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NeXXTech 130-in-1 Electronics Lab


  11:06:13 am, by Nimble   , 980 words  
Categories: Reviews, Toys

NeXXTech 130-in-1 Electronics Lab

Link: http://www.thesourcecc.com/estore/Product.aspx?language=en-CA&catalog=Online&category=Educational+Toys&product=2808003

My wonderful wife got me one of these for Christmas, and I've already been playing with it. I've done 5 of the 130 projects so far - most of them are not that hard - and have been finding it rather interesting, though I obviously have not learned electronics in this short a time yet.

I am positive that I appreciate this a lot more now than I would have at eight years old, because I can look beyond the fun of the projects itself :)

First, what you get:

  • A lot of labelled, numbered, mounted components with spring connectors to put wires into
  • A whole lot of coloured wires - the colour means only length (yellow is long, blue is medium long, red is medium short, white is very short) and some spare wire you can cut and strip yourself if you so care to
  • A pretty good instruction manual with the 130 projects in English and French

There are transistors, resistors, capacitors, a speaker, LED lights, an LED "digit" display, a switch, a telegraph-like key, a light-sensitive cell, an integrated circuit, a radio coil, op amps, a variable resistor (with a 0 to 10 dial) and a variable capacitor (for radio tuning).

The projects start off right off the bat as "entertainment" - most of them designed to squeal or tick or chirp in some manner. This is great, and a couple of sounds make our Yorkie bark, which is doubly great :)

To start with, they give you a proper circuit diagram, a visual representation of where the wires go on the lab board, and a wiring sequence that lists the spring numbers to connect. The wiring sequence usually guides you to connect wires starting from the outputs (speakers, LED) all the way to the power.

This kit does not plug in. It requires 6 AA batteries. My wife was kind enough to include the batteries. The batteries are not for "general power" - they're actually part of the circuits, and you hook wires to front springs that connect to the batteries in the back (so technically, you can do some of these experiments with fewer batteries - the 3 volt experiments would require only two).

I was impressed at the amount of experimentation with the circuits they let you, and suggest you, do. They give a couple of suggestions as to what you can change, and most importantly, they tell you what ranges to avoid to avoid damaging the components. The transistors seem the most sensitive, and the instructions will be something like "However, do not decrease the 47K resistor to below 10K or the transistor might be damaged" - you will recognize these numbers on the board.

For the most part, you can change the resistors and capacitors - just take all the wires on the springs at both sides of a resistor or capacitor and move them all to an unoccupied one.

(NOTE: Be aware that there are a couple of repeats - you do not really want to be embarrassed after the fact by realizing you moved to a capacitor or resistor of identical value!)

The style of the remarks in the experiments is colloquial and "inclusive" (e.g. letting you in on the jargon, telling you to make notes just like real electrical engineers would), and often adds an interesting concept or twist with each experiment.

The experiment I did last, #6 (I skipped the one that makes sounds that attract fish), includes you as part of the circuit - if your hands are dry, the clicking is very slow or non-existant. Wetting your fingers makes it faster, but I had to decrease the capacitance to get good results with our dry-fingered crew.

I'm slowly understanding a few things here. It's interesting that you really could do each and every project without understanding what's going on, but you get to learn a number of things. I've looked ahead a little, and they go into resistors and capacitors in serial and in parallel.

I've got to figure out what the heck transistors do. I get the impression that the base (e.g. through spring 40 with the letter B ) controls the amount of electricity going from the collector (41) to the emitter (42), and that it can amplify, but I don't know how to figure out any nuances beyond that... yet. Transistors are used a lot in this kit, so not knowing yet six projects in is just bugging me :)

Some things I can pass on... look at the circuit diagrams and try to figure out a wiring sequence from them. You will learn (and I'm going to experiment to make sure) that the wiring sequences connecting multiple wires together (e.g. 119-45-115-113-92 in experiment 2) can be shuffled internally and do exactly the same thing (so 92-45-113-115-119 would be exactly equivalent). The individual wiring sequences themselves can be shuffled around.

The only thing that really makes a difference sequence-wise is when you finally connect the second half of the battery power. Save that for last, regardless of what you do.

I'd also almost recommend trying out sequential resistance and capacitance in the first few experiments to see how it works. For example, if you have springs 75 and 76 hooked up as a resistor, then you could move everything from 76 onto spring 78, then hook 76 to 77 - now you've got two resistors in sequence. Resistors add normally in sequence. Capacitors do not - in sequence, they're less than the lowest (you learn the math later on if you care to - and it's pretty easy). It's easier to hear the difference in sound form.

The kit felt a little 'cheap' with the cardboard underlay under the circuit, but it's nice and light, and thus portable, very-well labelled, and sturdier than it first appeared. I also haven't encountered a single bad component on the board yet, which is nice, and it's surprisingly fun to piddle around with the first few projects.

Great fun. I'd recommend it. And for $40-50, it's pretty fine entertainment for the price.

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