Soldering irons are an essential part of the maker toolkit and without one, we cannot create anything. Your television, computer, even your Raspberry Pi are all made using various forms of soldering irons / systems.
Soldering is about more than just fusing metal and components. It gives you an understanding of electronics, enabling you to see how components work together in a larger circuit. Seasoned makers will know the benefit of the best soldering irons. Heck, they will probably already own multiple soldering irons and stations. But what is a good soldering iron for beginners and for makers short on bench space? For that, a smart soldering iron – one with a screen and digital temperature menus on device (rather than on a station) – is a plus.
Miniware is well known in the smart soldering iron world. Its TS100 introduced smart soldering irons to the mainstream. Over the years, Miniware has released the TS80, which replaced the DC5525 power jack of the TS100 with USB-C. But now we have the TS101, a $50 smart soldering iron that offers temperature control and dual power options.
Is the Miniware TS101 ready to take the best all rounder title from the TS100? Can it beat the Pinecil V2? For that we need to grab some soldering kits and start building!
Miniware TS101 Hardware Specifications
|Power||USB C PD and QC 3.0 9-20 Volts (9-45W)|
|DC 9-24 Volts (9-65W)|
|Soldering Iron Tip||TS-B2 (Conical 10mm)|
|Display||128 x 32 pixel OLED|
|Temperature||Max 400 degrees Celsius|
|Dimensions||98 x 16.5 mm (Body)|
|105 x 15.5 mm|
Look and Feel of the Miniware TS101
The plastic body of the TS101 has a slight texture to it. This lends itself rather well to a firm grip of the iron. The two buttons are comfortably placed, and the 128 x 32-pixel OLED screen is easy to read under bench lights. A “collar” is between the iron’s body and the soldering tip that prevents the iron from rolling around the bench, and provides a natural rest for our grip. The omission of a stand is somewhat troublesome. Sure the iron won’t roll around, but beginners will need to buy a third-party stand so there’s a safe place for the iron to rest. The included USB-C cable claims to be silicone, and it certainly feels like silicone. While we can’t safely test the heat resistance of the cable (silicone is much better than PVC) we can confirm that despite its short length, it never got in the way when soldering.
Soldering with Miniware TS101
Heating up in 15 seconds, the TS101 is just as fast as the TS100 and TS80. The only smart soldering iron to beat it is Pinecil V2 (10 seconds). Waiting 15 seconds to heat up is nothing as larger soldering stations can take minutes. The short start time means we can get down to soldering in moments. The included TS-B2 conical tip is a good mix of precision and large thermal mass. This means we can make neat work of soldering up a circuit, or dump a load heat into a joint.
We soldered up the Arduino Make Your Uno kit with the TS101 and we had no issues. Small and large components were soldered with ease, and the only issues during our soldering were more human error than the TS101. The soldering action felt neat and it matched our pace of soldering, especially when soldering a long line of DIP pins.
If you need a little boost, the TS101 can boost up to 400 degrees Celsius. Just press and hold button A for as long as you need it. In our tests, we found that our USB-C bench supply could only muster enough power to reach 380 degrees Celsius.We have noted that there is a firmware update for compatible USB-C power supplies which can bring 28V at 5A, but we had no compatible power source to test this.
This leads us nicely to button placement. On the TS101, we have both buttons within easy reach of our index finger. We can’t accidentally turn off the soldering iron by pressing the buttons; at worst we can boost the temperature.
The placement repeats the design choice of the TS100, and it feels right, unlike with the TS80 which was a little too near the center mass of the iron to feel right. We really like the TS101 button placement, which is much better than the Pinecil V2 which has them on either side of the OLED display.
Miniware TS101 Software
The “smart” part of the TS101 is the software and with just two buttons it could be seen as tricky to use. Thankfully it is not.
The button nearest the soldering tip “A”, will start heating the iron up to your preferred temperature. Button B, nearest to the power, is where we can access a menu of features that includes setting custom soldering temperatures, sleep timers and tweaking the power settings.
We needed to tweak our TS101 to remove a low current warning which caused the iron to “reboot” mid-solder. This has happened with other smart soldering irons and is not specifically a TS101 issue. The fact that we could easily tweak this is a credit to the firmware. The interface is easy to use, but it will take you a little while to get used to.
Flashing Firmware to Miniware TS101
Flashing firmware is a simple task. All it requires is a DFU file from the Miniware website. Plug the TS101 into your PC via the USB C connector and it will appear as a drive. Copy the DFU file across and in a few moments your soldering iron is running the latest firmware. It is advisable to keep your soldering iron firmware updated as it can provide new features and upgrades, including adding additional power options.
We can also alter the configuration of the TS101 directly from a configuration file stored in the root of the TS101_APP drive. All of the options found in the TS101 configuration menu can be easily tweaked using any text editor. Save the change, connect the TS101 to a power source and you have a custom soldering profile for your needs.
Powering the Miniware TS101
Miniware’s previous soldering irons, the TS100 and TS80 used just a single power connector, respectively DC 5525 and USB-C. With the TS101 we see both as available power sources. But which one is better?
For most soldering tasks, it all depends on what you are soldering and what the nearest power source is. Heating up to a stable 350 degrees Celsius was identical in our tests, with both power sources hitting the magic temperature in 15 seconds. We tested this with a USB-C bench power supply (Pine’s Pine Power) that provided 20V at 2.6A (52W) and a DC PSU which provided 19V at 2.1A (39.9W).
The TS101’s two power inputs give us between 45W (USB) and 65W (DC) of possible output. The higher output is only achievable with a 24V PSU. We would only need that power for large solder joints and multi-layer boards which can soak a lot of heat before soldering.
According to the product page, the TS101 can support up to 28V via USB-C. This requires a firmware upgrade and a power supply that supports PD3.1 28V at 5A. We were unable to verify this claim as we did not have a compatible power supply.
For portable use, the TS101 can be powered by a compatible USB-C PD battery pack or via a LiPo battery, such as those used in radio controlled cars, using the DC jack. All of these choices make the TS101 a versatile soldering iron for the field.
Miniware TS101 Soldering Tips
The TS101 comes with a TS-B2 10mm conical tip and can use the same soldering tips as the venerable TS100 (but not the TS80) and both versions of Pinecil. This means that we have access to a plethora of soldering tips you can buy. From fine needlepoint tips (TS-ILS) to flat tip cones (TS-BC2, TS-C1, TS-C4) and more akin to flat blades (TS-D24, TS-K, TS-KU), there is a tip for every type of soldering scenario.
Changing a tip is an easy task. Use a flat blade screwdriver to loosen the screw, then slide the soldering tip. Reverse the process to insert a new soldering tip. Obviously do this when the iron is cold!
The TS100’s reign as Best All-Rounder is coming to an end. The TS101 continues the greatness of the TS100 but provides a greater choice of power supply options. The iron is precise, quick to heat and easy to use. Compatibility with TS100 soldering tips is a great feature, and opens up a world of choice.
The $50 price tag is double that of Pinecil V2 and there isn’t much difference between them. They both support the same power options and soldering iron tips. What does separate them is comfort.
The grip on the Pinecil is good – the rubberized plastic shroud prevents slip – but the TS101’s textured grip and button placement just feels better. The Miniware TS101 is a great iron and we enjoyed using it and it will do 99% of the tasks that a maker requires.
If price is no barrier, then Miniware’s TS101 is a great smart soldering iron and well worth your money. The choice of tips, the comfortable button placement and multiple power options elevate it over its predecessors. That said, Pinecil V2 is half the price and our only issue is the button placement. For $25 in your pocket you could easily adapt.