Raspberry Pi tablets are one of those Pi projects that took a little while to catch on in the early days, as the hobbyist electronics suppliers had to catch up a bit with the potential of the Raspberry Pi after its runaway success. It’s been a few years now since people have been able to create their own tablet-esque Pi computers, made easier with the introduction of 7-inch touchscreen displays and such.
This article first appeared in The MagPi 69 and was written by Rob Zwetsloot
The RasPad aims to cut out the DIY part and leave you with a functional, very usable, Raspberry Pi tablet. The only construction you need to do is slot in the Raspberry Pi – or one of many other popular microcomputers/single-board computers. The finished product looks and feels great; it’s solid and has a decent heft to it. The big case makes it pretty easy to hold while also doubling as a way to angle the screen on your table towards you.
Like any good tablet computer, the RasPad has an internal battery which makes it portable. As there’s no battery indicator in Raspbian, battery life is handled via some LEDs on the bottom of the case – a more visual reminder that in our opinion works a little better than a normal tablet or laptop percentage.
It’s possibly a little too heavy to use in some traditional tablet capacities, though, especially with it using desktop software over smartphone apps; you won’t be using it to catch up on Twitter in bed in the morning, for example.
A tablet for makers
While that’s a bit of a shame, it’s not really designed for an early-morning social media catch-up. What it is designed to do is give you a bit of a head-start with using a Raspberry Pi to make some creative projects.
The microSD card comes pre-installed with a compatible version of Raspbian, and even in its case the Raspberry Pi Camera Module connector and GPIO pins are easily accessible (although using a ribbon cable instead of individual jumper cables works a bit better).
Performance on such a device is incredibly important – after all, you’re going to get a bit frustrated using the RasPad for projects if it’s laggy and slow. We’ve been pleasantly surprised just by how silky smooth it runs; while the Raspberry Pi Desktop isn’t exactly optimised for touchscreens, on a screen this size (10.1-inch) it works very well, with no discernible lag we could discover even with a few resource-heavy tabs open.
The on-screen keyboard is not amazing, though, as the team have to work with what they have – but it works well enough. Even then, you can always plug in a USB keyboard (and mouse!) so you can use Raspbian in a more traditional manner.
The RasPad also takes into consideration that you might want to output the signal to a full-sized monitor, letting you connect a HDMI cable to it and bypass the main screen entirely. While this is excellent for giving you options, we feel it could have done with one more orientation mode so that you can rest it on the back of the device so it can be more upright. Currently the angle is not really deep enough for that – plus you’d need to rotate the screen manually – but it seems a bit like a no-brainer with the way it’s designed. Still, outputting to a TV does partly make up for that.
The battery life is pretty good on the system as well, even with the screen on. As the Raspberry Pi eats up very little power while idle, the tablet won’t run down within an hour with the screen off, even when you’ve inserted a relatively more power-hungry Pi like a 3B+. We’ve also been told the power system will be improving for the full release as well, which is great to hear.
Making with the RasPad
Actually using the RasPad is a great experience. For Scratch, the touchscreen works well, but we’d recommend a USB keyboard for Python or other kinds of programming. While you’ll rarely see the RasPad installed in a project (unless it needs the screen), you can at least do the setup with it plugged in before removing it from its case. We can even envisage doing some maintenance on the go by returning the Raspberry Pi to the RasPad case, thanks to the quick way you can detach and attach the board.
It’s a really fun device that makes excellent use of the Raspberry Pi, and we can definitely see ourselves using it more in the future.
A great way of getting started with Raspberry Pi, this tablet is well built and comes with plenty of options that make it very useful to makers of any skill level.