Review: Orange Pi

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. 

orange_pi_pc_plus_large

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.

Review: KlikR Universal Remote Controller

How many remote controls do you have in your home? I counted 5 in my living room. Not to mention, an additional 4 in my bedroom. These add up quickly, and well, switching remotes, keeping track of them can be a real hassle. Astro Smart offers a solution with the KlikR. The Klikr is a coin-size device that allows your mobile phone to be the command centre of all your remotes. It sounded really exciting and I wanted to try it. Read More

TPLink HS100 – Python Package / Home Assistant

The TPLink HS100 Smart Plug lets you remotely control your electric devices, and best of all, it’s compatible with Alexa, and other Open Source home automation software such as Home Assistant.

The TPLink HS100 is as simple as it gets, plug to the wall socket, connect your device, set it up with the app, and off you go. By default, support is limited through Kasa (TPLink Smart Home app), and Amazon Echo (Alexa). Other features include Remote Access (wherever you have internet), through the Kasa App, Scheduling – Schedule the Smart Plug to automatically power electronics on and off as needed, like setting lights to come on at dusk or turn off at sunrise, Amazon Echo Voice Control – Amazon Echo (sold separately) lets you control devices connected to the Smart Plugs just using your voice.

Amazon Echo is getting quite popular among the home automation crowd since it easily enables voice control. I don’t have an Echo though, and I tried, but I couldn’t get it detect and work with the poor man alternative, AlexaPi, or Roger (Android app).
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Review: Gateman WF10 Digital Lock

I bought the Gateman WF10 digital lock for my home. My first step towards a smart home should start from the entrance. It’s one of those gadgets which I have really appreciated after using it – simple, secure, convenient.

The Gateman WF10 is a handle-less digital rim lock that provides biometric (ie fingerprint recognition) and pin number access. It is easy on the budget too (I bought it directly from Korea through Qoo10) and it is quite the popular choice for homes. I installed it alongside my existing lock set so I can still lock it the traditional way if required. Gateman designs and manufactures digital door lock for the Yale brand. Korea is a huge proponent of digital door locks and Gateman is widely used there. If you are worried about the brand, this model is the same as Yale YDR4110 but it is assembled in Korea (not China) and is significantly cheaper.

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