I'm no hacker, but when I played around with the PocketCHIP, a miniature Linux computer, I sure felt like one. As I entered lines of code into the tiny device, I pretended I was breaking into the mainframe of some major computer system, like the eccentric programmer from Mr. Robot. In reality, I was downloading a sandbox game. Still, for a brief moment, it was cool to be cool.
How it feels
PocketCHIP looks like the original Game Boy. It's clunky like the old handheld device, but, despite the name, it's far too big for my pocket. The retro design is a fun throwback, but you can do a lot with this gadget. You can play old games, work on your programming skills, watch a Star Wars story unfold, and more. It's neat but intimidating.
The device sat untouched for a long time. I consider myself a tech-savvy person, but I know next to nothing about coding and I'm not comfortable with the idea of modifying software or hardware. This computer is not user-friendly, so I wouldn't recommend it to the average consumer. Personally, I wasn't over the moon with it.
At first, PocketCHIP was really frustrating. It took me a while to get accustomed to the small keyboard. When I typed out a line of code, I couldn't figure out how to enter semicolons and slashes and other symbols. Though the clicking sounds are pleasing to the ear, the keyboard isn't super intuitive.
I really wanted to play Minecraft, the popular sandbox game. Thanks to step-by-step instructions on the company blog, I was able to get the game for free. I love hunting Endermen and building castles, but the game is hard to play on this device.
In the game, I got myself stuck in a hole. When I figured out how to fly, I zoomed out of the hole and decided to be one with the birds. But then I was stuck in the air for a while. I had no idea how to land. Unfortunately, I didn't build anything or explore much of the island. The controls were just too unpredictable.
If you hold your finger on the touchscreen, you'll spin round and round. If you swipe up or down, you'll look up at the blue sky or down at the muddy earth. You walk using the WASD keys on the keyboard, but the in-game camera moves too fast, so it's hard to tell where you're going. I love Minecraft as a game, but it doesn't play well on PocketCHIP.
PocketCHIP is available for $69. It comes with PICO-8, which is a fantasy console that lets you build your own game and share it with others. This device is great for amateur programmers and gamers, but it's pretty niche.