Multimeters Go Big Screen

We’ve noticed lately that some cheap meters have gone to having big colorful screens. The screens aren’t dot matrix, but still have lots of graphics that could be useful or could be distracting eye candy, depending. The really cheap ones seem more like a gimmick, but [OM0ET] took a look at one that looked like a fair midrange instrument with some useful display features, the GVDA GD128.

A lot of the display shows the current function of the meter. No need for an expensive multiposition switch or rows of interlocking pushbuttons. Many of these new meters also have non-contact voltage sensors, which is handy. Otherwise, it looks like a pretty conventional cheap meter.

Many of these meters now have an auto mode where they try to guess what mode you need for a particular measurement. Essentially, it looks for voltage, resistance, or a short circuit. Of course, you can select a specific mode, too. It also measures and displays temperature, if that’s of interest to you.

What we liked is that the bottom of the display has a bar graph so you get some of the advantages of an analog meter. Despite the prevalence of digital electronics, humans are still analog. That feature alone might be worth the $40 or $50 for the meter, depending on how you use a meter.

Of course, cheap meters have a history of being — well — cheap. Then again, a meter like this doesn’t have that poor reliability switch to contend with. If you want the ultimate meter, snag an HP3458A. But it is bigger and much more expensive.

54 thoughts on “Multimeters Go Big Screen

  1. I bought an Aneng AN870 multimeter because it looked good on videos. I expected it to be readable and well-suited for my poor eyesight. Well, it works, sort of, but I need to use a flashlight to read it sometimes. I wish I got as many free test equipment as [Dave Jones] from EEVBlog so I could review it from my visual impaired perspective…

        1. One problem with that: I can’t really speak English. Well, I can, but the accent and pronunciation is all over the place. I can perfectly understand spoken English, read it with no problems, and I think I do a decent job writing in it, but my spoken English is a joke. So I’d probably write my reviews instead. In Polish. I just did a honest review of CNC router:

          1. The guy with the Swiss accent thought about the same of himself. As you seem to be interested in electronics, I’m pretty sure you know who I’m talking about, and if not search for Andreas Spiess on youtube. There are plenty of other examples like this. Don’t be shy and go for it, it is the content that is important!

            btw: The Aneng meter costs less, looks better and is slightly more ergonomic in my opinion. It is not a Fluke but for +/-30€ you can’t go wrong for as long you don’t take risks with high energy stuff. What is your opinion about its performance?

          2. SwAkE, I studied English philology at University and I talked with few native speakers. They had very hard time understanding me. The problem is that written English and spoken English are very different. Rules of pronunciation are barely connected to the way it’s written down. Polish, my native tongue is completely opposite – pronunciation relates to writing 100%. Once you know how to say any letter you can read any word in Polish. On the other hand polish grammar has more exceptions to the rules than rules themselves, that’s why it’s one of the hardest language to learn. Try to repeat this:

            As for Aneng it’s currently my most accurate multimeter. It’s quite good, but the display is not very bright. I can read the main reading, but all the tiny markings of mode and scale are absolutely too small. I either use a flashlight to read them or take a photo with smartphone to read them. I can’t compare it to any major brand meters as I can’t afford one.

            My oscilloscope is a fully analog soviet monster, built like a tank, heavy as a tank and it even operates a bit like a tank. I want to upgrade it to Siglent SDS1104X-U.

    1. Sounds like a custom back for a PinePhone. But does it have to be a one-piece thing, though? Maybe all you need is a scopemeter module that uses your phone as the user interface. Could be in the form factor of a ccope probe with a ground wire. You’d get full isolation with that, too. And it wouldn’t need a special phone, either.

      1. I’d never use my phone to test circuits directly through an attached dongle. Bad risk/reward. I would, however, consider using my phone as a wireless screen and log for a testing peripheral.

        Maybe a screenless device powered by a 9v that has standard probe sockets. Also a sliding power switch with power indicator led, and a button under the battery door to connect to tablet/phone.

        1. Maybe some day the upgrade cycle will be dead enough that a phone’s price will drop and we can think of them as more expendable for projects like this. Already newer ones don’t really do anything more than older generations other than run ever-less-efficient software quickly.

  2. One problem with the analog bar graph on the cheap meters is that it’s updated slowly, typical 3 times per second, the same as the digital readout. This is unlike the old Flukes than ran at 40 Hz (IIRC). They also only scale the full range, 0 to whatever range is selected. Makes it near useless to try to gauge the AC noise on the average DC signal.

    I do like that I can get simultaneous reading for AC voltage and frequency.

    1. You can get simutanious readings with the inexpensive meters too. Just glue 2 together. Mainly did it to stop people pinching meters off the bench as nobody wanted the beast. All in for less than £5. Though that’s almost an exaggeration as we had a bucket of spare meters so it really only cost some glue.

      One guy still pinched it, so 3 were glued together and then into a sturdy plastic frame and screwed to the bench with a label something like “Triple Meter 100000tm”. Then attempted to sell the idea to the rest of the company that we should all have multiple bench mounted multimeters. Ideally good ones and not the monsters i’d created. Tha didn’t happen and neither did the real message – “X stop pinching my multimeters” get through either. But it did turn out on ocasion to be handy getting 3 simutanious readings from kit under test or the dodgy apparatus doing said tests.

      1. I guess that’s a price you pay for sharing tools and/or workspace with other employees. I’m a commercial/industrial electrician, and my Fluke stays in my tool bag when it’s not in my hands, and I don’t lend it out. (Any electrician who doesn’t have their own should not be on my jobsite!)

        I almost choked on my lunch when I read your comment. The idea of gluing two multimeters together— even if it’s to keep people from taking them— is absolutely hilarious to me! It made my day.

    2. My old made in Taiwan Tenma 4 1/2 digit RMS meter has dual readouts. You can get DC + AC reading, AC + frequency type of measurements. It has capacitance measurement, simple frequency generator, thermal couple (need adaptor)

    3. Can you read a bargraph 40 times per second? My understanding is this is the advantage of a mechanical v/m. The needle only moves so fast so those rapidly changing signals get averaged out into something a human can read.

  3. so, every time i will need my multimeter, i will find out the battery is discharged, and will have to wait one hour to charge my multimeter ? what for ? i´m totally happy with a standard LCD and a battery that lasts months if not years.

    1. I have an Aneng AN8008 that I love and worship. If you leave it on, it has an auto-off function but the standby drain is really high, and it would destroy the two AAA batteries if you left it like that for two or 3 nights. so I added an 800 mAh lithium battery and a TP4056 module with type-C, plus 3.3v LDO. I only have to charge it every other month, and I use it daily.

  4. Buttons not dials. Next, virtual analog meter display that you have to squint at and hold to straight eliminate parallax!. Looking closer I see that lunette is just an indicator which is going in the way as a virtual “meter”. Bold mode and range text would be so much better at a distance.

  5. What appears to be the same multimeter is sold under many “brands” on Amazon with minor variations in price. I always read the reviews on items available there before buying. If the LCD was a touch screen, this might be more worth having.

    1. Yeah, it’s a bit halfbaked as a UI feature.
      It mimics a rotary range knob but you cannot manipulate it directly, that requires a button elsewhere on the device.

      Why do they call it a smart meter, what is smart about it?
      Just because it lacks a ‘very expensive’ rotary switch?
      Would that switch be more expensive than a custom LCD?

      A ‘smart’ multimeter like this could useful if the display was a generic dot matrix display and they used it for some extra functionality like a dual display, datalogger or trend graph.

  6. I’ve glanced at these, thought the part at the top was a big “analog” meter. Not so interesting as a function indicator.

    My 1997 Radio Shack meter has an analog bar. I can’t remember if the more recent really cheap meter has one. The RS one isn’t very useful, it lags. Maybe faster updates change that, but I don’t know.

    In the seventies there was a pocket DMM that included an analog meter, just a small one. Not for readings, but to show trends. That always seemed like a good solution. That was before bargraphs on DMMs. Probably too expensive now, no source of cheap meters.

    One could just get a good high impedance opamp and feed a meter, with a voltage divider, even just a pot, at the front. No need to calibrate it, just use it for peaking.

  7. They cram all of that tech into the device and they can’t spend a few dollars to give it a wireless data link for logging? Is that the case for the gvda gd128, and if so are there any options to hack it to add any form of data port?

    1. Maybe they are planning to incorporate logging in a Premier Edition (for $20 more)!

      And then maybe they will release a touch screen model(for $20 more), followed by a touch screen model with logging…

      And oscilloscope capability…(for $20 more)

      Of course, wireless data link WILL have to be accessed by their own (spyware) app!

  8. Having one of those clones I can say that this is one of the most annoying tools (or concept) I had on my bench.

    First: the scanning is painfully slow, continuity beeper does not make any fun.

    Second: selecting everything with this FUNC button is painfully annoying, too. I have to count (I can’t) the presses or visually check something. Way to much coordination needed.

    I have a cheap Richmeters 109 clone (less 15 €) with 9999 counts and most of the bells and whistles I need. It works like a charm and I can handle the rotary switch without even looking at it. And if it breaks I buy another one.

    And for Sundays and all special occasions I have that old Schlumberger 7150+. Served me well.

  9. It’s advertised as “smart”, so i won’t buy it. At least you don’t have to pay a monthly fee (yet) to get correct measurements (multimeter as a service anybody?). My Brymen 235 looks and works much better and no “smart” crap.

    1. Just judging from the sentiment above we need to pull a real hackaday and build a comically oversized meter with a flip dot display, and the most expensive rotary switch we can 3D print.

      Anyone know how to make an ADC with some 555s?

          1. Much of the sentiment I got from the comments suggests that people don’t want a fancy screen, they like the rotary switch and a general f”youll pry my {legacymeter} from my cold dead hands”

            Hence I thought a tribute to classic meters would be more appropriate for the audience, and of course I had to add a 555 jab.

          2. I think there’s some room between the extremes. For me, I’m using a multimeter to get one thing: a number. Or rarely, to see if a value is increasing or decreasing. Subtracting battery life to add colors and other graphics is to me a bad exchange. “Cold dead hands” isn’t at thing to me, but cold dead meters are no fun at all.

  10. I object. With everything having color LCD screens on them, it’s getting harder to find transflective monochrome LCD screens. The problem with color screens is not just that you can’t see them without the backlight, but that because of the color filters, you lose 5/6 of the light from the backlight (2/3 to the color filters, and 1/2 to the polarizers), which translates to greater power needed for the backlight, which translates to either bigger batteries or shorter battery endurance. I know a lot of people complain that they can’t SEE their monochrome LCD displays in the dark, but it seems like the better solution would be a button to turn on a backlight, so you’re not burning batteries when in full daylight.

    This sort of assumed consensus about what people want leads to nobody getting what they need. Sure, everybody (but me) will buy the fancy color display meter, because what the hell, you just plug it into a charger and you’re good. Except when you’re in the field and you need that meter, and it’s dead, and no place to plug it in. I’ve been sampling displays for a couple of projects, and resolutions higher than 240×128 are very rare, and even when you can find them, you’re getting stock that’s 10-15 years old, because that’s how long it’s been since they’ve manufactured them..

    I guess I should just count myself lucky, that I don’t have any needs that are best served by vacuum tubes.

  11. I’ve heard those “GVDA GD128” Big LCD meters chew through batteries. What’s also bad is those meters need SIX (6) AAA batteries to run, probably because no regular 9V battery has enough capacity. See this example:

    * AstroAI Digital Multimeter 10000 Counts TRMS Auto-Ranging Color LCD Screen Voltmeter, Fast Accurately Measures Voltage Current Amp Resistance Continuity Duty-Cycle Capacitance Temperature 4.7 out of 5 stars 158 ratings $44.99

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