The ESP8266 is an amazing chip for all your home automation & Internet of Things projects. This chip costs less than $5, has WiFi connectivity, an onboard processor, and is compatible with the Arduino IDE. I already wrote a guide on how to get started with the ESP8266, but I wanted to dive deeper and answer a fundamental question: how to choose your ESP8266 module?
Indeed, there are many choices available on the market, and it is easy to get lost between all of them. This is why I wrote this guide to help you out choosing your ESP8266 module for your next project. This list is of course non-exhaustive, but these all are modules I tested myself and I was satisfied with. Let’s dive in!
The first module of this guide, which is one of the first ESP8266 modules that came out on the market, is the ESP-01 module. It is the cheapest and nearly the smallest module available. It is perfectly usable with the Arduino IDE for example.
However, it comes with serious disadvantages. First, you can’t plug it into a breadboard without an adapter. Then, you don’t have access to all the input/output pins of the ESP8266 chip, which is a problem if you have complex projects that you want to build. However, for simple projects, this is a good module to start with.
ESP-07 Module With Breakout Board
The next one I wanted to mention in this list is the ESP-07, which is the one you see on the right on the picture. This module can’t be used alone on a breadboard, as you need an adapter board (usually sold with the module) to use it in your breadboard projects. It is actually the base of several other ESP8266 modules, as we will see later in this guide.
The advantage of this module is that it’s quite easy to integrate on a PCB later on, so if you plan to develop your own ESP8266 home automation projects in the future, that might be the ideal solution for you.
Olimex ESP8266 Module
This is one of the first modules that I used for my ESP8266 projects. It is a compact breakout board for the ESP8266 chip, it has all the GPIO pins of the ESP8266 available, and you can usually find it for less than $10. Note that it also has some extra memory compared to most of the ESP8266 modules: 2MB of SPI flash memory compared to the usual 512kB. So if you have large & complex projects to develop with the ESP8266, this might be a board to consider.
Next, we have the SparkFun ‘Thing’, which is the ESP8266 board by SparkFun. They named it this way because it is the ideal solution for Internet of Things projects. It is relatively similar to the Olimex module we just saw above.
However, compared to other modules in this guide, it comes with a micro-USB connector, and a LiPo battery connector. This is great because you can then use your module without requiring another power supply: you can just plug this module to a USB port of your computer for power. Also, the LiPo connector is very useful for autonomous home automation applications (for motion detectors for examples) and for the Internet of Things.
Adafruit Huzzah ESP8266 Breakout
Finally, I wanted to end this guide with the Adafruit Huzzah ESP8266 breakout board. This is the official ESP8266 module developed by Adafruit, and as usual with Adafruit products it comes with great ideas.
In terms of functionalities, it’s quite similar to the Olimex ESP8266 module or to the SparkFun thing. However, it has a FTDI header right on top of the board, which makes it really convenient to program with an FTDI adapter, without having to use extra jumper wires to make the connections.
It also have the components really neatly arranged on the board, which makes it a bit narrower than the other modules (compared to the SparkFun thing), so it also gives you a lot of remaining space on a breadboard.
So Which Module Should You Get?
Of course, the answer depends on what you want to do with your ESP8266 module. If your goal is to experiment with your ESP8266 on a breadboard, then I really recommend the Olimex ESP8266 module or the Adafruit ESP8266 module.
If your plan is to integrate your ESP8266 on your own PCB in the future, then I can only recommend to use the ESP-07 module + an adapter breakout board. Finally, if your goal is to build battery-powered home automation or Internet of Things project, you should definitely consider the SparkFun Thing as it has an onboard LiPo battery connector.
What about you, what is your favourite ESP8266 module? Don’t hesitate to share in the comments!