Quick review: Smart GLCD


For too many times I found that building the user interface is a difficult task. It’s not easy to find a balance between cost and ease of operation. Putting everything together in a case can also be complicated. Even if CNC machines are now available to the average maker, it’s still time-consuming to cut all the holes and openings required.

An alternative is the use of smart displays, which combine the display and the (touch screen) input device in a compact device, and sometimes they offer quite enough processing power to drive small-scale appliances. Or, they can be configured as slave devices, leaving the main processor to do more complicated tasks.

Today I have on my workbench one of those smart displays, the Smart GLCD from MikroElektronika, the only GLCD device in their smart display range.

SmartGLCD top view

At first glance, is one of the biggest displays that ever landed on my workbench. Its size is 140 x 90mm (that’s 5512 x 3543 mils). The display itself is 4.3″ in diagonal, with a useful display area of 107.5 x 57.5mm (or 4232 x 2264 mils).

With a resolution of 240 x 128 pixels, one has enough space to display a lot of information, and there’s enough working area to implement big touch buttons, with an excellent visibility. And speaking of visibility, the backlight is provided by a set of RGB LEDs, driven by PWM pins, so one set whichever background color it pleases. However, one can change the color of the backlight to indicate error conditions, for example, and one can easily see this from a distance.

The Smart GLCD uses a resistive touch controller, which I find to be quite easy to use due to the large size of the display.

Here we can see the Smart GLCD compared against one Mikromedia for PIC32 and one Arduino Uno. I know, the Mikromedia boards use TFT and have a better resolution of 320 x 240 pixels, plus a whole bunch of peripherals. However, sometimes it pays off to trade off resolution for a bigger display while keeping costs low.

Size comparisson: Smart GLCD vs Mikromedia vs Arduino Uno

Let’s take a look at the backside, where all the fun happens. Plenty of stuff on the backside :)

Smart GLCD bottom view

Here we find a PIC18F87K22, running at a frequency of 48MHz. Most of the microcontroller pins are available on the expansion connector: we have nine A/D pins, four external interrupt pins, eight PWM pins, two I2C/SPI interfaces, one serial port, and seven digital I/O pins.

The Smart GLCD is powered from 5V, there’s no onboard voltage stabilizer. Also, there’s no protection against transient voltages for the pins on the expansion connector. So, one must take care of these two aspects.

The display controller is an RA6963 from RAiO. It uses PIC18F87K22 pins RH0 to RH7 for data and pins RJ0 to RJ6 for control. Pin RJ7 is used to control the buzzer.

Besides this, we also find an SD card socket, which allows us to move the display design files on the SD card, leaving precious microcontroller FLASH memory for applications.

We also find here an FT232 USB-UART converter, which is used by the bootloader, and it also allows us to connect the Smart GLCD to a PC.
Programming the Smart GLCD

MikroC for PIC offers full support for the RA6963, no problem here. Visual GLCD can help a lot to design the user interface. Also, the Smart GLCD comes with a bootloader installed, so programming is easy.

My verdict

The Smart GLCD delivers one of the largest display in its price category. With a retail price of it offers a good price/performance ratio.

Besides its intended use by OEM manufacturers, it’s a good product for the makers too. It can reduce the development time and it can cut down the cost of many applications.

The only drawback is that you have to rely on MikroElektronika compiler and Visual GLCD software.


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Electronza: Quick review: Smart GLCD
Quick review: Smart GLCD
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