During my visit to the Raspberry Pi factory arranged by RS I also entered into a competition to win a Pi-Top computer. After a close run vote, I won. So I now have a Pi-Top Raspberry Pi laptop.
The Pi-Top is a similar size to a regular laptop, but involves some assembly and uses a Raspberry Pi for it’s motherboard. As well as a laptop they also sell the Pi-Top CEED which is a screen with built-in Raspberry Pi, which you connect your own mouse and keyboard. Both are available in black or a colourful bright green.
The Pi-Top does involve some assembly to put it together. This is not too difficult and it’s fully explained in the guide, but a little fiddly at times. Essentially each part is modular and it’s a case of putting them together and connecting the wires and connectors. No special tools are required other than a supplied allen key (hex key). One problem I had was that I believe the screws for the screen hinge were screwed down too tight as the instructions assume that they are fully loosened off, but I was able to get the screen connected eventually. The assembly should not put anyone off as the sort of people looking for a Raspberry Pi laptop are also the sort of people that shouldn’t be too afraid of assembling the Pi-Top.
Once assembled the Pi-top functions much like a normal laptop. It has a long battery life (approx 10 hours) and is expandable through an innovative plug-in system. The optional expansion includes speakers (available as a single mono speaker, or buy two for full stereo) and a prototyping board which can be used for making your own circuits or for connecting HATS to the Raspberry Pi.
The Pi-top can be used with the normal Raspbian OS supported by the Raspberry Pi foundation or the Pi-top’s own Pi-top OS. I have mainly used the standard Raspbian, but the Pi-top OS does include some additional integration with some of the peripherals and is tailored especially for use in education. The Pi-Top OS also includes CEEDuniverse which is an interactive game to teach computer programming to children.
I have been through some of the activities with CEEDuniverse, which are very good, but I haven’t actually tried that to teach programming to children yet.
I’ve also had an opportunity to see the Pi-top CEED being used to teach programming to children at the PyconUK kids day where they worked really well.
The main benefit for the pi-top is that it integrates everything needed to get started with the Raspberry Pi without losing any of the expandability and access to the GPIO ports. All the workings of the Raspberry Pi and expansion board are hidden under a plastic cover which just slides out of the way when you want to get inside. In fact using the pi-topProto board the GPIO pins are conveniently placed in the centre of the Pi-top which works really well.
The pi-top has been really convenient for taking along to Raspberry Jams and similar events as it saved having to borrow screens from the desktop computers in the classroom.
There are a few little things I would have liked to see. It would have been nice to be able to get to the HDMI port to connect to a projector, although I think that is quite a big ask. It’s beyond what the pi-top is supposed to be, but would be a nice feature.
Also the keyboard feels a little soft to type on and when touch-typing it occasionally misses a key press. On the plus side it is available as a UK keyboard, and for the target audience of use in schools and for school children then they will probably not have that problem.
There are other cases that integrate the Raspberry Pi with a screen and/or a keyboard and touch pad, but as far as I am aware this is the only one that integrates them into a single laptop and it does the job really well. If you are looking to equip a class with Raspberry Pi computers then the Pi-Top CEED may be a better fit (as it’s even cheaper), but I’d highly recommend the Pi-Top especially if looking for a more portable solution.