Which Apps Should I Use for LEGO Robots?

Recently, LEGO has updated its robotics software, especially for the products of LEGO MindStorms EV3 and LEGO MindStorms Inventor. Facing so many apps, you might wonder which apps you should install and what are their differences? In this post, I will introduce the apps of three LEGO robots, their download positions and differences.

LEGO MindStorms EV3

The classic LEGO MindStorms EV3 has been popular for more than eight years since its debut on August of 2013. Before 2021, it has been using a program called Lego Mindstorms EV3 Home Edition, which is powered by LABVIEW, to write code using blocks instead of lines. In 2021, LEGO annouced that the above program will be no longer supported by the LEGO Group.

The new LEGO MindStorms EV3 Home app could be downloaded at this page: https://www.lego.com/en-us/themes/mindstorms/downloads

Although the App could be installed on Mac, Windows PC, iOS and Android tablets and smartphones, I would strongly recommend to install it on Mac and Windows PC. Big screen allows you to explore the potential of robot programming conveniently.

Some blog articles compare the retired LEGO MindStorms EV3 Home Edition software with the new LEGO MindStorms EV3 Home App. They believe that the new app provides less functionalities and could only afford to write some simple programs. I totally disagree with that. The below program drives EV3 robots to start from the base, use proportional line following method to walk along a line, identify, grab an object and then put it to a specified place, then finally return to base. There is no difficulty for the new LEGO MindStorms EV3 Home App to finish the whole mission.

Please note that when you create a new project on the new App, it shows all code blocks by default, so you could see that there are many blocks to be chosen from Motors and Movement tool boxes. However, when you open a sample project, e.g. Track3R, it shows fewer code blocks by default (see image below). You need to click “ALL CODE BLOCKS” to see all the blocks, otherwise, you might feel that the App offers very limited functionality.

Comment: For the above sample project, you could only see limited number of blocks. Click “ALL CODEBLOCKS” to switch to full block mode.

You might have noticed that the interface of the app is similar to that of LEGO MindStorms Inventor and LEGO Spike (I will introduce their apps below). In terms of the block categories, they are similar but there are differences. For example, in LEGO MindStorms EV3 Home App, it puts all the Motor and Movement blocks in the toolbox tabs directly. However, in Inventor App and Spike App, you need to choose Extention tab to import some advanced blocks of Motor and Movement. Another example is that some block names are different in EV3 Home App.

I will not explain other differences of those programming blocks. Once you install the app and begin using it, you will learn more through the hands-on experience.

Currently, this app is not supporting Python code, yet, while both Inventor App and Spike App support wring Python code. I believe that is due to the hardware difference between those products. For LEGO MindStorms EV3, it needs to insert SD card to switch to MicroPython system. Therefore, it becomes cumbersome for the EV3 Home App to incorporate Python coding. If you would like to use Python to code LEGO EV3, you still need to use Visual Studio Code app like before.

LEGO MindStorms EV3 Commander

You might get confused between this app and the above LEGO MindStorms EV3 Home app and thought they are exchangable. However, they serve different purposes.

As its name mentioned, this app only works on LEGO MindStorms EV3. You could find its installation at this web page: https://www.lego.com/en-us/themes/mindstorms/downloads.

This app could only be installed on phone or tablet. It looks cool, but its function is pretty simple. It acted as a remote control to manually control the rotation direction and speed of the motors. Meanwhile, you could also check the status of the touch sensor, color sensor and IR sensor. Since it does not support coding, its control functionality is limited, but it is fun to control your robot manually, instead of by writing code.

LEGO MindStorms Inventor

This is regarded as an upgraded product of classic LEGO MindStorms EV3, although many fans do not agree on that. Personally, I do like this product and its sibling one – LEGO Spike Prime. Compared to LEGO MindStorms EV3, MindStorms Inventor is much easier to be built, thanks to its updated design of brick, motor and sensors. You could refer to my previous post for the comparison of parts and components.

Interestingly, this app is kind of difficult to be found on the LEGO website and due to the name similarities, the app is often confused with the above LEGO MindStorms EV3 Home app. Anyway, you could find its download link at this position: https://www.lego.com/en-sg/themes/mindstorms/app, and then install the version suitable for your mobile device or computer.

Its interface looks pretty cool with the dark background. This theme is the default and the only one. You could not switch its color to some lighter ones. Like the above LEGO MindStorms EV3 Home app, I strongly recommend you to install it on your PC or Mac if you really want to fully utilize its coding functionality.

When you try to connect your LEGO MindStorms Inventor to this app, you might fail to connect via Bluetooth initially. In this case, connect via cable, and the program will remind you to update smart hub and motors. Follow the guidance step by step to finish the upgrading of the firmware. After that, you could connect your robot’s smart hub to this app with bluetooth.

The following screen captures show some steps in the firmware upgrading process.

Compared to LEGO MindStorms EV3 home app and LEGO Spike Prime, this app has the most complete functionality. It supports Remote Control editor and Animation editor, not to mention other extended models and sensors.

This app could be installed on mobile phone, tablet and computer, so you could use your mobile device as remote controller to control your device, which is very convenient. That explains why LEGO MindStorms Inventor does not have an app similar to LEGO EV3 Commander, because its app has incorporated that remove control requirement.

LEGO Spike Prime

The installation of LEGO Spike is not like the previous two products. You could not find the app in App Store, Microsoft Windows Store or Android Shop etc. What you need to do is to open the following web page, choose your current system, and then click Get the App or Download Installer buttons. The webpage link is shown here: https://education.lego.com/en-us/downloads/spike-app/software

This app supports Windows PC, Mac OS, Tablet and Chromebook but it could not be installed on smart phone.

The interface and functionality are similar to the above apps. Compared to LEGO MindStorms Inventor, it lacks Remote Control editor and Animation editor.

Both LEGO MindStorms Inventor and LEGO Spike Prime apps support Python coding. It is of great advantage compare to LEGO MindStorms EV3 Home app.

Brief Summary

All of the above three LEGO robots have pros and cons. If I have to pick up the favorite, that could be a bit challenging. Personally, I would definitely pick up between LEGO MindStorms Inventor and LEGO Spike Prime. Both of them use newer design of motors, sensors and smart hub. Both of them support convenient way of writing Python code.

For LEGO MindStorms Inventor, it supports remove control and have more part choices (totally 900+ pieces). For LEGO Spike Prime, its compotents are more colorful and the core set contains two big motors, which is more powerful than the medium motor. Some of its components are unique and easily used to multiple models.

It is up to you to choose your favorite LEGO robot and enjoy the happiness of creation. No matter which model you have chosen, do not forget to review those sample projects, especially in the LEGO Spike Prime app. They are of great help to beginners.

Keep tuned to our future posts. Enjoy the design and have fun!

Note: All the analysis articles are copyright products of http://www.thecodingfun.com. Anyone re-posting them should credit author and original source. Anyone using them for commercial purposes or translating them into other languages should notify TheCodingFun and get confirmation first. All Rights Reserved.

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