I’m pretty happy with the final outcome and best of all - you can easily recreate this yourself with little-to-no effort!
So enough chit-chat - let’s build this bad-boy!
Note: Most items in the hardware section are Amazon affiliate links
This hardware will not replace your laptop or any other “high-powered” portable device. Honestly, you’re mobile phone would (most likely) work better in terms of a compact-sized computer. The concept behind this “portable pi” project was to make something for fun.
Please reserve any sassy comments about how buying a cheap $50 laptop off eBay would be more efficient than building out something like I have done here. You’re missing the point entirely.
Moving on for those still interested…
I live in Canada, so some of the options are based on available hardware near my location. You’re likely to find similar hardware close to your own country for better pricing / shipping costs.
Note: I’ve decided to use a wireless, USB dongle-based keyboard. You can opt to use a bluetooth-based keyboard, but I just find them more trouble than they are worth (keeping a charge, losing connections, interference from other devices)
You will need a Raspberry Pi Zero W with GPIO header pins already soldered on to the board. (You could also do this yourself manually if you have the tools and skill to do so)
This HAT holds a single li-ion battery and for our purposes will connect with our Pi Zero via the GPIO header pins. You could also look into double-set battery HATs if that is something you would prefer - for my needs a single rechargeable battery works fine.
Since our main “OS” is purely terminal based, I find you don’t really need a li-ion battery with a massive amount of power storage. 2500mAh will easily last a handful of hours mucking about with emails, files and web browsing. Plus, you can always carry a few extras for swapping out on-the-go.
A simple and fairly cheap touchscreen display. We won’t require our display to render videos or pretty graphics (since we will be entirely terminal-based) so this works just fine for our needs. I am using version 6.3 for this build.
As mentioned above, this item is optional if you feel more comfortable with using a pure bluetooth keyboard. I just personally prefer this method.
In my product demo image at the beginning of the article, I’m actually using an old Logitech wireless keyboard since this one still hasn’t arrived. I plan to swap them out once I have it - the Logitech is far to large to be deemed “portable”.
I will be setting up this “portable pi” via headless installation with my main Raspberry Pi 4 desktop. Included below are some quick instructions on how to setup the Raspberry Pi Zero for
bootfolder of the microSD device - we will be adding 2 files here
ssh(no file extension)
wpa_supplicant.conffile in a code / text editor and paste the following (be sure to change
countryto your proper country code, as well as properly setting your network name / password):
Note: the display will turn on but only show a white screen - this is normal
Open the terminal on your Raspberry Pi desktop and enter the following command:
You will then be asked if you wish to trust this device (say yes), then prompted for the
pi user’s password - which is
raspberry. After a moment you will be directly connected to your Raspberry Pi Zero. Hooray!
We just want to make a couple small configuration changes before going forward (mostly for security):
Next we will need to download and run the drivers needed for our 3.5-inch display to play nicely with our Pi Zero (just a blank white screen doesn’t help us much). While connected to our RPi Zero via SSH, run the following commands:
If you have snail-paced rural internet like I do, now is a good time to go and grab a coffee while this download completes.
Once the download has finished, extract the contents and navigate to the new directory and install the driver:
Once completed, the RPi Zero will reboot and everything should work as expected!
I’m not going to jump into heavy details about installing terminal-based software for this setup. The links I’ve attached in the software section should provide you with more than enough information to get started. For reference, I’m using a very basic set of applications:
There you have it - a terminal-based, portable Raspberry Pi Zero “hacker” device.
Is it practical? Not really. Can it replace any other portable device you might own? Probably not. Is it fun to make and experiment on? You bet! And in the end - isn’t that what matters most with pet Pi projects?
← Back to all articles
If you would like help support this blog, please consider donating to help keep articles ad-free.
This site is an honorary member of the 1MB Club.
No third-party advertising or data collection - More about privacy.
Built with Jekyll & hosted on Netlify.
Maintained with ♥ for the web.
This page is valid HTML