pcrowDoodle, my “desirable difficulty” laptop#

2024 Apr 27

Next week Gabi and I head off to Japan for a 3-week vacation. The god of electronics has blessed me with the motivation to tinker during my flights. I’m in a bit of a pickle, though… what laptop should I bring?

The solution for me, an irrational simpleton, was to spend perhaps too much money ($200) on a questionable Raspberry Pi “laptop”.


The official name of this product is CrowPi-L but mine only answers to the moniker of pcrowDoodle my beloved.


(This is not an “affiliate shill” post; I have nothing to disclose.)


pcrowDoodle is best thought of as the computer-equivalent of Armadillo: Opossum Heavy Armor:


You just lift the magnetically (??) attached back cover…


…and cram your RPi into the corner…


…and you’re basically ready to fire pcrowDoodle up and realize that there’s some boot firmware that’s impossible to update at best and backdoor’d at worst:


I’m using RPi 4. I have a hunch RPi5 won’t work.

Form factor: wedgebot#

Cramming the RPi into the back results in a slope steep enough to downhill race on:

Wheely Big Cheese is dead, long live Wheely Big Cheese!

“Dual boot”: quite pleasant, actually#

pcrowDoodle came with a little SD expansion thingy that lets you switch between an “A” SD card and a “B” SD card fairly quickly:


RPi OS booted up pretty much without a hitch:


And I even got OpenBSD working on the other SD!


Pretty excited to finally try out BSD. Gonna leave it GUI-free.

Unusable trackpad: a blessing in disguise#

The trackpad is comically small and has already started to freeze up on me:


Going into the purchase I expected this. I was kinda hoping for it, actually… I’ve been meaning to get really solid at keyboard-based navigation. This is the main “desirable difficulty” thing for me. A cool side-effect of forcing myself to get good at keyboard-based navigation is that I’m also learning the CLI-equivalent for common actions, such as dm-tool lock to lock the screen.

Lobsters on lynx somehow looks better than the actual website??


40-pin GPIO header#

You need a connector (which was annoyingly not included with my purchase) but it’s still possible to access all the pins:



I got 3-5 hours on the first full charge. I fully expect this to drop down to 30 minutes after a month.

An interesting challenge (maybe project?) is that the RPi OS UI doesn’t seem to expect to run off battery so there’s no “low battery” indicator. So when the battery’s done pcrowDoodle abruptly shuts down on me. Maybe there’s just some bit in raspi-config I need to flip.

My coworker, Rob, had the interesting idea to supplement the battery reserves with a cellphone power bank. The power bank would probably have some “low charge” indicator, too.

Where have all the RPi laptops gone#

I’ve poked fun at Elecrow (the maker of the CrowPi-L) a few times but it seems like they deserve my thanks and respect: “RPi laptop” is a cool idea and they seem to be one of only a handful of companies actually making it happen.

RPi OS is a sweet spot for exploratory hacking IMO:

Worth it?#

Too soon to tell. I’ll report back after Japan. It will boil down to reliability; if this thing starts crashing or the keys start sticking then I’m screwed.

At first I thought $200 was too expensive but realistically, it would cost me much more than $200 in time/energy/parts/hairline to try to build something like this myself.