Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Snapino - Snap Circuits Arduino Coding


Snapino is a new product from the Snap Circuit range. It includes an Arduino UNO development board that works with Snap Circuits components to introduce the Arduino hobbyist electronics platform.

Disclosure: We were sent a Snapino kit to review. As always, our opinions are our own.

Elenco Snap Circuits have done a great job of staying current now that the beginner electronics market has expanded. We still love Snap Circuits as an introduction to electronics concepts. Other kits are great when you want to make stuff that includes electronics, but for teaching core concepts in a structured way, Snap Circuits is great.

Unboxing

Snapino has a strong Snap Circuits product family feel. This makes it a natural progression for older kids who started with Snap Circuits when they were younger. The snap connectors make sure the focus is on learning Arduino and electronics concepts rather than fiddling around with breadboards or crocodile clips or learning to solder - all useful stuff, but it can be overwhelming to focus on everything at once.



Like other Snap Circuits products, Snapino comes with an instruction manual. It includes 20 projects to complete with the kit, plus lots of explanatory material. This is a key aspect of the value of this kit, there's real educational potential to actually learn useful stuff rather than just blindly connecting things together.

The programs or 'sketches' for the 20 projects are available to download (PDF) as complete programs.

Getting Started

The first couple of projects don't require a connection to a computer and use the battery pack. In these projects the Arduino basically just acts as a power supply.

The Snapino booklet is packed with educational information on how everything works. On their first pass through I can imagine that some kids will skip a lot of this. But it will be there for repeated passes through the projects and they'll learn more each time. 

Trouble-shooting information for adults is helpfully included in the booklet so that you can test if everything is working correctly if you have problems. This is a nice touch that is evidence of Snap Circuits long experience in this sector.



Loading Programs

From project 3 onwards you'll be using the Arduino IDE. This needs to be downloaded and installed. You also need to download the Arduino scripts (programs) for the projects.

The provided programs are completed so there's no coding required to make the projects work. This means that learners can be up and running quickly with the projects. 

There are suggestions for making changes to the code to modify what happens. This is a great way of working as kids don't have to type lots of tedious code before anything happens, but they do get hands on with the code. 

Everything worked really smoothly for us.  We did have to select the Arduino Uno/Genuino from the Board menu which I don't see mentioned in the instructions.

Project 4 has three alternating coloured LEDs. My son quickly got this working and then asked his Dad about the sequence that traffic lights cycle through. He quickly changed the code so that it followed that sequence.



Using Parts from Other Snap Circuits Sets

It is possible to use Snapino with components from other Snap Circuit sets that you already have or which you buy to complement the set.

You even get bonus programs and circuits that you can build with parts from the SC-300 Discovery Set (or 500/750) and SC-750 Light sets. 

This means that there's loads of scope for extending the kit with more light, sound and motion.

Note that if you just have the beginner SC-100 set then there's an upgrade kit available to turn it into an SC-300. 

We definitely recommend working through the projects that use the Snapino parts before moving on to the bonus ones as they're generally a bit more complex. 

Verdict

Snapino is an excellent way for young beginners to start working with Arduino programming. 

My 10 year old found it quite straightforward to work with. He has done electronics and a small amount of Arduino programming before. 

I really liked that the Snap Circuits components are familiar and very easy to work with so there's no confusion about whether the circuit is correct and no difficulty making fiddly connections. This means that the experience is pretty frustration free. 

Snapino is suitable for youngsters who might not have the patience for other Arduino starter kits. Though we'd recommend getting the Arduino IDE installed and the starter projects downloaded first to offer a really smooth first experience. 

There's a definite advantage in being able to clearly see the circuit at all times rather than following a diagram and then ending up with a jumble of wires. 

Don't get the idea that this kit is simplistic though. It's not! It starts off gently but quickly picks up the pace.  In Snap Circuits style there's a strong focus on learning electronics concepts. There's huge educational value in this kit. 

Because the kit uses the Arduino IDE, skills are directly transferable to hobbyist projects and prototypes. In fact the pins are accessible on the Snap Circuits Arduino UNO board so you can use the board in your own projects once you've mastered it. 

This kit doesn't have the whizz-bang appeal of some of the Snap Circuits kits that use motors and sound effects. But it does teach genuinely useful skills. And of course if you master it you can start combining things from other Snap Circuits Kits. (Warning: Snap Circuits recommend protective eye wear if you start experimenting on your own and of course you can damage things.)

This kit offers excellent value for money when you consider the educational value packed into it. 

We recommend Snapino for:
  • Homeschoolers who want a structured way to introduce electronics (age 12+)
  • Older kids who love technology and want to go beyond what they're learning at school. My 10 year old hasn't done anything beyond connecting an old light bulb to an AA battery at school. He's capable of a lot more, but there doesn't seem to be any focus on technology at school. 
  • Older teens and adult beginners who want a gentle introduction to programmable electronics including those who want to use Arduino to support their hobbies and are daunted by other kits.
  • Parents who love Arduino and want to introduce their kids to it. Honestly, save the soldering and breadboard until they've understood the concepts. 





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Comments:

Steve said...

UK readers can't currently buy a Snapino without paying import duty and heavy postage rates.

Tracy Gardner said...

There's pretty poor availability of Snap Circuits in the UK generally, not just this new kit. But you can order from Amazon.com and they include import fees and shipping so you can see the cost. We'd have to pay VAT and shipping in the UK, I don't think it ends up being much more expensive, if at all.

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