As good as the Raspberry Pi is, its barebones approach can make assembling a handy coding station for projects a little tricky. With the Pi-Top, things are far simpler, providing you with a laptop chassis into which you can build your Raspberry Pi (a Pi is not included).
The original Pi-Top project was crowdfunded, but for this second iteration, it’s built by the Pi-Top company. This time around, the kit is designed to be even easier to assemble, and it includes everything you need to get going with your own projects. It even ships with the Pi-TopOS on a microSD card, so you can be up and running in a matter of minutes.
Pi-Top review: Design
The Pi-Top feels light when you pick it up. Don’t let that put you off, however, as the lower requirements of the Raspberry Pi mean that the case needs far less in it than with a traditional laptop.
Pi-Top has included a 14in, 1,920 x 1,080 display. Colours are a little washed out, but viewing angles are good, and this resolution means you can fit everything you need on screen. For the price, the screen quality more than does the job.
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A chiclet-style keyboard provides plenty of feedback for fast typing. Impressively, there’s little flex in the keyboard tray. A large touchpad sits at the bottom of the keyboard; I turned up the acceleration setting to make it slightly more responsive.
There’s a battery in the case, too. This will give you around six to eight hours of use away from the mains, which makes the Pi-Top a laptop in every sense.
You assemble the kit by first inserting your Raspberry Pi 3. The keyboard and touchpad slide forward, opening up the main cavity of the laptop.
Inside, the Raspberry Pi 3 needs to be hooked up to the USB ports at the rear of the case (these connect the keyboard and touchpad). Then the module that connects the display ports and takes power from the rear of the case slides in, connecting up the Pi 3. Then just attach the Cooling Bridge, and you can plug in your laptop and power it on. It’s a little fiddly to get right, so proceed carefully and gently connect each part as you go.
With the Pi in place, you can close up the keyboard, press the power button and jump into the Pi-TopOS. Based on Raspbian Jessie, Pi-TopOS gives you all the tools you’d expect, but Pi-Top has added additional tools and a smart interface to help you learn to code. Pi-TopCoder helps you program control over physical projects, such as turning on an LED, and is undoubtedly the best starting place for new users.
To help you get started, you get an Inventor’s Kit with the Pi-Top, which includes resistors, LEDs, a distance centre and more, plus a project breadboard to help you get started.
Cleverly, the breadboard magnetically attaches to the Modular Rail, located under the keyboard, and plugs into the Pi’s GPIO connector. From there, you can follow some of the set Pi-Top projects to get started, including very quickly writing some code to turn on an LED; it’s this kind of simple project that can often get people hooked.
Pi-Top review: Projects
You can do far more than that, however: the Inventor’s Kit includes the parts you need to build a smart robot, space race game or music maker, to name just a few. Each project includes a cardboard model that fits over the breadboard, to complete the look and feel.
These clever projects are a neat way to learn how to code the Pi, and the skills you use creating each one can be applied to your own projects in the future.
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You also get the Scratch programming environment, where kids can create their own interactive stories while learning to code, as well as Pi-Top’s excellent CEEDuniverse, which teaches you to code while solving an adventure game.
Pi-Top review: Verdict
As an all-in-one package, the Pi-Top is a great tool for taking the barebones of the Pi and making it easy for anyone to learn how to code, and create some amazing projects along the way.
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