Ulanzi TC001 Smart Pixel clock

3 minute read

Yes, I know I haven’t written in a long time. My muse was banished by a rather hectic and chaotic couple of years. Things are finally returning to something that passes for normal and my muse is back.

LaMetric Time

I’ve had my LaMetric Time for over 6 years now, and it’s a fantastic device. We use it for low priority notifications like bin collections and it’s absolutely brilliant for this kind of non-interrupting notification.

There’s only two downsides to it:

  • It doesn’t use USB C for power
  • Price

If I’m being picky the third downside is that only a small part of the display supports colour.

I got mine at a significant discount on one of Amazon’s sales, but even that price wasn’t cheap. Right now they’re on Amazon (UK) for £160.

Enter the Ulanzi TC001. At about a quarter of the price, around £40 on AliExpress right now, and using USB C for power it’s a very attractive looking option.

The display is a fair bit narrower than the LaMetric - 32 columns vs 45 of the LaMetric, though the case is the same width, just taller. The upside is that all pixels are slightly larger and also colour, unlike the LaMetric. The downside is that scrolling messages are just a little harder to read.

Setup

It came already mostly charged, so the first order of duty was to flash it with Awtrix Light. For some reason the first attempt didn’t quite work. The device appeared to be working - the web interface worked - but nothing showed on the display at all.

Flashing it a second time fixed that and it was time to set it up for Home Assistant. First order of business was connecting it to the WiFi, followed by pointing it at my local NTP server, then finally the MQTT broker and enabling Home Assistant support.

Next step was installing the Awtrix notifier custom integration to make sending notifications easy.

Off to the races

Well, maybe not the races, but it was time to kick the tyres anyway. I had some fun with the Spotify Now Playing flow which I turned into my own automation.

That then led to an automation to tell me when an outside door opens or closes, then finally an actually useful one to tell me about upcoming meetings. That makes use of TheFes’s awesome relative time plus macro, so that the notification can give a more useful message, like Lunch starts in 5 minutes.

This now sits on top of my monitor, next to the webcam. It fits quite nicely there, due to the relatively wide and totally flat monitor bezel, and it has the advantage of being in my field of view.

I did pay for the Android app, which makes it easy to customise the default clock app (and more). I’m probably not going to use it much again, but it was worth it.

Notification types

Awtrix supports two different notification styles - one time (instant) notifications and “custom apps” which automatically cycle through being shown. This is what the Spotify “now playing” flow and automation use.

One time notifications default to being queued (stacked), but you can have them display immediately instead. You can also have them stay on the screen (hold) until dismissed.

To do

I do want to explore the indicators. Those seem like they could be quite handy.

I also need to play with the scrollSpeed setting to see if a slower speed makes the display more readable.

Then I need to explore the custom apps a bit. The LaMetric has a native weather app that Awtrix doesn’t, but Home Assistant has all that data so building a replacement should be easy.

Closing thoughts

I do miss those extra 13 columns. It may not sound like much, but the LaMetric has 40% more columns than the Ulanzi. Put that way suddenly the difference is clearer. On the other hand, those 40% more columns aren’t worth nearly four times the price.

Maybe I can hope that they’ll release a wider version at some point?

Certainly I’m not going to buy any more LaMetric Times, but I’ll probably buy at least one more Ulanzi TC001.