With these development boards you can get up and running just like you would an Arduino board in the same environment.
The Sparkfun ESP8266 Thing-Dev Board development board has an on-board USB programmer and Arduino IDE support as well:
If you look at the pinout you can get an idea of what’s available for analog/digital/GPIO pins:
Pros and Cons of ESP8266 vs. Arduino Uno
So let’s look at a few advantages/disadvantages of using the ESP8266 over the Arduino Uno:
+ built-in Wi-Fi
+ smaller size
+ Arduino IDE supported
— Not all Arduino libraries supported and work
— Not as many GPIO pins
— Only supports 3.3V power rail (5V devices would need level shifter)
The Upcoming ESP32
Espressif has released the next generation of their chips called the ESP32 that’s a 32 bit successor to the ESP8266.
This chip is going to add Bluetooth (with Wi-Fi) and 32 GPIO pins making it a real contender in the microcontroller market. Dev boards are available but the Arduino support is still in the works so we are still in beta territory but once this is out in the wild I think it will take a lot of design builds from the Arduino platform.
Final Thoughts on ESP8266
For prototyping and trying to build proof of concepts off of the Arduino platform I still like to have a basic Arduino like the UNO R3 to quickly get things started and leverage my existing hardware/software. Then when I want to start to get into the connectivity side of things I start to look at something like the ESP8266 – I can port my Arduino code over and then start adding in the connectivity that I want.