Saturday, March 4, 2023

X1C3, an alternative for Mobilinkd?

With the Mobilinkd TNC always running out of stock lately, I was tempted to look elsewhere to fill the portable TNC need. I had been eyeing the Chinese made X1C3 and read several reviews, but can it really replace the Mobilinkd? A friend of mine bought a couple of the X1C3 devices and sent one my way to try. Here's my take on the inexpensive device. 

The X1C3 is advertised as an APRS tracker made by venus-itech. It's premise is essentially the same as the Mobilinkd, but with a few more features built in. For the ~$60 price it looks like a good deal too. But as I found out, it really depends on what your goal for the device is. 

I've been wanting the Mobilinkd primarily as an APRS tracker that will allow messaging via APRSdroid on my phone while I'm operating portable. At the same time, I also wanted the ability to use WOAD, an android based Winlink client. As I soon found out the X1C3 fills the first need pretty well. 

As the device has "APRS Tracker" in the name, I wasn't sure if it would function as a fully fledged KISS TNC or not. The device is built to function as a stand-alone tracker. It has a GPS receiver built in and can be configured for all sorts of beaconing depending on whether you are moving around or using it as a stationary device. The X1C3 can also function as a digipeater. These are all very nice features built into a small fairly cheap device. 

The version my friend provided me with was one that did not include bluetooth functionality. A bit disappointing since the big draw for me was connecting to a phone wirelessly. However I got a good feel of the capabilities of the device and how to configure it even though I had to be tethered by USB. I found the configuration software to be a little confusing. Mainly because the company utilizes the same software across many of the other devices they sell. So, several options don't have anything to do with the X1C3. I found this unofficial manual to be a great resource for figuring out how to properly configure the device. The github page also goes into really good detail about the capabilities of the device. 

First thing I did was use the software and configure it as a simple tracker and plug it into my HT. I was able to walk around and it would use smart beacon to send my position. I had also checked the box for digipeating and noticed it would occasionally digipeat packets it heard. So, if you are wanting a stand alone tracker and/or digipeater, this device is right up your alley. 

The next thing I tried was using it with my phone and a USB OTG cable. I reconfigured the device so that it didn't beacon or digipeat by itself and it should function as a KISS TNC. Testing with APRSdroid was a success. It worked just fine for APRS and if it were the bluetooth model, I would say it would be just as good as the Mobilinkd. 

Since I was looking for something to also use WOAD, I tested this next. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to make it work. After configuring the packet settings in WOAD, it would never attempt a connection. I assumed it was possible WOAD only works properly with the bluetooth version, but I didn't have any luck finding anyone who managed to make it work either. 

I went ahead and reattached it to my PC and played around with various software. I normally use APRSIS32 for APRS on my PC and it worked just fine for that. I then tried PinPoint APRS. PinPoint could not communicate with the modem at all. The software said the TNC was OK, but it would never initiate a connection. 

I then attempted using it with Winlink Express. This was a bit strange. The first time I tried it configured as a KISS TNC, it seemed to connect just fine, but every attempt after that the TNC just ignored. I managed to get the device to attempt a connection twice after resetting everything, but it would never actually send messages even if it did manage the rare connection.

Upon further research I discovered that the X1C3 is really only designed to handle APRS traffic, even while it's in KISS mode. This made me decide to wait for the Mobilinkd to become in stock and pay the premium for the extra features I was looking for. 

In conclusion, if you are looking for a very small self contained TNC with USB/bluetooth connectivity just for APRS, this is a great device. But if you are looking to do more advanced packet operation, you'll have to look elsewhere. 

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