The new age of IoT: a comparative look at Photon 2 and ESP32

The Particle Team article author avatarThe Particle TeamSeptember 28, 2023
The new age of IoT: a comparative look at Photon 2 and ESP32

The first, and most important choice you have to make when starting an IoT project is choosing a development module. And what a choice it is! There’s a dizzying array of options and it’s hard to know which one is right for you. Two of the most popular Wifi modules are Espressif’s ESP32 and Particle’s Photon 2. Both are powerful boards with unique strengths. Here’s what you need to know:

Particle Photon 2

The Photon 2 comes preinstalled with the Particle Device OS, giving the user secure and managed connectivity right out of the box. The Photon 2 is designed to deliver powerful performance and robust wireless connectivity for large-scale IoT solutions. With a Realtek RTL8721DM MCU, an ARM Cortex M33 CPU running at 200 MHz, and a 3 MB RAM, the Photon 2 caters to projects requiring high processing power and substantial memory capacity. Its Wi-Fi support spans both the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequencies, plus Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) for versatile connectivity options. This makes Photon 2 ideal for creating smart home devices, industrial IoT applications and for prototyping complex IoT applications for enterprise use-cases. 


Espressif ESP32

Espressif’s ESP32 is a low-cost, low-power system-on-a-chip (SoC) that stands out for affordability and efficiency. However, it’s important to note that these SoCs are bare hardware modules without built-in operating systems or libraries. The user needs to write everything from scratch, or choose a third party connectivity platform. With an integrated dual-mode Bluetooth, Wi-Fi capabilities, and a dual-core Xtensa LX6 microprocessor running up to 240 MHz, the ESP32 is a favorite among developers with budgetary or power constraints. This chip suits a variety of applications, including low-cost IoT devices, battery-powered devices, DIY projects, and embedded systems requiring Wi-Fi and/or Bluetooth.

Source: Digikey

Feature Comparison, Photon 2 and ESP32

While both modules are excellent choices for developing IoT applications, their strengths lie in different areas. The ESP32 offers cost and power efficiency for simpler or budget-conscious projects, while the Photon 2’s processing power and memory make it better suited for complex applications. 


Photon 2


Wi-Fi Support 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz 802.11 BGN HT40 Wi-Fi transceiver
Bluetooth Support Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) Dual-mode Bluetooth (classic and BLE)
Microcontroller Type Realtek RTL8721DM MCU Dual-core Xtensa LX6
CPU Frequency 200 MHz Up to 240 MHz
Memory 3 MB RAM + 2 MB Flash 520 KB SRAM + 16 MB Flash
Operating System Particle Device OS None
Certifications FCC, IC, and CE certified Not specified
Power Options USB, VUSB pin, LiPo, Li+ pin, and 3V3 pin Not specified
Security Features ARM TrustZone, crypto accelerator, secure boot, encrypted flash memory, encrypted device-to-cloud communication Not specified
Integrated IoT Platform Yes (Particle’s IoT Platform-as-a-Service) No

Source: Product User Guides

Building to Scale

Particle’s Photon 2 platform is distinct in its offering of critical functionalities needed for professional IoT applications. In contrast to the ESP32, which exclusively supports the 2.4GHz band, the Photon 2 operates on both 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequency bands. This dual-band support, coupled with integrated Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) capabilities, allows developers to leverage a more optimal network performance and signal speed, enabling greater network compatibility, flexibility, and enhanced load balancing.

Addressing security needs is another key differentiator that swings in Particle’s favor. The Photon 2 adopts a globally trusted solution, the ARM TrustZone, for its security needs. The Photon 2’s additional security features include a crypto accelerator, secure boot, and encrypted flash memory. Moreover, Particle ensures regular security patches and upgrades with their maintained embedded OS, supporting encrypted device-to-cloud communication.

Check out Particle’s most recent security protocol checklist here.  

Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect that sets the Photon 2 apart is Particle’s fully integrated IoT Platform-as-a-Service. Unlike the ESP32 that offers a standalone IoT solution, Particle’s IoT PaaS includes connectivity management, a pre-integrated Cloud for messaging and security, over-the-air firmware updates, and development tools- all accessible as soon as the devices are powered on.

Learn more about Particle’s suite of services and solutions here

Finally, for builders looking to scale designs after the prototyping phase, the Photon 2 is optimized for easy transition to Paticle’s production-grade Wi-Fi module, the P2. Simply port your firmware using the hardware abstraction layer on our Device OS and transition seamlessly from the Photon 2 to the P2, reducing your bill of materials & certification costs, without any added engineering headaches. Learn more here

Selecting the Right Partner

The decision to employ either the Photon 2 or the ESP32 relies heavily on the unique specifications and demands of your project. Both modules bring a potent suite of features to the table, each with their own distinct advantages. In summary, the Photon 2 might be your preferred option if your project necessitates:

  • Enhanced computational power: The Photon 2’s ARM Cortex M33 CPU operates at 200 MHz, providing ample processing power.
  • Increased memory capacity: With 3 MB of RAM and a 2 MB flash file system, the Photon 2 can accommodate larger applications.
  • Robust wireless connectivity: The Photon 2 supports both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz Wi-Fi bands, as well as Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), ensuring versatile connectivity options.
  • Professional-grade security: The Photon 2’s ARM TrustZone and advanced security features make it ideal for professional use cases requiring high-level data security.

For projects seeking cost-effectiveness and power efficiency, the ESP32 remains a reliable choice.

Regardless of whether your goal is to create an IoT-enabled smart home device, an industrial IoT application, or a more straightforward sensor system, bear in mind that the selection of your IoT module carries considerable weight in the overall success and functionality of your project.To learn more about Particle’s offerings and resources for building connected products using IoT technology, contact us today or explore more in our documentation.

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