Hands-On with the SunFounder RasPad Raspberry Pi Tablet

Judging by the number of DIY builds we feature here at Hackster, there is a lot of demand for a Raspberry Pi-based tablet. Despite that demand, however, you’d have to get your hands dirty to have one yourself—until now. That’s finally changing with SunFounder’s Kickstarter campaign for the RasPad.

The SunFounder RasPad is one of the first consumer tablets built around the Raspberry Pi. There are a handful of DIY kits already on the market, but the RasPad is one of only a couple that will ship ready-to-go right out of the box. While it’s still in the crowdfunding stage, I was able to get my hands on a pre-production unit, and I’m going to tell you what it gets right, what it gets wrong, and if you should buy one.

The primary component of the RasPad is the screen itself, which is a 10.1" IPS touchscreen with a 1280 x 800 pixel resolution. The rest of the specs are dependent on which Raspberry Pi you’re using. My kit came with a Raspberry Pi 3 B, which is the same thing you’ll find in all of the Kickstarter rewards aside from the most basic one, which doesn’t include a Raspberry Pi.

However, it can be used with other Raspberry Pi models, and even other single-board computers like the LattePanda and Orange Pi. Though, how well those will fit into the little compartment is debatable, because it was designed to fit the standard size Raspberry Pi. Inside that compartment are tabs and a cover to hold the Pi in place, and a USB and HDMI cable to provide power and video output.

The compartment where the Raspberry Pi is placed allows access to the 40-pin header.

Because the SunFounder RasPad has been designed specifically for makers and hackers, the compartment cover has a small gap which you can fit a standard 40-pin Raspberry Pi ribbon through. The last thing that’s notable about the Pi compartment is the USB cable for the touchscreen. In order to use the touch capability of the screen, you have to plug in a USB cable which is outside of the case on the left side. That’s necessary to make the three other USB ports accessible, but it still looks out of place.

The USB cable for the touchscreen is connected outside of the case.

Along the top of the case are a pair of 2W speakers, and on the right side is an HDMI port, a 3.5mm audio jack, a micro USB port, and three buttons. The audio jack is an output, so you can plug in headphones. But, the HDMI and USB ports are both inputs that are only for the display. You can feed in a video signal from another device with the HDMI port, and connect a touchpad with the USB port. Personally, I think it’d make a lot more sense to have an HDMI output, so that you can use your RasPad on a larger monitor or TV.

The three buttons control power, volume, and brightness. If you give the power button a quick push it turns the screen on and off, but hold it down for a few seconds and it toggles power to the Raspberry Pi. The other two buttons control brightness and volume. Press the top one for brightness, and the bottom for volume—then just push up or down to adjust them.

Finally, on the bottom are four LEDs which indicate battery and charging status. That’s important because battery life isn’t shown anywhere on the screen, though there is an icon to indicate that it’s charging. It’s worth noting, however, that the LEDs on my RasPad didn’t actually seem to work properly. Sometimes they’d just blink, and other times they’d appear to be working correctly, except that the battery would die when two LEDs were still lit.

The inside of the RasPad.

Speaking of the battery, there is an internal 6000mAh LiPo, which SunFounder says is good for up to 5 hours of use. To test that, I let YouTube play videos with the brightness and volume at 50% and BlueTooth off, and I only got a little over 2 hours of runtime. That said, I imagine if you turned off WiFi, kept the brightness way down, and only used low-power programs, you might get 5 hours.

Overall usability of the RasPad is decent—if you go into it with the right expectations. This isn’t an iPad, it’s a tablet intended for makers and hackers. The case is thick at the back for the Raspberry Pi, giving it a sort of wedge shape. It’s also fairly heavy, so it’s not comfortable to hold for long periods of time.

The OS is just Raspbian, with some additional software pre-installed. That means it’s not exactly touch-optimized, and you’ll find yourself needing a separate mouse and keyboard for a lot of tasks. Frustratingly, there is no easy way to rotate the screen orientation. So, even though the RasPad appears to be designed to stand up, you’d have to add a line to the Raspbian config file and reboot to actually use it in that orientation.

Rotating the screen orientation isn’t a trivial task.

That display, however, is pretty fantastic. It’s bright and clear, and touch sensitivity is very good. The resolution isn’t on the level of a Retina display, but pixel density is still pretty high. The super early bird RasPad is just $129, and if you purchased a screen like this yourself, it would cost something similar by itself. So, this is definitely where SunFounder spent the majority of their budget, and it shows.

On the software side, SunFounder has installed quite a bit of maker-friendly tools. There is the Arduino IDE, Scratch, the Python IDE, a Java IDE, and much more. SunFounder has even created their own browser-based Scratch derivative called Dragit. Of course, this is all based on Raspbian, so you can install just about everything else you can think of.

SunFounder’s custom browser-based Dragit software, based on Scratch.

The RasPad really isn’t intended to be a competitor to the iPads and Android tablets of the world—and that’s a good thing. Instead, it’s designed with makers in mind, and it does a pretty good job of achieving that goal. There are some flaws, but the beauty of the RasPad is that you (and the community) are free to modify it however you like. If that’s what you’re looking for—and you probably are if you want a Raspberry Pi tablet—then this is a good option.

If you’d like to back the SunFounder Raspad, there are a number of rewards packages available. For Super Early Birds, the basic package (without a Raspberry Pi) is $129, and with a Raspberry Pi it’s $189. There are also packages available that include sensors, and even a robot arm. The Kickstarter campaign is now live, and goes until April 4th, with rewards shipping in May.