CrowPi is a unique all-in-one Raspberry Pi starter kit, well designed and for a fair price. To get someone started with Pi programming or hardware, there isn’t anything better right now.
Raspberry Pi starter kits generally contain the same things. While some vary in the number of components or price, they usually all offer the same experience.
That is, until now.
Enter CrowPi, a portable, pre-built, all-in-one Raspberry Pi starter kit. Costing $239 for the basic kit, and $329 for the advanced (as reviewed), it is at the higher end of the price range for this kind of package. Is it worth it? Read on to find out, and at the end of this review, we’ve got one complete kit to giveaway to a lucky reader!
CrowPi in Brief
The CrowPi was successfully funded on Kickstarter by Elecrow last year. It comes in an ABS plastic, aluminum ringed case (which comes in a variety of colors). Inside, there is a custom PCB with a huge array of hobby electronic components, and a 7″ HDMI touch screen mounted in the lid.
The basic version comes without a Pi but does provide a pre-loaded 32GB MicroSD card. The advanced version bundles in a Raspberry Pi 3B+ along with a wireless keyboard and mouse, and two USB game controllers.
A ribbon cable attaches the Pi to the custom PCB, completely cutting out the need for setting up circuits on a breadboard. Rather than dismantling and tidying away once you are done, you can simply power off and close the case. This, along with example sketches provided by CrowPi, make getting started with this kit a quick and painless process.
What Comes With CrowPi
Elecrow has managed to fit a lot into the 27 x 17.5 x 7cm carry case.
The basic version contains:
- USB Camera
- 7″ HDMI Touch Screen
- 16 x 2 LCD Module (MCP23008)
- Segment LED (HT16K33)
- Vibration Motor
- Matrix LED (MAX7219)
- Light Sensor (BH1750)
- Sound Sensor
- PIR Motion Sensor
- Ultrasonic Sensor
- Stepper Motor
- Tilt Sensor (SW-200D)
- Infra Red Sensor
- Touch Sensor (TTP223)
- Temperature and Humidity Sensor (DH11)
- 16 button matrix
- 4 assignable buttons
- RFID Module (MFRC522)
- Mini Breadboard
- IR Remote
- USB2.0 to MicroSD converter
- Touch Screen Stylus
- Power Adaptor and connecting cables
- Preloaded Raspbian 32GB MicroSD card with code examples
The advanced version adds a few extra parts:
- Raspberry Pi 3B+
- Wireless Keyboard and Mouse
- 2 x USB Retro Game Controllers
- Headphones with inline microphone
That’s more components than Pi GPIO pins, so there are two mini 8-row switch banks to allow components to double up on the pins.
The provided power supply attaches to the CrowPi via a barrel jack, though MicroUSB powering is also an option. With a beefy enough portable power brick, you can power the whole board on the move.
Setting up CrowPi was a simple experience. Since the advanced version comes with the Pi already installed, it was merely a case of plugging in the power supply and mouse and keyboard and powering on.
While I’ve got a lot of experience with the Pi, I approached this review with a beginner’s mindset. Following the quick start guide will take you through connecting to Wi-Fi and downloading the provided source materials which go along with the provided code examples.
Five minutes after opening the box, I was making things flash, buzz, and vibrate. I’m confident anyone would have the same experience regardless of previous experience.
The Build Quality
One concern I had going into the review was the build quality. A portable clam-shell kit is useless if it’s too flimsy to travel. I found the ABS shell to be solid without much flex, and the iron hinges are strong enough to hold open the top half containing the screen.
The PCB is clean and well made, displaying both the components you are using along with the SMC components required to operate them properly.
Given how much they’ve crammed into this board, everything is well organized and uncluttered. The Pi fits in the top left corner of the case, with 90-degree HDMI and 3.5mm jack connectors for connecting to the screen. There are no built-in speakers to the CrowPi, but the provided headphones are good enough quality for daily use.
Given that everything comes pre-assembled, the hardware side of the CrowPi is incredibly easy to use. Even external parts like the servo and stepper motor have connectors making it difficult to wire anything in the wrong way.
This is the first significant plus point of the CrowPi for beginners, who can accidentally fry hardware with a simple mistake. This kit removes that disheartening scenario.
Following the provided Python tutorial was an easy process, although it does suffer a little in translation. Each lesson covers a different component and associated code before providing the terminal command to see it working.
The lessons could more accurately be titled as a guide to the provided code, as it doesn’t explain things too much, but CrowPi does provide the lessons on their YouTube channel in a more detailed form.
Regardless of how much Python you’ll learn from these lessons, they do take the reader through identifying components, reading code, and running it in the terminal. In many ways, this is a great way to get someone interested in the beginning steps using the Raspberry Pi with hardware, avoiding some of the pitfalls that may cause some to lose interest.
Other Uses For CrowPi
The 7″ HDMI screen isn’t competing with smart devices or full-size monitors but is more than adequate for watching YouTube. Given the inclusion of two game controllers, I thought it only appropriate to install RetroPie and spend an afternoon playing some old classics.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, CrowPi makes for a fantastic little retro gaming machine, and the inclusion of USB gamepads is a nice touch.
Are There Any Downsides To CrowPi?
The lessons mentioned above do show off each component on the board, but the explanations are lacking in places. For resources for learning how to program the Raspberry Pi using Python, you’ll likely want to look elsewhere.
If only there were a website with a resource of Raspberry Pi tutorials to help you learn how to use it?
Confusingly, part 20 of the lessons refer to an LED and resistor that isn’t provided in the kit, while lesson 21 (which deals with the camera) is mentioned in the quick start guide, but nowhere to be found.
These are tiny points though and given the large online community of Raspberry Pi users and tutorials, not a big deal.
For some, the $239/$329 asking price might seem a little high. To compare, I made a list of most of the provided parts in the advanced kit. Without any power supply, cables, headphones, and a few other small peripherals, the combined total, when purchased separately, was over $260. Even then, you would still need to put it all together yourself, and you would be missing the integrated clam-shell case.
While there are significantly cheaper Raspberry Pi kits available, for what it provides the CrowPi is actually great value.
Should You Get A CrowPi
For learning and teaching about the basics of coding and hardware on the Pi, I can think of nothing better than the CrowPi. It combines everything open and extendible about the Pi while removing some of the stumbling blocks that beginners can face.
If you already own a Pi, the $239 standard kit will give you enough hardware to play with for a long time, and the solid case makes it perfect for storing and transporting when not in use.
If you are looking for a pre-built Raspberry Pi learning platform, there just isn’t anything else quite like the CrowPi available right now.
Enter the Competition!
Read the full article: Don’t Buy a Raspberry Pi Until You’ve Seen CrowPi All-in-One Kit (Review and Giveaway!)