The best Arduino kit – Chicago Tribune

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If you're unfamiliar with electronics-building kits, Arduino is part hardware, part software. It is an open-source platform that you can use to learn about coding and electrical components, or you can use it as an inexpensive way to build innovative prototypes. What you can build is limited only by your imagination and the components in your Arduino kit. A robot arm, a weather station, an earthquake detector, and a digital clock are just a few of the things you can create.

The best Arduino kit will include all of the necessary components and instructions you need to build whatever it is you choose. Our top choice, the Arduino Starter Kit, is a great way to learn about the overall process and how to tackle 15 different projects. To learn more about this kit or the features to look for in other quality kits, keep reading.

Considerations when choosing Arduino kits

Although some users feel that Arduino clone kits are of a diminished quality, both the clone kits and the Arduino brand kits use off-the-shelf components. Theoretically, this means the quality should be equal. However, all off-the-shelf components are not equal, and the build quality (soldering) of certain components could be lacking as well. The benefit of purchasing a clone kit is that it is more affordable. When you purchase an authentic Arduino kit (these boards have a tiny gold component located next to the USB input on the UNO R3 board), you are supporting Arduino's research and outreach programs.

This item, the Arduino UNO R3 board, is the component that makes everything work. If the kit you are purchasing does not have this component, you are purchasing an expansion kit. If you do not already have the Arduino UNO R3 board, however, you will need to purchase one in order to build any projects.

The software that allows you to direct the hardware to function in the specific manner that you require is free to download for Windows, Mac, and Linux. If you do not wish to download the software, you can do your coding online.

An Arduino expansion kit is called a shield. A shield is a specialized board that dramatically increases the capabilities of your microcontroller. Most starter kits will not include shields. You will likely need to purchase this component separately or look for a project that includes the specific type of shield that interests you.

The more components that your Arduino kit has, the more you can do. The number of components is directly related to the overall price of a kit. For example, an Arduino kit with a limited number of components will cost far less than a kit containing 200 components.

This is how you learn. If you want to better understand a specific element of Arduino, look for a kit with a tutorial (or project) involving that component. Some kits may only offer instructions for a single project, while others offer tutorials for dozens of projects.

From $5 to $20, you can get a few specialized components, but these are typically only of use if you already have a more extensive kit. From roughly $40 to $70, you can find the best kits (Arduino or a clone) that offer an impressive selection of components along with a number of projects and tutorials. If you want an expansive kit that allows you to engage in a project such as building a robot, you'll be looking at $100 and up.

Q. I'm still confused. What's the difference between Arduino kits?

A. The main difference between Arduino kits is the type and amount of components that are included and the accompanying tutorials. If you'd like to learn how an LED display works, for instance, be sure to purchase a kit that includes an LED display.

Q. The microcontroller doesn't seem very big, what happens if I run out of room?

A. All Arduino UNO boards feature a standard design so they can be easily upgraded or expanded with additional components.

Arduino kits we recommend

Our take: An official Arduino starter kit that is designed to introduce users to the basics through hands-on tutorials.

What we like: This kit features the Arduino UNO Rev 3 microcontroller, and it includes over 100 components along with a 170-page guidebook that details 15 engaging projects. Many users feel that the included tutorials are better organized and offer greater benefit than the clone kits do.

What we dislike: As Arduino-branded hardware, the price is a little higher than clone kits.

Our take: An affordable, mega-project kit that includes more than 200 components and a free tutorial CD.

What we like: From motors and transistors to LCD displays and LEDs, nearly anything you could want is available in this mega-size kit. This Arduino-compatible kit includes over 35 lessons that can help you gain a better understanding of both the process and the components.

What we dislike: Some users noted that the jumper wires are of seemingly poorer quality than the rest of the kit, which can create connectivity problems.

Our take: An upgraded starter kit that is compatible with the Arduino UNO R3 and includes 22 lessons.

What we like: This kit is designed to be suitable for ages 10 and up. It features a 4-digit, 7-segment LED display, a serial-to-parallel converter, and a stepper motor. There are enough parts and tutorials to keep you engaged for extended periods of time.

What we dislike: As with any new endeavor, there may be a steep learning curve for some individuals.

Allen Foster is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.

BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. BestReviews and its newspaper partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links.

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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