Not everyone has $49.50 to spend on FIRE development kit with M5Stack Core (review). If you don’t need the screen estate, but you fancy everything else including the thumb-size form factor M5StickC Plus is the next best thing that M5Stack has to offer. A familiar ESP32 micro-controller with all bells and whistles of UI Flow and beautifully made modules. All that for less than $15!
Small in size, full in power
Don’t be fulled by its size. M5StickC Plus features ESP32 IC and has plenty more to offer. A quick look at the back reveals the density of sensors and features crammed inside this orange enclosure. I honestly had to double-check the least of features as the usual ESP32 PCBs comes at 2-3 times the size with half the feature list:
- ESP32 Pico 240MHz dual-core, 600 DMIPS, 520KB SRAM
- 4MB Flash
- 1.14 inch, 135*240 Colorful TFT LCD
- TypeC x 1, GROVE(I2C+I/0+UART) x 1
- Real Time Clock
- Built-in 6-Axis IMU
- 120mAh Battery
- Red LED
- 2 Custom buttons
- IR LED
- Microphone & Buzzer
- 8 GPIO header (G0, G25/G36, G26, G32, G33)
All this in the device that is smaller than your thumb. M5StickC Plus is just a base module that can be built upon with forever expanding choices from M5Stack store. From GROVE compatible sensors to eye-watering in price $429 thermal camera version.
To get started with M5StickC Plus, you don’t have to be an advanced maker. I’m used to Arduino IDE and countless libraries for ESP32 that simply assume you are feeling comfortable with C. M5Stack takes another approach. The M5StickC Plus comes with a PDF to get your IoT skills off the ground with UI Flow and wireless programming.
UI FLOW and M5Burner
I take the particular joy of programming M5StickC Plus OTA. It feels magical. All you need is a web browser with UI Flow open and WiFi connection to your orange gadget. With a press of a button lines of code are sent to the ESP32-based device.
First, there is M5Burner to update the firmware or try a couple of community takes on the M5StickC Plus firmware. It’s a quick way to find out what the device is capable of without dipping your fingers into code.
When you are ready for the full programming experience, UI Flow greets you with a Scratch alike visual approach to coding. Based on microPhyton, it’s easy to get started. M5StickC Plus is a brand new device so demo examples are scarce, but with time, I’m sure there will be more samples of code to browse and learn from. Fortunately, M5StickC Plus comes with a PDF guide with a quick start and more interesting guides to try.
If your programming mojo feels strong, you can switch directly to microPhyton and try your skills there. Using UI Flow is more fun than Arduino IDE thanks to completely wireless experience.
Least, forget not, this is an ESP32 based device and as such can be programmed in Arduino IDE using a rich library of 3rd party modules coded by keen contributors. The quick start guide does an excellent job covering that too.
I spent a couple of hours trying to figure out a cool project to showcase. M5StickC Plus is portable, has an RTC, battery and display. Pretty much everything I need to create a small print buddy! A portable 3D Printing monitor for my Creality Ender 3 (review), showing all basic print stats like temperature, print progress etc. Basically a slightly dumbed down version of my mobile notification system.
To make things challenging, I decided to program this using UI Flow only. I run into a couple of small issues that I needed to google, but after a couple of hours, I had a working prototype! And you know what? It looks wild!
There are a couple of neat features. The title shows the printer’s status. Temperatures are printed in green when at nominal values. Printing progress is listed as a bar and RTC helps to keep track of the print time even when M5StickC Plus gets powered down.
The best thing is, I can simply take it with me anywhere as M5StickC Plus runs on a small battery! To extract all that data from my 3D printer – I’m running an OctoPrint server with a MQTT plugin. The data is passed directly to ESP32 (I do host the server externally). It’s a very much work in progress, but I wanted to show you how flexible UI Flow is.
Buy M5StickC Plus
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Do I even have to convince you at this point that M5StickC Plus is worth having? This little device fits into a pocket so you can tinker on the go. It’s not the last project I’ll make using this device for sure! Let me know what do you think about it in this Reddit thread.