Pi-Top Review, Part 2 (Using it!)

Okay, so the build went great and once I plugged the pi-top in and charged the battery, it worked first time. No issues there at all.

Booting up takes you into the Pi-Top OS (Courtesy of the pre-loaded card that comes with the pi-top.)

The software isn’t really for me, and it is aimed at students. I don’t need to learn to code, but I appreciate the effort (why don’t I need to learn to code? Been there. Done that. Got the degree.) The main drawback of the OS is that it feels a step behind the official Raspbian release (that the Raspberry Pi Foundation released at the end of 2016.)

I’ve run the pixels desktop before and it absolutely flies. The Pi-top OS? It’s okay, but YouTube is a bit laggy and jumpy and everything is a little sluggish. It’s a let down, but I think you could update everything under the hood to the latest and greatest and keep the pi-top software.

Another thing I found which was really weird was that the backlight kept turning off. I thought it was an issue with a loose connection, but the boot up sequence was fine, it was only when it loaded the pi-top software that the screen went dark. It was maddening- I could see shapes hidden on the screen, but I couldn’t make them out. This happened every second time I rebooted, and maybe there’s something I could do to stop it, but it makes the software feel unfinished. It was painful.

But I don’t need pi-top OS, so I downloaded the latest Raspbian… Wow! Now this laptop feels like a joy.

There are a few hoops to jump to get the hub talking to the pi and get the speakers working. Thankfully, a kind soul on github has done all the hard work for us.

If you’re interested at what user rricharz has done, see it here. It gets the power switch working, the speakers working, etc.

Being Linux, there’s always a few steps to dance around, so I haven’t wired up my brightness keys yet but right now it’s pretty much perfect.

No lag. No stuttering. It works really well and my toy now feels like a machine.

Now that the OS is sorted, how does the machine behave? It doesn’t miss a beat. The screen-darkening issue? Gone. The lag? Gone. 

If you haven’t tried Pixels, give it a go. It really does give a pi a huge boost.

What’s next? Battery life! 12 hours or so- amazing! I had this machine running all weekend (at least, that’s what it felt like… Also: Update- it’s now Wednesday and I still haven’t charged it) and I still have 5 and a half hours left. You can’t ask for more than that.

What about the downsides? It’s hard to access the audio jack. What I have done is insert a pair of headphones and I coil them up and slot them where the USB ports are. Will this work long-term? Maybe. It seems okay… We’ll see how it goes. This whole thing is a bit of an experiment, so you have to be prepared to try different things.

Is that the only downside? No… But we’ll leave that for Part 3, when I share my thoughts on the keyboard and the trackpad.

However, for a $500 laptop (by the time it is shipped and converted to Australian dollars) it is positioned in a strange niche of the market. I can get a crap machine for $300 and they won’t be as good as this. I can get a tablet for similar money (or even double for an iPad or high-end android) but it will be limited because it’s a tablet. Or I can spend $1000 on a mid-range laptop, but will that be much better? 

With my budget, this really is the only option available for me. I know what you get with crap (learned that the hard way) and I can’t afford to spend much more than the $530 this machine cost me.

So far, it has been worth the money. Will it last me 10 years? Doubtful. 3 years? That would be ideal. I still have the original pi and it still works 5 years later. My use case is pretty specific: writing. As long as I can write on this machine, then it will serve its purpose.

But can I write on it? You’ll have to wait and see!


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