LEGO Mindsorms is a great concept. The combination of LEGO which so many kids have parts for, and experience in building, with a programmable micro-controller, sensors and motors is great. But, wow, is it expensive.
If you buy the latest EV3 kit direct from the LEGO store, you’re looking at $500 plus postage. So are there alternatives?
The first thing to consider is going for an older version. The previous version is widely available on Ebay and sits more at the $350 mark, new, and cheaper second-hand. It was an excellent version in terms of the hardware and can run the same programming software. Realistically, though, buying an old version is often not an option when you’re buying for kids.
In the same vein you could look at alternative robot kits. But they lack the LEGO familiarity, cool marketing, and peer support: Although they’ll often work better and teach more.
So back to finding cheaper versions of the EV3 kit. Sadly the options are limited. You can again hit Ebay and find new kits at around $430-460 with free postage. Those are from reputable sellers with solid reputations. Often the major limitation with that approach is that you’re buying from the USA and delivery can take an age (and you need to have a plan to get a local power-plug).
The best deal by far seems to be to buy from Amazon in the US at US$349 which even once you take exchange rates and shipping into account isn’t bad as a price. But you need to arrange local delivery in the US, re-shipping to Australia, and all the fiddly stuff that goes along with that.
If you prefer to buy from a local online retailer there going rate seems to hover around the $460-mark sometimes with postage on top, sometimes not. One major online retailer is selling, or at least offering, the kit for an astonishing $699 – so simply don’t go there. With a bit of patience and searching there do seem to be some local deals available (like this one) that can bring the price down to the mid-$300s. But you have to be lucky and quick to find them. The lowest local online price I could find today was the excellent value $392 from JustBricks.
If you want to go into a shop and get the kit you’re simply looking at $460-$499, unless you hit a lucky sale.
So in summary this is a premium kit and you’re going to pay a premium price whatever you do. If you’re looking at a Christmas present don’t wait until the last moment – nothing will make this cheap, but some pre-planning can get you a more reasonable price.