Raspberry Pi 400 First Look

I’m a little late to the party on this one and by now there are plenty of reviews and videos out there in the wild about the Raspberry Pi 400. Next time I will have to try and get some early access so I can prepare content ahead of time, however fear not, I want to take a look at this in a slightly different way.

For the last few months Michael Cade and I have been talking about ways to help during the pandemic, he wrote a blog about it here. 2020 has put remote schooling and remote working at the forefront of everyone’s mind. Those of us that work in technology are lucky, we already have plenty of devices available. Many people and especially children, don’t.

I have looked at multiple options over the last few months putting together smalls kits that you can source for around £100. I have tested various pieces of software like Zoom, Microsoft 365, Google Hangouts and many more. Overall while usable there was still a barrier to entry, it takes a bit of know-how to get up and running.

Enter the Raspberry Pi 400

Monday 2nd November rolls around and I see a buzz of activity over Twitter and YouTube. The Raspberry Pi Foundation have launched a new device. The device fills me with memories of my early years using an Amiga, this form factor and simplicity just resonates with me. Could this be the answer?

I rushed into town on my lunch break as I am lucky enough to have a Raspberry Pi retail store here in Cambridge. The 400 kit is £93 and it comes with everything you need to get up and running. Just bring your own monitor (or TV). I grabbed a cheap-ish (£25) webcam as well for some testing. With a view to give this entire kit away after I’ve finished the write up.

Raspberry Pi 400 Kit and A4Tech webcam

First Impressions

My initial impressions are that this is just what we needed for 2020. Mass producible, cheap, accessible computer kits that we can ship to every school age child the world over. What I want to do over the next few days, is to dive deeper into the workflow of children’s distance learning and understand what tools they need.

Device footprint and portability matter, especially if you have multiple children learning at home. Not everyone has the space for multiple desks. Performance is good enough and as Jeff Geerling has shown, there is headroom to overclock.

In previous testing I have had issues with Zoom. They don’t provide a client that runs natively on the Raspberry Pi. The web client is clunky and you need to tweak a lot to make it performant. Zoom if you are out there, get on it!

I want to look at options to make onboarding as easy as possible. Complicated instructions won’t help parents that are already under a lot of stress. This needs to be mostly plug and play.

In my opinion all that is really missing from this ecosystem is an “App Store”. Maybe I’ve missed it and there is one out there. If not, I would love to see the community collaborate and work on one. If we can make this not only a great priced device, but one that is easy to consume as well, we have an absolute winner.

What Next?

So much of the collateral for Raspberry Pi thus far has been about learning to code or technology focused projects. I want to raise awareness of just how capable this device is as an all round computer. My plan is to create some simple instructions to get up and running on the Raspberry Pi 400 as a primary remote learning device.

After that is complete, I would like to find a way to identify those most in need. Charities like the one Marcus Rashford works with providing meals to vulnerable children springs to mind. Once a suitable method has been found to identify destinations, then I will kick off the donation with the kit I purchased and start some fundraising for more.

Reading this and you would like to get invovled? Please reach out to either me or Michael, we know we can’t do this on our own.

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Jason

Jason Benedicic is an independent IT consultant that primarly works with Data Centre space. He has extensive experience in Flexpod, cloud technologies and infrastructure as code. He is a member of NetApp A-Team, Cisco Champions and vExpert advocacy programs. He enjoys gaming and motorsport.