Review: Makeblock's Neuron Explorer Kit Is a Great Gift for Future Coders

Makeblock sent its Neuron Explorer Kit ($199.95) for me to try just in time for the holidays, and it will definitely make any STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) oriented children happy, and could even spark the interest of other kids. 

Master your iPhone in one minute a day:

Sign up to iPhone Life's Tip of the Day Newsletter and we'll send you a tip each day to save time and get the most out of your iPhone or iPad.

The kit leverages Apple's Swift Playgrounds app, running on an iPad (sold separately!) to let kids build and program a variety of real-world items. Those items can leverage the included Temperature Sensor, Ranging Sensor, Light Sensor, LED Strip Driver and LED Strip, Dual DC Motor Driver and DC Motor blocks. The kit comes with cardboard templates to build a piano, ukulele, a car, and a light sword but I imagine the more creative kids could adapt those pieces (or make their own) to create original projects.

Just keep in mind that, although the photos show on Makeblock's website (and here) show all the projects simultaneously, as you use the kit you quickly learn that you can only have one fully functional project at a time. In that way, it's kind of like Lego Mindstorms, and the Makeblock components can even work with Lego bricks. Nintendo has a similar offering, but it is built on (and requires) its Switch gaming console, and is more of a toy and less of a true programming platform. This can truly teach programming, with the Apple Swift Playgrounds iPad app or Makeblock's own iPhone & iPad app.

The Makeblock also has its own subscription channel and tutorials for more projects. This could make the kit even more valuable over time. It's a creative way to merge software and hardware and based on Swift programming language.

Pros

  • Creative way to merge software and hardware
  • Based on Swift programming language
  • Works with Swift Playgrounds
  • Kit can build a piano, ukulele, a car, and a light sword
  • Includes Temperature Sensor, Ranging Sensor, Light Sensor, LED Strip Driver and LED Strip, Dual DC Motor Driver, and DC Motor blocks

Cons

  • One project at a time
  • Requires iPad for Apple Swift Playgrounds app
  • This kit is only sold by Apple 

Final Verdict

The Neuron Explorer Kit from Makeblock is not exactly a stocking stuffer, as it is quite substantial in functionality, weight and price, but it could pay dividends in a young person's education.

Master your iPhone in one minute a day: Sign up here to get our FREE Tip of the Day delivered right to your inbox.

Todd Bernhard is a bestselling (6+ million downloads) award-winning (AARP, About.com, BestAppEver.com, Digital Hollywood, and Verizon) developer and founder of NoTie.NET, an app developer specializing in Talking Ringtone apps including AutoRingtone. And his profile photo is of the last known sighting of Mr. Bernhard wearing a tie, circa 2007!

An iPhone is almost always attached to his hip or in his pocket, but over the years, Mr. Bernhard has owned an Apple Newton, a Motorola Marco, an HP 95LX, a Compaq iPaq, a Palm Treo, and a Nokia e62. In addition to writing for iPhone Life, Mr. Bernhard has written for its sister publications, PocketPC Magazine and The HP Palmtop Paper.