Raspberry Pi 3: first impressions

The last big announcement from Raspberry, the Zero, caught me on holidays. I saw the news on the morning when we were going to leave the hotel, and obviously when we came back all the stocks were GONE for the foreseeable future... and I quite liked the idea of the Zero! Boo.

Anyway, I always have lots of ideas buzzing on my brain. Most of them involve small form programmable devices, and the more connected, the better. So when I saw the announcement for Raspberry Pi 3, I just went and got myself one. A tiny computer with WiFi and Bluetooth! Excellent! Besides, I have used Arduinos, but not Raspberry Pi before. This was a gap in my knowledge which I had to fill.

It arrived last week and it wasn't until yesterday that I had some time to turn it on. So my experience is very limited to this point. Also, since I'm quite time constrained I bought it with a 'newbies' kind of SD card that was already prepared with some kind of partition that would let me select which operating system I wanted to use, and install it from there.

Physical setup was easy and enjoyable as I connected things I already have to this little tiny board: old Mac wired USB keyboard and Mighty mouse, a mobile phone charger for power, and then the HDMI monitor (but this is not old!).

Once it turns on, it displayed a gradient test pattern and then allowed me to select which system I wanted to install, all using a GUI. For some reason the mouse didn't work but I could navigate using the keyboard. I selected Raspbian and it went ahead and installed the system.

During installation it displayed a few of those "here's all the cool things you can do with this operating system" we're used to see from the times of Windows 95, except instead of tacky suggestions such as improving productivity and sinergies, it spoke about the creative applications such as Sonic Pi, programming environments such as Scratch and also just plain old Python. This was very nice and I felt right at home.

This took about maybe 10 minutes? I don't recall because I was doing other things (namely: grinding and brewing coffee). But when it finished, it restarted to boot into the newly installed operating system...

... and restarted... ... and restarted again... ... and again...

I turned it off and on again. This time it booted directly into Debian, and seemed stable (no reboot loop!), the mouse did work this time, and I went straight to try to find if the WiFi would Just Work™. Which it did, unlike other systems. Exciting! One of the main reasons I bought this Pi worked successfully on the first go. Beautiful.

Then I opened the browser--it's Epiphany. Uhm. I tried visiting a few of my sites to see how would they look and work. 5013.es was fine to display, but soledadpenades.com made the Pi reboot. Ha!

I started to suspect that these reboots were related to power supply issues. Admittedly this Raspberry Pi needs more power than earlier versions as its CPU is faster... and even more so when you use WiFi. So I searched around the internets and everyone converged into the same fix: use a beefier power supply.

I didn't have any powered USB hub handy and the only AC-DC power supply I could found was 12V (from an old router). I didn't really want to fry the Pi which I think only takes 5V... So scouring and scouring I settled on the charger from a Samsung tablet, which gives 2A, way more than the 0.7A I was getting initially with the phone charger. Once I started using this I could boot again and be able to browse around, and even submit a bug in Bugzilla 8-)

I'm super impressed by the performance of the Raspberry Pi 3. The GUI is super responsive and it certainly doesn't feel like a $35 computer at all.

If anything I will probably look for an enclosure--I don't quite like the idea of the board being exposed to metal thingies such as paper clips or perhaps other connectors accidentally shortcircuiting it.

Other minor details: I like the "Made in the UK" bit in the board ;-)

Of course, everyone is asking what projects do I have in mind! I don't have any particular project in mind. I want to learn and I also want to have a tiny Linux machine that I can understand. I have a Synology hard drive which is like a "tiny Linux machine" but I don't understand the API and I actually don't want to understand how to use a proprietary API in order to run an 'app' in an obsolete environment. I'd rather write my web apps and run them on the Pi with an environment I understand and control, which can then connect to the Synology with normal protocols such as ssh.

Some things I'd like to explore though:

  • web crawlers and similar for my artsy projects. I don't want to run them on my laptop.
  • portable Pi with a battery pack.
  • or portable Pi with a SOLAR cell pack?!
  • anything portable could lend itself to things such as the portable cloud we talked about with Firefox OS p2p projects
  • learning more about Bluetooth LE (it supports it)
  • playing retro-emulated games (with an old USB gamepad)
  • just a home server

I'd also like weeks of 8 or 9 days. Which planet has those? :-D