Unboxing the PocketCHIP

One year ago, I backed The CHIP, the world’s first $9 computer. It arrived one month past its original ship date, which is impressive for a Kickstarter campaign.

Since this was the first consumer hardware project I’ve received a reward for, I was unsure as to what it’d look like when it arrived.

It arrived in an simple envelope:


with good box art inside:


From a production perspective, I wonder if the two-color box is cheaper to manufacture? It gives the box a retro-80s feel, which is a nice touch.  Here are the other sides of the box:

Special attention to the directions on the back:


Simple directions and it negates the need for an instruction booklet inside.

Opening up the box, a simple foldable cardboard wrapper held the PocketCHIP:


Opening the sticker-adhered flap produced my first look at the Pocket CHIP itself:


static adhesive covering for the LCD; but otherwise no frills. No USB, no note, nothing.

From a production perspective, the fewer parts, the more it reduces assembly costs and time for packaging, making it cheaper. An economical idea for a company running a Kickstarter.

From a consumer perspective, this is exactly what I’d expect from a Kickstarter delivered product.  It’s easy to be spoiled by glossy boxes or specially wrapped and adhered USB cables, but at the end of the day I’d rather have a launched Kickstarter than a high-finish package.

The CHIP team did a good job of balancing first impressions with physical cost constraints.

Holding the CHIP in my hand was… different than I expected it would be:

It is a Pocket item in name only; but has a nice translucent (plastic? poly something or other?) backing that makes it durable.  The angled back also makes it easier to hold in one hand — if you have large hands (Sorry, Donald).

The Pocket CHIP includes the CHIP itself (second image, above), a battery, an LCD, a keyboard, and a unibody case that holds everything together.  It hosts Debian 8; a custom OS UI, and a touchscreen.

Looking at the device, there are a few reasons why this case is extra special.  They put breakout pins for all the exposed pins; and they’ve even included the communication buses (I2C, SPI, UART) in case you want to include a peripheral.  I have a SPI LED Driver evaluation board sitting next to mine, so I may have to give that a try.

Turning on the PocketCHIP boots up the custom OS; a Debian Linux distro with a custom UI:


(after the tour, that is)


Pico-8 is a retro gaming platform that lets you write games in Lua.  You can also do normal Linux-y things, like drop down into the terminal:


or even browse files:


Out of the box, it was worth more than the $50 I paid for it; and I’m a bit surprised it’s selling for that low.  I would have expected the PocketCHIP to cost around $75 or so. Either way, it’s a great way to get a computer in your hand.

Next up for me is to program a demo that uses the full screen, and not just the 128×128 pixels given by the Pico-8 platform.

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