While there is quite an array of Arduino boards to choose from, the Nano is a versatile board suitable for almost all DIY electronic projects. These tiny micro controllers make compact DIY hardware development available to more people than ever before.
In the past we have covered reasons you may not want to choose a genuine Arduino for your projects, but today lets take a look at the positives and negatives of the Arduino Nano.
Here’s a quick summary of the details before we jump into the specifics:
- Great platform for beginners.
- Tiny size makes it perfect for compact projects.
- Functionally the same as their larger counterparts.
- Fits onto a breadboard making prototyping easier.
- Lack of native connectivity limits possible Internet of Things (IoT) uses.
- Limited on board memory can make complex programs difficult.
Great Things in Small Packages
The Arduino Nano is the little brother of the Arduino Uno, and shares most of its functionality. The main difference other than its smaller size is the USB port, with the Nano connecting to your computer through a micro USB cable. It’s a perfect micro controller to learn hobby electronics and programming on, and its size makes it excellent for building into projects which require a small form factor.
A genuine Arduino Nano costs $22 from the Arduino shop, making it cheaper than the Uno. As you can see from the official comparison chart on the Arduino website, the Nano has exactly the same capabilities as its larger sibling.
It’s worth noting that all Arduino Nano boards ship with the ATmega328p chip now, meaning the Nano has slightly lower maximum input voltage than previous models.
One of the advantages of Arduino in general is the huge community behind it. Whatever you want to do, chances are someone else has tried it first. There are countless blogs and forum posts covering everything a budding tinkerer could imagine. Whether you need help with your code, or pointers in making the correct electronic circuit for your build, Arduino users worldwide are there to help.
For a more in-depth getting started guide, all of which is applicable to the Arduino Nano, check out our Arduino beginner’s guide.
Bread on the Board
The Arduino Nano has a seemingly small but significant advantage over other, larger Arduino boards. Since it doesn’t suffer from the same irregular pin spacing of the original Arduino designs (something that allegedly was a mistake in the original design file), it will fit on a breadboard.
This has clear advantages. Whether you are just starting out in DIY hobby electronics, or are a seasoned veteran of tinkering, being able to work this way allows for quick prototyping of ideas without any soldering or committing to designs.
The Cheap Option
We have established the good things an Arduino Nano can bring to the table, but the price tag can still be a problem to some. Those on a tight budget might consider looking into a cloned board. The official Nano costs $22, while its clone counterpart is over 10 times cheaper, costing only $1.80 on AliExpress.
YouTuber Julian Ilet has a comprehensive guide to clone Arduino boards.
These clone boards are functionally identical to official Arduino boards. If you have a vested interest in supporting the official Arduino brand then it makes perfect sense to buy directly from them. If this isn’t a concern for you, then the clone seems like a no-brainer.
Since they are based on the openly available Arduino reference designs, they are usually functionally the same (there are exceptions to this we will cover later). When the board looks almost identical, and the workflow is the same, why wouldn’t you get a clone?
The Nano is a great choice for most projects, but what does it lack?
One omission with the Nano, and indeed most Arduino brand boards, is connectivity options. The Nano comes with no on-board Wi-Fi or Bluetooth capabilities. With the ever growing smart home and Internet of Things (IoT) market, and its huge popularity in the DIY scene, this can be a limiting factor.
The Nano excels in situations where it is programmed to do a simple task that does not change or need outside influence. While it is possible to add this functionality in the form of a shield, this adds extra components and cost to any project requiring cloud or Bluetooth connectivity.
Concentrating more on connectivity, the NodeMCU (ESP8266) board functions exactly as an Arduino would but with built-in Wi-Fi connectivity. Costing only $3 from AliExpress, this board is a firm favorite here for good reason.
It’s worth noting, however, that these boards are made for 3.3v, and powering some components from them may take extra steps.
Memory and Power
Another possible issue for the Nano is the memory it has available. The Nano is capable of supporting thousands of lines of code, but complex projects like robotics or builds with complex user interfaces might suffer from the 32K program memory limit. As well as this, advanced processes that require high speeds might suffer from the Nano’s 16MHz clock speed.
With more I/O pins, a clock speed of 120MHz, and flash memory of 512KB, the Teensy board packs the highest punch for its price. Despite this, it is overkill for most beginner projects, and the price and availability of the Nano still makes it an attractive proposition for most.
Nano or Not to Nano
Choosing a micro controller can be a very situational task. In most cases the Nano is the perfect platform to learn about coding with the Arduino IDE, or basic electronics. Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of the board beforehand should help with choosing a board to fit your task.
Hopefully this article has helped shed light on whether the Nano would be useful for your next project, whether it is your first foray into the world of tinkering or your master build you’ve been planning for some time.
If you’re looking for some inspiration, our electronic D20 die project uses a Nano to run it.
Are you using a Nano in your current project? Is there another board you would use in its place? Let us know what you think in the comment section below!
Image Credits: vetre/Shutterstock