The Adafruit PyPortal makes it simple to take a touchscreen and connect it to the Internet. You can use it to stream whatever data you might like — pictures of cats, a stock ticker, the number of “likes” on your last YouTube video, or whatever else. And you can use it to talk back: Poke the screen to check on a different channel, save that last lolcat to your favorites folder, or use it as a remote control for your armada of drones, showing their positions and relaying new commands. PyPortal will get you most of the way there.
It’s a reliable bet that any board from Adafruit will be well supported with a good page of getting started instructions to hold your hand as you fire up a first project, and a handful of example projects to build from there. The PyPortal is no exception. And it’s a blessing, because writing code that utilizes its best features is more substantial than coding for simple microcontrollers. Reaching out across the internet, asking for information, unpacking the answers, redrawing the screen, and not crashing horribly when the Internet’s answers are less than perfect takes time. Adafruit’s step-by-step explanations and varied examples take a board that’s a good step more complex than a starter microcontroller and make it unintimidating, even pleasant to learn.
While the touchscreen is clearly the star of the show, there’s more tech under the hood to give the touchscreen a modern feel. There’s a light-sensor, so you can brighten or dim the screen to match the room. There’s a temperature sensor, because detecting overhead conditions is always a thing. There’s also a wee but decent built-in-speaker with mini amp, and a plug to connect a bigger speaker if that’s not enough for your application.
But at $55 a pop, if you’re not using it for touchscreen-specific projects, you’re wasting cash. Basic microcontrollers are available for significantly less money, and for double the price (and a little bargain hunting) you could have a no-name laptop.
Where many microcontrollers expose as many connections as they can make room for, the PyPortal has just a few connectors for Grove/Stemma cables: If there’s a device or two you’d like to chain off of the PyPortal, you can snap those cables in place and get back to coding in seconds. What the PyPortal isn’t going to be is the heart of a rats-nest of dead-bug wires, controlling some half dozen other chips, sensors, and actuators. The PyPortal is a polished building block, nearly complete already, and resists any efforts to turn it into a sprawling mess of creative chaos.
Most maker boards feel like a major piece of a bigger puzzle, but the PyPortal feels like half the puzzle is assembled right out of the box. Add your software and the frame, and it’ll be done. As the maker community matures, I look forward to more building blocks like this, filling in the space between pure prototyping boards and polished products.