Kit Review – adafruit industries SIM reader (part one)

[Updated 18/03/2013]

In this review will cover the SIM reader from adafruit industries.

The result of this kit is a device that can read the data from a GSM SIM card, such as last-dialled numbers, SMS messages, the phone book, and so on. Although this may not sound like much, the concept of having this sort of technology at home really is amazing; that is – you can learn about the GSM SIM technology and hack into it.

The kit was shipped to me via USPS First Class International postage – taking five days to arrive in Australia from New York. Frankly that’s good enough and therefore no need for a courier.


adafruit also set the standard with customs paperwork, with a full and honest declaration inside and out. By doing this I feel it speeds the parcel through Customs… a lot quicker than those packages from Chinese eBay sellers who always put “Gift, US$2” on everything. Opening up reveals the kit itself, in an anti-static resealable bag. Groovy, packaging I can reuse and not throw away…


Another smart move is to not include paper instructions, instead having a very detailed web site and a busy support forum. You can always print the instructions out if you don’t have a PC in your work area. The next thing I love to do is have a look at the components, and get a feel for the kit itself.


What stands out with adafruit kits compared to most others (I’m looking at you, Jaycar) is the quality of components. A decent PP3 battery snap that won’t break when you are tired and cranky, branded semiconductors, and a beautiful solder-masked, silk screened PCB. However, no IC socket. Grr. However, one can tell this has been designed by an enthusiast and not some bean-counter.




But that’s enough looking and talking – let’s build it…

My advice at this point is to check you have all the components on hand, and then line them up in order to make it easier while you are soldering. There was also a couple of parts that missed their photo shoot call…


If possible, the best way to make adafruit kits is to have your computer in front of you, as you can follow the detailed instructions as you go along. With the instructions up on the screen, the helping hands ready, the fume extractor on, and the tools at my side – it’s time to get cracking.


First the resistors, protection diode, LED and PP3 snap  …


Time for a quick test (excellent for confidence-building and troubleshooting) …


Excellent, the LED is working. The rest of the components are easily soldered… as there was no IC socket I soldered opposing pins in order to spread the heat load. The second-last part to fit was the SIM card reader. This had me worried, as if it was damaged, it would take a few days to replace. However, the instructions made it look simple – and it was. Taking a decent photo of it was more difficult…


And finally, the last part – DB9 fitting for the serial cable to the PC. The kit is supplied with a female connector… but silly me ordered the wrong serial cable, so I am using a male connector. Again, this was easy to fit – the PCB slid between the two rows of pins on the plug, and had large solder pads to make a good strong connection.




OK – we’re done. Now for a SIM card… Ms. Tronixstuff wouldn’t volunteer hers, so mine will be the first victim…


Now time to install the psySIMReader software. It is freely available here with instructions.  Originally my first attempt was with Ubuntu 9.1 and 10.04, but there were too many python errors, and I wasn’t in the mood for learning another language. Eventually I learned how to force the python software to look at COM1 – a good start. But no go – the zero error. Off to a windows xp machine. Seemed ok, but when I attempt to open the COM1 port an error says something about returning zero. This could possibly mean my SIM card is non-standard. *sigh* Went to the supermarket and bought a Vodafone SIM for $2, maybe they are different to my Virgin mobile SIM in some way. On the way back I stopped in again and tried the whole process on the windows xp machine, same error. Vodafone SIM card didn’t work either. Zero for both.

So home again. After reading the support forums, I resoldered all the joints, checked for continuity around the board, reinstalled python and the software, zero error again. Maybe SIM cards have changed a little since the kit was introduced? Then I looked at my serial cable – 3 metres. Perhaps it was too long? So I chopped off one end leaving about 150mm and soldered up another DB9 plug.


Tested the cable, tried again – still the zero error.

Another trawl through the forums and google revealed people having the same zero error, but it being fixed with a resolder job and/or plugging the PCB straight into the serial port on the computer. I cannot do this having originally soldered on a DB9 male to the PCB. Argh. Either it is my soldering or my dodgy serial cable hackup. Soon I will order up an FTDI cable, have someone else check my soldering with better eyes, and then try connecting again.

So at this stage, the verdict is still out. However, I must commend adafruit industries as a great organisation with respect to ordering, speed of delivery, quality and amount of detail on the website, and the support and enthusiasm offered throughout. Their other products have all received rave reviews and are supported much more than adequately.

At this point I will finish part one of the review, and return when the FTDI cable arrives.

[edit] – Click here to visit part two of this review.  High resolution photos are available on flickr.

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John Boxall

Person. Founder and original author for VK3FJBX