By: Brian Cheung (Guest Writer)
April 2, 2015
Prior to this review, I have never understood what the word "recon" meant, even though I come across this word on many occasions like video games. After I some research, I found out "recon" is the shortened form of the word reconnaissance. The word originates from the late Middle French Era to the early Modern French Era of today. Like many modern English words, there are various meanings and variation to the word "reconnaissance", and their definitions depend on the context and usage of the word. Mainly, it has three different uses: The two least common uses of the word comes from the geological field and surveying in civil engineering. In geology and civil engineering, "reconnaissance" means detailed surveying or examining of geological areas or regions. However, the most common use of the word recon is in the military setting. In this context, the word "recon" is the search for useful information in the field while considering many factors and examining in detail, especially the ground. When I was given the opportunity to review the BitFenix Recon, some questions immediately popped into my head. Although BitFenix and their products are no strangers to us, I had questions that needed answers. First off, what does a fan controller have to do with giving information? Secondly, to add on to the first question, what kind of information will it give us here at APH Networks? If you also have the same questions, read on to find out the answers!
Today’s review unit came in a brown corrugated box from our neighboring province of British Columbia to our APH Networks offices located in Calgary, Alberta. In the box were other BitFenix products including the BitFenix Alchemy Connect LED Strips reviewed by Aaron Lai and the BitFenix Spectre Pro LED fans to be reviewed by Yours truly, in the coming weeks. The parcel was shipped via Purolator Ground, and arrived in great condition with no bumps and bruises.
Taking the Recon out of the corrugated box reveals its simple yet stylish box design. The box itself was wrapped in plastic wrap and was very compact in size. The color scheme, as far as I could describe, was on point. The box of the Recon I received was mainly black with a tint of an aura green to it. This caught my eye and led me to check out the rest of the box. On the side, BitFenix has taken the liberty of presenting the features of the Recon, and on the back side was the list of specifications. Flipping it around reveals the product name and the manufacturer’s website in big bold white letters.
Before we continue on, let us look at the features and specifications of the Recon, as presented on the box itself and from the manufacturer’s website:
-Internet Connected for Mobile Devices
-Dual Processor Technology
-System Status Monitoring
-Five Channel thermal Control
-BitFenix SofTouch Bezel
Materials: SofTouch, ABS Plastic, Steel
Dimensions: (WxHxD): 147 x 43 x 67mm
Form Factor: 5.25” Drive Bay
Fan Channels: 5
Temperature Channels: 5
Measurement Frequency: Every 0.1 - 0.4 Seconds
Temperature Alarm Range: 30C - 90C
Temperature Range: 0 - 100C
Screen Size: 4.7”
Model No.: Recon Black: BFA-RCN-KS-RP/Recon White: BFA-RCN-WS-RP
The retail box holding today’s unit uses a standard simple tab design. Upon opening the package, you will find the BitFenix Recon wrapped in a red bag between two Styrofoam bumpers. This is done to protect the product, as well as its components, from taking any damage while in transit. Along with the main unit are some required accessories for the installation process, manual, and four mounting screws. In addition, there are two extra fan leads and thermal probes with small pre-cut pieces of yellow tape. This holds the temperature probe in the place you want to monitor. The extra fan leads are useful for lengthening the cables in a computer case with more depth.
Bringing our attention to the front of unit shows the brand and logo of BitFenix in a simple and clutter-free design. From the start when you pick up the unit, you will immediately notice the smooth bezel surface that is actually rather nice to hold; a feature called BitFenix SofTouch. This smooth rubbery coating is a signature surface treatment that lends a superb matte finish to the unit. Also, unlike many older fan controllers that have been reviewed here at APH Networks, the Recon offers a full touchscreen experience, as you will see soon enough.
The Recon has two modes, automatic and manual, for controlling the fans. Modes can be switched between with a tap near the top left corner of the touchscreen. When automatic mode is selected, the Recon can set individual warnings temperature thresholds for each channel. This means when a warning temperature threshold is reached, the Recon will sound an alarm and increase the fan speed on that channel to 100%. The fans will remain at this speed until the temperature measured has returned to a level below the warning threshold. This threshold, of course, is user configurable. When running in manual mode, all settings are defined manually, and no warning temperature threshold will be detected. Rather than deciding a single temperature, each of the individual channels' fan speeds are decided by user. This is done through the +/- buttons, which increase or decrease the fan speed respectively. Moving to the right of that, you will find a temperature reading that indicates the temperature of the area you have specifically placed the fan. The unit for the temperature reading are given Fahrenheit or Celsius, and are toggled by a simple touch of the screen.
Looking at the center of the screen, there are five touchscreen buttons to control each of the connected fans. Corresponding to the +/- buttons, indicators are located on the side of the Recon, and show the speed of the fans. There are other visual cues for fan speeds, including a fan speed percentage and a ten-bar indicator. On the right side of the screen, there is a displayed image of a fan. The fan shows spiral movement when the fans are in motion. This is a small touch to the design of the Recon, which I think is cool in its own right. Next, there is a sound switch on the top right corner of the Recon. This is something that can use improvement in the implementation, as it produces an annoyingly loud noise every time you use the screen functions when activated. During the installation and usage of the Recon, I had it on silent mode the entire time. Unfortunately, the sound switch is coupled to both the activation of the touch screen and the temperature alerts. The alerts tell users of unusually high temperatures in their system, so they can take action right away. Forcing the silent mode also turns off the alerts, so users will not be warned when there are actual problems. The BitFenix Recon needs a way to only silence the button presses, while still able to notify the user for more urgent needs. Lastly, an on/off button is located at the bottom right side. This turns the fan controller completely off when held down for three seconds.
The back of the Recon, which will only be seen by users during the installation process, is spacious and allows for easy access. The solder work on the board is clean, and the cables came bundled and zip-tied from the factory. BitFenix has numbered each fan connector to their respective temperature probe to minimize user errors during installation. During my installation, I had to replace one of the temperature probes, because it was dysfunctional at the time of installation. Thankfully, BitFenix has included two extra probes. Power is supplied by a 4-pin Molex connector with pass through from your PSU with lead-out cables designed for 3-pin fans. The ends connecting the Recon to the fans are 3-pin, with capabilities of transmitting RPM data. This allows users to monitor and control the fan speeds.
The installation process was relatively easy and straightforward apart from the wireless component, but I will get into that later. The case that I was using, the SilverStone Kublai KL05, has two tool-free mounting clips on each side of the 5.25" drive bay taken off to mount the unit. After I aligned the touchscreen of the Recon to the front panel of my case, I put the unit in its place. Next, it was time to connect the fans and temperature probes to desired areas of the computer, and make sure the cable job was done neatly. I connected three fans in total; one located at the front for intake, one located at the back for the exhaust, and one at the top of the case. These fans were two BitFenix Spectre Pro LED fans, plus an additional fan included with the Kublai KL05. This was overall a straightforward task, but it may take a little more time if you are into cable management. With all of those steps completed, I was able to turn the computer on and see the Recon in action. Powering the computer will automatically give activate the Recon, as well as the fans connected to the unit. The Recon is automatically set to its automatic mode every time the computer is turned on, regardless of your previous setting. This is a design oversight in my opinion. If users do not want the unit to be turned on, they can hold the power LED button on the touchscreen for three seconds. This power flexibility is a welcome improvement compared to the NZXT Sentry Mix, which has no off switch, and keeps the fans running at a minimum 40% fan speed load at all times.
Looking at other aspects of the BitFenix Recon, it meets the standards of a fan controller with a little more buzz, especially with its touchscreen. However, one of the issues I should bring up are the poor viewing angles. While there is no problem when looking at the controller at eye level, it was difficult to read the screen at any other angle. Of course, with all the advantages as to having a touchscreen, what you are going to lose out is tactile feedback.
As a fan controller, it does a great job in allowing users to precisely adjust fan speeds based on their RPM. I especially like the bars in the middle of the touchscreen, which indicates the estimated percentage of RPM the specific fan. With five independent temperature probes and thermal control, you can precisely control where and which fans you want to use. Alerts works well in telling me about too warm temperatures.
One of the claims that BitFenix makes with the Recon is its internet connected capabilities and mobile control convenience. This is beyond the expectations of an everyday fan controller. However, the implementation of the wireless and mobile control is flaky at best. During my tests, getting the wireless connection took almost double the amount of time I spent physically installing the unit. While the Android app took less than thirty seconds to grab from the Google Play Store, the process of obtaining the IP address and making the program function on the desktop was arduous. First, I installed the Recon Service program provided on the manufacturer's website as a 23.4 MB file. Then I was greeted with restrictions forcing me to run the application as the administrator. This process caused me to have to re-install the program several times in order to have the program finally work and redirect me to the proper website. Then the website led to an unusual game of inputting invalid IP addresses into my Samsung device, over and over again, only to have it fail each time. Worse yet, the instructions from the manufacturer is a regurgitation of instructions from their support page. Both of these sources proved to be unhelpful. This was a nightmare, and probably the worst time I had while building the rest of my computer. I sought support from Senior Technical Editor Preston Yuen, and did not have any more luck than I did. Needless to say, I never actually got to try it out, simply because we were unable to get it working at all.
In terms of the design for a fan controller, BitFenix has done a great job in this department. Grazing my hand across the face of the unit, the use of the SofTouch bezel adds a simple yet special touch to the overall design of the Recon. The looks and the feel are all there, but what about the function? Let me put it this way, if you need a nice looking fan controller, the Recon has its merits. The touchscreen allows users to monitor the temperature in specific areas inside their PC and to change the fan speed in response. In addition, being able to control fan speeds in small increments allow for more precise cooling throughout the computer. In other words, it allows you to "recon" -- pun intended -- vital statistics of your system. For around $45 USD around press time, it looks great on paper, but there are some pretty major flaws. The primary one is the wireless support the unit was promised to users. Although users could just as easily read the temperature and adjust their fans accordingly on the touchscreen, the smartphone-enabled feature could have been neat and useful to users as an option... if it actually worked. Secondly, the LCD screen viewing angles is really a nuisance to users. If the main PC unit is placed on the floor, users are not able to accurately read the LCD display. Thirdly, its inability to restart on the last state after a hard reset is annoying. Lastly, its audio alert system is not well implemented. A suggestion I have aside from my main complaints is for the next Recon to have customizable LED colors for each profile so users can identify which fan they are controlling. I personally think BitFenix has made a good attempt of providing an innovative touchscreen LED fan controller, but the major drawbacks surely overshadowed the all the good that it brings forth.
BitFenix provided this product to APH Networks for the purpose of evaluation.
APH Review Focus Summary:
5/10 means An average product with no real advantages; drawbacks and advantages just seems to cancel each other out.
4/10 means With disadvantages that slightly outweigh its advantages, you should not get this product unless there are no product alternatives that does its job.
-- Final APH Numeric Rating is 4.6/10
Please note that the APH Numeric Rating system is based off our proprietary guidelines in the Review Focus, and should not be compared to other sites.
The BitFenix Recon is an innovative fan controller equipped with a touchscreen. However, we could not get the smartphone control system to work, and there is a handful of refinement and quality issues they need to iron out.
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