Friday Rant: The New “Raspberry Pi Pico” trades on the name “Raspberry Pi” which many of us find to be a cost-effective home -automation hub, thankfully widely supported by lots of third parties even though the Raspberry Pi Foundation is sticking with their “for educational use” mantra.
But the Pico is NOT a Raspberry Pi – it is a small controller – the price touted on their website is $4 – REALLY?
Let’s take a look at this? More marketing bull or is this the actual price in the USA?? I took a look at the three available suppliers in Spain (just as an example). The cheapest was €4.84 + €3.18 post. Give me a break – an ESP32 board from AliExpress costs far less than that, delivered. The Pico has 2MB Flash and 26 IO pins. ESP-32-based boards have 4MB of Flash, a large user base, lots of software already along with 39 usable pins, 34 of which are GPIO, the rest are inputs.
I nearly fell for the need to have the latest gadget when the disappointing Raspberry Pi Zero came out but when that turned out to be far less useful than RPi2 and even less powerful than than the many low-cost RPI clones out there, I gave it a miss after actually getting one at the claimed $5 while on holiday in the USA. Ultimately, It ended up as a door-stop.
Back to the Pico. I read the online introduction PDF which contained such exciting stuff as “Blinking a LED in C” and “Saying hello world in C”.
I also took a look at the “free Pico” available with a HackSpace magazine subscription – £5 per issue in the UK. Well, that’s possibly nice for the UK but £80 (€90+) for 12 issues in Europe and £90 ($123+) elsewhere. I don’t think so.
Let’s take a closer look: This new device is simply trading on the name “Raspberry Pi”. It is merely a CONTROLLER using a P2040 chip designed by Raspberry Pi. It is not and never will be a stripped down RPi4. So if you get one of these you are starting from scratch with an as-yet unpopular and over-priced board which MAY increase in popularity or MAY sink and you will pay more than a typical ESP8266 or ESP32-based board by some way.
How about a controller that is cheap no matter where you live? Buy ESP8266-based boards such as the Node-MCU-like boards I reviewed here – indeed for €20 all-in, get TEN of them – drop in the free and supported Tasmota which is trivial to do and within minutes you can be running any of dozens of supported sensors, any of several OLED or LCD displays, updating via OTA (over-the-air), talking to the device by webUI, MQTT or serial (or all three), running a shedload of serial RGB LEDs in real time (high speed RGB sequencing and fading), toggling several relays at once and far more.
On my desk I have one of the above ESP8266-based boards running a LED, a RELAY, a 60-LED clock which demands high speed real time processing (I hope soon to add in an SSD1306 128*32 i2c OLED to that mix), an ultrasonic sensor and a DHT22 sensor all at the same time – all using Tasmota commands – I didn’t write a line of code. When it comes to doing something useful with the above, I’ll drop a few simple commands into Node-Red including the MQTT commands (my choice).
If extra power and IO is that important, for the same €20 you could get FOUR ESP-32-based boards with almost the same support as the ESP8266 boards.
Tell me what sounds like more fun or “bang for the buck” as our many USA subscribers might say. I’d be happier to see Raspberry Pi Foundation sticking to improving what they already have (as an example, control over which RPi4 USB port to boot from would be nice for SSD and SSD backup) but of course that’s not at all a priority for them – it isn’t new and sexy.
Update Feb 5, 2020: I thought I’d better check – so I went off to Pi-Hut – who now have stock and are limiting the Pico to one per customer. For a second it looked reasonable – in Euros the price was €4 – not TOO much more than the USA pricing – but then the postage kicked in – not-insured regular post adds a fiver to that cost, tracked adds €10, DHL (would any non-business user in their right mind would voluntarily use DHL?) €20. So taking the cheapest option, €9 each, no WiFi, no BT and you can only have one.
I’ll stick with my ESP8266 and ESP32 I think.