I recently purchased 12 Arduino boards for use as a class electronics/programming "club" at school. They are cheap, infact on ebay I paid Ģ35 each for board, LCD display, nearly 100 components (LEDS, resistors, IR sensor, IR remote...), 100 connection wires, USB lead and a little box to put it all in! Sketch, the compiler is a free download for the full version and there is so much on the net already developed for arduino that within 2 minutes I was off and running with sample code, 20 minutes up and running with simple codes I`d written and after an hour, I was doing some persistence of vision stuff that was way above my head but I just copied the code and circuit diagram off the net!
All that said, I`m currently working on a clock timing machine to time my new clock when it is setup. I couldn`t do it with the Arduino board as it didn`t give me the functionality needed and more than that, after using the EasyPIC6 on this project for the last few weeks it really is a dream to use and in my opinion well worth every penny.
My humble opinion - if you want to "play" at it, for Ģ35 you just can`t beat the arduino but the EasyPIC6 really is a fantastic piece of pro kit and gives you the flexibility and speed to write and edit code very quickly, without the faff of breadboard circuits!
I know there are a few on here which are much better at coding than me and I`m sure they will give you there more experience opinion!