Customer Review

166 of 174 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Viewpoint of an electrical engineer homeschooling parent - fun high quality toy but limited on educational value, December 1, 2013
This review is from: littleBits Electronics Base Kit (Toy)
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For background before I begin my review, I am an electrical engineer who enjoys teaching his children about electronics. I love educational toys and science toys, but I do tend to be critical of toys that I feel dumb down the science too much. I had a friend who bemoaned that microprocessor development kits like Arduino teach thousands of kids to blink an LED with a million transistors, and yet they are left not knowing how to blink an LED with one transistor. That being said, kits like Arduino has introduced many to the "maker" movement and engineering in general, so I have no problem with the concept of simplified tools for beginners.

All of this introduction brings me to "Little Bits". I gave this set to my 6 year old and 8 year old to play with, starting with the 8 year old. He loves his Elenco Snap Circuits SC-750R Student Training Program, and makes all sorts of cool things, so I thought he would be the best to evaluate it.

When you open the box, you are ready to go. The high quality box has a magnetic flap for closure, and inside is a full color glossy manual and all of the "little bits". Each of the little bits has only an input and and output, so no multiple connections or wires to make. There are blue (for power), pink (for control), orange (wires), and green (for actions).

You get a custom printed 9V battery (no searching for batteries - thank you!), and a bunch of modules. There is 1 power module. This module has a plug for the 9V battery, a switch, and a red indicator LED. For you engineers, the module has an ST LD1117 linear regulator on it.

There are 3 pink control modules, a button, a light sensor, and a dimmer. I really do wish they would use the technical term instead of the popular one on these modules. For instance, the button module is a simple on-off button. Why not call it a switch? The dimmer module is a potentiometer/variable resistor. The toy is so easy to use, why not let kids learn the right terms while they play? The light sensor is a nice little device (though they could have called it a photodetector or photodiode). The light sensor module has a switch to let it reach to light or dark, and a small potentiometer to adjust the sensitivity. This is rather weakly executed because you need the tiny screwdriver (included) to adjust the sensitivity. My 6 year old had some trouble with dexterity adjusting it. These are also easy to break (believe me), so if the toy is designed to be simple, this could be a weak link.

There are wire modules which enable you to extend the circuit. This is a nice feature because you can actually wire the little bits into funny circuits like hand buzzers, artwork like windmills, flashlights, robots, etc. You get 2 wire modules which can be added anywhere in the chain.

For action, you get a bright LED, a bar graph, a buzzer, and a DC motor. I'm glad they didn't call the bright LED a "shiny light" or the DC motor "spinning thing" - they actually used the right term (unlike the sensors). The bright LED is good for flashlights, and the bar graph is nice to use as a current meter to see visually how much current is being supplied after the potentiometer to your creations. The buzzer is quite annoying - your kids will love it. The DC motor is rather slow, but seems to work well for various projects. There is a "motor mate" which allows you to connect the motor to a LEGO axle or other things. This enables you to build cool larger projects that move, a great idea.

Each of the bits magnetically click together so they cannot be put together incorrectly (they repel if connected backwards). You start at Blue (power), pick control (pink), and anything after the control is affected by it (green). So if you chain goes Power - LED - Switch, then the LED will always be on. But if it goes Power - Switch - LED, then the LED is controlled by the switch. You don't need to terminate the end as the modules hook in parallel (except for things controlled by the pink modules). It really is foolproof.

There are a bunch of fun projects in the kit such as light controlled vehicles, doorbell, windmill, etc. Most require some arts and crafts beyond just the kit (some cardboard, tape, cutting, glue, etc).

I had decided to leave the ultimate verdict to my kids. My 8 year old tired of it quickly. He said that his Snap Circuits teaches him more about electronics, lets him change resistance and capacitance to see the change, and has more possibilities. My 6 year old has difficulty building the large Snap Circuits creations, so this was fun for him to get involved in the electronics of his older brother without the frustration. He has been playing with it for hours, grabbing cardboard to build a car so he car so he can attach it to the motor, etc. He emphatically gave it 5 stars.

However, I'm the parent and educator, so overall, I give it 4 stars. The entire kid is a quality production and is fun for a while, but older kids may tire of it quickly. The portable nature (unlike snap circuits) means you can build cool portable toys like hand buzzers and robots, but the modular nature means you won't learn much about resistors, capacitors, diodes, etc. As my friend observed about Arduino, you may blink an LED with a million transistors, but can't do it with 1. I also have a tough time with the cost compared to Snap Circuits (which you should also consider). This is the "basic" kit, but still costs $100. I can honestly say that while my 6 year old likes it and it is well done, it is not educational enough that I would have ever purchased this myself, and I don't intend to buy more of them.

Apart from addressing the high cost, I would suggest the designers find subtle ways to include lessons about what the kid is actually doing into the kit. For instance, silkscreen the schematic symbol of each major component on the board. Rename the modules with their technical terms. Put some explanation in the manual as to how the circuits work and why they work. Kids shouldn't just build things, but understand what they built. This is the biggest problem with many of these kid science and STEM activities in general - I see kids building all sorts of stuff not knowing. They build great projects but have no clue how they actually work. I would hope that if time was spent in an activity, the kid should learn something from it.

Overall, I have to say that while I personally wouldn't buy this again, there are plenty of people who will be quite happy with this kit as a fun toy. It is high quality and works quite well, so I am giving it a positive rating of 4 stars. It might be just the thing you are looking for (indeed, not everyone even wants the complexity of Snap Circuits), so read my review and if it sounds like it's for you, then I'm sure your kids will enjoy it.
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Tracked by 2 customers

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Showing 1-8 of 8 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Dec 15, 2013 10:21:49 AM PST
Thank you for the review. We have the large Snap Circuits set, and were hoping for something in addition to it. The boys love it, but my oldest is looking for a new challenge. $75 for a 10 piece set seems a bit pricey. Do you have any recommendations for other kits or free builds with either an educational focus or a cheap/free way of doing fun things? My boys are 8 and 10, and I was thinking of using an Erector set with Scratch. I've seen it done before, but not sure of where and how to start. Any suggestions would be appreciated. Thanks.

Posted on Dec 16, 2013 8:13:09 AM PST
Great review Joel, thanks. I'm also an engineer and had already ordered the snap circuits set for my 10 yo son and was wondering whether I had made the best purchase...I feel better now!

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 16, 2013 8:17:54 AM PST
Joel Avrunin says:
If your kids want a "new challenge" beyond Snap Circuits, Little Bits is definitely not what you want. My son got bored quickly of the limited possibilities with Little Bits. If you want to teach programming for the 10 year old, Lego Mindstorms could be good. But I would also challenge your son who wants a new challenge to consider what else he could do with SnapCircuits. How many pieces do you have? Does he understand the circuits and what each one does, and how changing component values changes the circuit? You might consider getting an inexpensive oscilloscope (or using the Snap Circuits PC oscilloscope application) and teaching him what a waveform looks like. Beyond that, they still make basic solder kits - I used to love those sets.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 16, 2013 8:19:10 AM PST
Joel Avrunin says:
I went all out and got the Snap Circuits 750 with the hard carrying case. It is really nice to have custom cut foam to hold all of the pieces in order. But yes - an engineering father might look at Littlebits and think "Really? That's it?" Snap Circuits is likely the best choice for you.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 16, 2013 9:18:01 AM PST
Thanks Joel,

We have the SC-750 set. I've been teaching them as we go, but just realized that the student book may be beneficial. I'm hoping it will show more than I've been teaching. I'll order it from Elenco. We'll be doing the oscilloscope soon.

As to the Lego Mindstorms set, I'm not sure. For sure, they're pricey. My friend send his kids to the local STEM school, and they've used it there, but, as your review pointed out, they haven't a clue as to what to do. My neighbor, on the other hand, teaches an occasional class at the local college on robotics for young students. He uses the erector sets with Scratch/BYOB. From my limited observations and first take, Lego is Apple users, and the local robotics course is Linux users. I know that may be the worst example possible, but I'm hoping you understand. With the Lego sets I see at the STEM school, all I see are limited expensive toys that don't need much mental input or understanding and only work with eachother (as my good friend likes to point out). At the robotics course I see that a general background is necessary to produce good results (although my neighbor generally does a good job with his students). I'm looking for something in between. The solder sets sound great - I learned by tearing apart my father's tools and electronics in the basement and garage in the summer while he was at work - I don't want that happening here, especially as my father has slyly implied to my boys what I did!

Any suggestions for some things I can do with them in addition to the soldering?

Posted on Dec 19, 2013 4:00:10 PM PST
Thank you for comparing this with the Snap Circuits we have and love. Great review.

Posted on Feb 9, 2014 11:23:55 PM PST
emily k says:
We have snap circuits and I wish we'd gotten this instead. I suppose the snap circuits might do a better job teaching them electronics, but this looks like it would inspire them to create! I love that half the fun is creating *something* to use the little bits with. I want to inspire my kids to create more than consume, and I believe this would do a better job at that than snap circuits.

Posted on Mar 16, 2015 8:09:53 AM PDT
Tony R.L. says:
This is probably the best review of this product I've seen. I really wish I would have read this before buying another LittleBits kit. Littlest really doesn't have good instructions of learning at all for my kids -- and me! It caused so much frustration and felt extremely limited for what the marketing promises. The Littlebits website is even worse. I'm going to try Snap Circuits and the value compared to this is 1/10th of the cost.
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