Monday, June 3, 2013

iCelsius Pro Review for Home Brewers

Great idea, badly executed - next to bloody useless if you ever dreamed of using it with your iPad/iPhone for HACCP Monitoring, or even just monitoring temperatures in your mash.

I was Soooo Happy when I finally received my iCelsius Pro Temperature Probe for my iPad, thinking it was a, "... shame they didn't have one compatible with the iPhone 5 - ah well, need to get a dongle." I won't be doing that, I can tell you right now.


The iCelsius Pro has a 4" stainless Steel probe with shrink wrapped cover and 1 meter black cable. With the iPad switched 'On,' it plugs directly into the 30 pin port and automatically prompts you do download the App on the first use, otherwise it launches the App.

The box it comes in is nothing fancy, but functional and the instructions while brief, are straight forward and explain what the App does and details the probes operating parameters, which for this probe is apparently: -30°C to +150°C with an estimated accuracy of +/- 0.2°C at 25°C.

Great!

Sous Vide system monitoring, kettle profiling, ambient room temperature monitoring and profiling, overnight Fermentation condition monitoring... the Homebrewing applications are many and at €55.99 plus shipping my expectations were quite high.

The manual is sadly hilarious.

"The product is not to be used for medical or for public information, but for home use only." What on earth does public information mean?

When I bought this online it was described thusly, "Pferde Hunde Katzen Tier Thermometer für Ihr Iphone iCelsius Pro," which is veterinary use. Very curious. Ahh, medical use but not for Humans...

"Do not use the iCelsius... in or near water. Only the metallic tip can be immersed." Thanks for the clarification. The original pics certainly show that the probe is not waterproofed...


 ...yet what I received has had clear attempts to cover the stainless steel shaft-wire interface with waterproofing and shrink wrapping. So is it waterproof? I don't know. The packaged product is not as advertised.


"Avoid placing your iCelsius sensor near a source of heat or exposing it to sunlight (even through a window)." Are you kidding? In what circumstances do you mean?

A Temperature Sensor is for measuring temperature, or so one would normally expect, for answering the questions, How hot? How cold? is it not?

So, the best part of €60,00 down and the manual is cautioning me against using this for measuring heat.

Is this some kind of Scam!?!


Aginova and TFA Dostmann you have some answering to do!

So, onwards and upwards, lets see what this thing can do. I put a hole in a rubber bung, and inserted the metal part, the stainless steel probe, through the hole and then pushed this into the brass thermowell on my brewpot. I pushed the probe all the way in until it made contact with the end of the thermowell and then backed it out just a touch so as not to be in direct contact.

Now, yes I know that there will be a delay in temperature measurement due to the air pocket in the thermowell, for this reason I allowed the system to stand so that the temperature in the air pocket stabilized, but I didn't expect the probe to read more than 5°C low at boiling point and similarly throughout the Mashing Temperature Range. Even the original dial thermometer that came with the Thermowell was more accurate than that, not accurate enough but still, more accurate that this iCelsius Pro Temperature Sensor.

Damnit! So, I have to test the bloody probe. I tell you, this is not what I thought I'd need to do.

Into the manual, check the Troubleshooting tips, yeah, yeah, done all that; onto the websites, can't find didley squat. Search the net? Nada, just glowing praise and advertorial material all about what it can apparently do.

My results from a simple calibration check for this probe.

Using two, separate, Laboratory quality temperature probes, one of glass and one digital, along with the iCelsius Pro sensor, all used at the same time, I measured several  stable temperatures as below:
1: < 0°C (pobes encased in frozen gel pack), at
2: 25°C (probes exposed side by side to ambient air temperature at the Listed Calibration Temperature)  at
3: 30°C (probes exposed side by side to ambient air temperature in a warm room, indirect sunlight) and at
4: 100°C (probe/bulb/sensor ends immersed in boiling water: altitude approx. 10.587 meters above sea level).

These are the results:





< 0°C

25°C

30°C

100°C

iCelsius Pro + iPad App 

(-30°C - +150°C)(+/- 0.2° @ 25°C)??? 
-4.3°
22.8°
26.6°
99.1°
(-50°C - +300°C)
(+/- 1° -50°C - 150°C)
-6.1°
25.1°
30.1°
100.1°
(059.01.002) 
(-10°C - 110°C)
(mercury column)
-6°
25°
30°
100°

Now, if I were just testing against one thermometer, I'd have to rightly ask which one is inaccurate? But when I have both a digital and analog thermometer, which I've relied on for reliable temperature measurement for years, both in complete agreement, for my money that tells me the new kid on the block has some serious problems.

Now, the application itself. It's nice, its clean, It has Bling! BUT, its next to completely useless. It requires that no other application is running at the same time. If the iPad goes into Sleep mode, then all data is lost. It cannot operate in the background monitoring a data stream from the sensor. Unless you export the data at the end of your session the data is lost. It has no archiving capability, No History capability, you cannot vary the time scales or the sampling rate, and it MAY interfere with wifi access.

It is, in essence, a Kiddy App for entertaining primary school students whilst trying to teach them a little something about science and the art of measurement. The probe app combination, unfortunately, is unreliable, inaccurate, incapable of documenting AND safely storing, measured data over time.

What this means is:
a) if you wish to Monitor your Sous Vide Cooking Pot, for HACCP purposes, it's wildly inaccurate especially if you are trying to monitor/control temperature fluctuations at the 0.1°C - 0.5°C accuracy level. There is no data protection or historic record (date, time, temperature measurements) of your session, and the only way to get data out is to manually send the data during or at the end of the session.

b) if you wish to profile the thermal capacity and rate of heat exchange in your brew kettle, identify ramp times and monitor your Mash Temperatures within a 3 - 5 degree range of accuracy, then this probe is also wildly inaccurate. Historic Data recording of temperatures from brew sessions is not possible for reasons stated above, unless you manually export the LIVE data.

c) if you wanted to use this to monitor fermentation temperatures over a period of several days? Forget it! The max operating time is one battery charge for your iPad as it uses the same 30 pin port as your charge cable. Second, if your iPad goes flat, looses charge, etc. then all data is lost. This is a particular bugbear especially if you wish to determine the stability and seasonal profile of ambient temperatures in you Fermentation Chamber, Cellar, or Room.

All in all, the iCelsius Pro Temperature Sensor and App are a complete waste of time and money, as well as being inaccurate and functionally useless.

How would I rate it?

To quote the acerbic TV Personality, Chef and Actor, Bernard King, "Minus Five!"

Until next time,
It's Your Shout, Mate!

Addendum:
The above review is based on ONE probe from iCelsius, obtained via Amazon, from a 3D party provider.

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