Microsoft MakeCode

Favourite device

What’s your favourite arcade/makecode device/hardware to use with kids, and why?

Is this for children at home or for classroom use? I ask because the requirements for the latter may differ a little wrt batteries and robustness. The children I see in schools have what might politely be referred to as a “variable” level of respect and care for items.

I can’t give a full answer for children but I have experience now of Kitronik ARCADE (KA), Adafruit PyGamer (AP) and KittenBot Meowbit (KM). They all have their pros and cons from an adult point of view and I’d say there isn’t a clear leader. I’m more of a fan of the ATSAMD51-based boards, though. Some points:

  • KA and AP use the ATSAMD51 processor and have more RAM, 192kB. I’ve found as soon as a game is non trivial it’s likely to exceed the memory on the STM32F401-based KM, 96kB, which is both unfortunate and annoying.
  • KM has a very effective, appealing case in two colours.
  • KM and AP have connectors for existing ranges of electronics which give a very easy route into electronics if you want to pursue that. KA has some options here but they involve soldering.
  • The speakers in general are poor. The KA has the best one despite not being the largest and I find playing with the sound by covering with my thumb strangely entertaining.
  • Screens are all the same but AP and KA cases protect it with acrylic.
  • AP can be used caseless by an adult but this would be unwise with a child and the screen is not attached well and tends to lift a bit.
  • KA uses any AA batteries, KM and AP use Lithium Polymers, both have the usual pros/cons with shipping, lifetime, recharging and availability.
  • KA lacks the accelerometer for the tilt feature (a shame) but has a vibration motor (lots of fun).
  • Buttons on KM look ok but in reality are hard and a bit unpleasant to use. Buttons on KA are very usable and feel robust. AP joystick is bit odd at first but gives very good control in certain games and offers more possibilities with its analogue control.
  • AP can run CircuitPython which offers a lot of extra possibilities for programming. I believe KM does micropython but I’ve not tried this. KA is technically capable of one of those but it’s a very new product and I’m not sure what Kitronik’s strategy is here.
  • AP has best documentation in English at the moment. Kitronik are generally very strong in this area for school education so keep an eye on KA developments here.

For home use it might be worth buying some different ones to explore the differences yourself. Product evaluation is an important part of the professional world and I’d say it’s a useful skill to (informally) teach children early on.

(Disclosure: I write paid articles for Adafruit occasionally.)

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I personally use the KittenBot Meowbit, and the kids love it for its appeal. I also their newer bridge and used it with a screen (soon they have an arcade shield) and it uses an SAM instead.

The MeowBit (and Bridge) has an edge connector that allows it to be used with a lot of accessoires normally intended for the MicroBit, such as the robot boards or controllers.

The KittenBot Meowbit uses the STM32F401RET6, you likely made a typo and this should have been KA. Using the abbrev might seem intuitive, but causes it to become hard to read and error-prone.

The Meowbit has documentation at the bbs.kittenbot.cn and learn.kittenbot.cn pages. Some can be found on bilibili and is therefore VERY much aimed at the Chinese audience. Hope I can change this.

Corrected!

Thanks for your input! I think I’ll just have to buy one of each and evaluate:)

As a teacher, I love the Pi Zero Arcade! Here is the one I built for my Innovation & Design classroom.

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Love it! (pro tip: updated menu app is at https://github.com/microsoft/pxt-arcade-cabinet-menu )

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In terms of the BBC micro:bit edge connector, it looks like it’s inspired some other new hardware: Adafruit CLUE: Sensor Saturday – On-device Magnetometer Calibration. 240x240 display but only a nRF52840 with 2 buttons so probably not Arcade suitable!