EVALUATION

Xtron Pro Review: Adults Will Like It, But Kids Won’t and That’s a Problem

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Xtron Pro

6.00 / 10

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While its specification is modest, the coding tools and peripheral options make the Xtron Pro a useful gadget with a far-reaching impact on education and learning.

Key Features

  • Portable retro gaming
  • Game development tools
  • Optional peripherals
Specifications

  • Screen Dimensions: 1.8-inch
  • Storage: 16MB
  • Portable: Yes
  • Battery: 500mAh
  • Multiplayer Support: No
  • Connectivity: USB-C
Pros

  • Lightweight and portable
  • Development tools easy to get to grips with
  • Battery lasts ages
Cons

  • Feels cheap and plasticky
  • Doesn't seem to appeal to target audient
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Xtron Pro is a compact computer aimed at creative programming and playability. While it looks like a miniature Gameboy (and it plays NES games), it's magnetic, modular, and wearable. Shipping with a built-in development system and support for Python and Java, the Xtron Pro is aimed squarely at school-age children and is perfect for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math).

But how easy is it for kids to use and develop with?

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The Ovobot Xtron Pro: It's a Palm-Sized Handheld

Measuring just 82x53x22mm and featuring a tiny 1.8-inch TFT display, the diminutive Ovobot Xtron Pro weighs just 70 grams (2.47 ounces). It is, quite literally, palm-sized.

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Funded as a Kickstarter, 922 backers pledged CA$ 119,743 in 2020 to build "A programmable modular console to create games, design wearables and make creative projects."

Various peripheral input devices are available with the Xtron Pro. It has a controller, is wearable, and comes with a wrist strap. Kickstarter backers were given an option of additional input and output devices, such as a servo controller, soil moisture controller, and 7-segment display module. These modules connect to the Xtron with a dedicated ribbon cable and can be chained so multiple mods can be used together.

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Unboxing the Xtron Pro

Arriving in a securely wrapped outer box, the main Xtron Pro box is color-coded to match the contents. Ours is light blue, and ships with a quick start guide and sticker sheet, along with the Xtron Pro core, its "game controller" module, wearable case and strap, and USB Type-C cable.

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The USB cable has two purposes: charging the Xtron Pro and transferring data.

Our kit also included the Touch and LED expansion module as part of the Kickstarter Early Bird offer. Expansion devices will likely add to the price of the final product on release.

You Can Make Your Own Games

As well as being ridiculously small and borderline cute, the Xtron Pro can be programmed using several tools. Ideal for young minds is the Xmaker Programming Platform. A browser-based block-based code editor, it's an ideal tool for beginners to get to grips with basic programming techniques. Offering guided steps to help you to code your first game, there's even a live preview for you to see how things are developing.

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Once you're fully up to speed with developing in Xmaker and are ready for more advanced programming, the MakeCode Arcade is available. This features tutorials in visual programming blocks, JavaScript, Python, and even code-along YouTube videos.

While non-game programming is also possible, this little computer system is mainly about the games.

More Than Games: Xtron Pro Features

To encourage game development, the Xtron Pro boasts several features.

The first thing you will notice is the magnetic, modular design. This allows the core to be rotated between landscape and portrait modes, for games to be built and played in either orientation. On the back of the core are eight pin connectors; the controller module features a pair of 2×2 pogo pins. These connect to the pins on the core, determining screen orientation and enabling the controller in both modes.

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While the Xtron Pro has just 16MB of flash memory, it can store multiple games as the requirements for the device are so limited. There is a file system, too, making it easier to store multiple applications and games.

An IMU sensor meanwhile enables games that don't require buttons. You can develop motion-sensing games for the Xtron Pro – one is included with the system. If single-player gameplay isn't your thing, meanwhile, multiple devices can be connected through the data wires.

One of the most exciting aspects of the Xtron Pro is its support for classic Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) games. Emulator software can be added to the Xtron Pro and NES ROMs played after conversion (see below). In theory, you can play your favorite (legal) NES game ROMs (think Super Mario Bros.) on the Xtron Pro, or homebrew titles.

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More Built-in Xtron Pro Features

It's not just about making homebrew games. Xtron Pro has a bunch of other features to keep you interested.

  • Turn Xtron Pro into a smartwatch: the device ships with a wristband and arc-shaped silicone case. With its high-precision clock chip and backup battery, the clock interface can be customized to any design.
  • It's a pedometer: Xtron Pro's built-in acceleration sensor means it can be turned into a step counter. This also has possibilities for programming a motion detection app.
  • Sensor kit: a 4-pin connector on the Xtron Pro enables it to be connected to the extension modules.
  • Speech recognition: with connection to the internet (via Wi-Fi) the Xtron Pro can recognize speech. APIs are provided to aid in speech command development.
  • IoT App: this supports data visualization from the device sensors and modules.

That's quite a lot for such a small package.

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Coding Games and Apps for the Xtron Pro

The main purpose of the Xtron Pro is to help you learn to create your own games and apps.

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To this end, dedicated web-based software is available to help you code and upload your programs to the console. Microsoft MakeCode Arcade lets you create games with drag-and-drop blocks and JavaScript. Mentioned above, Xmaker works in a similar way but is less advanced. Both tools are browser-based and feature a sprite editor.

Many programmable devices like the Xtron Pro require some sort of uploader. For example, Arduino programs are written in an IDE that then sends (uploads) the script to the device. With the Xtron Pro, however, all you need to do is hook it to your computer via USB and then drag and drop the program.

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Playing NES Games on Xtron Pro

In addition to everything else, the Xtron Pro can also run a NES emulator, for Nintendo Entertainment System games. That alone makes this tiny programmable console perfect for retro gaming enthusiasts, especially those with aspirations to develop their own classic-style titles.

All this requires is to convert a standard NES game ROM (an online converter is provided) and copy the file to the Xtron Pro. This is a useful feature that solidifies the Xtron Pro's retro gaming credentials.

But Is the Xtron Pro for Adults or Kids?

With three play modes, programming tools, various add-ons, and a cute pastel color scheme, this is a curious device.

The basic Kickstarter price was $79 CAD, listed as a 50 percent discount of the eventual price. A price like this puts it slap bang in the middle of the "STEM for kids" market. Meanwhile, the diminutive system is more suited to younger hands. An adult can wear the wrist strap, but it is more comfortable for a child.

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With Microsoft MakeCode, Python, and Java support, the difficulty level is set pretty low, however. Kids and programming newbies can use MakeCode, progress to Python, and then split their development progression between Python and Java.

As for the projects, well, they look pretty and have that retro aesthetic thanks to the limitations of the system, with the benefit of some handy peripherals. Again, these seem to be aimed at smaller hands.

So, is this device for kids or adults?

Well, despite the lofty aims of the project ("a fun and educational programmable game console for kids and juniors to learn to code") I'd say it is actually suitable for anyone who wants to learn. I'm 45, and I certainly got something out of programming for the Xtron Pro. Where my own children are concerned, they didn't seem to "get" the potential and possibilities of the Xtron Pro. Perhaps it's the design or the small screen size, but I just couldn't get either of my 10-year-olds interested.

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Ovobot Xtron Pro: Make Games, Wear It, Have Fun!

Compact, handy, and simple to use, the Xtron Pro has so much going for it. While there was some delay between the Kickstarter completing and the product going to full availability, that at least provided the time for problems to be ironed out.

Flexible, capable of switching from game machine to watch to IoT device or whatever you want in seconds, the Xtron Pro is also a lot of fun. It's just the right size to let you do almost anything with it, with a battery life to match.

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