EEVblog #56 – Agilent U1253A OLED Multimeter Review & TeardownPosted on January 24th, 2010 58 comments
Dave reviews the Agilent U1253A OLED Multimeter and compares it with the Fluke 87-V in this epic review. How will it stack up?
Check out Stormbyte’s video response to my review.
Some good points here which I address in #57.
8 hour battery life really sucks – device should come with a dock so its always charged when needed.
Disagree that you can tell something about the quality depending on what county something is made in. It all depends on what quality standards the customer sets and how he controls it.
If that wouldn’t work then Malayisa wasn’t one of the main producers for pc harddrives. I think there is no other product with comparable quality standards.
Its no problem to produce crap in high price level countries. just look at us car companies.
Totally agree with that “Jan” guy– us Americans totally suck at producing things. We had to give up producing our own rubber dog-poo in the late 1920′s…
Go buy a Toyota if you think US car companies suck. Oops, looks like US cars are looking preety good now.
Unfortunately in the current recall it is an American made part that doesn’t match the original design specs of the Japanese manufactured part. And my truck was assembled in San Antonio, Texas from a mixture of American and Japanese parts. If we were doing our part, we wouldn’t have this situation.
Tissues to Dave’s lab, Tissues to Dave’s lab….
When I first looked at the meter on the Farnell email (IIRC) I just about burnt the plastic card and ordered one on the spot, I love the OLED display…
But since seeing the review I am a little disappointed, The continuity test is far to slow, the display appears useless outside, I do not like the battery life.
If they just improved battery life and continuity speed, I would buy one tomorrow. I can live with the fact I need to use a different meter outside (I hardly work outside these days anyway (far to Hot in Perth for outside jobs….)
I also have a problem with the display flicker when used over video. I have used this idea over 100 times, set the meter up in one part of a building then used the CCTV (with an extention cable etc to move the camera into position) to monitor voltages etc when I did not want to be in the area while powering up repaired equipment (I used to repair industrial UPS’s. It was hard to bench test modules as a UPS might cost au$250K or more, we had test jigs, but they did not create the true life situations (like DC Buss ripple etc) that could cause things to go bang (and in big power electronics they go bang very well (esp when some dick head (related to Mr Head from Microchip) slips with a wrench and puts it across the 500Vdc battery buss (hmm how much current does a 1.2Ka breaker pass before tripping ;))
BTW Dave, remember in the world of video left and right are revered for the viewer
GREAT BLOG I was riveted for the entire video.. BUT I am a Geekette
I’m sold to be honest Dave – your review came across mostly in a positive light for me. I did agree with most if not all of the criticisms you made of it actually, and in particular I’d definitely agree that the PP3 was a very poor battery choice, but at least you don’t have to take the thing out to charge it. There’s some convenience with the in-situ charger, so you could probably just leave the thing on overnight. It’d just have to become a forced habit.
So yeah, I’d buy one I think. Over here in the UK Farnell are offering them for
There are not enough Geekettes in this world. Plus, you’re lucky because being a geekette automatically qualifies you for the title “uber-cool”, where as being a regular geek automatically qualifies us for “uber-unpopular”
Did you end up measuring the battery life with the OLED turned down?
What’s the maximum battery battery life during data logging? (can the display be completely turned off?)
Why would they not go with the tried and true Li-ion battery tech used in the mobile device industry? Heck, the battery bay looks big enough to stuff a 900mAh LiPo RC battery into as-is.
Also, if you had to guess, is it just a simple matter of programming to resolve the continuity test beep delay, or is there some real reason for the delay. (IE the slow continuity test is the result of an EE choosing some other unknown benefit)
You’re the man Dave. What a review! I am sure the chairperson at Agilent was biting nails for this.
I am disappointed. In a whim to shake Fluke’s throne, Agilent produced a PROFESSIONAL TOP-OF-THE-LINE 400USD product that sound like VIDEO GAMES OF THE 1990s? Even the built aesthetics are sub par Fluke 117!
The battery life and display readability must be better with the two lower models in this series, so that is not something to tear your hairs off. One thing you did not mention is the warranty period. It does not come with lifetime warranty, does it?
What is awesome is the accuracy and super fast display update. Hats off to the processor.
Substantially, Fluke 287/289 remains undefeated!
Great review! I love the hardware reviews the most. I’m glad I have the Fluke v87 more then ever. I like the display on the Agilent but it’s not worth the negatives at all. I’ll keep my Fluke thank you very much just the same.
PS: I got your 555 t-shirt for Christmas. It was an XL size but I guess down-under your XL is more like a USA M. Still loved it, but had to give it to my teenage nephew. My wife said its a standard Hanse XL so maybe I eat to much turkey?
I agree about the battery, there couldn’t possibly be worse that the old 9V type. I detest them.
A rechargeable lithium mobile phone style battery would do well, as used in most portable devices with fast processors and dot matrix oled/lcd displays.
I’d have to say it’s more of a ‘lab / engineer’s multimeter and not the most practical for the electrician.
Why is there not a Open Source Multimeter yet. You would think with all the EE people who use them that someone would have developed a Uber-Cool feature packed Hackable Multimeter that is super accurate that uses standard off the shelf type parts. Even if its not pretty and in plastic with a nice Dial would still be cool.
I was actually looking a while back about designing a basic 5000 count meter with off the shelf parts (not cheap to buy in ones and twos for decent spec op amps, resistors for dividers etc etc etc)
I guess I might go back to the idea, it was for a bench style meter (as it is easier to get the case and more room).
If there is enough interest here, I might knock up a quick circuit and we can peer review it on the forum and do it as a community project, I am ok with design and PCB layout, but I am CRAP at Firmware
What the Hell I will start a topic http://www.eevblog.com/forum/index.php?topic=173.0
Could you please use something else than a highly conductive screwdriver (when poking around the insides of a device) in your next ‘tear it a part’-review?
…and use that ESD grounding wrist strap. And safety glasses. And reference the MSDS datasheets. And no food/drink or smoking while touching lead-based solder. Oh…oh…oh…and emphasize to the audience that mixing an acid and a base could get you expelled from school….
Give me a F’ing break.
For those concerned about battery life, the Agilent 1250-series does include some models without the OLED display, and battery life with these models is significantly better. The U1252A appears (at a brief glance of the specs) to be comparable with the reviewed U1253A in every way except that it uses a standard LCD display and has a battery life of 36 hours compared to the OLED model’s 8. The U1251A is a slightly less functional model, but still a good meter, and also sports a standard LCD display with a battery life of 72 hours.
So, if battery life and direct sun-light operation are higher priorities for you than the OLED display then there are options for you within the range.
8 Hour Battery live
David today there are much better 9V batteries available. They got lipoly inside. The power of the lithium ion! And they are available in the case of a 9V battery.
But you can even build them yoursel.
I crack open old 9V batteries and solder 2 Lipolys to the tabs.The 9V NiMh batteries were allways the worst batteries I have ever seen.They simply had no capacity.
To make a long story short, a replacement should give you at least 40hrs live time.
Drawback you could not use the builtin charge anymore, but you can quick charge them with 2C in 30 minutes.
Would I buy such a multimeter, immedeatly, if I would live in America. In Austria they are much more expensive, about 700$.
So in addition to your Agilent DMM w/custom-made LiPO batteries, you need a LiPo battery charger– the R/C industry offers them for about $150 U.S. for a decent one, a 12v power supply (to power the battery charger) and a custom balancing pigtail to accommodate the two cells wired in series as proposed by Rubi (total additional weight, about 3kg.) I don’t know about the rest of you, but that doesn’t seem all that practical to me.
Also– custom LiPo battery packs are ‘iffy’ at best; contained in little foil sacks, any damage during construction/handling could result in fire.
All to get that jazzy OLED experience (actual rewards may vary, depending on the amount of ambient light during operation.)
For a simmilar application,I designed my own lipo loader , using a Maxim 1555 (in this case it would be tow of them or a Lipo loader chip from TI).
The beauty, you can load via usb.
Weight about 10g, cost 10$.
The loader you mention are high capacity laders.You dont need a 300W loader capable to load 10 cells in series for this little repacement battery.
I’ve noticed over the years that there’s always that ONE over eager company-guy that pretends to be an “anonymous” user, and goes way-overboard defending the product and company on these Internet forums.
Aglient should seek out sh*t-can those guys.
I would expect that a $500 dollar multimeter would have a battery that lasts more or at least the same of one with no OLed display.
OLed are more power demanding ? Well.. Put a big Lithium battery on the thing…
Oh.. The meter will end up being too heavy.. So what ?… We engineers are sedentary bastards! We need the exercise :-))
response to your video Dave its just a BS!
in my opinion, your review was really objective, those things sucks, and those are cool.
this is slow and this is fast.
i watch your review and i realize some features are not too fast.
who cares, how often you use continuity test. and as you said you can use different mode to check it and fast enough.
lets face it, electronics design its not F1 race, or speed contest.
for my purposes its perfect.
battery life…. bla bla bla . please, guys you suppose to do electronics stuff. what is the problem to change battery, make additional slot for charging, plug power supply.
have mercy. how often you take your multimeter outside and for how long ???
and why multimeter isn’t bulletproof ?? why it should be?
cars seems to be more solid than multimeters? right?
try to drop your car from 1 – 1.5 meters
cmon, its a piece of shit, because it fall a part. please mercy.
my 5 cents
Actually I take my meter outside most days, for 8 years it was used in marine electronics, working on very sunny decks, bridges, engine rooms, anywhere electronic equipment or junction boxes were placed.
Most of the work was voltage related, ie measuring circuits to fault find sensor, motor etc circuits.
About 10% of my work was install, 90% of the work was fault finding (the electricians did most of the install, Us engineers did the fault finding and commissioning
I would be either charging it or praying it would hold out for a 10-16 hour day (Yes self employed people do seem to work very long hours)
It looks to me that the meter is designed an build in Malaysia. Too much menus. The buttons and the text is a mess. Its more like a Phone than a professional multimeter.
The OLED is a marketing trick. It takes way to much power. That is why the battery is empty all the time. Remember the LED watches in the 70′ties. They where scrapped when the LCD came along with a battery life of a year iso 3 weeks.
The innards say Malaysia to me. Dry solder joint should not pass the final inspection and the headers between the PCB’s are prone to fail after a few drops. Every electrical engineer should know that the the most unreliable component on a PCB is a socket or a header.
The protective boot is a colorful fashion accessory but does not protect the meter.
The continuity us useless.
The probes are standard. I have seen them before. They are now supplied by many multimeter manufacturers and after marked suppliers.
The Overload protection is probably done with PTC’s that take a while to cool down. This is a risk when you do not notice overloading it and trust the display of meter. The display should indicate that is still recovering from an overload and the value is unreliable. Even better would be to display nothing at all.
I do not trust current spec’s of 0.15%.
Try measuring current in the highest range say 5A and keep the current constant. Check the display after 10 minutes. I bet it has run off more than 0.15%
This is a meter made by people who do NOT use a multimeter every day. They have analyzed the competition and try to trump every spec of the competitor leaving usability on the track.
A few comments.
People seem to attribute battery life problems to the OLED display. I’m not so sure. I have a Zune HD music player with OLED and the battery life is excellent.
OLED displays are worthless outdoors. The Zune is unreadable in bright sunlight.
But few need a precision multimeter outside. I use a cheap LCD Radioshack for that purpose.
A think that Dave is unfairly criticized. He clearly gave thumbs up based on the exquisite precision of the meter. If you do not need that spec why would you spend $450 for a meter?
By the way, this really is not a portable meter – it is a bench meter in disguise. That’s what Agilent, formerly HP, is famous for.
Most likely some MBA marketing manager dickhead forced the enineers to make it “portable” See Dave’s review of the Pickit 3 for a lively discussion of the “DH” issue.
I have the DMM and it suits me pretty well. I use it for hobby purposes and then the battery lasts a week or two depending on how much I use it. I have two 9v batteries and I don’t charge them in the multimeter but instead use an ordinary plug-in charger. The meter has only been used indoors for electronics so far.
The slow buzzer is most probably due to the sluggish auto-ranging. One can set the beep threshold (roughly) while most other meters seem to have analog buzzers that are quick but the resistance can’t be set.
I opened my DMM after seeing the blog to check for cold solder joints but I did not find any (Although I didn’t inspect it carefully with any microscope/loupe). The shielding foil looks cheap but there doesn’t seem to be enough space to use a proper sheet metal one. The same goes for the piezo buzzer that isn’t board mounted like in the other meters reviewed here.
The software for data logging is free (unlike fluke’s really expensive) and the usb cable is dirt cheap. Another thing that was not mentioned is that it comes with a full calibration report which might be nice to have.
The main shortcomings are the slow auto ranging and the 9v battery but the latter does not bother me too much
I just have to say Stormbyte
Let’s not turn it into a ‘three-dog night’ for Dave!
Thanks, man. Keep up the good work!
i dint know what exactly are you checking on those boats.
but i guess precision isn’t really important in this case.
I’m using cheap multimeter i think i paid 15 euros
and i have to say thumb up !
its better to use multimeter than touch the cables buy your hand and check if there is power or not
works and it does the job really well. also for low voltage.
my point here is:
there is no universal hammer, if you go to the store and take look, you will see lots of them.
and im pretty sure you will pick up one what will suit your job. of course you could use sledge hammer to hang a picture frame on the wall. but it might be quite difficult
in this twisted way im trying to explain, you dont need to have the best multimeter in entire galaxy. because you won’t use all those features.
you need multimeter what will have those features/speed/precision what you actually need.
this multimeter had serious issues, as the battery life, i have to agree… totally sux.
continuity time sux.
but beside those things its really cool.
It might also be worth pointing out that the two meters (the Fluke 87v and Agilent U1253A) are aimed at very different merket segments.
The fluke is extremely rugged because it’s designed to be used by industrial electricians or engineers.
The Agilent meter, on the other hand, is targeted squarely at electronic engineers, where better accuracy and a different feature set are more valuable.
As an example, the true-RMS bandwidth on the Fluke meter is only 20kHz, and then only to the 6V range. Realistically, the usable analog bandwidth is only 1kHz. While that’s fine for testing AC motors and the like, it’s complete rubbish for testing a high power DC-DC converter.
The Agilent has a usable analog bandwidth of 20kHz to the 50V range, and suffers only a minor accuracy loss when used at 100kHz on the 500V range.
Basically, which meter is “better” will depend entirely on your requirements. For me, as a power electronics engineer, the Agilent is clearly superior as the Fluke would spend most of its time lying to me.
please do not change anything. i really like all your reviews.
you point all bad things, as well as a good things.
and at the end you say how you feel about the product.
this is the perfect way.
thats why people like so much your blog. its because who you are, and how you talking about stuff.
be your self
cheers mate !
I don’t know why so many shit their pants because of Dave’s thumbs-up summary.
This is a blog, Dave’s blog. I read blogs because I want to hear the opinions of others. Opinions, not 100 % scientific evaluations.
Would I buy the U1253A? No, because it doesn’t satisfy my needs (not to say, it looks like rubbish to me). But if it would largely satisfy Dave’s needs, why not a thumbs-up?
Wow, that has got to be the worst battery life I have ever seen in a multimeter. I have a 25-30USD Radio-Shack multimeter, and it works for my purposes, but I haven’t changed the battery in 6 months. Six months and that’s on a cheap multimeter. I realize it doesn’t have the features of any of the high end multimeters you have reviewed, but battery life is very important to me.
I can’t justify spending over $200 on any type of test equipment unless it is an oscilloscope. I guess depending on how much you make this may or may not be much money.
On the construction of the multimeter, I have just a couple comments. I have to agree that mounting the banana plugs directly to the PCB was a very bad move. If anybody gets to rough with them they could end up cracking the PCB. Also, I didn’t like the fuse location either. Having to take apart an expensive piece of equipment just to change a fuse is a bit of a hassle.
Considering that OLEDs are so bright, I was surprised to find the screen didn’t show up outside. I was quite expecting it to outshine the Fluke’s screen. Bit of a bummer there.
I have watched your multimeter reviews and I can’t help but wonder; Have you ever designed a multimeter? Considering that you are in fact an electrical engineer, and that you have years of experience, I would think you would have or are planning to. I wouldn’t hesitate to buy a multimeter you designed (well, after reading a review of course) simply because they seem to be a big deal to you. I think you should give it a go, it would be interesting to see what you come up with.
i’m not gonna write home to my mother about it…
you are the best dave…
1. 8 hours batter life
My god… who was the idiot that designed this piece of useless crap?
Oh, let me guess, a graduate just out of college who designed something for himself to makes his job more interesting and to put experience on his CV rather than what’s of utmost importance when designing a portable multi-meter.
Otherwise, a great meter, even though no one can use it in practical day to day situations
for years we have been using ac motors for industrial use and yes they last longer ,,
Just came across this review of the U1253A OLED HH DMM. May I request access to view the response from Stormbyte? Currently I the video is said to be unavailable.
Thanks for the help.
any possibilty to do a review of the other 12XX multimeters made by Agilent.
The U1251 model for example seems to be similiar and has standard screen. sure it has better battery life.
In the other hand, the U1251 comes with more test probes and alkaline battery.
By the way………it is worth the money the square wave generator of the 2 most expensive models compared to the U1251?
Just a small detail:
The fast Capacitance measurement drops to an amazing 0.01 times/s for (really big) capacitors according to the datasheet (5989-5509EN.pdf)
After my Samsung 244T computer monitor broke, I ordered it because I assumed I can detect bad caps with it, just to learn shortly afterwards that I need an ESR meter for this (would the BK-879B work, too?). I wanted to cancel the order, but it already was on its way to the Packstation. It would have been returned when I wouldn’t pick it up in 7 days, but today I couldn’t resist anymore X-)
Nice device! Albeit continuity a bit slow. And battery already not fully charged anymore after some minor playing around with it X-)
As a B-2 engineer, the meter is perfect- or nearly so. The oled display is a god send as I have to set the meter in funny positions/angles and an lcd display sucks unless you can see it straight on plus the poor lighting in the electronics bay makes it even more obscure. The battery life is a non-issue at work as the supply us with boxes of batts and plenty of charge stations. I do wish the latter iterations of this meter they would use a fluke type socket arrangement though. the only thing I would like better is a full colour display. woo woo
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