First Thoughts on the PocketBeagle

I’ve always had a soft spot for the BeagleBone. Unfortunately the original BeagleBone board wasn’t particularly competitively priced. That…

Alasdair Allan
4 years ago

I’ve always had a soft spot for the BeagleBone. Unfortunately the original BeagleBone board wasn’t particularly competitively priced. That, along with the supply chain problems they suffered after the arrival of the—much more reasonably priced—BeagleBone Black has meant that the the board has always been viewed as a Raspberry Pi competitor.

However in the last year or two a spate of new hardware based around the BeagleBone has breathed new life into the board by exploiting its main advantage over the Pi, the open hardware design of the platform.

Now the board has been shrunk down. Officially announced at World Maker Faire in New York last weekend, the PocketBeagle is everything you expect from a BeagleBone. But just that much smaller.

The idea of the PocketBeagle has been around for a while, long before this weekend’s launch of the of the official board Jason Kridner had already designed and built a PocketBone, as had Michael Welling.

This is a board that has been stripped down as far as it can be, all that is left is a processor, some pins, and power regulation. There is nothing else.

The PocketBeagle wouldn’t have been possible before the arrival of the Octavo Systems OSD3358 system on package—better known to makers as “the BeagleBone on a chip.”

The OSD3358-SM integrates a 1GHz Sitara ARM Cortex-A8 AM335x processor, 512 MB of DDR3 RAM, a TPS65217C PMIC, TL5209 LDO, all the needed passives, and 4KB of EEPROM all crammed into a 21mm×21mm BGA package. While the board itself has 72 expansion pin headers with power and battery I/Os, high-speed USB, 8 analog inputs, 44 digital I/Os, three UARTs, two I2C busses, two SPI busses, two broken out USB connectors, four PWM outputs, and a microSD connector.

Full details of the board can be found on the Wiki.

My main concern around the release of the PocketBeagle has to be the price. In an age of capable computing when computing is essentially free—the $25 price tag for the stripped down board could well be seen as being just too high.

While the PocketBeagle is probably most comparable with the similarly priced Raspberry Pi Compute Module but it will inevitably—especially due to the way it is being pitched—draw comparisons with the the Raspberry Pi Zero and the Zero W.

Although the OSD3358-SM at the core of the PocketBeagle is much more capable than the Broadcom BCM2835 at the heart of the Raspberry Pi Zero you have to ask whether, for most makers, that extra capability is needed.

The maker market is amazingly price sensitive, and I worry that the BeagleBoard Foundation is making the same mistake they made with the original white BeagleBone. This is a great board, that has impressive capabilities, but it might well be sidelined due to the the price point.

The PocketBeagle is available immediately costing $25, and yes, it really does fit in a Altoids Smalls tin.

Alasdair Allan
Scientist, author, hacker, maker, and journalist. Building, breaking, and writing. For hire. You can reach me at 📫 alasdair@babilim.co.uk.
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