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In this video, I took a deep dive into the Arduino Nano ESP32 and compared it with other available boards in the market. Despite its seemingly high cost as compared to the options on AliExpress, its overall quality, fantastic documentation, and the fact that it fits neatly into the Arduino ecosystem makes it a good buy, especially if you've already invested in the Arduino Nano and its shields. The board has a few interesting peculiarity, including the use of a NORA-W106 module, a switch mode step-down converter for power, and an RGB LED. However, I was disappointed to find out it doesn't come with built-in battery charging. The pin labelling and remapping could definitely cause some confusion, especially if you're transitioning from other ESP32 boards. It's a fairly decent ESP32-S3 board if that's what you're after. But given a choice, I'm keener on the Unexpected Maker boards or the cheap boards on AliExpress.

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[0:00] The Arduino Nano ESP32
[0:02] I’ve seen a few sponsored videos on this so I thought I should get one for the channel and have a look.
[0:06] My immediate reaction was “hmm, it’s a bit pricey” but I decided to take one for the team and get it anyway.
[0:13] Quite an opportune moment to give a big shout out to my Patreons and the channel sponsor PCBWay.
[0:18] With your help I am keeping the global economy going at full steam.
[0:22] And if you’re on the lookout for PCBs then have a look at PCBWay.
[0:25] If you want to see what they’re capable of, have a look at the most recent videos on the channel
[0:29] where I’ve been building a very small ESP32-S3 based board.
[0:33] But back to the Arduino Nano ESP32.
[0:36] Yes, it is a bit expensive, especially when you compare it to what you can get on AliExpress,
[0:40] but it’s actually not that expensive if you compare it to buying your devboards from Amazon or other local suppliers.
[0:46] It’s also pretty comparable to the closest equivalent from Unexpected Maker.
[0:50] With both Unexpected Maker and Arduino you are paying more because there’s a lot more support
[0:55] and effort going into the product design and all the documentation.
[0:58] So I think it can be justified.
[1:01] The thing that really caught my eye about the board was the module that’s being used.
[1:05] I’ve come to expect either the standard Vroom or Rover modules on devboards, that’s what most people do.
[1:10] Or if you have the more hardcore producers like Unexpected Maker,
[1:13] they’ll do everything without a module and use bare chips.
[1:16] The module Arduino are using is a NORA-W106.
[1:20] The least price for this is surprisingly expensive.
[1:23] I do assume that Arduino got a big bulk discount to make this board cost effective.
[1:27] I also suspect that using this module made it a lot easier to get certifications from the FCC and other regulatory bodies.
[1:34] The module doesn’t have any flash so there’s a very generous 128 megabit flash chip on the PCB.
[1:40] But the module does have 8 megabytes of PSRAM built in.
[1:44] This is really handy if you’re using things like displays
[1:46] or doing other memory hungry things like using MicroPython.
[1:50] One other interesting thing about the board is that they are using a switch mode step-down converter
[1:54] instead of the usual low dropout regulator that you get on most boards.
[1:58] This does give you a lot of flexibility in terms of powering the board
[2:01] as you can provide anything between 6 volts to 21 volts on the V-in pin.
[2:05] There’s also a nice RGB LED on the board so you can do some fun things like cycle around colours.
[2:11] A notable omission which is a bit disappointing is that there’s no battery charging built in.
[2:15] So if you want to go for a battery powered solution you’ll need to do that yourself.
[2:19] That’s not a complete disaster, there are plenty of battery control boards available
[2:23] but a lot of other boards come with this as standard.
[2:26] As expected, there’s a lot of documentation and it’s really good.
[2:30] The board is squarely aimed at people who are in the Arduino ecosystem
[2:34] and something that will probably irritate people used to the ESP32 boards is the pin labelling.
[2:39] It’s even more confusing when you come to actually using the pins.
[2:42] There’s some re-wrapping of pins going on in the Arduino framework
[2:45] so you have to use the Arduino pin numbers when using this board.
[2:48] Do not use the GPIO pin numbers with the Arduino functions.
[2:52] But the benefit of this is that all the existing Arduino Nano examples
[2:57] and shields should just work.
[2:59] You can get the board to work in platform I/O with the Arduino framework
[3:02] but you need to use the cutting edge platform code from GitHub.
[3:06] And of course you must use the Arduino pin numbers not the GPIO pin numbers.
[3:11] But it does work.
[3:12] This simple sketch will cycle through red, green and blue on the LED.
[3:16] The LED is active low hence the slightly weird looking logic.
[3:20] The code is pretty simple, we just set pins 14, 15 and 16 to output
[3:24] and then we loop around incrementing this counter.
[3:27] I’m just using the modulus operator to make one of the pins go low each time we go around the loop.
[3:32] So that’s pretty straightforward and simple.
[3:34] After a bit of buggering about, I also got this display working with the board.
[3:38] I did this in the Arduino IDE and it seems to work nicely.
[3:42] Here’s the pins I’m using to hook the board up.
[3:44] We’ve got ground, VCC, SCL, SDA, reset, DC, CS and backlight.
[3:50] I’m just hooking the backlight straight up to the 3.3 volt supply
[3:54] so it’s always powered on but you could hook it up to a GPIO pin.
[3:57] The pin is pretty straightforward and here’s the code that actually sets up the TFT display.
[4:01] So that’s quite straightforward.
[4:03] So what do I think of the board?
[4:05] Well this is quite a tricky one.
[4:07] Arduino is a critical part of our ecosystem so I really want to recommend the board.
[4:12] I think it’s probably great if you have a lot of projects already using the Arduino Nano and its shields.
[4:17] This board is pin compatible and you get all the power of an ESP32-S3.
[4:21] That opens up a whole world of possibilities and power.
[4:24] If you’re in the ESP32 ecosystem and are just using the Arduino framework,
[4:29] I’m not sure this is really the board for you.
[4:32] There are much cheaper options and boards at a similar price point come with more functionality.
[4:36] I also think this pin remapping stuff is going to really confuse you
[4:40] if you’re switching between ESP32 boards.
[4:42] But it is a very nice ESP32-S3 board and it fits nicely into breadboard which is always convenient.
[4:50] For myself I’d be tempted to stick with the unexpected maker boards
[4:53] or the very cheap boards of AliExpress.
[4:55] And I’m also rolling a lot on my own boards nowadays
[4:58] so I’m starting to move away from actually using dev boards except for prototyping.
[5:02] So thanks for watching, I’m off for a couple of weeks now
[5:05] so there won’t be any videos for a while but I’ll see you soon.

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Chris Greening

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A collection of slightly mad projects, instructive/educational videos, and generally interesting stuff. Building projects around the Arduino and ESP32 platforms - we'll be exploring AI, Computer Vision, Audio, 3D Printing - it may get a bit eclectic...

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