Last year, when the Raspberry Pi Foundation announced the Pi Zero and that it would cost only $5 and come free with an upcoming issue of the Pi themed magazine MagPi, everyone went crazy for it. Even over a year later, the Zeros are hard to purchase due to demand. To achieve this price point though, they had to skimp on as much as they could. This left networking off the list, relegated to additional external hardware. The Pi Zero W, released for the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s 5th birthday, solves this networking dilemma by adding Bluetooth and Wi-Fi to the same familiar package while doubling the price to a whopping $10 (sarcasm)!
This review is actually hard to write because so much has already been said about the Raspberry Pi and its ease of use and versatility — and the Zero W doesn’t stray from this at all. Setting up your Zero W is as simple as flashing an SD card with a default image (of which plenty are available), plugging it in, and configuring it. Tools like PiBakery make this process even easier, and can allow you to configure some of the advanced options found in the Zero line so they are ready to go on first boot. This also allows users to configure the Wi-Fi so they can get started with the Zero W headless (no keyboard, mouse, or monitor) right from the get go.
The Pi Foundation also created a new injection molded case for the Zero line that includes three tops: a standard closed top, one that allows access to the GPIO pins, and one that holds the Pi Camera in place; all while keeping the size under that of a mint tin. While all the third-party and user-generated cases will still work with the Zero W (its form factor is the same as the original Zero), it’s nice to see the Pi Foundation thinking about their users’ needs beyond just the board and starting with accessories right out of the gate.
Some people are wondering why they shouldn’t just spend the extra $25 (or less in some retail locations) to get a full Pi 3, but they are missing something. The Zero line isn’t just a scaled down version of a Pi board, it’s an embedded powerhouse. The size of the Zero makes it easy to embed in almost any device and the integrated Wi-Fi and Bluetooth of the W will help keep that form factor by not needing the bulky USB OTG adapter or wireless dongle. The Zero line also hides a non-obvious secret missing from their larger siblings’ lines; it can be configured as a USB gadget. While the USB ports on a Pi 2 or 3 are solely in host mode, the Zero lines can show up as USB devices like a mass storage device, keyboard, mouse, MIDI, or many more. With the inclusion of the built-in wireless, this opens up an enormous number of projects to creative users.
Since the announcement of the original Zero I’ve been desperate for a version with integrated Wi-Fi and now my wish has been granted and I’m excited to start building on this new platform! Now if we can just convince them to make a version with a single full-sized USB plug…