The Raspberry Pi created an entire market by itself – the ability to have a complete Linux system for a low price, alongside GPIO pins for simple electronics prototyping, has made it a popular device with hackers and makers. The Pi is now on its third iteration, and other direct competitors have popped out. Orange Pi from Shenzhen Xunlong is one such variant.
The Orange Pi is an entire family (there are at least five different variants) with slight differences across function and price so you can find the right board for your requirement. The latest variant, the Orange Pi PC Plus, is the current value for money champ. At US$19, you get a 1.3GHz quad core, 1gb ram, 8gb EMMC storage, and WiFi.
I now have three Pi(s) at home. A Raspberry Pi 3, an Orange Pi PC, and a Orange Pi PC Plus.
What do I use them for?
The Raspberry Pi by virtue of being the most expensive, gets the least use / hacks since I wouldn’t want to brick it. It is currently running Home Assistant. If you use the TP-Link HS100, check out my script for it.
The Orange Pi PC Plus is my favourite hack, as it runs Alexa(Pi), a developer friendly edition of Amazon Alexa services. It is currently hacked into an old R2D2 and responds to the codeword “Artoo”. From there, it is able to ping back and forth with Amazon Alexa services to call up skills, turn on / off your smart home devices, listen to Internet radio and your other Alexa stuff (mostly). It was the original reason why I bought the Raspberry Pi 3, but it required a USB mic. The Orange Pi PC Plus has an onboard mic – which works decently for Alexa purposes. At US$19, it is great value. Code is available here at Github but in need of a cleanup.
The other Orange Pi PC is currently serving as a Retro gaming platform, through RetrOrangePi which has received a fair bit of community love. The entire start up sequence is just sweet. Supported emulators include MAME, FBA, SNES, NES, Genesis, Dreamcast(!), N64, PSX and PSP.
In a nutshell, the $15 Orange Pi PC has the things you’d expect on a Pi (HDMI and Ethernet) along with other extras like an IR receiver and an on-board microphone. Not bad for $15 considering it has a quad-core processor, a GPU and 1GB of RAM. But for $4 more, WiFi and fast inbuilt storage seems to be a no brainer.
There are definitely more bugs compared to Raspberry Pi. For example, The Orange Pi GPIO library is not as robust (no edge waiting), the display resolution cannot be switched easily, overscan controls are non-existent, and the WiFi settings are a mess. But the community seems to be picking up, and its encouraging to see the fast pace of development and improvement.
Yes, the Orange Pi is the new black. At lower prices than the more popular Raspberry Pi, there are many different options to fit your geeky needs. I am picking up another one for a smart doorbell project.