Author Topic: Mobile Control II and JMRI Thumbs Up  (Read 2046 times)

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jdcolombo

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Mobile Control II and JMRI Thumbs Up
« on: July 18, 2018, 01:29:32 PM »
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Hi everyone.

Today I got my first ESU Mobile Control II Wi-Fi throttle.  I had been keeping an eye on this throttle since its introduction a couple of years ago, because it has several advantages over what else is on the market:

1.  It uses WiFi rather than a proprietary radio system.  Try as I might, even my Digitrax Duplex system seemed to have drop-out problems in my basement; and a friend down the street with an NCE system, a much larger basement, and a bunch of radio receivers/transmitters also has some dead spots that have no rhyme nor reason (one dead spot occurs even though there is line-of-sight between the throttle and receiver, which is mounted on the ceiling no more than 10' away).  On the other hand, I've had great success using Wi-Throttle on an old Apple iPhone 5 via JMRI's Wi-Throttle server and my home WiFi system. 

2.  It has a nice big knob for speed control and 4 hard buttons.  Though I've had great success with Wi-Throttle running on an Apple iPhone 5, I'm a "hard button" guy - I like to have a knob or at least hard buttons that you press and get appropriate tactile feedback from when operating a throttle - particularly when doing switching moves, but even when running through trains on the main.  The Mobile Control II seemed in theory to be the answer to my prayers for a WiFi throttle.

3.  The Mobile Control II is an Android device, which means it is essentially an open-source device that can take advantage of the imagination of developers.

4.  It has a headphone jack.  I can imagine a future in which sound is delivered via WiFi by JMRI with a sound file that matches the selected locomotive, to the throttle and your ears via the headphone jack.  In fact, I think JMRI is already capable of sound delivery, but I haven't really checked out that aspect of the software.

In any event, I got my Mobile Control II today, charged the battery, and then took it down to my layout room to test it out.  And the verdict is:

 :D

All smiles.  The process for getting it working is really pretty simple, IF you already have JMRI working and connected to your command station.  Basically the process is this:

1.  Enable WiFi on the throttle and connect to your WiFi network - same process you would use for any Wi-Fi device (select network, enter password if the network is password protected via WPA or other security) and press "Connect."

2.  Use the Google Play store app to download the current version of Engine Driver, which is the Android equivalent to Wi-Throttle.

3.  Enable Wi-Throttle server on JMRI.

4.  Start up Engine Driver; it will automatically find the Wi-Throttle server that you enabled in Step 3; click on that server and "Connect". 

5.  You now have an operating WiFi throttle.  The Engine Driver app will automatically recognize that it is installed on a Mobile Control II, and will enable the throttle knob and the hard buttons (with default assignments, which are speed increment up and down, and engine direction).  The hard buttons, however, are fully programmable - I set mine up with the upper left button as the direction toggle; the lower left button to blow the horn/whistle on my sound-equipped units; and the two right buttons for speed increment up and down, respectively, if I want a bit of finer control over speed than I can get with the knob.  If you've already used Engine Driver or Wi-Throttle, the experience on the Mobile Control II will be very similar, with the exception of having the knob and hard buttons - which for me is the difference between a novelty and a real, useable throttle.

In any event, kudos to ESU for producing this marvelous piece of technology, and for the Engine Driver app developers for making it work with the MCII throttle so seamlessly.  I suspect that I'll end up ditching my Digitrax Duplex radio system, and go completely to the Mobile Control II route for walk-around throttles.

John C.

lyled1117

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Re: Mobile Control II and JMRI Thumbs Up
« Reply #1 on: July 18, 2018, 02:43:13 PM »
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I 2nd your comments. I've had mine for several months. I'm an admittedly  biased NCE owner, but when I first saw the throttle I knew I needed one. I was not disappointed. Easy to use and configure. Battery life is respectable in my use, but I suspect everyone's mileage will vary.

Lyle

GaryHinshaw

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Re: Mobile Control II and JMRI Thumbs Up
« Reply #2 on: July 19, 2018, 12:28:47 AM »
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Good to hear John.  The last time I looked into one of these, the price was around $400 (though my memory may be faulty).  Now MBK lists them for $239 - still pricy, but not much more than a Digitrax DT500D ($199).  When I'm in the market for a new throttle, I'll give this a serious look.  (First I need to recover from buying too many Scale Trains GEVOs, a bunch of signalling hardware, a new airbrush, and so much more...)

peteski

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Re: Mobile Control II and JMRI Thumbs Up
« Reply #3 on: July 19, 2018, 12:49:08 AM »
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Thanks for the review John!  I never did any deeper research on those throttles and I thought they were designed to only work with the ESU DCC system.  But since they are generic Android devices (sans the phone part?). I think that this was a brilliant move on ESU's part.  This way they can be used on any DCC system which interfaces with JMRI (which is pretty much every currently available system).  Nice job ESU!

You mention that you have buttons set up for increasing/decreasing the speed.  Is it that the knob doesn't give you fine enough control?  Is the knob one of those endlessly spinning encoders, or does it have a limited travel (like a potentiometer)? I would have thought that a relatively large knob would have provided excellent control of the speed.
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jdcolombo

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Re: Mobile Control II and JMRI Thumbs Up
« Reply #4 on: July 19, 2018, 08:58:50 AM »
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Thanks for the review John!  I never did any deeper research on those throttles and I thought they were designed to only work with the ESU DCC system.  But since they are generic Android devices (sans the phone part?). I think that this was a brilliant move on ESU's part.  This way they can be used on any DCC system which interfaces with JMRI (which is pretty much every currently available system).  Nice job ESU!

You mention that you have buttons set up for increasing/decreasing the speed.  Is it that the knob doesn't give you fine enough control?  Is the knob one of those endlessly spinning encoders, or does it have a limited travel (like a potentiometer)? I would have thought that a relatively large knob would have provided excellent control of the speed.

Hi Pete.

The knob has travel limits - it runs about 300 degrees and stops. It is also motorized, so if you acquire a loco that is already running, the knob sets itself to the loco's current speed.  It's really a well-thought-out design.

I set up the RH side buttons for speed increment because at first I thought the knob wouldn't provide fine-enough speed control.  But yesterday I spent about two hours doing switching in the yard, running mainline trains around the layout, etc. and never touched the buttons.  The knob is fine alone, and I'll probably re-program the two side buttons for something else (bell and maybe Drive Hold).  Another nice aspect of this (the result of Engine Driver, not the throttle itself) is that you can have the screen display the throttle setting in percent of full throttle (e.g., a 0-100 scale) or the actual speed step (0-128).  Whatever floats your boat.

My only complaints are relatively minor: I wish the Engine Driver software allowed for fewer, but bigger, touch-screen buttons.  The developers programmed the size of the touch-screen buttons so you could fit 24 on the screen.  Great, but I only use 9 functions at most, and sometimes no more than 5.  It would be nice if I could choose larger buttons at the expense of seeing all 24 function keys (you actually CAN limit the number of function buttons you see on the screen, but AFAIK, you can't change the size of the buttons).

The other complaint is that the MCII has trouble reconnecting to my WPA-encrypted router after going into sleep mode or being turned off.  I'm not sure what that problem is, but I solved it by simply setting up a separate router not connected to the Internet for train system control, and I don't use a password on that one.  That solved the problem, and using a dedicated router not connected to the internet is probably best practice for this kind of thing anyway.  I'm not using the throttle to check e-mail or surf the web!

All in all, though, I'm extremely pleased with the MCII in my system, and as Gary pointed out, the street price today is competitive with Digitrax Duplex radio throttles.  I'll probably ditch my duplex system and go completely to wifi because it is just more robust in my basement environment, particularly with the separate router setup.

John C.

peteski

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Re: Mobile Control II and JMRI Thumbs Up
« Reply #5 on: July 19, 2018, 10:24:35 AM »
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Thanks for the followup John.  Good to know that the knob (whihc is probably the biggest advantage of this throttle) works well. Why is it motorized?  What function does that serve?

As far as the 29 small "soft" buttons go, fortunately that is a software-defined item and could likely be modified (fewer larger buttons) if the developer was compelled to do so.  Maybe if enough users request that, he will make the number of buttons on the screen definable by the end user?

I have not used Engine Driver for a while, but from what I remember it would also be nice to be able to define legends or even better, icons, for the soft buttons.
« Last Edit: July 19, 2018, 10:44:45 AM by peteski »
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lyled1117

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Re: Mobile Control II and JMRI Thumbs Up
« Reply #6 on: July 19, 2018, 11:37:24 AM »
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I'll add a bit of info to hook some potential users. (Using MSRP pricing for everything)  If one wants a wifi/wireless system the price of the Cab Control system out of the box beats a comparable Digitrax and NCE system quite well. Haven't priced Lenz or anything else to be able to compare them. The throttle is the expensive item if you will, I picked up the entire system mainly to get the throttle. The system is robust as well. It however isn't as fully developed as it will be down the road. ESU wanted to get the system out at last year's Trainfest in Milwaukee, so it came out lacking 'features'. These 'features' however can and will be available as upgrades done with USB sticks or connection to a computer. No chip swaps, sending back to ESU, etc. One of the things lacking when new was programming-on-main capability. There is now a downloadable upgrade to add that functionality and I've installed it in mine. I'm hoping the next significant upgrade will be Ethernet functionality. The port responds to pings, but that is all it knows how to do today.  This should allow interface to their own programmer software as well as DecoderPro, etc.

Lyle D
« Last Edit: July 19, 2018, 11:38:57 AM by lyled1117 »

peteski

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Re: Mobile Control II and JMRI Thumbs Up
« Reply #7 on: July 19, 2018, 11:54:30 AM »
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I'll add a bit of info to hook some potential users. (Using MSRP pricing for everything)  If one wants a wifi/wireless system the price of the Cab Control system out of the box beats a comparable Digitrax and NCE system quite well. Haven't priced Lenz or anything else to be able to compare them. The throttle is the expensive item if you will, I picked up the entire system mainly to get the throttle. The system is robust as well. It however isn't as fully developed as it will be down the road. ESU wanted to get the system out at last year's Trainfest in Milwaukee, so it came out lacking 'features'. These 'features' however can and will be available as upgrades done with USB sticks or connection to a computer. No chip swaps, sending back to ESU, etc. One of the things lacking when new was programming-on-main capability. There is now a downloadable upgrade to add that functionality and I've installed it in mine. I'm hoping the next significant upgrade will be Ethernet functionality. The port responds to pings, but that is all it knows how to do today.  This should allow interface to their own programmer software as well as DecoderPro, etc.

Lyle D

I'm a bit confused. This thread was specifically just on the ESU Mobile Control II handheld throttle (which can be used, as a generic WiFi device, with any JMRI compatible DCC system), but in the statement above you are describing the complete ESU DCC system, not just the the throttle alone, correct?
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jdcolombo

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Re: Mobile Control II and JMRI Thumbs Up
« Reply #8 on: July 19, 2018, 12:32:09 PM »
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Why is it motorized?  What function does that serve?

The motor serves two functions.  First, if you also have buttons programmed for speed increment, if you use a button to increase (or decrease) speed, then the motor moves the knob so that the knob is always "in sync" with the engine speed.  Second, if you acquire a locomotive that is already running on the layout at some speed, the motor will automatically "sync" the throttle knob to the loco's current speed.  Not sure if this latter scenario is all that useful to most folks, but it IS useful to have the knob sync to the buttons, if you use them.  But then again, based on my testing yesterday, I didn't use the buttons at all. 

It IS hard to use the knob to get a very small speed increase (e.g., 1% or 1/128 speed steps), which you can do much more reliably with a button press.  But since all my engines have a high amount of momentum dialed in, the ability to accurately go up and down the speed scale in increments of 1 isn't all that useful to me.  If I leave the yard and crack open the throttle using the knob, I might end up at speed step 3, rather than 1, but that's OK - the momentum gives me a smooth start, and I'd want to be at step 3 (or higher) anyway once the loco started moving.  But if you truly wanted to do single speed steps, buttons would still be the way to go.

John C.

Jbub

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Re: Mobile Control II and JMRI Thumbs Up
« Reply #9 on: July 19, 2018, 01:06:46 PM »
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I'm a bit confused. This thread was specifically just on the ESU Mobile Control II handheld throttle (which can be used, as a generic WiFi device, with any JMRI compatible DCC system), but in the statement above you are describing the complete ESU DCC system, not just the the throttle alone, correct?
You got it! He's just saying value wise it is smart to buy the entire ESU Cab Control System if your in the market to buy an a new system than to buy a competitor and add a the mobile control 2.
Street price for the mc2 is around 230-250 and the entire system (if you can find it, it's been sold out for a while) is between 380 and 400. And that's for a wireless system with an 8 amp power supply.
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peteski

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Re: Mobile Control II and JMRI Thumbs Up
« Reply #10 on: July 19, 2018, 01:27:31 PM »
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Thanks guys!

Hey John, since the knob appears to be fully software controlled, is it possible to use in a center-off (speed step zero) mode? Like the way many European DC throttles work?  That would be great for switching.  But then again, if there is no center detent to give you a feedback, that might not work very well.  Unless of course the knob's motorized driver would give a haptic twitch when center position is reached . . .   :)
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nstars

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Re: Mobile Control II and JMRI Thumbs Up
« Reply #11 on: July 20, 2018, 06:36:01 PM »
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I'm afraid my experience with the MC2 wasn't as good as John's. Before I could get the engine driver app on the MC2, the device crashed at startup and became useless :(. Nothing I tried could solve the problem and ESU Germany also did't have a solution. Two options remained, sending back to Germany for repair/replacement or back to the shop for a refund. Given the fact that TCS is also coming with 2 Wifi throttles I chose the second option. Hopefully it's possible to test the throttles at the coming NTS so I have an idea what's possible.

I like ESU decoders very much and their digital systems really look great, but sometimes I get the feeling that they put items a little bit to quick on the market. Let's not forget that the Ecos system also went through a lot of change before it came to the current status, POM using for example JMRI is only possible with the latest update of the system and although the Cabcontrol is new in the US it's already several years available in Europe as the Piko system and still some features don't work yet.

Marc

jdcolombo

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Re: Mobile Control II and JMRI Thumbs Up
« Reply #12 on: July 20, 2018, 07:37:43 PM »
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I'm afraid my experience with the MC2 wasn't as good as John's. Before I could get the engine driver app on the MC2, the device crashed at startup and became useless :(. Nothing I tried could solve the problem and ESU Germany also did't have a solution. Two options remained, sending back to Germany for repair/replacement or back to the shop for a refund. Given the fact that TCS is also coming with 2 Wifi throttles I chose the second option. Hopefully it's possible to test the throttles at the coming NTS so I have an idea what's possible.

I like ESU decoders very much and their digital systems really look great, but sometimes I get the feeling that they put items a little bit to quick on the market. Let's not forget that the Ecos system also went through a lot of change before it came to the current status, POM using for example JMRI is only possible with the latest update of the system and although the Cabcontrol is new in the US it's already several years available in Europe as the Piko system and still some features don't work yet.

Marc

Hi Marc.

The TCS throttle certainly looks interesting, but to me the photos of prototypes look like a clone of the big NCE throttle.  I've used these on a friend's layout, and the thing I like about the MC2 is the large knob, rather than the scroll wheel.  I also like the fact that you can easily customize the touch screen to make it very simple for operators.  I set up my MC2 so that the upper left button is the direction toggle; the lower left blows the horn/whistle, and the right buttons turn on the bell and headlight.  The touch screen duplicates these on function buttons, and I also have buttons for Brake, Drive Hold, Run8 and Coast on my LokSound Full Throttle-equipped locos.  That's it.  A maximum of 7 buttons, and fewer on my steam locos, which only have buttons for light, bell, horn and Heavy Load.  Since the touchscreen buttons are labeled, there is no confusion about what the buttons do.  My operators don't have to remember that "5" is Drive Hold.  All they have to do is look at the touchscreen and press.

Obviously, you got a lemon.  It happens.  And throttles are sort of a personal preference thing, anyway.  I like big knobs, which I'm sure a psychologist would find meaningful in some way  :facepalm:

John C.
« Last Edit: July 20, 2018, 07:55:34 PM by jdcolombo »

daniel_leavitt2000

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Re: Mobile Control II and JMRI Thumbs Up
« Reply #13 on: July 21, 2018, 01:37:10 AM »
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Glad you guys like it. I just wish I could get the USB interface working with my NCE powercab  :facepalm:
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nstars

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Re: Mobile Control II and JMRI Thumbs Up
« Reply #14 on: July 21, 2018, 03:40:19 AM »
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Hi Marc.

The TCS throttle certainly looks interesting, but to me the photos of prototypes look like a clone of the big NCE throttle.  I've used these on a friend's layout, and the thing I like about the MC2 is the large knob, rather than the scroll wheel.  I also like the fact that you can easily customize the touch screen to make it very simple for operators.  I set up my MC2 so that the upper left button is the direction toggle; the lower left blows the horn/whistle, and the right buttons turn on the bell and headlight.  The touch screen duplicates these on function buttons, and I also have buttons for Brake, Drive Hold, Run8 and Coast on my LokSound Full Throttle-equipped locos.  That's it.  A maximum of 7 buttons, and fewer on my steam locos, which only have buttons for light, bell, horn and Heavy Load.  Since the touchscreen buttons are labeled, there is no confusion about what the buttons do.  My operators don't have to remember that "5" is Drive Hold.  All they have to do is look at the touchscreen and press.

Obviously, you got a lemon.  It happens.  And throttles are sort of a personal preference thing, anyway.  I like big knobs, which I'm sure a psychologist would find meaningful in some way  :facepalm:

John,

TCS is planning to bring out 2 Wifi throttles, one with the scroll wheel you mentioned (which I'm also not a big fan of), but the other throttle, which will be the basic throttle, will feature the large knob you liked and the simple function buttons.

Marc