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5 May 2022

Unbox and assemble the Clockwork Pi DevTerm A06

by Steven B. Combs, Ph.D.
tags:

DHL dropped a package on my doorstep in early April. Inside was the Dev Term A06. It was not a surprised, but it was kind that Clock Work Pi sent one for free. A huge thank you to Clockwork Pi, and to Alex, who arranged the shipment.

In this inaugural Dev Term blog post and companion video, I will unbox, assemble, and demonstrate the device, including that funky retro-inspired thermal printer. This post is step one. In future updates, I’ll take a deeper dive into the use of this device and explore ways to make this retro-inspired device more retro! Let’s open the box and get started.

Clockwork Pi DevTerm

Image courtesy of Clockwork Pi, <https://www.clockworkpi.com>

A huge shout-out to Clockwork, and Alex, for the opportunity to experience the DevTerm. They sent their top of the line DevTerm, the A06, to me at no cost. That’s a $340 value and I am under no obligation to provide a positive review. My thoughts are my own. Thanks again, Clockwork, for supporting my YouTube channel and blog!


Table of Contents


Support the Blog and Channel

You can now support me via my Buy Me A Coffee page with a onetime activity or become a full member via my fun Commodore inspired membership levels. When you support the channel, you get additional content and fun extras. Check out the membership levels to learn more.

Thank you to these members for supporting me at the C128 and MEGA65 level; making them retroCombs (executive) producers:

Producers:

Executive Producers:

Companion YouTube Video

Title: ‌I unbox, assemble and demo the Clockwork Pi DevTerm A06. See how it went.

In this fun video, I unbox, assemble, and demonstrate my new Clockwork Pi DevTerm A06, including the cool retro-inspired thermal printer. How’d it go? The results might surprise you.

Video Errata

None as of 2022-05-05.

Below are the links I mention in this blog post and companion video. All Amazon links are affiliate links. I’d like to thank everyone for your support of the blog and the YouTube channel by starting your purchases here!

  1. ClockworkPi
  2. DevTerm A08
  3. Wikipedia TRS-80 Model 100 Entry
  4. MAXIAEON Universal Smart Charger 9900mAh 18650 Battery, Rechargeable Batteries Universal Compatible LCD Display Speedy Smart Charger for Ni-MH/Ni-Cd A AA AAA Li-ion Battery
  5. Nadamoo 9 Rolls Premium Mini Printer Paper, Regular Thermal Paper Rolls for Mini Pocket Thermal Printer - 57 mm x 5.8 m, Diameter 25 mm, Smooth, Flexible, 10-Year Duration

Clockwork Pi Dev Term

What is the DevTerm? Below is Clockworks’ words:

DevTerm is a post-modern, digital minimalist lifestyle. The A5 notebook size integrates complete PC functions with a retro-futurism design, a 6.8-inch ultra-wide screen, classic QWERTY keyboard, necessary interfaces, high-speed wireless, long battery life, and even includes a practical thermal printer. No matter where you are, DevTerm brings you a focused and immersive experience, provides you with an “anywhere door” escape for distraction-free typing and deep thinking.

The DevTerm is the next in a generation of portable computers referred to as cyber decks, but draw inspiration from a host of retro devices like those below.

Other Similar Devices

The Tandy TRS-80 Model 100 Inspiration

The DevTerm’s influential design inspiration is the TRS-80 Model 100. What’s a Model 100? I’m not going to spend time here talking about the history of the Model 100 or its features…YET. Stay tuned and subscribe below. However, here’s a quick synopsis from Wikipedia:

The TRS-80 Model 100 is a portable computer introduced in 1983. It is one of the first notebook-style computers, featuring a keyboard and liquid crystal display, in a battery-powered package roughly the size and shape of a notepad or large book.

TRS-80 Model 100\

By NapoliRoma - Own work, Public Domain, <https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3378530>

It was made by Kyocera, and originally sold in Japan as the Kyotronic 85. Although a slow seller for Kyocera, the rights to the machine were purchased by Tandy Corporation. The computer was sold through Radio Shack stores in the United States and Canada and affiliated dealers in other countries. It became one of the company’s most popular models, with over 6 million units sold worldwide. The Olivetti M-10 and the NEC PC-8201 and PC-8300 were also built on the same Kyocera platform, with some design and hardware differences.

As you can see, there are many similarities in the form factor, although the DevTerm reduces the Model 100’s size, color, and screen ratio. The Model 100 has a screen resolution of 240 x 64 and the DevTerm upgrades that to a dual screen VGA resolution of 1280 x 480. That might seem like a limit, but as we’ll find in future use, there are things to like about this small screen.

I have experience with the Model 100, sort of. My experience was with the NEC version, the PC-8201, in the mid-1980s. While in college, I worked for a local computer company with a focus on Franklin, Apple II compatible, and Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) computers. The NEC PC-8201 was an option I sold to students in fraternities and sororities. If one house bought ten units, we would give them a free laser printer to place in their lobby. In the day, that was not only a good sales tactic but also a good deal.

NEC PC-8201

ignis, CC BY-SA 3.0 <http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/>

The best part of that deal was that I got to use this portable device for my own classes, take the device to the store, and then print out my assignments using their laser printers. That was the marketing strategy; for other students to see me using it. I loved the device. It was the beginning of true mobile computing that we are used to today and I felt I was at the forefront of it all. But enough reminiscing, back to the DevTerm.

DevTerm Specifications

There are various models of the DevTerm available and the mission of DevTerm is to allow experimentation with hardware modularity.

DevTerm Iso shot

The model I received was the A06 that includes:

The A06 model includes plenty of ports:

Now that we know the specifications of the device, let’s open the box and see what we need to assemble.

Unboxing

Assembling the device is listed as part of the fun and experience of DevTerm ownership. During the unboxing, I captured the bullets below:

First Tray (Case)

The set includes two trays full of components. Below are my comments about the first tray.

Second Tray (Electronics)

Below are my comments about the second tray:

With all the parts inventoried, now the fun begins, time to assemble the DevTerm.

Assembly

Let’s get started for the part I’ve been waiting for; assembly! Clockwork claims that:

…like LEGO, Gundam, Tamiya, the unique unboxing experience will be as exciting as many assembled toys.

Similar to plastic model kits, remove the case parts from the sprue, insert the electronics, click the parts together, and hope everything stays together. To assemble, I’ll follow the excellent black and white instruction manual.

Assembly begins with a click of the screen into the plastic holder. Make sure the connector aligns correctly and leave the display protector on until time to install the top cover.

The main board is next and uses holes from the frames containing the connectors. Once you locate the main board, use the connectors to hold it into place. The connection is solid.

Connecting the screen to the main board is worrisome because the ribbon cable is small and delicate. There’s even a warning in the manual. The ribbon cable bows when in place. I had immediate concern that it was improperly installed. I’ll know the first time I turn it on.

With the main board in place, install the core. Similar to SIMM memory modules, slide it in at an angle and then slowly lower it until it clicks under the holders. For this step, use small Philips screwdriver to secure the main board in place. Remove the gold plastic screw receiver covers.

For Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connections, the DevTerm comes with an antenna. The installation includes a connector on the main board that click followed by the removal of adhesive protection to stick the antenna against the side of the inner mounting plate.

Now I get to install those snazzy small speakers and again we peel off the adhesive and stick them into their carriers, being careful to place the connectors outward.

Installing the external module adds the additional ports to the DevTerm. Insert the external module connector into the core module receiver at about a 15° angle and then push it down on the board while using four connectors to hold the external module to the mounting plate.

The thermal printer assembly snaps into the holder, which is then placed on the mounting plate. Use the thermal printer ribbon cable to connect it to the external module. Four standoffs are used to support the top case when it is placed over the printer module and mounting plate.

The battery module slides over the four pins onto the mounting plate and connects to the main board via pogo pins. No cable is necessary. Four connector pins hold the battery module in place and serve as standoffs for the top case. Install two rechargeable 18650 batteries in the holder (see the battery section below). The DevTerm recharges the batteries when a power supply is in use.

Time to put it all together. Drop the mounting plate with all components into the bottom plate. Installing the top plate is tricky. Start by aligning the front of the top plate to the front of the bottom plate and then slowly lowering the back. Ensure the seam between the bottom and top plate is tight. Assemble the two mounting wheels and screw them on both sides of the DevTerm. Those two wheels hold the entire package together and disassembly is easy. No screwdriver necessary.

Batteries

Batteries are “not included” and you need a non-standard battery, the 18650, which looks like oversized double-A batteries. They are rechargeable and the DevTerm includes circuitry to recharge installed batteries. I purchased the MAXIAEON Universal Smart Charger 9900mAh 18650 Battery, Rechargeable Batteries Universal Compatible LCD Display Speedy Smart Charger for Ni-MH/Ni-Cd A AA AAA Li-ion Battery from Amazon.

Universal Smart Charger 9900mAh 18650 Battery, Rechargeable Batteries Universal Compatible LCD Display Speedy Smart Charger for Ni-MH/Ni-Cd A AA AAA Li-ion Battery

The set is perfect and includes a charger. I might pick up another two batteries and keep them charged for longer sessions where power is not available. I’m unsure how long they last at this point in my ownership.

OS Installation

Installing the OS is a simple matter of inserting the micro SD card into the DevTerm. Turn it on and, once booted, update the OS. I used the Terminal command sudo apt update && dist-upgrade.

DevTerm in Operation

Start Up

The first startup was unsuccessful. The LCD screen did not light up. I could get an external Lepow LCD monitor to display the desktop when connected to via the micro HDMI port. This let me know the DevTerm was functional and I would have to troubleshoot the LCD. I tried reseating the ribbon cable several times, but to no avail.

My next action is to test the DevTerm with an external monitor. I shutdown the DevTerm, disconnected the connected the LCD monitor via the micro HDMI port, and powered on the DevTerm. The external desktop displayed the OS’s desktop. That meant an issue with the IPS display panel. I put a flashlight close to the DevTerm display and could see portions of the desktop. The display worked, but the back-light LEDs were not turning on.

Testing the DevTerm IPS Panel Display

Crushed Ribbon Cable

I pulled out the LCD panel to have a look and noticed something. An exposed ribbon cable didn’t look correct. Someone did not properly route the cable and there was a bow in the cable after assembly that cause the ribbon cable to crack; which I found after further inspection. The cable lead crushed was to the back lit LED. This likely occurred during assembly and slipped past quality control.

Tear in DevTerm display ribbon cable

I reached out to Clockwork, and they immediately shipped a replacement; however, it would take time to arrive. I couldn’t wait. I tore down the display panel to its individual components to access the ribbon cable. My idea was to place a jumper across the slice with a small wire. I grabbed my ohm meter, an X-Acto knife, wire, and soldering iron and got to work.

With the tip of the knife, I lightly scratched the plastic from the ribbon cable to expose the conductive material underneath. I used the ohmmeter to test across the ribbon cable to the connector on the LED driver board. Once I had enough of the ribbon cable exposed to make a consistent circuit, I soldered a small wire to the ribbon cable and then to the LED driver board. I connected it to the DevTerm, turned it on, and after about 10 seconds, the display LEDs turned on.

Display panel LEDs working after my hack

The wire added bulk that I did not expect. I had to omit the final LED support frame during the assembly to allow for this bulk. I could put it back together and after creative placement of the display panel within the DevTerm case’; it looks stock. I will replace the display hack when the IPS panel replacement arrives; however, I was glad to get the device operational to continue my blog and video work.

I’d like to add, I could not have done this with other consumer devices. The DevTerm’s inherent “hackability” is a feature of this device. Don’t be afraid to dig into this device and try things you might not with other consumer electronic devices and computers.

The Keyboard

The 65%-sized keyboard installs easily by sitting on top of a four pogo pins. This was a nice change from the ribbon cables found on many devices, and I don’t have a great record with ribbon cables!

The tiny 65% keyboard

Below are things I discovered:

In a future blog post and video, I’ll spend more time talking about this 65% sized keyboard.

Thermal Printing

Assembly of the thermal printer is simple and I appreciate that the thermal printer is easy to remove and not something that must remain connected to the DevTerm. The OS includes drivers and recognizes the device.

Thermal Printer

I purchased paper and chose the Nadamoo 9 Rolls Premium Mini Printer Paper, Regular Thermal Paper Rolls for Mini Pocket Thermal Printer - 57 mm x 5.8 m, Diameter 25 mm, Smooth, Flexible, 10-Year Duration from Amazon. The roll fit like a charm and printing put a huge smile on my face. I’ll use and explore the printer and its features in the future.

Initial Thoughts

This is the first of several blog posts and companion videos I plan to release. This first blog post and video is the unboxing and initial impressions:

Above are my initial, non-review thoughts. More to come in future updates, video, and posts.

Next Time

I mention earlier addition DevTerm content. What do I have planned?

What ideas do you have or what do you want to see? Drop a comment below and let me know.

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