Monday, June 4, 2012

Adafruit Lady Ada's Bento Box [Review]

Do you need to work on your Arduino based prototype circuits on the go? I know what you’re thinking, who doesn’t? Whether you want to tinker while on the couch, at Starbucks, or on the train across town, the Adafruit Lady Ada’s Bento Box promises a crush-proof, drop-proof, and water-proof solution for the hardware hacker on the go. Let’s check it out.

Packaging at Adafruit is generally utilitarian. Lady Ada’s Bento Box is no exception. It comes in a plain box for shipping and the kit’s components come in the Otterbox itself. The kit includes a clear Otterbox 3000, a breath mint like tin, a half sized breadboard, a laser cut acrylic insert, mounting hardware, two sided foam tape, and a sheet of stickers. The Adafruit designed, laser cut, insert is the heart of the kit. It’s designed for mounting an Arduino with the included hardware, but can be modified to accommodate other microcontrollers of roughly the same dimensions or smaller.

My initial reaction upon opening the box was a slight twinge of buyer’s remorse. Not being familiar with Otterbox products, I didn’t feel like I received very much value for my money. After a little research, I found that Otterbox's are not inexpensive. It makes up most of the cost of the kit. If you spec the kit out yourself, you’ll quickly realize that it’s a whole heck of a lot cheaper than buying a laser cutter. Overall, it’s fairly reasonably priced.

Assembly takes about 5 minutes. I recommend not using the foam tape on the mint tin if you think you’ll need to use your Arduino someplace else or you want to mount a different microcontroller in the future. The mint tin prevents the removal of the laser cut insert which makes removing the Arduino or adding something else difficult. On the other hand, not mounting the mint tin makes everything rattle around loose in the Otterbox. If you choose not to use the two sided tape, try sticking the tin down with some reusable adhesive putty like Dap Blue Stik.

Lady Ada’s Bento Box is billed as being “crush-proof” and “water-proof.” I don’t have access to a 100+ meter deep pool of water, but I was able to park a 7000 pound pickup truck on it. The Otterbox held up well. No crushed Arduino, not even a crack in the case. The bottom of the Otterbox got a few deep scratches from the cement, but it otherwise handled getting run over with quiet confidence.

Adafruit’s Lady Ada’s Bento Box is a clever way to take your microcontroller, breadboard, a bunch of components, and some jumper wires with you on the go. You can drop the whole thing in your bag without having to worry about your circuit getting squashed by a truck or loose components getting misplaced. The simple design of the laser cut insert makes the whole thing possible by keeping things in their place. If you’re looking for portable microcontroller and breadboard case, Lady Ada’s Bento Box is hard to beat.

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