Which LEGO Mindstorms NXT kit to buy?

There are several different versions of the LEGO Mindstorms NXT kits available to buy. Which one should you get? Let’s look at our options and decide what’s best for you and your child. The first big choice to make is whether to buy the Retail version or Education version.

The Retail version (code 8547) is the common store box you see at Toys ‘R Us ($329) and Amazon ($274). This version has the LEGO bricks, motors, sensors and software you need to build some awesome robots. This box also has instructions to build a humanoid named Alpha Rex (the robot that’s on the cover of the box). The instructions to build Alpha Rex are in the software (no printed instructions).

  • The benefits to the Retail version is that is comes in one cardboard box, software and hardware. You don’t need to buy anything else. Also, this Retail kit has a Color sensor that is not in the Educational kit.
  • The downside to the Retail version is that it doesn’t have the best instructions to learn how all the gear, pulleys, and sensors work. It also doesn’t prepare kids to program the robot using the computer very well.
  • The Retail version does not have a rechargeable battery like the Education version does. Instead, the white programmable NXT brick uses 4 AA batteries. However, you can buy the rechargable battery separately (code 9693, $55).

The Education version used to come as separate purchasable items, meaning you had to buy the LEGO bricks and software individually. Not any more. LEGO Education (also known as Pitsco) now sells it together in a Homeschool format ($346). This version also has the LEGO bricks, motors, sensors and software you need to build some awesome robots. The instructions to build and program are in the provided software tutorials. However, the builds are much different than the Retail version. The Educational builds are meant to assist instructors to teach a LEGO Robotics Camp or class. Over 50 mini-lessons are contained, but they are each very small lessons. Which is why this is an Educational version.

  • The benefits to the Education version is that it comes in one plastic box, software and hardware. The plastic case is divided to make it each to find pieces. You don’t need to buy anything else. This version is best if you are intending to teach how to use each and every piece in your robotics kit.
  • The downside to the Educational version is that it doesn’t have the large humanoid Alpha Rex robot build. The Educational kit has some extra pieces to complete the Educational exercises, but it’s also missing some pieces that you need for the Humanoid build. This can be overcome by downloading the Alpha Rex instructions and buying the NXT Resource kit ($105) and Color sensor ($35).
  • The Educational version has a rechargeable battery, unlike the Retail version that doesn’t.

Both kits are great resources to reinforce robotics and programming. If you are a teacher, I recommend the Educational kits, as that’s what we use in our LEGO Robotics Camp. If you are a parent wanting to buy this as a gift, I recommend the Retail kit, in particular, the LEGO Mindstorms NXT 2.0 (8547).