Maybe I’m showing my age or if I’ve just become jaded by the tech industry but there are very few things that truly change the game for me these days. It feels like hardware manufacturers are simply adding a little extra chip, a fancy camera or a shiny new RGB light to their hardware and declaring INNOVATION! So when someone does come along and change the game, I get rather excited. The Raspberry Pi (in my opinion) was one of those moments. Bringing out a fully functional PC that was, in essence, the size of your palm which could play 1080p movies and only had a R400 price tag to boot was an impressive feat. The Raspberry Pi also presented a great educational opportunity in that it could teach a whole host of new people how to code. And recently, that has been taken one step further…
This is the pi-top
pi-top is a lumo green machine which is likely visible from space if left outside. What really is impressive though, and forgive me because much restraint was put into not writing a four pager here, is that the pi-top is basically a shell of a laptop. You’re provided with a screen, keyboard and a weird-looking magnetic screwdriver thingy. Plus the addition of a Raspberry Pi.
A lesson in coding
The pi-top is designed to allow children (and adults even) to get their hands on a phenomenal educational tool. It is not a laptop that you plug in, install some games and start using. Rather, it gives you the chance to build, code, experiment and learn about the blocks which make up things such as alarms, music, computers and even AI. While this might seem like a full on product punt, it isn’t. This is something I’m genuinely excited about and believe it should be a piece of hardware introduced into schools around the country.
How it works
Using a Raspberry Pi 3, as the heart of the laptop, you literally have to build the computer just to turn it on. After that, using a custom OS that comes in a handy SD card, you are given the option of learning and completing various tasks. Some tasks are as simple as making an LED glow while others are a bit more complicated and include having a robot engage with you and do certain tasks depending on the colour of the LED that is active at the time. I wish I had more time with this device because the starter guide and inventor’s guide included also pose challenges to users to combine what they’ve learnt to build something entirely new.
Why you should get it
The pi-top costs around R3250 from RS Components in South Africa (but please read on before you get excited). When you compare this to the cost of most entry laptops its is impressive. I think for moms of tweens and teens this is a far smarter purchase than a smartphone contract or entry level notebook. You’ll be actively encouraging your kids to learn to code, which is a necessary skill in this day and age. For the older generation like me or you, you’re teaching yourself to code! The cost of this beauty is so impressive in itself because the pi-top comes with all the necessary capacitors, LEDs and cables. My only gripe, and it is a BIG one, is that the Raspberry Pi comes separately.
Considering that the Raspberry Pi is critical in making the pi-top function this seemed a bit odd (and somewhat costly) to me. The pi-top is, and pretends to be nothing else except, an incredibly well thought out educational tool. This laptop gives anyone the chance to delve into the first steps of IT and programming in a genuine un-gimmicky manner that is still easy to understand and grasp.
I’ve said this already but I’m going to say it again.
If you are a parent looking for a gift for your teenager or tween, get them a pi-top. If you are a fully grown independent adult looking to blow some cash and potentially teach yourself a much needed life skill, buy the pi-top. If you have an inkling of interest in computers and technology, I promise you that you need to get the pi-top. You won’t be disappointed. It is fun and limited only by your imagination. The only thing left to do is try, somehow, to land this lumo monster in our schools. When educators look to 2019 budgets don’t look at tablets or video games or incorporating AI. Look at budgeting for pi-tops. One on every desk.