Pi Zero Wireless A $10 Birthday Present
Written by Harry Fairhead   
Tuesday, 28 February 2017

The Pi is 5 years old and as a birthday present the Raspberry Pi Foundation has released the Pi Zero W with onboard WiFi and Bluetooth. This really is the ideal IoT device.

First we need to know exactly what the specification is.

The Pi Zero W is the same as the Pi Zero, same amount of memory, same CPU, GPU, HDMI, USB, 40-Pin GPIO port, camera connector and video out. In fact the only difference is that it has a Cypress radio chip that adds WiFi and Bluetooth. That is, the WiFi and Bluetooth hardware is the same as in the Pi 3. 

If you use the original Pi Zero then you need to add a WiFi or Bluetooth dongle if you want to get it on the network. Given the Pi Zero costs $5 and a dongle can be had for $5 there doesn't seem to be much advantage to the Pi Zero W at $10. 

However, this isn't quite the whole picture. 

Anyone who has tried to use a Pi Zero will tell you that there is a bit of a problem in actually using a WiFi dongle. The Pi Zero has a mini-USB connector and to actually add a dongle you generally need a mini to full size adaptor. These are available as small plug adaptors, but the result is that you have a WiFi dongle stuck out at 90 degrees from the PCB. This makes creating a neat device difficult. Some adventurous types have hit upon the solution of taking the WiFi dongle out of its case and soldering it to the USB connector to make it an on-board device. Less adventurous engineers, me for example, have used a mini-USB to full USB adaptor cable to place the WiFi dongle above the PCB, but this still leaves a USB connector sticking out of the side of the device. 



With the introduction of the Pi Zero W it now becomes possible to build devices that don't have dongles sticking out at right angles and avoids using micro-USB and HDMI connectors. This makes for much smaller and neater IoT devices.


As well as the Pi Zero W there is a new official case for the Zero: 

"To accompany Raspberry Pi Zero W, we’ve been working with our friends at Kinneir Dufort and T-Zero to create an official injection-moulded case. This shares the same design language as the official case for the Raspberry Pi 3, and features three interchangeable lids:

    • A blank one
    • One with an aperture to let you access the GPIOs
    • One with an aperture and mounting point for a camera"



In theory the Pi Zero W is available now from all the usual Pi distributors. It was still in stock at the time of writing, but as with the original Pi Zero sales are limited to one per customer. Given the Pi Zero was released over a year ago this isn't impressive,  see: Where Are The Raspberry Pi Zeros? The Raspberry Pi Foundation released the statistics that the Zero sold over 100,000 units on its first day and has sold over 400,000 units to date. Some of those were probably stockpiled due to the short supply, but this gives you some idea how important the Zero is. 

Not meeting the demand is unfair to alternatives such as the C.H.I.P and even the micro:bit. It gives the impression that there are better devices, even though you can't actually buy them.

Success is sometimes a problem.


  • Harry Fairhead, as well as being I-Programmer's hardware guru, is editor of  IoT-Programmer.com and author of Raspberry Pi IoT in C, a book which is applicable to the Pi Zero W, along with the Pi Zero and the Pi 2/3.


More Information

Raspberry Pi Zero Wireless

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Last Updated ( Tuesday, 28 February 2017 )