Saturday, 18 September 2021

Raspberry Pi 400

Raspberry Pi 400

I felt the urge to get a Raspberry Pi 400 now that it has the scandinavian keys. Here are some of my first impressions.

Box contents

Holding the computer in my hand made me smile. It does have something in common with those small ZX Spectrum and Oric computers. Also, when was the last time there was a computer with a row of pins sticking out from the back?

Apart from the 400, the box contained a PSU and a Micro-HDMI to HDMI cable and a mouse. As a tiny bonus there's a MicroSD/SD adapter with the Raspberry logo.

The pins are wisely covered with a soft rubbery cover.

The box also has a hefty manual, another nod to the days of yore. But I was surprised to find it was in Swedish. As a Finn I wanted the Swedish-keyboard model, but not necessarily the Swedish manual! However I don't see myself as needing the manual that much (and of course I can read Swedish a bit).

The 400 is small enough to stick into a carry bag, but I'd cover it somehow before doing that. The cardboard box was rather huge and can't be used as a protective container in a small bag.

Not that anyone promised, but the box had no stickers :(

Booting up and using Raspbian

The tiny 16GB MicroSD card is already in, and after booting the first time the 400 will take few rounds to compose itself.

After setting the screen size and network, I'm in the Raspbian environment. I needed to adjust the keyboard layout to swedish before it accepted those ä's and ö's.

The keyboard is nice, maybe not as good as the comparable Apple Mini keyboard, which has nearly identical size and layout. But it's much better than some cheap alternatives I've tried in the past. This has a separate Delete key, but no separate Page Up/Down/Home/End/Ins keys.

The mouse, although with nice colours, is quite a lightweight. I'd prefer the wheel material had some more friction, it feels squicky and "wet". Even if the mouse connector has a logo, the mouse itself does not have a Raspberry logo on top. Ok, it might have looked a little silly.

There's a handy "soft-power" key combination, holding down the raspi-key and F10 switches the computer on and off, so I don't have to pull the plug. 

Not 100% certain but apparently displays cannot be hot-plugged, which I guess is the usual Raspberry boot thing.

Ahhh... the good old uncluttered desktop.

On the Raspbian desktop, the Raspi key opens the start menu, and with combinations of tab, shift-tab and cursor keys most things can be done without a mouse.

To have ssh access from another computer, it has to be first enabled from the Preferences.

Chromium browser is surprisingly bearable with the more plain sites. Youtube felt quite clunky and modern ads can also be a pain in the ass.

I edited some portions of this blogger blog post using the 400, and it felt possible, although not entirely fast. Google Docs felt a tad too slow to use really productively, but small text documents could be worked on. So, the browser-based cloud possibilities are somewhat limited, but obviously there might be some more lightweight sites too.

The 400 is quite capable of running the offline Libre Office suite, with word processing and spreadsheet. This could already be valuable for some.

I downloaded the Processing projects Multipaint and Petscii editor, and found these to be quite useable, although a better mouse is recommended! I didn't have to install a separate Java runtime environment either.

The Whining part

The integrated form-factor comes with some trade-offs. After connecting the PSU, Ethernet, HDMI and Mouse, there's an array of cables sticking out from the back and given how stiff these cables are these don't all fold as smoothly as 8-bit computer cables did.

To minimize this problem one can use wi-fi and even a Bluetooth mouse, although I'm personally through with battery-powered mice.

I'd probably want to put this computer away once in a while alongside with the peripherals. But unless the cables are separated and put away carefully, the computer is an uncomfortable mess of wires that doesn't really fit anywhere. It's worth saving that cardboard box.

What a compact computer!

I have to repeat that these issues are almost inevitable with a computer-in-a-keyboard, and it's still a more ordered package than a loose Raspberry.

The microHDMI connector is problematic to me, as I still don't have a HDMI-connector equipped display. I had to test it first with a TV but all the displays I've dedicated for computer use are slightly old and DVI-equipped. 

Also, looking around it appears a microHDMI->DVI cable isn't really a thing, I couldn't simply go to a store and buy one. What I did was get a 10€ adapter that makes the HDMI end into a DVI, and this is a good enough solution for now. This doesn't have sound, and since there is no separate audio out so all in all that microHDMI connector is a small minus for me, especially as the composite output is no longer available either.

What next?

I'm not sure what to use the Raspberry 400 for. It's smaller than a laptop, so it might be carried around easily, but this assumes there's a useable display at that other location. Also, now that the Pi is in a definitive case, I'm deprived of the never-finished process of creating my own cases for the Pi.

For now I've not tested any of my other Raspberry environments. How well does it work as Amibian or something else? After I get the 400 better positioned with a dedicated display, I can look at these other environments.

What I didn't think through beforehand is that of course every card I've created for Raspi 3 won't work directly here and I have to find the 400-compatible versions.

1 comment:

  1. Wishlist: full-size HDMI, audio out, proper SSD instead of memory cards (at least as an option), compsite out (one can hope at least...).