Agilent U1401A review – By the eye of the Industrial electrician.
By Kiriakos Triantafillou – Greece October 19, 2012
The idea about this review was not a personal thought, one local good friend of my, gave me this U1401A so to discover the functionality of it and to share my opinion in public.
The specific U1401A came as bright new in Greece, in the beginning of 2012 from one seller in UK which was unloading old stock of his shop.
The specific instrument was sold on eBay for 1/3 of the usual price.
Unfortunately it looks to have some issues about the calibration of it, and as multimeter, and also as source.
Not to mention that I discovered that the back light is dead, by pressing the button the back light does not get activated at all.
Also due the fact that this device was unused for many months, the inner NiMH AAA batteries was having issues and needed many cycles of charge -recharge so to start functioning properly.
Even if this unit is not in top shape, I did start exploring it, due my curiosity about to discover what this high priced item can do.
The Agilent U1401A is one instrument made for electrician’s engineers and industrial environment.
The external quality is from the highest that I have ever seen.
The quality of the range switch follows the same high standards and the movement and locking among the ranges brings in mind only top solutions.
The instrument is very heavy, and this explains allot about the need to have its own large carrying soft bag.
The display it is high quality too, and it is easy to read from any angle.
But the screen is overpopulated by the several indicators written by tiny font which makes them almost unreadable.
The primary and secondary lines for the digits haves a more acceptable font size.
For my taste this display is unacceptable, this meter should have a larger screen, even if this translates to a wider instrument in size.
About the back light I am unable to make any comments especially for the specific device, due the fact that it came damaged.
Naturally it makes you to wonder of why this happened in to a new device?
Currently Agilent discontinued this product in the 2012.
The carrying case is well designed and large enough so to store in it the instrument and the charger, plus the test leads and even the data logging USB cable.
The front cover of this carrying case haves also one compartment for the printed user’s guide and the CD which haves the software.
The test leads and cables are high quality and they are the same set which Agilent gives with all their industrial grade multimeter's.
The test leads haves 2mm exposed tips and rubberize feeling.
This instrument comes with only CAT II 150V specification, and it is specialized for low voltages and current for the process calibration tasks.
In the test leads package I found something that I have never seen so far, and this are the Agilent crocodiles’ clips, which have a high quality rubber hood.
I did like them allot but they are made to connect on 4mm shrouded bananas and not in 2mm test lead tips.
What I loved in them is the soft rubber hood, which is soft as it needed to be.
Another accessory that comes with it is a single yellow cable with a small crocodile clip in the one end, and one banana at the other end.
The part number is the U5402-60001.
The data logging cable is stamped by the Agilent logo and looks nice, but the clipping point on the U1401A is not that successful as design.
Gives the impression that in the case of a accident with the USB cable attached, those plastic hooks will break apart.
The USB data logging cable for the U1270 multimeter series is a huge improvement in comparison with this one.
The only limit is the input voltage which is AC/ DC 250V max.
This device can measure everything as frequency / duty cycle / and everything related with the law of Ohm.
What it does not have is the ability to measure capacitors, which does not sound as a big loss if you think that this is a specialized instrument for a very specific range of tasks.
This strong point in this instrument is that it offers controlled output of: voltage / current / square wave / duty cycle.
It is a combination which under other circumstances it would require three different instruments’.
The frequency output starts from 0,5Hz and gets up to 4,800Hz but it uses presets of specific steps instead of a freely selectable frequency.
The same happens at the duty cycle too with a stepping of 39 counts, for example if the duty cycle is at 50.00% the next step will be 50.39% and the next upper one will be 50.78%.
I do find these presets as one small annoyance but from another point of view is the compromise which offers speed about setting the meter up for multiple measurements.
The voltage and current output it does give the option for an detailed adjustment even at the insignificant digits, which is a tremendously useful feature, other than checking up sensors, you can even check other multimeter's about their accuracy at the DC volts and mA range.
Setting up the meter - Easy to use
The U1401A by default it operates as multimeter and the activation of it as source require one combination of settings of the range switch and buttons.
There is no way to use this instrument with out having the user’s guide in your hands.
There is a significant complexity about setting the meter up for a first time.
No to speak about operating it for adjusting sensors, advanced methodology and training is a must have.
Personally I do not have such training about process control, but due my past experiences with so many multimeter's I feel that I can share at list my opinion about the general picture of it.
What is interesting to know about the U1401A is that Agilent advices about 10 minutes warm up time for total stabilization.
And 20 minutes of warm up time, so to calibrate the multimeter ranges according to it, by operating as source.
This calibration adjustment is documented at the User’s Guide, and it is another one chapter that the new owner needs to learn about it.
Naturally if the U1401A as source comes to the point to need an adjustment, like as it happened with the U1401A that I have here, it needs to go back to Agilent or to a specialized calibration lab, so to be properly adjusted.
The bottom line is that those process control calibrator’s needs a more frequent calibration check, than a multimeter, because you are using them as standard.
In my tests I have use three bright new multimeter's so to confirm, that the square wave output are definably in need for an adjustment.
The volt and current source was having much less error.
Basically I was very skeptic about writing this review due the fact that it was not my wish or intention to look like as one on-line calibration report.
But those findings created to me one new set of experiences, and as such they worth to be shared.
Another interesting find about this U1401A is that it haves a tremendous resemblance with the HIOKI 3801-50 multimeter, the one thought leads to the next, and naturally this meter is a cooperation of the two companies.
The external build quality are extremely high, and the display and also the range switch haves a very robust design, but as I have all ready mentioned and above, it is very heavy, and the rubber holster it would just soften a bit one accidental drop.
But it is not easy to fault the Japanese design, it is wiser to just trust it.
Mostly because the Japanese industry it does have more experiences and long recorded history at manufacturing hi-end products.
I did feel in the beginning like to be Alice in the wonderland in my attempt to master the settings of this process control calibrator.
The general impression is positive, but the overpopulated display with the tiny font it is a significant annoyance.
Probably the back light helps to increase the contrast, and because I did not have it, it caused even more stress to me.
Another consideration could be, about the working distance between you and this meter.
About setting the meter it needs to be very close to you, so to be able to read those small fonts.
When the meter is set up correctly as source, then your life gets allot easier about setting for example the voltage output, those digits are easy to read, and the buttons works as direction arrows, which are easy to use.
The display & fonts issue made me to loose my interest about exploring the how-to about the programmable functions which you can create presets about testing one sensor at one specific range of values for a specific time, which it can assist for stability tests.
Data logging haves a significant importance for process control, it is the visual proof that your sensors or valves, are adjusted correctly and they respond with the expected stability under different environmental conditions, for example against temperature change or humidity.
Personally I own one MICRO CAL 1030 which is a precision analogue (voltage / current) DC source, and by testing the U1401A I discovered that the MICRO CAL 1030 it can also assist as process control calibrator.
Naturally the digital U1401A is a more modern and advanced tool, which is made to serve the needs of today.
But I did find the 10 Turn potentiometer to be more easy to use about manual settings than using the arrow keys.
There is out there modern process control calibrators which do come with potentiometer instead of the arrows keys, but I am not aware if they combine in their features and the programmable functions about making your own test pattern, which is tremendously useful for automated stress tests.
By exploring this Agilent / HIOKI design now I have a new set of personal experiences and conclusions.
1) The ability to make things small is does not translate that they are easy to use too.
2) I had long time to see such concentrated complexity in a small package.
3) The Japanese talent about making quality products with sophisticated functionality is still alive.
4) It does not worth buying one so sophisticated instrument from an unreliable source. Always get them from the local authorized reseller, so to have full support and calibration services.
I like to thanks Agilent Europe for their help about offering their valuable advices over my questions about the specific model.
Also I like to offer my apologies to my readers about the delay, about posting the final review.
September and October are the months that new models are showing up at many and important Asian electronics fair, and I was have to monitor them too.
In the future I will never schedule reviews at the specific months, I will have to adjust my personal footsteps according the ones of the T&M industry too.
Kind Regards to all.
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