This series of articles will cover some of the details and build of a Raspberry Pi based Tablet Computer I call Ivette. The first instalment will serve as an introduction to the project and go through how and why I started it and also detail the first iterations of the device.
It pretty much started with my old Acer Aspire One becoming unusable as it hit its end of life date. It’s battery was unable to hold the smallest of charges, and it’s charger barely held on to it’s connector and a quick jerk of the cable would mean it would be completely without power. And being a netbook that is somewhat of a requirement. And since I mostly used it to code while on public transport to and from work, I needed to find myself a suitable replacement.
But this, however, proved to be quite difficult. Mainly because I am quite picky with what I buy when it comes to computers (among other things) so the resulting device had to tick some rather strict boxes. First and foremost, it had to be able to run Linux, Arch Linux to be precise, since that is my distro of choice. Secondly I also wanted it to have touch screen since TUIs is something I would really like to experiment with. It also had to be small enough to carry around with me to enable me to code wherever I may be. This also required it to have or be able to connect with some form of keyboard, cause coding on a touch screen would suck.
All of these requirements limited me a fair bit. I found a few laptop/tablet hybrid options that looked promising, but they where ARM based Android or Windows devices with fairly proprietary hardware setups which would make installing Arch Linux a hard task with a possibility of not being able to get everything to work due to lack of drivers etc. So committing to pay for a device I might not be able to use 100% was not very encouraging. This is also why I have never bought myself a tablet and even though I considered getting one a few times during my search, my stubbornness prevailed. x86 based devices where also considered, but for whatever reason (finances most likely) that did not pan out either.
One device that I really do like to work with, though, is the Raspberry Pi. I have had a couple of those little things for a while now and have used them for various projects. The fact that there is a version of Arch Linux for it, a large community of users for support and an extensive catalogue of compatible hardware makes it a very nice and easy platform to use for anything.
So having seen Raspberry Pi based tablets in the past I thought that might be the answer I was looking for. Some quick research brought up a very nice tutorial from Ada Fruit detailing a DIY tabled which used parts from Ada Fruit as well as the official 7″ touch screen from the Raspberry Pi Foundation. So I set out to try and replicate this device as much as I could. But this proved to be more difficult than I had anticipated. Either the parts I needed where constantly out of stock or (in the case of the batteries) where too expensive to ship over to Australia, most likely because of customs etc.
Frustrated and half fearing some form of curse, I restarted my search. But this time I stumbled across an old article about a similar project by Michael K Castor. This PiPad, as he called it, is surprisingly simple in its construction. In its code its pretty much just a Raspberry Pi, a mobile battery and a HDMI touch screen with a few extra bits added. The battery would be super easy to find, just a quick search on ebay and you will find 100s of options with varying capacity for very little money. So the only real kicker was the screen. Unlike my previous option, this one was 10″ as opposed to 7″ which felt much more appropriate for a usable tablet. I was also in luck because the company that he had sourced his screen from, Chalkboard Electronics, had an upgraded version of the same screen available for purchase.
So I had finally found my replacement every-day-out-and-about computer.[clearfix]
Having finally found what my replacement device was going to be I was eager to get started. But I had to wait until I had enough funds to get the required parts, and in the mean time I needed to spend my creative motivation somewhere. So I started working with what I had available, namely my Raspberry Pi 2 and other parts I had lying around, to get the software part of the project going. Things like installing the base Archlinux System and any packages that I thought where needed to make it usable when out and about.
This system I called Ivette 0, a proto-ivette if you will.
Now, before I continue, I just want to mention why I call the system Ivette. This is simply because it is named after my main computer Ivy (after Poison Ivy, my computer naming scheme is Super Villains or rather Super Villainesses), but since it’s a tablet i used the french female diminutive suffix.
I got to test Ivette 0 out in the wild when I travelled with my partner to a wedding a few hours out of the city. It did not go too well since wireless coverage in the motel was quite poor and I had missed some important packages to make the system do anything usefull. The Raspberry Pi 2 performed rather well as a media system, though, thanks to Kodi.[clearfix]
The first piece of hardware I bought for the device was the battery because it was the cheapest. After much deliberating I ended up going for a 100000 mAh battery with a built in solar panel which ended up costing me little over $20 AUD which is just a bargain for what you are getting. The battery has 2 USB ports, one 1A port which will be used to power the screen (should hopefully be enough) and 2A which will power the Pi2 and it’s attachments (WiFi etc).
Then later when I had the funds I ordered the screen along with a bunch of extra cables and stuff which will come in handy for setting up external ports and wiring everything up. One nice feature of the screens control board is that it breaks out HDMI audio to an audio jack so I don’t have to use the RPi one which has some noise issues. This ended up setting me back about $250 AUD.
The case will be constructed out of cardboard, which if you know me is not a great big surprise. It is my go to material for prototyping because it’s cheap and easy to source and I don’t have to have access to CNC machinery etc.
I received my battery just the other day and have been testing it a fair bit and I love it. I was able to run my RPi2 along with an external HDD for a few hours as well as recharge my mobile a few times before I had to recharge the battery pack itself.
It is my earnest hope to have received the screen early next week so I can get everything assembled and ready before I head up to Brisbane for another wedding and give the system another test in the wild. This time I have had a lot more time to work on the software side of things and I think it’s ready for another trial by fire.
So if all goes well, then I will detail all of that in the next article.