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A second look at Mindstorms NXT

Nick Sheppard, age 9, spent two weeks with Mindstorms NXT and was impressed -- for a while

Globe and Mail Update

The Lego Mindstorms NXT robot is kind of cool. But it takes a long time to build any of the best parts and it doesn't do enough to interest kids.

I am not going to ask my mom and dad to buy it for me for Christmas.

Let me tell you about the good parts first.

The "quick start" package was OK. I have lots of Legos, mostly Bionicles, and I built the first robot vehicle in about 30 minutes, like the instructions said. It was kind of crazy when the robot first started to move. I put it on the training pad and it moved around the outlined area. It almost made it back to the start area but it was a little bit off. I didn't really mind that it didn't get back to the start area completely. But even after several tries, I couldn't get it to do the complete circuit. So, I thought it would be best to move on to the next level to see what it had to offer.

It took a long time to build the next, bigger robot, named "Spike." I'll tell you more later about why I didn't like that. When me and my friends got it built, me and my dad put the software into the computer. The instructions were very clear. It was relatively easy for us to follow what my dad called the "drag and drop" instructions and create the first program and download it to Spike. My dad says we did it on the USB cable that was included.

I liked the fact that it had sensors that could detect and react to sound, light, colours. My dad says it could also measure distance and movement, detect and grab things, and be programmed just by the sound of my voice. That would be great.

Now, here's what I didn't like.

It was really challenging to build "Spike" even with the help of my dad and my friends who also build lots of Legos. My dad timed it and said it took more than two hours. I kept on going because it's bad to just quit unless something is completely unfair. But if I had been doing this with my own toy, and not just testing the Mindstorms NXT, I probably would not have kept going. There was too much work before I could have fun with it.

After we programmed "Spike," he did move down the training mat and pick up the balls at the other end. That was kind of cool. But it was just one simple trick for all that effort.

The instructions said the robot could be programmed to "do my chores." But we had already seen how long it took to do a simple thing.

By this time, I knew I didn't really want to spend more hours building and programming other versions of the Mindstorms NXT. That would have been too much work for not enough fun.

It may be OK for kids who are a bit older. It does say 10-plus. However, I doubt it. Most of them probably won't take the time either. And my dad thinks not many parents are going to buy it at a price of $300-$400 when there's so much more out there that's fun and easier.

I like Bionicles. I still build them and play with them with my friends. But we all like to have fun without so much work. That's why we like video games better. We can just turn them on and start to play.

Toy-tester Nick Sheppard is a Grade 4 student in Mississauga, Ont. He wants to be a board and video game designer, and a magician, when he grows up

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