The absolute beginners guide to Arduino starter kits

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I’m relatively new to tinkering with Arduino myself, having picked up a starter kit late last year – so I’m by no means an expert. That said, I’ve been where you are, thinking about getting into Arduino, and wanted to share my thoughts on what you need to get started from my own perspective and experience.

I decided to put together this beginners guide to Arduino starter kits because I don’t think there’s really any great resource out there for it. Almost everything that comes up in search for it being the usual list of too many different kits that are all essentially the same available on Amazon, with a rehashed description, providing little to no real help in picking out a kit and getting started with the hobby. 

Before picking up an Arduino kit for myself, I spent a lot of time on the sidelines – several years in fact – watching project videos on YouTube, browsing various Arduino forums and subreddits, all without pulling the trigger on a cheap starter kit. I wish I hadn’t wasted so much time and instead jumped in a lot earlier than I did.

For full disclosure, the products included in this post include affiliate links which you can use to purchase them from Amazon. Some of these products I’ve purchased and own, some I don’t, and others I own various bits and pieces of, such as sensors, modules, and other components, so have a good idea of what you’re getting and the value that a particular product offers.

With that out of the way, let’s get into this post – my beginners guide to Arduino starter kits – a no-nonsense resource to help get you into tinkering with Arduino projects.

Best Arduino starter kits for beginners

This isn’t going to be like all those other “best Arduino start kit” guides, with a pointless list of 10+ different options. Most of these kits are essentially the same, and padding out this post with a needless number of repetitive offerings from different brands, stuffed with Amazon affiliate links, is something I want to avoid – there’s absolutely no need for it, and all it does is overcomplicate things.

Something that may surprise many – and would likely get me crucified by the grumpier members of the community over at the official Arduino forum (a place I wouldn’t recommend newcomers go to for help and advice, unless you like being told “learn how to code”) – is that I’ve not included any official Arduino kits. Sure, the official kits look great, come with good learning material, and many even include Arduino certification – but if you’re like me, preferring to get stuck in and learn without the handholding, they don’t offer anywhere near as much value as the generic Arduino starter kits. 

I’m also going to avoid any “monster” or “mega” starter kits – you know the ones, those that retail for several hundred dollars and have way more than you’ll need to pick up and get into the hobby. It’s also probably best not to fork out so much cash in something while you’re just starting out, not yet sure whether or not you’ll continue with the hobby. Because of this, we think they’re a bad place to start – so we’ve skipped them, and we’d recommend you do the same.

Right, so without any further ado – here are our picks for the best Arduino starter kits, giving you everything you need to really get into the hobby without breaking the bank.

ELEGOO UNO R3 Most Complete Starter Kit (63-Pcs) – Best overall

The UNO R3 Most Complete Starter Kit from ELEGOO is where I started. This kit is very affordable, has plenty to keep you busy, and is one of the best rated kits on Amazon – which is why I went with it to begin with.

There are smaller versions of this kit, including the basic and super starter kits, but these don’t offer as much value for money as the most complete starter kit. There are also alternatives that come with an Arduino Mega instead of an UNO R3 board.

However, for anyone just starting out, it’s unlikely that you’re going to need the additional memory or GPIOs that the Mega offers – I didn’t, not until I wanted to mess around with a 64 x 64 LED matrix, which I couldn’t get working without one.

The full list of what you get in the ELEGOO UNO R3 Most Complete Starter Kit is given below:

  • 5pcs White LED
  • 5pcs Yellow LED
  • 5pcs Blue LED
  • 5pcs Green LED
  • 5pcs Red LED
  • 1pcs RGB LED
  • 5pcs 22pf Ceramic Capacitor
  • 5pcs 104 Ceramic Capacitor
  • 2pcs Photo resistor
  • 1pcs Thermistor
  • 5pcs Diode Rectifier (1N4007)
  • 2pcs Electrolytic Capacitor (10UF 50V)
  • 2pcs Electrolytic Capacitor (100UF 50V)
  • 5pcs NPN Transistor (PN2222)
  • 5pcs NPN Transistor (S8050)
  • 1pcs Tilt Switch 5pcs Button (small)
  • 1pcs 1 digit 7-segment Display
  • 1pcs 4 digit 7-segment Display
  • 1pcs Sound Sensor Module
  • 1pcs LCD1602 Module ( with pin header)
  • 1pcs IC L293D 1pcs IC 74HC595
  • 1pcs Active Buzzer
  • 1pcs Passive Buzzer
  • 1pcs RTC Module
  • 1pcs DHT11 Temperature and Humidity Module
  • 2pcs Potentiometer
  • 1pcs Rotary Encoder Module
  • 1pcs Joystick Module
  • 1pcs Keypad Module
  • 1pcs 5V Relay
  • 1pcs IR Receiver Module
  • 1pcs UNO R3 Controller Board
  • 1pcs Breadboard 1pcs Servo Motor (SG90)
  • 1pcs Stepper Motor
  • 1pcs ULN2003 Stepper Motor Driver Board
  • 1pcs Prototype Expansion
  • 1pcs 9V Power Supply Module
  • 1pcs HC-SR501 PIR Motion Sensor
  • 1pcs Ultrasonic Sensor
  • 1pcs GY-521 Module
  • 1pcs 3V Servo Motor
  • 1pcs MAX7219 Module
  • 1pcs Remote
  • 1pcs 9V 1A Power Supply
  • 1pcs 65 Jumper Wire
  • 1pcs Water Lever Sensor
  • 1pcs USB Cable
  • 1pcs 9V Battery with DC
  • 1pcs RC522 RFID Module
  • 10pcs Resistor (10R)
  • 10pcs Resistor (100R)
  • 30pcs Resistor (220R)
  • 10pcs Resistor (330R)
  • 10pcs Resistor (1K)
  • 10pcs Resistor (2K)
  • 10pcs Resistor (5K1)
  • 10pcs Resistor (10K)
  • 10pcs Resistor (100K)
  • 10pcs Resistor (1M)
  • 20pcs Female-to-male DuPont Wire

This kit also comes with a load of educational material in the form of Arduino tutorials on a CD included in the kit. I can’t vouch for the quality of these, as frankly I never gave them a look, instead I headed over to YouTube – who even has a CD or DVD-rom drive these days anyway? I believe that the contents of the disc is available over at their website, on the “learn” section of the ELEGOO website for anyone who wants to take a look.

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Freenove Ultimate Starter Kit for ESP32-WROVER – Best for IoT

If IoT is more your thing, you might want to skip an Arduino board altogether, instead opting for an ESP32 starter kit instead.

Why? Because unlike the Arduino Uno R3 board found in the standard Arduino starter kits, these boards have both Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity embedded – meaning your projects can be wireless right out of the gate, opening up a world of additional possibilities than with a standard Arduino board.

Personally, with my background in web, most of my Arduino projects involve some sort of third-party API or send data back and forth to a web server, and sure, while you can hook up an ESP32 to an Arduino board, it’s much easier to use a board which has one already embedded, ready to go – instead of having to faff about with setting it all up yourself, especially if this is all brand new to you. 

The full list of what you get in the Freenove ESP32-WROVER Ultimate Starter Kit is given below:

  • 1pcs ESP32-WROVER board
  • 1pcs GPIO Extension Board
  • 1pcs 8 RGB LED Module
  • 10pcs Red LED
  • 4pcs Green LED
  • 4pcs Blue LED
  • 4pcs Yellow LED
  • 1pcs RGB LED
  • 1pcs LED Bar Graph
  • 1pcs Camera module
  • 1pcs Speaker
  • 1pcs 7-Segment Display
  • 1pcs 4-Digit 7-Segment Display
  • 1pcs 8×8 LED matrix
  • 20pcs Resistor 220
  • 10pcs Resistor 1k
  • 10pcs Resistor 10K
  • 3pcs Potentiometer
  • 2pcs Capacitor 0.1uf
  • 2pcs Capacitor 10uf
  • 4pcs Push Button
  • 4pcs Big Push Button
  • 1pcs Red Push Button Cap
  • 1pcs Green Push Button Cap
  • 1pcs Blue Push Button Cap
  • 1pcs Yellow Push Button Cap
  • 2pcs Switch
  • 1pcs Vibration Switch
  • 1pcs Keypad
  • 2pcs Rectifier Diode
  • 2pcs Switch Diode
  • 2pcs NPN Transistor
  • 2pcs PNP Transistor
  • 1pcs 2xAA Battery Holder
  • 1pcs 9V Battery Cable
  • 1pcs Audio Converter and Amplifier
  • 1pcs Motor Driver Chip
  • 2pcs 74HC595
  • 1pcs Active Buzzer
  • 1pcs Passive Buzzer
  • 1pcs Temperature and Humidity Sensor
  • 1pcs Thermistor
  • 1pcs Photoresistor
  • 1pcs Relay
  • 1pcs Motor
  • 1pcs Servo
  • 1pcs Stepper Motor
  • 1pcs Stepper Motor Driver
  • 1pcs Joystick
  • 1pcs Infrared Motion Sensor
  • 1pcs Infrared Remote
  • 1pcs Infrared Receiver
  • 1pcs Ultrasonic Ranging Module
  • 1pcs Accelerometer Module
  • 1pcs LCD Module
  • 1pcs Breadboard
  • 65pcs M-M Jumper Wires
  • 10pcs F-F Jumper Wires
  • 10pcs F-M Jumper Wires
  • 1pcs USB cable
  • 3pcs Prototyping Board
  • 1pcs 40 Pin Header
  • 1pcs Female 40 Pin Header
  • 1pcs Resistor Color Code Card
  • 1pcs Plastic Storage Case

As you can see from the part list above, there’s a lot of value in this starter kit – it’s also cheaper than the ELEGOO UNO R3 Most Complete Starter Kit. In all honesty, if I were to start again today, I’d probably go for this kit.

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HiLetgo Sensors Assortment Kit (37-Pcs) – Best sensor kit

You’ll outgrow the basic blinking light projects pretty fast, wanting to get stuck into something more sophisticated soon after getting to grips with the basics.

At this point, it’s time to pick up a sensor kit, offering a world of possibilities, far beyond the assortment of sensors your basic starter kit came with. This is where an additional sensor kit comes in, being the next stop after your starter kit.

Like the starter kits, there are several brands offering sensor kits – all pretty much identical, and most offering a “37-in-1” kit. I’m not sure why 37, maybe the number is of some significance in China, where all these components are made – if anyone knows, I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

For the benefit of full disclosure, I’ve not purchased this exact kit myself – but I do have a good number of the sensors in it, many from HitLetgo, so I can vouch for the quality of the components the brand offers. 

The full list of what you get in the HiLetgo Sensors Assortment Kit is given below:

  • 1pcs Small passive buzzer module
  • 1pcs 2-color LED module
  • 1pcs Hit sensor module
  • 1pcs Vibration switch module
  • 1pcs Photo resistor module
  • 1pcs Key switch module
  • 1pcs Tilt switch module
  • 1pcs 3-color full-colour LED SMD module
  • 1pcs Infrared sensor module
  • 1pcs 3-colour LED module
  • 1pcs Tilt open optical module
  • 1pcs Yin Yi 2-color LED module 3MM
  • 1pcs Active buzzer module
  • 1pcs Temperature sensor module
  • 1pcs Automatic flashing colourful LED module
  • 1pcs Mini magnetic reed module
  • 1pcs Hall effect magnetic sensor module
  • 1pcs Infrared sensor receiver module
  • 1pcs Class Bihor magnetic sensor
  • 1pcs Magic light cup module
  • 1pcs Rotary encoder module
  • 1pcs Optical broken module
  • 1pcs Heartbeat detection module
  • 1pcs Reed module
  • 1pcs Obstacle avoidance sensor module
  • 1pcs Hunt sensor module
  • 1pcs Microphone sound sensor module
  • 1pcs Laser module
  • 1pcs 5V relay module
  • 1pcs Temperature sensor module (KY-001)
  • 1pcs Temperature sensor module (KY-028)
  • 1pcs Linear magnetic Hall sensor module
  • 1pcs Flame sensor module
  • 1pcs Sensitive microphone sensor module
  • 1pcs Temperature and humidity sensor module
  • 1pcs XY-axis joystick module

This sensor kit also comes in a nice plastic case, which is great to store and keep your sensors organized – something that’s especially great for anyone short on desk space (like myself), limiting their options when it comes to storing and organizing their various Arduino bits and bobs.

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Extras worth stocking up on

It’s definitely worth stocking up on things like breadboards, jumper cables, and a couple of extra arduino boards, so that you don’t find yourself constantly disassembling projects each time you want to try your hand at something new.

After a few weeks or months with your starter kit, you’ll probably want to think about other bits and pieces – like resistors and LEDs – but we won’t bother with these, as it’ll take you a while to get through those included in your starter kit.

Here are some of the extras I’d recommend picking up with your starter kit:

Breadboards and jumper wires

ELEGOO 830 Point Breadboard (3pcs)

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ELEGOO Multicolored Jumper Wires (120pcs)

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Extra boards

Boards come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and form factors – but to keep things simple, I’ve just included those that come with the start kits included earlier in this post. One thing to note about boards is the difference in price, not just between official Arduino boards and clones, but between the various Arduino IDE compatible alternatives on the market.

For instance – the two options I’ve given below retail for about the same price, despite one of these offering 3 pieces. In all honesty, and while the Arduino UNO R3 is a good place to start, for functionality and value over time you’re going to want to consider the many alternatives, or better yet, get an assortment of different boards to play around with.

ELEGOO UNO R3 Board (1pcs)

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AITRIP ESP-WROOM-32 Board (3pcs)

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Things you’re probably not going to need if you’re just getting started

One mistake a lot of people make when starting a new hobby is to pick up all the possible gear and accessories at the start, before they’re sure whether or not it’s for them – for example, I’ve got friends who’ve dropped thousands on fishing equipment, just to end up going once or twice a year. Frankly, it’s completely unnecessary and just not worth it!

Below I’ll give a short list of things you might be tempted to buy for your new hobby and electronics tinker/maker space, but should probably avoid for now, as you simply won’t need them for a while.

  • A soldering iron

    Everything included in this post is solderless, using jumper wires and pre-soldered headers, so you can hold off on picking up a soldering iron and learning how to use it until you’re more practised. If you’re already got one – great, if not, don’t rush out and pick one up just yet.
  • A multimeter

    When getting started, you’re going to be following tutorials and building other people’s projects before you get the hang of it. Just like a soldering iron, you aren’t going to need to pick up a multimeter at the beginning – as you’re not really going to need to use one. 

A few considerations when choosing Arduino starter kits

Official vs. Chinese knock-off starter kits

While this might not be the most popular opinion with Arduino purists out there, when it comes to starter kits, the official options don’t offer anywhere near the same amount of value as those from brands like ELEGOO, HiLetgo or SunFounder.

That said, there could be an argument for the learning material included with the official kit – which is definitely better than the CD you’ll get with the generic kits. However, a PDF of the book that comes with the official kit is easily found online, and frankly – in my case at least – the go-to place to learn about Arduino these days is YouTube.

One important thing to note about generic, unofficial starter kits is that the brand doesn’t matter much, as they’re all essentially the same thing – even the start kit names and included sensors are exactly the same. This means that when it comes to picking between options from different brands, just go for whichever is offering the best price at the time.

Included learning materials

Whatever Arduino starter kit you end up going for, it’s going to come with some sort of learning materials – whether these are on a CD, DVD, or downloadable pdf. There’s not a lot of difference between generic kits when it comes to tutorials and educational content, so I wouldn’t get hung up on it when picking your kit – stick with getting the best value for money.

The reality is that the best place to learn about Arduino these days is on YouTube – with there being no end of videos teaching you everything from how to wire up specific components and programming tutorials, to super cool robotics and home automation projects that you can have a go at putting together yourself.

WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity

Eventually, you’re going to want to work some connectivity into the mix with your projects, and while there are a handful of WiFi and Bluetooth-enabled Arduino boards, like the Uno WiFi R2,MKR WiFi 1010, or Arduino BT, these options are pretty expensive compared to the alternatives.

Personally, I like to use NodeMcu boards for my projects. There are two versions, either the ESP32 or ESP8266, either of which are great alternatives to Arduino for IoT projects that require WiFi. They’re also super cheap, retailing for just a few dollars a piece – less than an Arduino Uno R3 clone.

That said, if you’re an Arduino purist, it’s pretty easy to wire up either of these to an Arduino board, with the chips costing no more than a couple bucks and there being plenty of blog articles and YouTube videos to walk you through the process. If you’re unfamiliar and not sure which to choose, the ESP32 supports both WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity, while the ESP8266 is only WiFi but packs more of a punch when it comes to hardware, so which you go for will depend on the project.

Powering Arduino projects

If you’re going to be working at your desk, with your laptop or computer nearby, you’re best off powering your Arduino using USB. This is definitely the simplest way, and any starter kit you pick up is going to include a USB cable. 

Once you get a little more advanced – and depending on the type of project – you’ll likely want to power your projects independently, with their own powersource, so they can be more mobile or portable. There are a couple of options here, some of the more common we’ll summarise briefly below.

  • Disposable batteries

    Your starter kit is going to include a couple of options for using disposable alkaline or carbon zinc batteries out of the box, typically a 9V battery cable (and likely a disposable battery) and a AA battery holder. For less hungry power projects, with a limited number of sensors or modules, these can be good enough. However, once your projects get more advanced, you’re going to want rechargeable alternatives as disposable batteries can get expensive.
  • Nickel–metal hydride (NiHi) batteries

    Most people will be familiar with these types of batteries, as they’re the common rechargeable batteries you’ll find at home. These come in the same standard sizes of disposable batteries, offer a higher capacity, and are pretty safe. They’re also fairly inexpensive, with a charge and set of AA NiHi batteries costing no more than $20 on Amazon.
  • Non-rechargable Lithium Cell batteries

    If you’re project is really low on power consumption, you could get away with powering it with a non-rechargable lithium cell battery – similar to what most people would refer to as a watch battery. If you intend to use this type of battery to power a project, you’ll need to pick up a coin cell breakout board – which none of the starter kits included in this post come with. You can pick one up for no more than a couple bucks on Amazon or eBay. 
  • Avoid LiPo and Li-Ion batteries!

    While these types of batteries are great in the right hands, if you don’t know what you’re doing they can be incredibly dangerous, being susceptible to heat and overcharge, which can present a fire risk. As a newbie, it’s best to put these aside until you’re more experienced, knowledgeable, and confident that you can use them safely. 

Where to buy sensors and other components

There are plenty of places to pick up sensors, modules, and other components for your projects – personally, I stick with three; Amazon, eBay, and AliExpress.

Below I’ll give a very brief explanation on which I use, when, and why:

  • If I’m in a hurry, Amazon

    Amazon is the everything store, and electrical sensors and components are no exception – you can find pretty much anything you might need on Amazon, much of it available with next day delivery if you’re a Prime member. 

    While availability and delivery is good, expect to pay for it – the premium for picking up components this way is a lot, and definitely the most expensive way to go about it – but unfortunately, sometimes impatience gets the better of us. 

    That said – definitely pick up your Arduino starter kit and other beginner accessories from here. The last thing you want to do is delay getting started after deciding to get into Arduino, and when it comes to starter kits, the premium isn’t anywhere near as bad as purchasing individual components from Amazon.
  • If I can wait a few days, eBay

    I buy most of my electrical bits and bobs from eBay. The price and shipping is reasonable, and most of the time, if I’m thinking about a project in the week I’ll have plenty of time to get the parts I need delivered before the weekend, when I have the time to get started with it. 

    It’s typically much cheaper to purchase from eBay than from Amazon – especially if you’re buying components individually.
  • If I need to buy in bulk for a project, AliExpress

    You won’t find components and sensors cheaper than buying them from China – this is, afterall, where they’re all made. You’ll just have to wait a little longer for them to arrive.

    Shipping isn’t as bad as you might think. I live in the UK and regularly order from AliExpress, and more often than not, things arrive within 7-14 days. Sure, there are some exceptions – I think the longest I’ve waited for an order so far was about 6 weeks – but on the whole, I find delivery to be pretty good.

    Personally, if I need components or sensors in bulk – say HC-SR504 Ultrasonic modules and servos for a robotics project – I’ll pick them up on AliExpress, as often you’ll find that for the same price as one bought locally you’ll get 5, 10, or even more pieces for the same money. 

    It’s also not a bad idea to stock up ahead of time this way, as it’ll be much cheaper in the long run, and you’ll always have a plenty of components on hand for whatever project you dream up.

Reasons to get into Arduino

If you’ve made it to this page, you probably don’t need much convincing to get started with Arduino – regardless, in the section that follows, I’ll cover a handful of reasons why you should consider picking up a starter kit and get stuck in with making Arduino projects.

  • Great way to get started with C and C++

    Sure, Arduino isn’t the only fun way to start learning these languages – for instance, I’ve started messing around with programming on the old Nintendo Gameboy with GBDK 2020. However, it’s probably one of the more accessible and easy to start with, as projects don’t need to be overly complex to be impressive, meaning you can get pretty far with a little bit of knowledge.
  • Good introduction for anyone interested in IoT

    While Arduino is a great place to start with IoT, it’s worth skipping an Arduino board altogether, instead opting for ESP32 or ESP2866 Arduino IDE compatible boards – the former offering both WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity, which is something the Arduino Uno R3 clones you typically get in a starter kit don’t have embedded. In our round-up of the best start kits, we include an ESP32-WROVER kit from Freenove which would be a better place to start.
  • Great way to learn to code or teach kids to code

    Besides the first reason, this is one of the things that really drew me to Arduino, as my eldest is about to start school – making it the perfect time to get her into coding. Being able to take code and turn it into something physical is a far better way to get kids interested in programming than sitting them behind a screen.
  • If you’re already a maker, learning Arduino can be a great addition to your skillset

    Whether you’re into 3D printing, LEGO MOC, or even things like baking – with an Arduino and a couple of servos you can easily bring your creations to life, making for some pretty interesting, creative play. This can also build on the previous point, making for a much more fun way to pick up programming, making it more engaging and fun, not just for kids, but adults too!
  • As hobbies go, tinkering with Arduino is pretty cheap

    If you’re just looking for a past time to take up on a budget, they don’t come much cheaper than Arduino. There’s no expensive equipment needed – boards and components are cheap, and they can be reused in multiple projects. In fact, if you’re totally new to it, a sub-$60 starter kit should keep you going for a long while.

Summing it up

Well, there you have it – my two cents on picking out a starter kit to kick-off your journey down the Arduino rabbit hole.

The key takeaways of this article are pick up a cheap generic Arduino kit – whichever brand, it doesn’t matter – and for maximum bang for your buck, not an official one. Better yet, skip ahead if you can, opting for cheaper Arduino IDE boards with more functionality, like ESP32 development boards. 

Don’t waste your time researching what each starter kit contains in terms of educational material – everything you’re ever going to need is all online, free, and no more than a quick search on YouTube or Google away. Just focus on value – you want a reasonably priced starter kit, somewhere in the region of $50-60, with as many different modules, sensors, and other bits and pieces as you can find. 

I hope this article has been useful – I certainly hope it’s been better than the list of 10+ identical kits with different brands that you may have already stumbled across before getting to this guide. But most importantly, don’t delay getting into Arduino – it’s great fun, affordable, and well worth investing your time into learning.

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