Raspberry Pi 3 Model A+ review: Smaller, cheaper and the most tempting Pi yet

There’s a new Raspberry Pi on the block but if you were hoping to run heavier, more demanding apps than before, you’re in for a disappointment. The new hardware is an update to the old Raspberry Pi Model A+ and, as with its predecessor, the focus is on keeping the size and price down to a bare minimum, rather than boosting performance. That doesn’t mean the new Pi is underpowered.

In fact, it has the same processor as the flagship Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+. The big difference is a more limited set of physical connectors, leaving us with a dinky computer that’s perhaps less convenient for desktop use but ideal as a minimal home server or a control board for hobbyist projects. READ NEXT: The best mini PCs for any budget

Raspberry Pi 3 Model A+ review: Price and competition

The new Model A+ launches at £25 – the same price as the old one – so you can expect to pay around GBP25 for it in the UK.

That’s only a little less than the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+, so if you’re looking for a general-purpose tinkering platform, the full-fat option is the better alternative. If you’re after something even more lightweight, you could also consider the tiny Raspberry Pi Zero WH, which costs just GBP18 with built-in Wi-Fi, or the BBC micro:bit, which starts at GBP13.50 for the bare board. And, if you have more ambitious ideas, there are plenty of more powerful boards out there, such as the Asus Tinker Board and the BeagleBoard X15.

These aren’t really competing in the same market as the Raspberry Pi, though, with the aforementioned products costing GBP60 and GBP210 respectively.

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Raspberry Pi 3 Model A+ review: Features and design

It’s a long time since the original Model A+ was introduced – just over four years to be precise – but the Raspberry Pi Foundation has kept the new model’s physical format exactly the same as the old one, with a 65 x 56mm footprint that’s around 25% smaller than a full-sized Pi. That means existing Model A+ accessories and mountings will continue to work, and the board retains the standard 40-pin GPIO header, so it’s fully compatible with regular Raspberry Pi HATs and other accessories. Perhaps less encouraging is the fact that the physical limitations of the old Model A+ have been faithfully maintained as well.

While the mainstream Raspberry Pi 3 Model B gets four USB Type-A ports, the Model A+ sports just one, along with the familiar micro-USB power socket. Conveniently, there’s a full-sized HDMI socket and a 3.5mm audio jack which also carries composite analogue video – but no onboard Ethernet.

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Raspberry Pi 3 Model A+ review: Smaller, cheaper and the most tempting Pi yet

There is good news, though. Unlike the original Model A+, the new board comes with built-in Bluetooth 4.2 and dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi.

This means you can easily hook up a wireless keyboard and mouse, and connect the Pi to a fast wireless network, without even touching that single USB socket. Ports? Who needs ’em?

Raspberry Pi 3 Model A+ review: Performance

I’ll be posting full benchmarks soon but I already have a good idea what they’ll show.

As I’ve mentioned, the Model A+ uses the same quad-core Broadcom A53 processor as the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B, with the same 1.4GHz clock speed, so you can expect performance to be identical. The only significant difference is that there’s only half as much RAM: 512MB versus the 1GB of the standard Pi. Things might get a bit choppy if you want to open dozens of browser tabs, therefore, but regular apps like LibreOffice and your own programs should feel just as fast or as slow as on the standard Pi.

As with the Model B, the chipset also includes a built-in H.264 decoder and encoder, capable of supporting 1080p media at 30fps. Cinephiles won’t be wowed but, hey, it’s more than you’re entitled to demand from a board of this size and price.

Raspberry Pi 3 Model A+ review: Verdict

The Model A+ was never the star of the Pi family. The very limited connectivity of the old design made it difficult to recommend, which is perhaps why it’s been left to stagnate for so long.

However, the addition of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi transforms it into something vastly more versatile; something that can perfectly well replace a full-sized Raspberry Pi in almost any role that doesn’t require a physical Ethernet connection or multiple USB accessories.

Indeed, this new iteration is so neat, so cheap and so capable that it all but demands to become the new standard for ultra-lightweight and hobbyist computing.

At such a bargain price, it’s harder than ever to justify not owning one.

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