- Ready to use out of the box
- Six keyboard variants
- Full computer experience
- Under $100
- Brand: Raspberry Pi
- Storage: microSDHC
- CPU: Cortex-A72
- Memory: 4GB
- Operating System: Linux (Raspberry Pi OS)
- Ports: Gigabit Ethernet, 2 × USB 3.0, 1 × USB 2.0, 2 × micro HDMI, GPIO
- Display: Max 4Kp60
- Geared to productivity
- Plug and play
- Easy to set up
- Not as flexible as the standard Raspberry Pi B boards
- No number pad on keyboard
- Extension required for most HATs
You’ve probably heard of the Raspberry Pi. It’s a compact, credit card-sized computer that runs Linux and lets you do everything from retro gaming and media streaming to desktop productivity, programming, and even developing your own computer-based projects.
For some, the Raspberry Pi is difficult to get started with. After all, it doesn’t look like the popular perception of a computer, rather the inside of a very small PC.
That is about to change, however, with the Raspberry Pi 400: a Raspberry Pi buried inside a keyboard.
A Raspberry Pi in a Keyboard
Essentially a Raspberry Pi 4 inside a keyboard, the Pi 400 has a strong retro feel. While the PCB differs from the main Raspberry Pi 4, and the keyboard follows the design ethos of the official Pi 4 case, there is more going on here.
Back in the 1980s, home computers regularly shipped in units with the keyboard mounted on top. Think of the Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, and the Pi’s spiritual forerunner, the BBC Acorn.
By mounting the Pi inside a keyboard, the Raspberry Pi 400 gains instant productivity points. Don’t worry about losing access to the GPIO, either, as it’s still provided via an open slot.
Various versions of the Pi 400 are available, each with a choice of 78- or 79-key keyboards. UK, US, German, French, Italian, and Spanish keyboard variants are available at launch.
Two Raspberry Pi 400 Options
Further to the keyboard variants, there are two options for buying a Raspberry Pi 400.
First is the standard computer-only box, which simply features a Raspberry Pi 400 keyboard with the modified Raspberry Pi 4 board inside.
Second is the more attractive version: a full computer kit. This features the Raspberry Pi 400, an official Raspberry Pi mouse, official Raspberry Pi USB-C power supply, microSD to SD card adaptor, micro-HDMI to HDMI cable, and a copy of Gareth Halfacree’s Raspberry Pi Beginner’s Guide. There’s also a preinstalled microSD card already inserted in the Pi 400, ready to boot the operating system.
Unboxing a computer has not been this thrilling in years. There’s a real feeling of excitement as you reach for the Pi 400, then discover the extra items. When you’ve removed the cables and peripherals, you’re then surprised by the book. It’s a tactile experience that harks back to the days before every piece of vital media was digital; it’s wonderful.
If you grew up in the days when detailed user guides shipped with computers, you’ll understand the vibe. Too young to remember? Prepare yourself for a totally new experience.
Raspberry Pi 400 Tech Specs
The Pi 400 is equivalent to the 4GB model Raspberry Pi 4. As such, you’ll find it can handle most tasks that you throw at it. At the heart of the computer is a Broadcom BCM2711 quad-core Cortex-A72 (ARM v8) 64-bit SoC @ 1.8GHz with 4GB LPDDR4-3200 RAM, and OpenGL ES 3.0 graphics.
Connectivity is via 2 x USB 3.0 and 1 x USB 2.0 ports, a Gigabyte Ethernet port, and Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 5.0 BLE. Wireless networking is dual-band (2.4GHz and 5.0GHz) IEEE 802.11b/g/n/ac. A USB-C port is positioned next to the standard USB slots, but this is for power only (5V DC).
For video out, the Pi 400 has dual micro HDMI out ports, supporting up to 4Kp60, and the device can playback H.265 and H.264 video. A microSD slot sits alongside the micro HDMI ports, with the Pi’s 40-pin GPIO header slot next to this.
Measuring 286mm x 122mm x 23mm, the Pi 400 is around the size of an iMac keyboard. Weight is distributed to the rear of the case where the PCB and ports are mounted, aiding comfortable typing.
Plug and Play: Setting Up the Raspberry Pi 400
With a spare monitor available to use, you can have the Pi 400 up and running in under a minute.
After unpacking, simply connect the mouse, ensure the microSD card is inserted, and attach the HDMI cable at both ends. If you’re using Ethernet, connect your network cable, then the power adapter to the Raspberry Pi, and switch it on.
A few seconds later, the Raspberry Pi OS will appear. This is the full version of the Linux-based operating system, which means that several key apps are preinstalled. So, you can look forward to the full LibreOffice suite, VLC, and Scratch, SonicPi, and MinecraftPi, among many others. Want more apps? You’ve got most of the Linux library at your fingertips, from emulators to development tools, games, image editors, and more.
It is worth spending a few words to extoll the virtues of Gareth Halfacree’s book. I’ve written extensively about the Raspberry Pi since 2012, but even I learned something reading this volume. Its only shortcoming, perhaps, is that aside from the first section it is heavily geared towards standard Pi boards. However, this is a minor gripe.
Desktop Replacement, Development Machine, Retro Gaming Center
The Pi 4 4GB version is an adequate desktop replacement. While not as powerful as the 8GB variant, it is nevertheless capable of handling multiple browser tabs, word processing, email, and other productivity tools.
With the Pi 400, you get that same desktop replacement potential, but inside a keyboard. It’s a comfortable keyboard, too, and while it misses the keypad, the additional numbers are nevertheless available in conjunction with the fn key. For typing, it is small, easy to use, and doesn’t require too much adjustment from other keyboards.
If typing is important to your work but you don’t use a word processor, you’re probably more interested in coding. Several development tools are built in to Raspberry Pi OS, but others are available. Again, the lack of a number pad might be a minor deficiency for this productivity dynamic, but overall the speed of the keyboard will help overcome this.
Having a keyboard makes retro gaming easier too, especially if you’re focusing on platforms with keyboard interfaces.
A common use for the Raspberry Pi is as a media center. Usually, the device is hooked up next to your TV, but the more portable (albeit wired) Raspberry Pi 400 presents the possibility of a Kodi device that sits beside you on the sofa, beaming video content to your TV.
How Suitable Is the Pi 400 as a Hobbyist Machine?
Perhaps the most striking thing about the keyboard-based Raspberry Pi 400 is how different it is to previous models. While the biggest diversion from the B board of the Raspberry Pi 2, 3, and 4 has been the half-sized Pi Zero, the Pi 400 takes things in a new direction.
So, is there a trade-off?
Inevitably. The Pi 400 is geared more towards productivity than it is to building—for example—a webcam, or a robot. Meanwhile, although HATs will retain compatibility, they won’t be as compactly arranged as they are with the model B form factor.
But this is largely nitpicking. The other Pi models remain available and completely versatile, suitable for almost all purposes. The Pi 400 has a different aim, the provision of affordable out-of-the-box computing in every environment.
Retro Feels, Linux Stability, and Raspberry Pi Goodness All in One Device
The lack of the complete versatility of the main Raspberry Pi boards aside, the Pi 400 is a complete success.
Previous Raspberry Pi upgrades (all the way back to the Raspberry Pi B+) have concentrated on packing in as much processing power and connectivity as the form factor and price allow. With the Raspberry Pi 400, the computer has literally exploded beyond that, bringing enhanced usability into the equation.
With two bundles available, the Pi 400 Personal Computer Kit seems like the smartest buy, giving you a usable plug-and-play home computer for under $100. But the cheaper Pi 400 kit is ideal if you have all the peripherals already.
Sure, it’s a mystery why a Raspberry Pi mounted inside a keyboard didn’t happen before now, but if you need an affordable computer suitable for school, college, or programming, the Pi 400 is just perfect.
Now is the time to get on board with the Raspberry Pi. It has finally come of age, feeling less like a versatile gadget, and more like a home computer.
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