Now that I have been using it every day for a few weeks (showing how to connect it to an Arduino) I finally feel like I can give a fair review to the PocketCHIP. PocketCHIP is the portable skin for Next Thing Company’s (NTC) $9 CHIP computer. It seems like the team at NTC wanted to create a handheld interface for their product but didn’t want it to break the bank. I honestly think a lot of people would have passed on the CHIP without a clear use in mind but the capabilities of the PocketCHIP for the price are hard to beat. Included is a 4″ touch screen LCD backlit display, full QWERTY “keyboard”, 5 hour Lipo battery, and a fully functioning CHIP computer. Plus it looks cool, like some retro Gameboy-pda hybrid that we all wanted as a kid but never existed.
Speaking of Gameboy, it comes with Pico-8 preinstalled. If you don’t know Pico-8 is a virtual retro gaming console that allows users to create and share games. With the console you can “break in” to the cartridge and change the programming. You can change the game mechanics, the sounds, the sprites, and even the background. It’s like a Game-Shark and Gameboy all in one.
And the PocketCHIP is based on Debian so you also get access to anything in the repository, all those ported to Linux favorites are a mere apt-get install away. Check out my Doom game play screenshots. The keyboard does leave something to be desired and if you bought this solely for gaming you would be well served to buy a cheap Bluetooth gamepad.
Because of the screen size and the graphics processing at the moment, I wouldn’t recommend surfing the internet on it but you can install and use Ice weasel. Photo heavy sites like Breakoutbros.com will usually time out but Wikipedia and NTC’s own help pages work just fine. The screen isn’t big but you can press ALT and drag to un-shown areas.
The main reason I bought it was to use as a portable Arduino IDE programmer and serial interface. While writing in the IDE isn’t easy, uploading and changing simple variables is painless enough. For larger changes I would use the installed word processor. This gives you access to the full screen and honestly it is big enough for most Arduino code. The keyboard is LOUD but works surprisingly well. I am slower on it than my phone but slightly more accurate. Over time my speed did pick up a little bit and the arrow keys and a touch screen make it pretty easy to navigate text.
When using the command line a stylus and the paste tool are a super time saver. When I was writing my guide on Connecting PocketCHIP to an Arduino over Bluetooth, I had to type a MAC address over and over again for different commands: pair, connect, trust, bind, and listen. This would have taken awhile to type out each time and I most likely would have fat fingered it at least once, but using a stylus (has to be resistive type like a Nintendo DS stylus) and the copy feature I only had to write it once. Basically anytime I need to select an icon my finger works. If I have to navigate, highlight, or edit text using a stylus is far superior.
At the end of the day PocketCHIP is and will remain a novelty. A toy if you will. Very few, if any, people are going to trade in their tablet or phone for this. But the team at NTC is trying to make a point with these products. Think about how the world would look if more things were open and people were more willing to modify them. We try to shy away from the word “hack” here at Breakout Bros because we feel that it is over used and has carried a negative connotation into the hobby. We want people to learn the right way to do things. At the same time we want people to know how things work and not feel intimidated to just get started. So if a goofy looking “Clicking Gameboy” is what it takes for someone to learn how to use Linux, we’re all for it. And if easily accessible pins are what it takes for you to muster the courage to solder on something you bought, we can’t argue with that. Go wild.