We’ve had our hands on the great CircuitMess Chatter in the previous issue. It’s a lovely DIY-assembled development platform with surprising versatility and a great beginner-friendly IDE called CircuitBlocks (based on MakeCode and PXT-Blockly). Even after finishing the core building part of the experience, there’s more to discover within these – and we were especially surprised to find full support for the ESP32duino packages which enable even Wi-Fi projects.
Today, CircuitMess sent us another of their great kits – the Jay-D STEM box. It’s the second box in the series – but it’s still available to order and is one of their most beloved kits.
Opening the box, we’re greeted with a familiar array of PCBs, acrylic parts and electronic components. There are also two speakers included – which makes sense given the nature of this DIY kit. Which we haven’t mentioned yet – right.
It’s a little mixing desk! Complete with crossfaders, digital effects, and all the basic features you’d expect. We find the concept here extremely appealing and satisfying – and who wouldn’t want to assemble a piece of music tech! So, without further ado – let’s get to it.
Once again, the most finicky SMT components have thankfully been pre-soldered to the board. Sadly, we can’t see a middle schooler using a hot air rework station, no matter how fun and rewarding as tricky soldering manoeuvres are. That being said, any old soldering iron will work just fine for the work required here. We’d recommend having a solder pump or a braided copper solder wick on hand, as well, just in case whoopsies happen. Some electrical tape also helps in cases where the component just refuses to stay in place. The holes on these PCBs are well placed, so this shouldn’t be an issue, though.
In the ﬁrst half of this review (well, we tried to make it a half), we were focused on covering the initial build experience of the Chatter kit by CircuitMess.
In this second half, we want to explore a bit deeper under the hood and get to know what makes the little Chatter devices tick – and how much we can get out of them.
These LoRa-based DIY texting machines come equipped with USB-C connectors for PC communication, and are built to be programmed with CircuitMess’ own CircuitBlocks IDE. It’s based around the Blockly language – meaning that it’s simple to use and quite intuitive for newcomers to the ﬁeld.
Once downloaded, CircuitBlocks grabs a set of extensive and well-written libraries enabling high-level access to all the main hardware components of the Chatter – especially focusing on the buttons, piezo buzzer and display. When we say high-level here, we truly mean it. The team did a gorgeous job with the core library here – called CircuitOS. It uniﬁes the experience across the company’s kits and provides simple calls for handling button presses, sprite graphics, interactive UI elements, sound and multitasking. It all makes programming the Chatter feel way less like programming an MCU and way more like a proper desktop experience akin to those students might have had in the past.
Circuitmess’ Chatter is the newest kit in their STEM Box series of unique DIY projects. Released in February 2022, it features quite a few technologies and concepts that it aims to introduce to students and tinkerers alike. The Chatter itself is a tiny LoRa-enabled texting machine with quite the range. The kit lets you build two of them, both of which are also programmable thanks to the USB-C interface they offer.
The kit series began in 2020, via an extremely successful Kickstarter campaign, offering a subscription-like model of ordering these – with a box arriving at your doorstep every three months. There’s also a tool-kit available that’s sent free with some longer plans – containing the essentials needed for assembling all of these.
We’ve been sent the Chatter box, as well as the tool kit (and a very nice t-shirt, too – thanks guys!) free of charge by Circuitmess for review purposes. We’ll also split this review into two parts, with the first part focusing on the build process and stock software, and a second part focused on the coding aspect that allows for extending the finished devices’ capabilities.
After opening the boxes, there’s quite an array of components jumping right at you – DIP switches, PCBs, screens, ribbon cables, screws and laser-cut acrylic pieces. Tiny details are sprinkled throughout the packaging, with an extremely modern quick start guide, as well as some words of encouragement on the top lid. Rest assured, box, I think we’ll manage!