Blog/20131204 RPi vs tablet vs laptop

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RPi vs tablet vs laptop

So I've been playing with the Raspberry Pi, doing some data logging of temperature. So why am I doing this with Raspberry Pi? I could have done this with an Arduino, but never did. Or I could have attached a data logger to a laptop (or headless old pc or a nettop), but never did. I could attach a sensor to my Android phone, and do it that way, but did not do that either. So how (in my subjective circumstances) is it different to use the Raspberry Pi?

Stream of consciousness. Go.

One thing that is different, for sure, is the amount of exposure the RPi is getting. Lots of people are talking about it. So that's definitely a contributing factor to get me to try it out. There seem to be communities springing up in a number of places, and it's gaining popularity. Maybe communities are there for Arduino as well, but I guess I never looked for those. The RPi is partially a Cambridge thing, so it makes sense that I would notice it more.

However, I can think of other reasons. One of them is that the Raspberry Pi is "big" enough, so that you can use it to programme on (in linux, i.e. more powerful than an Arduino), but still "small" enough so that it can be battery powered easily, and isn't too expensive (unlike a laptop/netbook/nettop). Also, while the OS installation has given me trouble in the past, it's relatively straight forward (and fast) to set up an SD card, rather than waiting for a long time to install a full linux OS install say from CD. That makes the RPi very versatile: From headless mini-server, to mobile platform. So you can start at one end, and work your way to the other.

So what else? I imagine it's super easy to attach sensors to Arduino, and certainly it's possibel to get USB sensors for laptops. However, in both scenarios a laptop (or computer) is needed: In the first case for programming the arduino, in the second case to record measurements. The RPi, with a temperature probe attached via the GPIO, it's really straight forward: No additional devices needed, neither for measurement nor for programming. And the temperature is available from the RPi over the network (or internet) at any time.

Another option would be to use an old phone (Android) with some sensors. But that's not very common, and the OS isn't as straigth forward as starting off with a linux command line on the RPi. Moreover, I am not sure what sensor packs exist for Android devices, and certainly Android devices (say for sensor experiements) is not amazing value for money.

Let's think this for a moment, i.e. tablets (but equally netbooks or laptops) vs. Raspberry Pi. The RPi has got very different applications from a laptop/tablet, such as building experimental robots, or building experimental data logging devices. Now - it's possible to do this on laptops/tablets as well, but the power consumption on a Pi is very low, and it's a full linux environment, with GPIOs etc available out of the box on the hardware side. There's also starting to be a huge user community.

Now you could say that cheap tablets (7"or less), and e.g. USB sensors, are an alternative. Looking at the programming environment: Python is really taking off for educational computing, and maybe you could do that just as well on a tablet, or perhaps with the Ubuntu OS for mobile. But you're really in a more experimental realm there, and there just isn't a big sensor building community around tablets. Also, hopefully the idea with the RPi is that the platform will be relatively stable, rather than having to play catch up with set of Android OS' in quick succession.

Let's compare the price. To make an RPi that is roughly equivalent to a tablet, let's start with this OER4Schools reader blog post. The total cost for a RPi without screen came out at £65, but we'd want to add small screen and a battery, which would take the price up to the cost of a tablet. So as a ready-made system, maybe a tablet would work better? And I do think that for several use cases this is definitely true.

However, the RPi, being a component system, while it requires perhaps more skill, broken bits can be swapped out, which is an advantage over tablets. Often cheap tablets don't have a good upgrade path, as the OS changes very rapidly, and hardware needs to keep up. This may (or may not) be different for the Raspberry Pi, but perhaps the platform will stay as it is for a few years. Also, this is for a like-for-like platform. Of course, we may not need all the components of a RPi system for all use cases, which means that for simpler uses we have an RPi just with some of those functions.

Of course, cheap tablets are going to be important in education, and they now eclipsing other platforms. One issue with Android is that "traditional" educational software (such as GeoGebra and Scratch) is only slowly becoming available.

Overall, I am definitely not saying that either tablets of RPi fit all use cases equally well. So cheap tablets are going to be important, but I think the RPi is going to be important too.

Stream of consciousness over. I may organise this at some point, or maybe you, dear reader, will? For my Raspberry Pi explorations, see RPi.


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