Disclosure: This review was based on a provided sample from Thimble. I was not compensated for this review.
I’m sure many of you reading this will be surprised to know that despite attending a performing arts governor’s school program, and loving all things language, theatre, and drawing oriented, all of my elective classes centered on science. Particularly that of technology and robotics. For which the knowledge I gained on building simple machines using motors, circuit boards, power supplies, and programming grids made up some of my fondest memories during my high school years. Which is why when asked if my family would like to review an upcoming Thimble electronic building kit, I jumped at the chance!
Thimble kits are designed to teach beginners a basic understanding of building electronics by way of a monthly kit. Each kit is curated and includes instruction manuals, instructions for accessing online software modulation videos, programming guides, and the needed materials for the project at hand. Thimble offers kits of all levels of difficulty including wifi-robots, LED cubes, robotic arms, alarm clocks, weather stations, quadcopters, and much more! Each month is designed to be a new project and a new adventure!
Thimble also offers four different subscription prices. The longer the subscriber commitment, the cheaper the pricing will be. With robot kits, some of their more pricey kits, ranging from $12.00 to $300.00 in price. And as you may have assumed, the cost generally reflects the quality of the robot. While this cost may seem steep a lot of Vex and Project Lead the Way Kits can cost upwards of $1,200.00 and more per kit. In comparison, Thimble seems economically focused in comparison.
While excited to review Thimble, I wasn’t entirely sure what I was getting myself into. As Thimble’s homepage is somewhat vague on the specifics for each kit. The homepage does explain the service is recommended for ages 13 and up, is okay for beginners, and every project involves soldering; soldering kits are not included with the service.
However, the homepage does not provide any photos of the current project, or what the current project even is. While I was able to ascertain that information further into their website, this might be a turn off for shoppers looking for a cursory glance of schematics and logistics while subscribing to their service online.
It wasn’t until my compass kit arrived a week later. Included in the kit were:
- A power supply
- Circuit Board
- Circuit Pins
- Mounting Square
- Motor Sensor
- USB Cable
Not included (but needed for this build):
- Soldering Iron
- Wire Strippers
- Needle-Nosed Pliers
Upon opening the kit, I was surprised to see how involved the kit appeared to be. Not in an intimidating sort of way but I definitely didn’t anticipate just how do-it-yourself this project was going to be. I suppose I was expecting to solder a few external pieces onto a circuit board but wasn’t expecting to be soldering several multi-pin components or stripping wire.
Though these aren’t tasks are not unknown to me, they would seemingly be a bit advanced for most 13-year-olds and for those in-class or homeschooling. I believe this kit to be better geared towards high school aged students as this kit was so involved.
Building the Compass:
Once you’re prepared to build your compass, You’ll need to collect the items not included in your kit. This includes need-nosed pliers, wire strippers, solder, soldering iron, and AA-batteries.
Following this, you will need to go to Thimble’s learning platform and follow the links to video tutorials. The first part of the tutorial provides a detailed list of all the parts included in the kit and a list of suggested tools.
Next, you are given two options for building the compass. You can follow a 25-minute video of the process from start to finish, or you can go through a step-by-step tutorial with accompanying videos and photos. We opted for the step-by-step process.
The first step in the process is to solder several components onto the circuit board. As you can see, there are a lot of pins to solder and not a lot of room for error within the kit itself. Although I have experience soldering, I haven’t had much practice in years. Luckily, my husband was standing by and finished the soldering for our family. As a robotics and project lead the way instructor, this was second nature to him.
Again, there was a lot of soldering that needed to take place and even for someone as used to soldering as my husband mistakes can still easily be made. Do go into making these kits with the understanding that, at times, mistakes may happen. Thimble also offers replacement parts in their online shop.
The next couple of steps involved soldering more components. Some of which were thankfully spaced out a bit further making soldering easier.Once all the components are soldered to the circuit board, the next step is to attach wires to the compass motor.
Theoretically, you would need to strip the ends of the wire and solder the ends to a mechanized motor or componentry. However, the wire in this kit is very thin and care to detail should be maintained as to not accidentally cut completely through your provided wiring.
Attention to detail should also be considered when soldering the wire to the motor, as the provided instructions didn’t indicate which color wire should be soldered to a specific contact. The accompanying video doesn’t specify either. While assuming this doesn’t matter, in terms of the finished compass, I felt it should be stated as this is a review kit.
The next step is to program the compass. This was my biggest issue with the entire build. I found the online instructions somewhat vague and I would image confusing for middle school students and younger, such as children in my family, my husband’s students, and robotics team members.
We did manage to get the compass working after an hour of trial and error, though it was not nearly as fun a family project as I had imaged going into the project.
We were eventually able to utilize the sites LED test for the compass and the magnetometer functions. This was after a 4-hour period of finding the programming software guide unavailable online, which rendered us unable to program our kit. This program was later remedied by Thimble.
We also found the onsite project forum with responses from other users helpful as well. We found that a number of kit owners were having trouble with both the programming and soldering as well. This was somewhat a relief for us throughout the project.
In terms of Thimble for at-home projects for my family, I would have to pass on Thimble. For my husband’s more advanced students, who would have multiple classes to construct, engineer, and program each kit, this might be a worthwhile investment. While I was really looking forward to building this compass, I was somewhat disappointed with the results.
Between the lack of poor instructions, video modulations, vague website descriptions, and the nightmarish programming required to make a 1-hour project come to fruition, I’m not sure Thimble would be ideal for our family game nights at home.
Mind you, if the kits were more affordable, perhaps I’d feel inclined to purchase them for practice kits for my husband. Especially during summer breaks from school. However, starting a price point of $59.00 and a year-long commitment, that’s a great deal of money for kits you may or may not be happy with the results of.
In the future, I’m thinking Thimble will have perfected their product because of it really an awesome in-home subscription box concept. And who knows, in the future, I may just change my mind.
Now friends, if you would still like to learn about this service for yourself, you can check out all that Thimble has to offer here. And now, I have to ask, what are you most interested in learning about Thimble and what parts of our build were you a little skeptical to try at home yourself? I’d love to hear about it below!
Connect with Thimble: