PocketC.HIP Is the Portable Linux Machine I’ve Been Looking For

The many ways people have found for squeezing a palm- sized Raspberry Pi computer into a pocket-sized device are some of my favorite Pi projects. But these projects are usually expensive, and some even require a 3D printer. PocketC.HIP isn’t as powerful as the Pi, but it’s still the portable machine I’ve wanted for a long time. Plus only $ 50.

What is PocketC.HIP and why is it cool?

CHIP and PocketC.HIP – are computers for self-assembly , funded by Kickstarter. In case you’re wondering, CHIP doesn’t seem to really mean anything . CHIP is a $ 9 development board for Linux. PocketC.HIP is currently priced at $ 49 (it will grow to $ 69 over time) and basically acts as an onboard keyboard and screen for the CHIP. When you buy PocketC.HIP, you will receive the CHIP already installed and you can swap it. with another CHIP it’s easy.

In terms of power and features, the CHIP is similar to the Raspberry Pi Zero , but has a lot of its own tricks. Here are its characteristics:

  • SoC – Allwinner R8 Cortex A8 @ 1GHz processor with Mali-400 GPU
  • 512 MB RAM
  • Flash memory 4 GB
  • 802.11 b / g / n Wi-Fi + Bluetooth 4.0
  • Video Output – 3.5mm jack for composite video and audio (HDMI and VGA available via adapters)
  • 1x USB host port, 1x micro USB OTG port
  • Two extension headers
  • Power Supply – 5V via micro USB OTG or battery
  • Dimensions – 60 x 40mm

The CHIP differs from the more popular Raspberry Pi in many ways. First, there is no native HDMI. You will need to shell out $ 15 for an HDMI adapter if you want to output HD video. However, the CHIP has built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Onboard storage also means that, for better or worse, you don’t use SD cards to store the operating system on a Chip like you do with a Raspberry Pi. This is good for newbies because CHIP comes preinstalled with Debian-based Linux. As for installing other operating systems, you use the web tool to flash operating systems to CHIP over USB. While the tool supports installing pretty much all Linux, you still have to do some light work and make sure it can work with the CHIP processor.

While CHIP is interesting in its own way because its price compares well to similar boards with Linux support, for me the entire PocketC.HIP package is the main benefit.

Aside from the surprisingly nice little clicking keyboard, you get a 4.3-inch low-res, 480×272 touchscreen and a battery that should last around five hours. The display isn’t impressive, but for the price it does what it needs to do. and looks fine. What surprised me the most was the quality of the keyboard case. The body is made of durable plastic and the keyboard has a nice metallic click that reminds me of the Game and Watch Crystal Screen series . I have used various portable keyboards. Over the years, I haven’t expected much from PocketC.HIP, but it’s a pleasure to use. Once I got used to it, I would type in Terminal commands almost as quickly as I would on a full-size keyboard. Let’s take a closer look at it:

The keyboard case also breaks easily. This way, you can swap out different CHIPs, access the GPIOs, or even replace the battery if you like. The case seems solid enough, but I still wouldn’t take it apart too often for fear of cracking the plastic parts.

Installation and getting started is ridiculously easy

As far as Linux computers go, PocketC.HIP may be the easiest setup process I’ve ever seen. The operating system is already installed, so all you have to do is enable it:

  1. Press the power button to turn on PocketC.HIP.
  2. Wait about 30 seconds for it to load.
  3. When you get to the home screen, tap the Settings icon to set up Wi-Fi.

That’s all. Seriously. You are ready to go. No jumping into Terminal, no complicated operating system downloads or ready-made patches, and no old-fashioned navigation menus to customize basic tools. The suction cup just works out of the box. This is kind of crazy considering it’s Linux based.

PocketC.HIP comes with the software you need for gaming, music production, and command line programming.

While you can always install new software on PocketC.HIP, it’s worth talking a little about the tools it comes with as this is where most of us will spend our time:

  • Terminal : Being Linux, you’ll need command line access, and luckily it’s right there on your home screen. If you haven’t used the command line before, our beginner’s guide will get you started with everything you need.
  • PICO-8 : PICO-8 is a video game application where you can create and share your own tiny games. Games have a resolution of 128×128 and are written in Lua. In the PICO-8 software, you can play games, create your own, or edit the code of existing games. If you’ve ever been curious about creating your own miniature games, the PICO-8 is a good place to start. This guide should contain everything you need to know, but if you prefer paper, you can download and print your own fanzines . The PICO-8 is great and I recommend spending a little time on it. Our friends from Kotaku will take a close look at this here .
  • SunVox : SunVox is a music production tool that works like a full-fledged production studio. You can create and edit patterns, use the touch keyboard, add synths and other effects, and adjust a wide variety of parameters. Heck, you can even attach a MIDI keyboard if you like. If you’ve ever wanted to make chiptune jams, SunVox is a great tool for that. Just make sure you plug in your headphones before you start, because PocketC.HIP doesn’t come with a speaker.
  • Write : Write your text editor. It is a simple text editor, but it supports line numbering and automatic indentation.
  • File Browser : While you will likely be editing files primarily from the command line, the File Browser gives you a visual representation of all the files on your PocketC.HIP.
  • Settings : If you click on the gear icon, you will be taken to the settings page, where you can enter Wi-Fi or change wireless settings, change the screen brightness, or change the volume level.

That’s pretty much it for the included software, although you can install any compatible Linux software you want using the command line .

Pros and cons of the CHIP platform

It’s easy to compare CHIP and Raspberry Pi for the sake of simplicity, but they work in different ways. Sure, these are both Linux-based boards designed for hobbyists to start tinkering with electronics, but that’s where the similarities end.

First, support for the operating system on CHIP and PocketC.HIP is rather limited now. Raspberry Pi have been years when there were special operating systems, such as constantly popular RetroPie or Kali Linux on the base on ARM , but right now CHIP limited to its own version of Debian. Likewise PocketC.HIP and CHIP work with different versions of the same operating system, which is confusing. Both are Debian, but PocketC.HIP has a dedicated graphics software layer that works with touchscreen and keyboard. Over time, you will probably get a wider selection of operating systems, but for now, you are limited to official builds. However, people will definitely come up with their own Linux distros, so it’s nice that PocketC.HIP makes it easy to install new operating systems.

The CHIP ecosystem is quite small, but as more units become available to the public, this community will become much larger. A hobbyist computer is as good as its community, but the good news is that the community behind CHIP is growing rapidly. Take a look at the project page and forums for a good idea of ​​what people are doing with CHIP. The more people get their hands on this thing, people will create tools to customize it, so give it some time.

All that said, if you buy one and find the vanilla version is as restrictive as I was when I first got it, there are already ways to tweak it. Here are some tutorials I’ve found helpful:

PocketC.HIP still has a way to go before it gets great, but it’s a good start. Personally, I find the lack of a multi-page home screen maddening, and the fact that you can’t easily customize which software appears on your home screen is a big disappointment. Even just installing a browser and placing it on your home screen is a chore that distracts from the touchscreen as a whole. Fortunately, the keyboard is capable, so launching the software from Terminal is not a big deal, but it would be nice if it were just included in the settings in the future.

PocketC.HIP is far from perfect, but it would be difficult for me to call any amateur computer even close to perfect. However, this is the first portable Linux machine that I think is actually capable of doing what I want, and it’s also affordable without requiring a series of homemade hacks or 3D printing parts to get it to work. If you really wanted to have a command line in your pocket, PocketC.HIP is a great place to start, and I’m thrilled to see what the community comes up with over time.


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