The uConsole is pocket-sized computer with a 5 inch IPS LCD color display, a QWERTY keyboard, gaming buttons, arrow keys, and a mini trackball. It’s bigger than a typical smartphone, and probably less powerful than most. But thanks to a modular design, it’s also incredibly versatile: there are four different processor options available.
Clockwork is positioning the uConsole as a “fantasy console” made real. But like all of the company’s devices to date, it’s basically a portable, modular computer that can be used for a variety of purposes. The uConsole is up for pre-order for $139 and up and should begin shipping in about three months.
At the heart of these devices is a modular board system that allows you to choose from several different system-on-a-modular solutions including:
- Raspberry Pi Compute Module 4 Lite: 4 x ARM Cortex-A72 cores @ 1.5 GHz / VideoCore 4 GPU / 4GB LPDDR4 RAM
- ClockworkPi A-04: 4 x ARM Cortex-A53 cores @ 1.8 GHz / Mali-T720 GPU / 4GB DDR3 RAM
- ClockworkPi A-06: 2 x ARM Cortex-A72 cores @ 1.8 GHz / 4 x Cortex-A53 cores @ 1.4 GHz / Mali-T864 GPU / 4GB LPDDR4 RAM
- R-01: 1 x RV64IMAFDCVU RISC-V core @ 1 GHz / no GPU / 1GB DDR3 RAM
Prices for the uConsole range from $139 for a kit with the R-01 module to $209 for the uConsole Kit A-06, although you can pay extra for an optional 4G cellular modem, or save some money on some models by opting for a DIY kit without a system-on-a-module, allowing you bring your own if you already have a Raspberry Pi Compute Module, for example.
The new ClockworkPi v3.14 revision 5 board at the heart of the system measures 95 x 77mm and is compatible with Raspberry Pi CM3 and CM4 series modules (with an adapter board), as well as Raspberry Pi’s own modules.
The board has integrated WiFI 5 and Bluetooth 5.0 support, an antenna, a USB Type-C charging port and three USB Type-A interfaces and internal connections, a microSD card reader, 3.5mm headphone jack, micro HDMI port, 40-pin MIPI screen interface and 40-pin GPIO and 52-pin extension connectors.
Clockwork’s optional cellular module supports 4G LTE Cat 4 data and includes a SIM card slot, 3.5mm audio jack.
The device features a 1280 x 720 pixel IPS LCD display panel and a 74-key backlit keyboard with adjustable lighting. Keyboard firmware can be reprogrammed and customized.
Clockwork says the uConsole is powered by a pair of rechargeable 18650 batteries. A single battery could theoretically provide enough power to run the console for a brief period of time if you wanted to swap batteries one by one, although the company says this can cause instability and recommends shutting down the device before changing batteries.
But it’s still nice to see a portable computing device with removable batteries. The whole system is designed to be assembled, disassembled, repaired, or upgraded at home.
The all-metal case is held together with screws that can be removed using a 2.5mm hex key. There’s no glue or adhesive involved. And the 3D design files are available at Clockwork’s GitHub page in case you want to 3D print or manufacture your own case or accessories or modify the designs.
Clockwork says the uConsole should support a range of operating systems including the Linux-based Debian, Ubuntu and Raspberry Pi OS as well as the company’s own ClockworkOS. There’s also support for a range of gaming software including Pico-8, DOSBox, and RetroArch, as well as more general-use applications including Chromium, Libreoffice, Vim, and VLC… although I suspect performance will vary greatly depending on which system-on-a-module you opt for.
Now that Intel, Google, and others have largely given up on the idea of this sort of modular device, it’s nice to see companies like Clockwork and Framework keep the dream of modular computing alive… even if Clockwork’s products are a little more niche than Framework’s.