Pi_2_Model_BGeek that I am, it was probably inevitable that sooner or later I was going to invest in a Raspberry Pi, the little Linux-based computer that can … well, sort of. The latest iteration of the device, the Raspberry Pi 2 Model B, regarded as a step change in the series, packs a 900MHz quad-core ARM Cortex-A7 CPU with 1GB RAM that runs a series of tailored versions of Linux (as well as at least one specially modified fork of Windows 10), four USB ports, a full HDMI port which drives monitors at proper resolutions, an Ethernet port, and a combined 3.5mm audio jack and composite video. All on a credit-card footprint form factor that retails for as little as $35.

The Raspberry has established a loyal following in education, where it provides a basis for classes worldwide to learn the basics of programming, and among hobbyists and fans looking for a portable PC backup. So why do I now have reservations about it? Well, it’s mostly because of how other technology has moved on around it.

For one thing – and this could all be down to my own crap skillz – I can’t find a browser or Linux variant (yet) that enables a full range of web-based services, especially Google Drive and Google Docs, which I use daily. Evernote? Doesn’t work on the Epiphany browser bundled with the basic Raspbian version of Debian that is touted as the OS of choice for the Raspberry. Google Docs just works, but with painfully slow load times. And yes, LibreOffice will run on the Raspberry, but so much of my productivity – and everyone else’s – is web-based these days that a device which doesn’t offer immediate access to these solutions is terminally crocked, IMHO. This isn’t a Linux problem per se – my other Linux devices were/are fine with it. Rather, it seems specifically an issue with the Raspberry and the Raspian OS.

Perhaps things will sort out when I manage to load a different OS onto the Raspberry’s microSD card – though the signs aren’t good. Meantime, though, there are so many other cost-competitive solutions now on the market that offer compelling performance and a better user experience. As Chris Meadows points out, we now have the Asus VivoStick, which offers a full Windows 10 package with almost laptop-quality hardware for only $130, on a neatly portable stick. And Android-on-a-stick devices offer access to the Google Play Store apps library and a smooth issue-free OS for even less. Some variants even allow you to run Linux.

I appreciate that this may be a software/OS problem rather than an issue with the still-compelling Raspberry hardware. But the loyal Raspberry fanbase had better sort it out soon. Otherwise the value case just isn’t going to be there any more.

(And if any Raspberry fans want to put me right on this and explain what I can do to fix my issues, please do – I want to like the device, and even more, I want to use it.)


  1. @Paul: Great post. You might see if a Linux version of FBReader will run on this device. As for the value of the Raspberry Pi, educators and others might still appreciate its friendliness towards open technology even if still-lower-cost alternatives exist. David

  2. It is amazing what a Raspberry Pi 2 computer does for $35. It does run linux, but it is not a general purpose desktop computer. It was designed as a very low cost computer to teach programming and hardware interfacing. to meet cost goals a lot of things were left out. The ethernet is done through the usb 2.0 interface and is 10-100 only. There is no hard disk interface. There is no on board real time clock as it was not needed. WiFi and Bluetooth were left out and if needed must be added via dongles.

    The Raspberry is very useful and valuable for what it is designed to do. I have several and use them in a variety of projects. There is a very large community of Pi users and developers that increase the value of the Pi.

    Yes there are some performance issues. Some will be addressed in the future updates to the operating system to support the multi-core processor in the Pi 2. This may improve some of the experiences you have had with slow browser issues.

  3. Asus VivoStick: where are the GPIO pins? Doesn’t have any? Then what good is it?

    IMHO what makes the Ras Pi valuable is that it has 40 GPIO pins for hardware interfacing. The CPU, USB and ethernet ports enable the Pi to interact with the LAN, WAN or other computers and can bridge to the GPIO-driven devices. It allows physical projects to be built that you can’t do with a PC, smartphone or tablet. If you evaluate a Pi based on Google docs performance, then you might not understand why the Pi fills a valuable niche.

  4. Comsumer Reports always graded down the Jeep Wrangler for fit and finish issues – leather straps for inside door handles, rough, ill-fitting carpet, long-throw gear shifter, ugly paint…Whereas Jeep Wrangler owners always graded down Consumer Reports favorite Toyota Camry because the doors couldn’t be removed, the windshield couldn’t be folded down, and you couldn’t hose down the interior. And likewise, mainstream consumers will find a Raspberry Pi lacking in some features, while computer hobbyists and hardware hackers will find a lot to be happy with.

  5. All, appreciated on the comments, but can someone please tell me how to get a fast enough browser/WiFi combination on the Raspberry Pi 2 Model B to access/run Google Docs, if not Google Drive?! That’s all? What OS? Some fork of Ubuntu? Help!

  6. I saw one suggestion that you replace $HOME/.xinitrc with



    (or chrome, firefox) whatever browser you want to use. Then when you startx, it just starts the browser rather than the whole desktop environment, saving a bit of ram.

    This obviously is getting a bit hackerish, and a lot of trouble if your main interest is just to turn on a computer and get to work. Most people who are used to modern kit are going to find it slow going, although of course it would have been considered a paragon of speed just a few years ago. I think the Pi makes a marginally adequate desktop replacement that still has a lot of appeal to two groups:

    1 – People who can’t afford to pay more than $35 for a computer.
    2 – People who enjoy hacking and experimenting with software and hardware.

    So the answer to your original question – The Raspberry Pi: Is it worth it any more? – probably not to you, but yes to some others.

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