The Piko SmartControl is a fully featured DCC system using WiFi for the SmartControl handset to communicate with the SmartBox Base unit.
There are far too many features available to list in this review, but included is the ability to add & use additional SmartControl Handsets, boosters & RailComPlus.
The set chosen was the Piko “Premium Train Set” which contains the DCC control system, a double oval with crossovers, a 4-car ICE-3 EMU a G1206 Diesel Locomotive & 4 freight wagons. The ICE-3 power car & locomotive are both equipped with ESU sound decoders – a very good value for money set.
The first pictures show what’s in the box & the initial set up. The handset is a well made device that fits nicely into the hand & can be used single handed. Most of the functions are accessed via the touch screen. There are a number of “real” buttons on the handset as well as a motor driven speed control knob (similar to the ESU ECoS).
The SmartBox is simply an injection moulded box (that can be fixed if required) with all the necessary hard wired connections to the power supply & track.
Time for “hands on”.
The first thing I did was leave the handset connected to a USB charger overnight to ensure that the batteries be fully charged. This gave me time to study the manual to gain an insight into the basic functions of the system.
After charging the handset the next step was to change the language from German to English. This was as simple as changing the language settings on an Android Smartphone. The menu system is virtually the same as any Android powered Smartphone.
To carry out a basic check I set up a length of track, connected up the SmartBox, put the G1206 on the track, powered up & could not get the G1206 to do anything at all. No track power, then I realised that I had not turned the WiFi on in the handset settings. Once corrected the handset soon “found” the locomotive & I had sound, lights & movement. To be honest, the locomotive could be smoother, but it is new & no doubt will improve with some running in.
First impressions are good. The next stage was to set up the track itself. Into the workshop, set up the double oval, connect the SmartBox to the track & power supply. Before I placed the trains on the track I re-addressed them (using another DCC system). When the trains were on the track I powered up the system, entered the menu, pressed <list locomotives> & on the display were the G1206 & the ICE-3.
I selected the G1206 & the screen displayed various icons for the functions. The bottom of the screen displayed a thumbnail of the locomotive, directional arrows & a speed graph.
Select lights – on, engine – on. Tap the speed graph in the centre & the locomotive eased away, engine note changing under load (the speed knob being motorised “mimicked” the speed graph). Now, decrease the speed with the knob & the locomotive slowed, the speed graph “mimicking” the knob setting. Reduce the speed to zero & the locomotive slowed & stopped with accompanying brake squeal. To reverse direction you either touch the direction icon or turn the knob just past the <zero> position. Thjere are many sound effects including horns, radio messages, compressors, flange squel & so on.
Time to try the ICE-3. Same procedure, but very different sounds, including some station announcements.
After about an hours playing both the G1206 & the ICE-3 had settled down & ran very smoothly indeed. In due course I will probably adjust the acceleration/deceleration/top speed settings & reduce the volume of the sounds – they are a bit on the loud side !
I have only scratched the surface of what this system can do. It uses smartphone (Android) technology & typically with DCC can be as simple or complicated as you wish to make it. Point & accessory control is of course possible. Additional SmartControl handsets can be used & there is the facility to use other wired handsets as well as computer control.
24 hours into getting the set out of the box has convinced me that we will be using the system to control our under construction exhibition layout “BelmontBahn”. I would certainly recommend this system & the set chosen is good value at a SRP of £649.95, but probably available for around £580.00 Other sets are available and the basic control system is SRP £359.95 or again probably available for around £315.00 A booster will be available later & I expect other accessories to follow in due course. (Prices quoted correct February 2016)
As I explore the system further I will add to the report & if Piko make any courses available I will be first in the queue.
Editors note, My thanks to Gaugemaster for their permission to use the Piko Graphic at the top. Gaugemaster are the UK importer for Piko. they import the entire Smartcontrol range and its available here - Peter