LEGO Boost: first impressions

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The first LEGO Boost product, 17101 Creative Toolbox, is officially released in a few days although some retailers are shipping it already and I believe pre-orders from shop.LEGO.com have been received too.

I purchased one from eBay at the weekend and received it on Tuesday. I've not therefore had much time to evaluate it fully but I thought it would be worth writing something about my first impressions.


What is it?

Boost might look like any regular LEGO set from the box but it's far from it. It comes with no printed instructions and requires a iOS or Android tablet running the Boost app to be able to do anything with it.

Essentially, it's a robotic system for kids that are too young for Mindstorms. But that's not to say it's been dumbed down: from what I can tell the programming language is sophisticated and the models are certainly that.

View image at flickr

As well as the main 'Vernie' robot, instructions are provided in the app to build a cat, a guitar, a bulldozer-thingy and some sort of machine that assembles small models.

View image at flickr


What's in the box?

The set consists of 843 bricks which are packaged in ten numbered bags. If you intend to build Vernie first then you'll open the bags sequentially, but other models will require you to open them all at once.

As wll as the bricks, there's a play mat made from a plastic-coated cardboard and a poster. My poster was badly creased.

View image at flickr

View image at flickr

There's an inventory of parts on the back of the mat:

View image at flickr


The Boost Bricks

The kit provides three electronic elements that are used in every model.

The Move Hub is a big chunky thing that houses two motors, two connectors, 6 AAA batteries, and of course the microprocessor and Bluetooth interface for hooking up to the app. A single button on the top switches it on.

View image at flickr

A separate 'interactive' motor is also provided. I think interactive means that it can sense when it's turned by hand thus providing another input.

View image at flickr

The third element is a combined colour and distance sensor:

View image at flickr

The peripheral components plug into the Move Hub by means of the same connectors used in the WeDo 2.0 system. I'm not sure what they are called but they are much nicer than the RJ11/45 style ones used for Mindstorms and more compact than Power Functions ones.

I don't know if the WeDo motors and sensors are compatible with Boost: I suspect someone will try them soon enough.

View image at flickr


System requirements

To use Boost you MUST have a compatible tablet and to use the app you MUST have a Boost kit.

The hardware requirements for the tablet are published at LEGO.com and for iOS devices are quite restrictive: apparently only iOS 10 is supported which means you need an up-to-date iPad. The app does not run on phones, PCs or anything else.

The Android requirements are less restrictive but apparently the app is not available in the Amazon Fire store yet so running it on Fire tablets is not practical for most people at the moment

When you first switch the move hub on it searches for a tablet running the app via Bluetooth and won't do anything until one is found. Similarly, the app doesn't do much until it has connected to a move hub. I don 't think you even access the instructions until it's connected to one.

In other words, you can't use one without the other...


Operation and Software

The first time you run the software and connect the move hub it will probably do a firmware update which takes 15 minutes or so. Once that's done the interface opens and from here you can select a project.

I can't quite recall, but I think the five main ones are locked until you've built a simple chassis and completed a couple of small tasks which familiarise you with the coding interface and check everything is working.

At the time of writing the Android app is at version 1.0.2 which is more stable than the one I downloaded earlier in the week. However it seems to have stopped my colour and distance sensor from working.

I guess we can expect frequent updates to the app in the first weeks following its release and to be fair, the product hasn't been officially launched yet so I suppose I should expect some teething troubles.

The main interface shows the five projects. Scrolling right enables access to the 'free programming' area.

View image at flickr

Once you select a project you'll find several activities, all but one of which are locked. Once that's been completed the second oneibecomes available, and so on.

View image at flickr

The building instructions are clear and look to be easy to follow although I have not built anything yet.

View image at flickr

The programming screen utilitises a simple drag-and-drop interface which will be familiar to kids who have used, for example, Scratch.

The most frustrating thing I found that nothing is labelled so you have to guess what the blocks do from the icon. Some are obvious, of course, but the more complex ones less so.

The move hub has no microphone or speaker so sounds are captured and output via those in the tablet.

In the program below it's started by putting your hand in front of the sensor, and the purple block at the end emits a noise from the tablet.

View image at flickr

In addition to following the activities tailored for each model you can also program the unit freely using blocks similar to those in Mindstorms. I've not had a chance to look properly yet but I suspect the lack of written labels or instructions will hinder understanding.

View image at flickr


Potential uses

So, what's it good for? Well, as a robotic kit for kids it looks to be excellent. It successfully combines activities in the app, organised like a game, with physical building and interaction. It should therefore appeal to kids who are glued to their digital devices and, perhaps more importantly, to parents who want get them to do something else other than play on a screen.

Will it have its uses for AFOLs other than for building relatively simple robots like those in the box?

The fact it's tied to a tablet and can't be used autonomously may well hamper, but I suspect someone more inventive than I will come up with some killer uses for it.

I'll write more about Boost in the coming weeks and if you have one I encourage you to join the Boost discussion in the forum to let us know how you get on. I'd be particularly interested to know if your color/distance sensor is working with the Android app...


Want to know more?

There are a few reviews around on non-LEGO sites written by people who had early access to the kit. This one at Space.com is particularly informative.

29 comments on this article

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By in Sweden,

Very Interesting, I want Ev3 but that is so expensive. First I thought boost would be able to move talk, but this looks more promising. I will not buy this though.

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By in Australia,

Looks cool, I guess. I'll just be sitting alone with my EV3 while you all try to work out what those cartoonish icons mean...
I do like the sound of that "model maker," though. I hope someone works out how to build it with the EV3 home kit.

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By in Slovakia,

I guess figuring out what the icons mean is part of the fun of exploration for kids. Would certainly be fun for me.

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By in Netherlands,

So everyone who doesn't own a tablet can 't play with it? I don't own a tablet so this set is wasted on me.

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By in Poland,

Wait. Only for tablets? Man... That's sad... I really wanted it...

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By in United States,

Ugh... all of the marketing has indicated that the controller had a speaker. I'm sorely tempted to return ours (just received but box is still sealed).

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By in Australia,

Dedgecko, there is a speaker in the main box: how else is frankie the cat supposed to play the harmonica? (I have seen one in real life- yes the noises happen)

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By in United States,

I built the guitar first. I will say I'm in my 30s, and not musically inclined. The guitar is very hard to figure out how to make it sound well. There are so many options for several guitar types, even a violin, and drums, different times and chords. I don't know what a guitar chord is, so it's really hard to program to make it sound really good.

I guess I will build Vernie or Frankie next. With that said, with as many options that are available on the guitar, I am looking forward to seeing what Vernie and Frankie have to offer.

But my hopes for playing Sweet Child O' Mine on the guitar are shattered.

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By in United Kingdom,

I don't believe there is a speaker in the box, noises come from the tablet. The space.com review confirms this.

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By in United States,

Other reviewers of Boost have suggested the lack of labels on the blocks in the app is by design and a way to make the app accessible to kids that may not be able to read the words. I suspect the lack of labels won't be a problem for my 7 year old. I'm more likely to be frustrated by it than he will be. I would like a mode to toggle the labels on/off.

I've been waiting for something like Boost for many years from Lego, to use with my kids until the time they are ready for Mindstorms. Have enjoyed reading the various online reviews of it. Pretty much everything I've encountered thus far has been very positive.

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By in United Kingdom,

On the surface it seems like a brilliant idea, but tying it to a tablet app means that quite a lot of people won't be able to use it at all, and even for those who can, in a few years when they move on to updated systems it will become a dead useless piece of junk.

Please LEGO, tell us how to hack it now, or it really won't be going anywhere.

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By in United Kingdom,

Agreed. Tablets are old hat already. Kids have moved to phones these days.

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By in Netherlands,

I wanted this very much for my son. The fact it only works on tablets is really bad. We have an old ipad mini running iOS 9, to have to buy a new one just for Boost is ridiculous. Lego: make it work on older systems, or on phones, then I may consider again.

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By in Italy,

Hello.
I have some good news for you all.
First, I succedeed in extracting the building instructions from the app, so that you can download the PDF and print them out if you want. http://robotics.benedettelli.com/lego-boost-17101-building-instructions/
Second, by using a compatible tablet, I got the app APK and OBB files, and I succedeed in installing the app on two "incompatible" phones (that have Android >=5 and BLE) , namely a Samsung Galaxy S4 and a Motor G4 plus. I don't know how to share the OBB.

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By in United States,

I'm seeing a lot of complaints about this requiring a tablet to work. It's 2017, they practically give them away now, I can't blame Lego for utilizing an extremely common electronic device.

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By in United States,

The fact you can't use a phone or phonlet (or whatever those over sized phones are called) will be the death of this. Unless LEGO adds that in this set is DOA and will have insane amounts of returns to the point I see stores not even bothering to stock it.

You can easily modify a $50 Kindle (that's always on sale for $30-$35) but still, thats really weird to not be able to use a phone.

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By in United Kingdom,

Good job, @EV3LSCIENTIST! I look forward to downloading them all.

^ You are right, particularly as the tablet requirements are not stated on the box.

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By in United States,

I might have checked it out but for the tablet requirement. Ah well, Mindstorms is plenty enough for me.

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By in United States,

I assume (hopefully) the System requirements aren't printed on the box so that TLG can publish current info as more platforms become available, rather than having outdated info set in stone on boxes worldwide.

I love how the robotics bits are System based rather than Technic. I have Mindstorms 2.0 and always find it fiddly to troubleshoot my models when I have to keep pulling out pins to adjust them. Granted, Boost models won't be as durable as Technic-built, but the System compatibility should be a huge boon to amateurs like myself.

Of course, getting Boost would make my 2.0 officially obsolete in my household, so I don't see it happening very soon.

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By in United States,

The box does say 'tablet required but not included' and includes a link to a website (lego.com/devicecheck) where you can check if your device is compatible.

The lack of Fire support is one of the main criticisms I've read. Hopefully they rectify that.

I'll be curious to hear what the experience is like using this app on a phone now that EV3LSCIENTIST has figured out how to get it installed. I could see programming on the tablet and then triggering certain programs using a phone - that seems like a feature a lot of people would want. For the programming and building itself, I'd definitely want to use a tablet.

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By in United Kingdom,

This should be relatively trivial to install in https://www.genymotion.com/ for anyone wanting to run it on PC as long as you have a bluetooth receiver.

It should also be trivial (for me) to extract the commands and reverse engineer the comms... But as soon as I saw the WeDo it was clear a power functions refresh using bluetooth is in the works, I was waiting on that before I jump on some hardware. Although I might pick up the boost, the comms are likely to be similar to whatever comes out for power functions and partly I was holding off because of WeDo being in the education range and slightly harder to get hold of.

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By in United States,

Huw, does your box in the UK have this (from snowymike above):

The box does say 'tablet required but not included' and includes a link to a website (lego.com/devicecheck) where you can check if your device is compatible.

I was quite surprised to read that the tablet specs weren't on the box. I'm sure its another "my nanny state" vs. "your nanny state" item, but the US language quoted above, seems to make sense.

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By in United Kingdom,

I'm posting on this thread right now using an iPad mini 1, which can't be updated to iOS 10 and beyond - so effectively this set would cost me more like £350 if I wanted a decent tablet to make it work, or more if I wanted a brand new iPad - which I don't if I can avoid it.

As a side note, someone got me a (next generation) Furby as a 'retro' present a couple of years ago which was equipped with smart functions controlled via app. However, you could operate the app on pretty much anything - particularly on mobile phones. I don't understand why Boost wouldn't be mobile compatible. But we'll see if that comes in, in a (hopefully quite soon) update.

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By in United States,

This'll probably flop and fail, just like Fusion or whatever before this and Life of George before that. TLG really needs to stick with actual, physical bricks.

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By in United Kingdom,

@ speedorz4ever, the front of the box does say 'tablet required but not included' but the link is in small print on the back.

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By in United Kingdom,

It's not so much about getting it to work now as it is getting it to work in a few years time when everyone's moved on to the next fad.

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By in United States,

I got Boost in the mail last week and the tablet restrictions were frustrating. My old iPad is stuck on iOS 9, but this was the very first app I've tried that wouldn't install. I also tried acquiring an APK file to install on my Kindle Fire, but alas, it just wouldn't work and is probably too old also. At this point I'd already opened the box, and my kids were in distress about not being able to use it, so I went out a bought a new 2017 9.7" iPad. Now this costs me more than Mindstorms and I wouldn't have bought Boost right away if I'd known!

I'm also disappointed that you can't even read the instructions without the Move Hub powered on. I don't know if this is the reason the Move Hub batteries last less than a day! Or if it's just that my 7-year old has been playing with Boost too much? Either way, I had to switch to rechargeable batteries. I have a lot of power functions sets and the AAA batteries in them seem to last a lot longer than in Boost.

A final thought: I don't think the Move Hub contains a programmable microprocessor at all. I think all logic remains in the app, and Bluetooth serial commands are being sent in realtime. This is just my observation so far. Unfortunately this means a Boost robot will never be able to run autonomously. But, there's no reason why the Bluetooth serial logic can't be reverse engineered so it can be controlled by 3rd party apps. This should make it pretty future proof.

Ultimately it's a great set for the recommended age range. My 7-year old loves it, and can do every aspect of it 100% by himself. And my 5-year old isn't quite ready, so it should be useful to us for awhile, even once we eventually get my older boy on Mindstorms.

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By in Canada,

Has anyone else noticed how quickly the battery gets drained? So far I've had to change the batteries every 2 days, and he doesn't even play with it that much. Wish they made this rechargeable.

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