Our review of the BBC micro:bit, along with a quick guide to getting started with micro:bit and a look at Samsung’s official micro:bit Android app, which allows you to build your own security camera or shoot a high-tech selfie using your new device.
The BBC’s micro:bit scheme is introducing our nation’s kiddiewinks to the wonders of programming, giving them a simple Raspberry Pi-style chipboard to tinker with, along with all manner of software support. A million micro:bit devices are being distributed to schools across the country and one of the easiest ways to get started, if you or your child is a proud micro:bit owner, is with Samsung’s official Android app.
What is the BBC micro:bit?
The micro:bit is a very basic computer in the form of a chip, with a grid of twenty five LEDs and two push buttons on one side. You can program the micro:bit to respond to button pushes and even delicate movements thanks to the device’s built-in accelerometer, by writing simple pieces of code on your computer or mobile device and then uploading them to the micro:bit’s memory.
The idea is to get kids interested in tech and coding and it’s certainly a well-implemented scheme, well supported by the BBC so anyone – even those with practically no technical know-how – can get up and running in no time at all.
How do I get started with the BBC micro:bit?
The Beeb’s micro:bit website has everything you need to get started at home, including introductory tutorials and the software you’ll need to write and transfer programs to your device.
I’m impressed by the flexibility of the programming software, which caters for all ages and abilities. You can drag and drop different code chunks onto the screen, or actually type out every line if you’re skilled enough. Some clearer error reporting would have been appreciated, but as long as you regularly save and compile, you’ll have no trouble working out where you’re going wrong. And it’s good that you can run the code on a virtual on-screen micro:bit before copying it across to the real thing, to see if it actually does what it’s supposed to.
When your code is done, you can compile it (turn it into something the micro:bit can understand) and upload it to your device, using the same BBC software. Then it’s just a case of turning on your micro:bit to run the program you wrote.
Is the micro:bit app any good?
First of all, you’ll need to download Samsung’s micro:bit app from the Google Play store. It’s free to download and install on your Android phone or tablet.
The app is basically a gateway to the BBC website, although you can also pair directly to a micro:bit through the app and then upload your programs, ready to run. This is a great way of sharing your programs with friends, eliminating the need for a PC.
You can also craft new programs on the move, using the usual desktop software; bear in mind that you’ll need to use a tablet for this however, as a dinky phone screen isn’t big enough to fit in all of the usual features and functions.