The MakeBlock Ultimate 2.0 kit usually sells for $418CAD to 489CAD but I found it for $257US which is currently about $360CAD, so I decided that while we're stuck at home, it was a good time to do a hands-on evaluation of this product.
We assembled the first robot and made a time-lapse video of the activity which you can see below.
The build quality seems to be very good. The main construction pieces are aluminum and nicely finished. The bolts and nuts appear to be stainless steel and are all high quality. The motors appear to be good quality although I don't have a lot of experience with them yet. The plastic parts seem robust and the tank treads are a good quality rubber.
The instructions were clear although not overly detailed. The kit is recommended for ages 14+ and I think that is appropriate. Building the robot with my 17-year-old daughter took us a couple of hours with her doing most of the work. We made a couple of mistakes but that didn't cost us much time. The nuts and bolts are fairly small so it takes a fair bit of manual dexterity to assemble everything.
There is one part that we haven't used yet which doesn't appear to operate smoothly but we will see whether that's an issue when we get to it.
We only spent a few minutes with programming the robot. We added the ultrasonic sensor on the top so that we had more to work with and were able to get the robot to stop when it reached a specific distance from a wall. It only took a few minutes for us to figure that out. If you have experience with Scratch or similar visual/block based programming, you'll find this very familiar.
Basic Remote Control
Once you've got the robot built, it's very easy to control it using a smart phone and the Makeblock app. The default app gives you the ability to go forward, back and turn as well as raising and lowering the arm and opening and closing the gripper. It also appears to allow you to build a custom interface but I haven't investigated that yet.
Compared to Lego Mindstorms or Vex
I think assembly is a little easier with those systems than Makeblock, particularly for younger students but I like that the assembly of Makeblock is more real-life than Lego and Vex. Working with nuts and bolts and metal beams seems like a better training ground for more building complex robots in the future but also for just general understanding of how things are assembled.
First thoughts on Educational Use of this Robot
If students are grade 9 and up, I think they'll be able to assemble and use this robot effectively. It can be programmed using the block language as well as Arduino script so it offers terrific flexibilty and opportunity for growth in learning programming. The block language provides a very low floor for students just beginning with programming and the Arduino language is great for those that are ready to go further. It's also possible to connect a Raspberry Pi to the Arduino controller which opens up the oppportunity for programming the robot in Python.
As far as I'm aware, there isn't a comprehensive curriculum for Makeblock as there is for Lego and Vex but I will be doing a little more digging on this.