IoT Development Board ComparisonApril 08, 2016 by Michael Greer
A comparison of three development boards aimed at the IoT horizon. The Particle Photon, the Adafruit Feather Huzzah, and the Arduino MKR1000.
A comparison of three development boards aimed at the IoT horizon.
More and more makers are designing projects that have roots in the internet. In the past, WiFi compatibility was only available as an add-on or afterthought to boards like the Arduino or Raspberry Pi. Luckily, microprocessor and development board designers have caught on to the trend and are designing chips that are more efficient, smaller, and have WiFi built onto the board. Here are three wireless internet development boards that will get your project off the ground and into the cloud.
The Particle Photon
A Particle Photon. Image courtesy of Particle
As a small, Kickstarted company, Particle (formerly Spark) was an unlikely source for one of the first IOT development boards to hit the market: the Spark Core. However, at $39 the Core turned out to be too expensive to cater to most makers, so the people at Particle revised their design and released their second board, the Photon. The Photon costs $19, which is inexpensive relative to its predecessor. It runs on 32-bit ARM Cortex M3 Architecture at 120Mhz and has a full suite of I/O pins. One of the largest bonuses of the Photon is its connection to the Particle web service. New programs can be pushed to boards over the internet and the service can connect to IFTTT, making it perfect for novice makers. However, it also has features to appeal to veteran makers. The Photon is the only board on this list that has a uFl antenna option as well as a PCB antenna, which is perfect for projects that may need some extra help connecting to WiFi. The only areas where the Photon skimps are power consumption and flash memory, with only 1MB of flash available to the user.
The Adafruit Feather Huzzah
An Adafruit Feather Huzzah. Image courtesy of Adafruit
The Feather Huzzah is the cheapest entry on this list, coming in at $16. At first glance, it seems a little bit limited, with only 9 digital I/O pins and single 1.0V analog input pin. The chip runs at a respectable 80Hz and has a whopping 4MB of flash, but that isn’t nearly enough to compensate for the lack of pinouts. However, there is one feature that makes this board perfect for makers who are interested in embedded projects. Adafruit included a full LiPo battery charging/discharging circuit with a JST connector on their feather board, a feature that makes use of the low power consumption of the board for long-term connectivity. The board has a USB port on it, and while plugged in the charging circuit will split power between the microprocessor and the battery. Adafruit recently launched Adafruit IO, their online connectivity service similar to the Particle web service. So, new makers can once again connect to services such as IFTTT without having to worry about many specifics. However, this board does lack many of the features that advanced users will look for such as a full pinout and extensive firmware control.
The Arduino MKR1000
An Arduino MKR1000. Image courtesy of Arduino
The most recent, and at $35 most expensive, entrant to this list is the Arduino MKR1000. The most interesting selling point on the MKR1000 is its chipset. This board uses a chip from the new line of Atmel SmartConnect devices, which consists of a 32-bit ARM Cortex and a WiFi module on the same chip. The MKR1000 was designed from the beginning to be a low power IOT board, and using the new chipset was a smart decision. This board also contains a LiPo battery management circuit, similar to the Feather, but the similarities end there. The new Arduino has a pinout that stacks up to that of the beloved Uno, and several other hardware goodies that will interest advanced makers. However, there were several sacrifices made in the name of efficiency. The MKR1000 runs at a clock rate of 48MHz and only has 256KB of flash available to the user. While this does make the board seem less appealing, it is important to take battery life into account as these features will stretch the battery life better than either of the two boards.
|Particle Photon||Adafruit Feather Huzzah||Arduino MKR1000|
|Antenna Type||PCB and uFl||PCB||PCB|
These three boards are perfectly suited for very different projects, so a better way to compare them is with three projects perfectly suited to each of the boards:
Particle Photon: Smart Garage Door Opener
The Photon is the only board on this list that doesn’t have a battery circuit, but its uFl connector makes it perfect for projects in places where WiFi isn’t always the strongest (like a garage). If it needs to be powered with a USB cable, no problem! Just plug it in, hook it up to IFTTT and make a trigger to open your garage. You could text it to open it, or have it open automatically when you get home.
Adafruit Feather Huzzah: WiFi Remote
This project is perfect for makers who already have lots of smart wifi products around their house, such as smart lights or appliances. While most of these devices have accompanying phone apps, a simple remote is great when you have guests over or if you have kids that would like changing the colors on your ceiling fan. A couple of buttons is perfect for the Feather’s pinout, and IFTTT should be able to hook it up to most of the smart devices in your home.
Arduino MKR1000: Internet Robot
The MKR1000 has the features to handle the complex projects of the Photon while maintaining the mobility of the Feather. The MKR1000 is perfect for makers that are already familiar with the Uno, as it adds on WiFi and LiPo battery capability without sacrificing the things that made the Uno great. Arduino’s new board still has all of the requirements for driving servos, reading range sensors, and powering displays. It just comes with a few interesting extras on top.