Since it’s successful Indigogo campaign back in 2014 Pi-top has come a long way. The UK based company is still at it, having announced the second generation of the pi-top. The lime-green machine is built with teaching and tinkering in mind. It uses the Raspberry Pi 3 board as its brains, so, many Pi 3 accessories are compatible. To facilitate tinkering and learning, the entire keyboard slides off. This gives you access to the Pi 3 running the machine, and rails where additional boards can be mounted. This design differs from the first model, which had a removable cover to access the internals . This caused the keyboard on the first version to be smaller. the slide-off keyboard in the second version alleviates that problem.
Since the Pi-Top is based on the Raspberry Pi 3 you get the same specs there. It will have the Quad-Core Arm Cortex processor at 1.2ghz. You will also get all of the ports, including the 40-pin GPIO. It will also be network capable through Wi-Fi and LAN. The Pi 3 will have plenty of power for most projects. What pi-top have done is added a 14-inch FHD display, and a 6-8 hour battery. All packed into a neat laptop shell, with room left over for projects.
The Software (Pi-top OS)
The real advantage to the pi-top package is in it’s software. The operating system based, based on Raspbian, the Raspberry Pi OS. It includes a full suite of software that facilitates not only tinkering, but could build a full project. This includes an IDE, 3D printing software, and much more. There is a game called ceedUniverse where players use coding knowledge to unlock puzzles. In addition to the ceedUniverse game there is also a free version of Minecraft, which can be edited in python. One fantastic feature for educators that is included is the ability to manage lesson plans and track progress.
The Pi top seems like a solid product. Clearly the intended demographic here is younger learners. However, almost anybody could find use for it. The $284 (319 with PI 3 included) price-tag, may seem a bit steep for some. You could cobble something together much cheaper, and the pi-top OS is freely downloadable. But that isn’t really the point here. I like what the this product brings to the table. It makes learning and tinkering more convenient. In reality it isn’t that expensive either. I hope products like this will continue to open doors for young learners to get into computer science and electronics.