CrowPi-L: 30 second Review
This is a deja-vu for Elecrow with a laptop based on the much-beloved Raspberry Pi platform. What is special about this edition is that it is more streamlined compared to the CrowPi2 notebook, with a focus on just being a basic laptop instead of an intricate development kit that includes a laptop. Elecrow is successful in doing so and the CrowPi-L is a programming laptop that even small kids can use.
Being a kit, the assembly process is a breeze taking only a couple of minutes to complete. The cooling system is underpowered while the LCD resolution is on the low end. Still, the CrowPi-L can perform adequately as an IoT debugging PC or an ARM development system, thus departing from its initial mandate of being a learning tool.
CrowPi-L: Pricing and availability
The CrowPi-L laptop comes in two flavors. The Basic kit contains only the computer and hardware accessories while the Advanced kit includes the Basic kit and adds a breakout board for the Pi’s GPIOs and a starter kit box that contains 22 electronic modules. Both versions can be purchased with or without a Raspberry Pi board. When bought with the Pi, only two Pi models are available, either 4GB or 8GB RAM. The CrowPi-L Basic kit without Pi costs $203.15 while the Advanced kit with the 8GB Pi costs $360.15. Shipping and taxes are excluded.
The CrowPi-L is delivered in a white box containing a 24W universal AC adapter, a wireless mouse, and hardware accessories for the unit. The laptop measures 19cm x 29.1cm x 4.6cm and weighs 1.2kg assembled. A 32GB SD-Card containing the OS and a user manual are also supplied.
Elecrow has done an amazing job optimizing the assembly process which can be done without a screwdriver. Screws with head grooves are tightened with fingers. The laptop also makes use of small but strong magnets to secure the Pi board and the plastic back cover. Four PCBs connect the Pi to the laptop motherboard.
The 11.6” IPS LCD supports a resolution of 1366x768 pixels and is only suitable for large graphics and big texts. The audio system consists of a stereo speaker, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and a microphone that sits next to the 2M pixel camera.
While the power button can start the laptop, the system can only be turned off gracefully from the Linux menu. Using a long press on the power button will turn it off without any Linux shutdown procedure. The built-in mouse pad is placed above the keyboard which will result in occasional key presses while in use.
CrowPi-L: Features and use
The CrowPi-L boots the custom Raspbian Linux image in less than 30 seconds. It includes drivers for peripherals used by the laptop such as the webcam and microphone but also the battery gauge and backlight intensity control using the keyboard. The OS is very snappy with the 8GB RAM version of the Pi. Multiple applications can be used in parallel without any decrease in CPU performance.
The CrowPi-L is first and foremost an introductory platform for children who want to dip their toes in programming and electronics. The SD card is loaded with applications such as the Arduino platform or Letscode, unleashing the Pi’s full potential within a few lines of code. It also comes with a web browser and media player, allowing the platform to be used as an entertainment hub.
The Raspberry Pi GPIO is connected to an expansion board through a flat ribbon cable. The cable is well labeled to avoid any improper connection. The expansion board through its twenty 4-pins male headers allows various experiments to be conducted simply by connecting the right module and having the correct code running on the Pi.
The laptop is equipped with a small 18.5Wh battery capable of three hours of normal usage. Charging the battery also takes three hours. The Pi’s Quad-core CPU is cooled using an always-on fan, generating a small but noticeable hum. Geekbench gives paltry scores of 144 and 299 for single-core and multi-core respectively. This shows that the fan is doing a poor job resulting in the CPU throttling needlessly.
CrowPi-L: The competition
There are few Raspberry Pi-based platforms with the same idea of creating a portable and affordable laptop. Usually, the quality of the product falls short, or key components to make an autonomous computer are missing.
The Raspberry Pi foundation has come up with a computer in a keyboard. Featuring the same CPU and hardware as the current Pi, the Raspberry Pi 400 includes the GPIO header as an external connector. This matches what the CrowPi-L is offering but is not truly portable without a battery and LCD.
CrowPi-L: Final verdict
The CrowPi-L is a great educational laptop based on the Raspberry Pi. It uses most of the Pi interfaces, even bringing the internal GPIO header onto an external connector. The supplied GPIO extension board further augments the utility of the laptop. Small electronic modules can be easily controlled with the help of software applications provided by Elecrow.
Having a bigger battery capacity and higher LCD resolution would have made the CrowPi-L a good product. More worryingly, the Pi’s CPU is only cooled by an always-on fan which is not up for the job. This results in an underwhelming performance which might be enough for an educational platform. That said, the CrowPi-L remains a great first computer and will make an excellent gift.