens to reveal a small lithium battery. Promised battery life is 3-4 hours, but it looks like there is room to fit a bigger battery in the compartment. So far as of 11/23/04, I have had it on for about 2-3 hours off and on testing and the battery meter shows about half full (though it fluctuates a lot, up to full).
Closing the clamshell goes into "sleep" mode, which keeps the radio running and connected to the AP, but turns off the screen. I'm not sure the power savings would be that much but I've yet to test either way.
Does it work?
Out of the box, it does exactly what is promised. It connects to popular IM services (AOL, MSN and Yahoo!) over a standard 802.11 (b or g) connection with no service fee. Range was actually better than expected (promised 300ft?), and setup was an absolute breeze. It appears to scan for all available access points at startup and connect to (I assume...) the strongest signal first. I have yet to verify that. You can manually force it to login to a particular access point by searching through the list, or my adding one by name (SSID) if your AP is not broadcasting SSID.
You are able to chat with multiple people, flipping through virtual windows using the Prev/Next keys. You can quickly send smilies too (3 built in, and 3 configurable, from a total of about 7 choices.... odd) as promised.
So in conclusion, yes.... surprisingly, it does everything it claims it can do! I was shocked.
The keyboard has a very strange layout. Backspace is where the enter key should be, and some of the Alt keys are not right (! should always be on top of a 1... as it is, 1 is on top of a Q). The keyboard is especially hard to press some of the keys, especially in the middle. I also couldn't find a good way to hold it in my hands and still be able to press keys and read the screen. I had to pop the screen almost fully open and hold it at an angle.
The little cutesy sounds are pretty annoying, and the mute button doesn't appear to work. This thing is REALLY targeted at kids... or as they insist on spelling everything, Kidz.
The lack of ANY information on the website, and the obvious from-the-company shills on Target and Amazon's site are pretty annoying. I don't know how they plan on selling this thing with such a limited rollout and such few details.
When I first powered up the device (it came pre-charged, nice!) it connected to my network immediately and prompted me to update software version. I don't think I was given a choice, so I downloaded the update. Version currently shows 1.0. My serial number is KB000127, so I assume it's a very early model. I have no idea what firmware shipped with it, but can make an assumption that these things were hurried out the door. That being said, the software seems to work surprisingly well. I've owned $400 MP3 players with a lot more serious firmware issues.
Bug List/Feature Requests
This is just a scratch note list of issues I've experienced. Some are bugs, some are requested features, some are just the way I think things should work (NitPicks?). Some are unconfirmed as I need to do more concrete testing.
- BUG: Mute button does not work. Volume control all the way down does
- BUG: Can only delete contacts from primary service
- BUG: Shows multiple APs of same network as multiple networks discovered. Appears to list them as blank entries in the selection list?
- BUG: Keys not working when entering SSID name manually (like the whole right side?)
- BUG: No way to cancel out of connecting to accounts once you have connected to an access point.
- BUG: Does not allow for multiple connections to same AIM account. Boots out your desktop client client when you login from the Zipit. Desktop boots the Zipit out.
- FR: No signal strength indicator in network info.
- FR: Configurable timeout setting for searching for networks. It appears that initially it takes up to maybe 30 seconds, but if it fails and you hit Prev to try again, it only appears to check for maybe 5 seconds tops?
- FR: Ability to connect to HTML pages to enter forms and click buttons to allow access to APs that have splash screens.
- FR: Ability to set your own Away Message.
- FR: Ability to view others Away Messages without havig to send the a message.
- FR: Support for multiple accounts per IM type, i.e. two Yahoo accounts.
- NP: Arrow buttons do not move cursor back and forth in text entry boxes.
- NP: Nigel Ballard points out that by default it will automatically start connecting to available access points, might be more polite to prompt if you want to connect to what it's found first.
Taking it apart
The screws for the case are under the little rubber stops. They came out easily enough. The tape on the inside of the battery cover may stick to the circuit board, but it peels of easily as well. Make sure to remove the battery cable first. It did not remove the lcd cable nor the speaker. The lcd cable looks like it could be disconnected, but I had video problems reassembling it so I decided not to. FYI do not mess with the curled up ribbon connector where the antenna goes into the hinge.
Information still needed
Here's a list of little things I'd like to know:
- Confirm support for various encrypted networks. I know it does not work with gateway-portals (like T-Mobile at Starbucks) or Cisco LEAP Authentication networks (like at my work). Update: Supports 128bit WEP, haven't tested others.
- Find FCC registration documents
- Find radio specs and/or measure output
- Snoop traffic to see if it direct connects to IM servers or proxies through them? Do they log communications? Can check firewall for port access. Update: Confirmed connects directly to AIM after checking in with zipitwireless.net (we assume for version checks). This is good news for privacy.
- Concrete battery life numbers. Update: Battery life has been WAY better than expected.
- Processor specs, and coding possibilities. Over the net update capabilities. Update: Looks like OTN update should be really easy by spoofing the zipitwireless.net domain. Need to confirm what triggers the update. May be specific account per each unit.
- Function of extra connectors on earphone port (maybe digital controls like on my MiniDisc player, but it doesn't fit).
I got a chance to use the Zipit out and about in Portland, OR over Thanksgiving weekend. It connected flawlessly in a number of places including the Personal Telco free node at Pioneer Square. Great to chat while waiting for the train. It worked at various places up and down the city. It's nice to note that the 'linksys' community network is as strong up there as it is in Sacramento and the Bay Area. Unfortunately, it did not work at the airport (PDX, but I couldn't get my laptop to connect either) or in the Hilton lobby (I assume pay for access) or at Powell's Books (PersonalTelco node, maybe a gateway page?).
All in all, it worked quite well. I'm really wishing it had more functionality than just IM. An online Yellow Pages app, or a slimline Google browser, or a bus route schedule would have come in handy several times!
email@example.com -- Darren
I do this on my own time, and host this with my own money. If you've found this page useful, or if you email me a question, please at least click on my Amazon link if not buy your Zipit by clicking on the big picture at the top. Thank you.