Raspberry Pi Pico W Review 2022: Built-in Wi-Fi Comes to Pico

When the Raspberry Pi Pico debuted in late January 2021, there were two notable exclusions. The first missing was a lack of a reset button (though you may add your own), but the biggest omission was Wi-Fi. In an age of thumbnail-sized IoT boards, the Raspberry Pi Pico seemed out of place. We mentioned the lack of Wi-Fi in our Raspberry Pi Pico review, but we still enjoy the $4 microcontroller that introduced the RP2040 SoC to the world.

A revised Raspberry Pi Pico is set to be released in June 2022, fixing one of the omissions. The Raspberry Pi Pico W is a $6 microcontroller that looks similar to its predecessor but hides a Wi-Fi chip beneath a tiny silver shell, ushering the Pico into the world of IoT. Although it is not the first RP2040 board to have Wi-Fi, we are confident that the Raspberry Pi Pico W will be added to our list of the top RP2040 boards.

Raspberry Pi Pico W Review

During the global chip crisis, Raspberry Pi’s RP2040 SoC was in high demand. Due to depleting STM32 microcontroller supply, Raspberry Pi even used the chip in its Build HAT Lego compatible board for the Raspberry Pi. Pi Founder and CEO Eben Upton stated that the company can produce thousands of RP2040 processors. This is in stark contrast to other Raspberry Pis, which are frequently out of stock. Many Raspberry Pi Zero W-based projects, such as low-powered robots and data collecting projects, could be replaced with the Raspberry Pi Pico W.

Raspberry Pi Pico W Review

Is the Raspberry Pi Pico W an improvement over the original? Should we get rid of our old Picos? Can we communicate with the rest of the world? To learn all of this and more, we must set it aside.

Hardware Specifications for the Raspberry Pi Pico W

Raspberry Pi Pico WRaspberry Pi Pico
SoCRP2040 Arm Cortex M0+ Dual Core at 133 MHzRP2040 Arm Cortex M0+ Dual Core at 133 MHz
RAM264KB SRAM264KB SRAM
Storage2MB Flash2MB Flash
ConnectivityInfineon CYW43439 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi with onboard antennaNone
 Connected via SPI 
GPIO40 Pin GPIO40 Pin GPIO
 26 Multi-function pins26 Multi-function pins
 23 x Digital I/O23 x Digital I/O
 3 x Analog Inputs3 x Analog Inputs
 2 x I2C2 x I2C
 2 x SPI2 x SPI
 2 x UART2 x UART
 1 x Arm Serial Wire Debug (SWD)1 x Arm Serial Wire Debug (SWD)
Power / DataMicro USB for data and powerMicro USB for data and power
Dimensions51 x 21 mm51 x 21 mm
Price$6$4

As you can see, the old Raspberry Pi Pico and the new Pico W are nearly identical. The GPIO, microUSB port, size, and SoC are all the same. The only modification is the incorporation of Infineon’s CYW43439 2.4-GHz Wi-Fi chip. Looking at Infineon’s datasheet for this chip, we discovered that it can also broadcast Bluetooth 5.2, although there is no mention of this in the Raspberry Pi documentation. According to Upton, Bluetooth is not yet enabled in the Pico W’s firmware. How long before some daring hackers enable Bluetooth on the Pico W? We shall wait and see.

Using the Raspberry Pi Pico W to Connect to the Internet

If you’ve ever used an ESP8266, ESP32, or other MicroPython compatible Wi-Fi dev board, you’ll recognise the Pico W. We used the example script to connect to our Wi-Fi network and discovered that it was using standard MicroPython. Our Raspberry Pi Pico W was happily connected to the Internet with only five lines of MicroPython code.

import network
wlan = network.WLAN(network.STA_IF)
wlan.active(True)
wlan.connect("SSID","PASSWORD")
print(wlan.isconnected())
Raspberry Pi Pico W Review

We then tested our connection with Shawwwn’s uPing, which simulates the ping command. We confirmed that we had a connection to the outside world, which greatly expands the Pico W’s capabilities.

Raspberry Pi Pico W Review

Taking the experiment a step further, we used urequests, a network request module, to download data on the status of air raid sirens in Ukraine. We obtained the data as JSON and saved it in a dictionary. We then utilised Kharkiv, Ukraine, as the key to search the lexicon for its status. This status was then shown in the Python REPL and on a NeoPixel LED strip.

Can we continue our tests? Sure! We used our own broker and installed a version of uMQTT, a version of MQTT (Message Query Telemetry Transport, a publish / subscribe data communication protocol). Our Pico W would publish a message with a specific topic, which the broker would then deliver to a subscriber. Our subscriber in this example was my laptop running Node-RED. The message made its way over the network and into Node-debug RED’s area.

Raspberry Pi Pico W Review

What is the significance of this? Now, we have a $6 IoT board from Raspberry Pi Ltd that can use a variety of sensors and communicate the data via a dependable network, where it can be analysed and worked on. We no longer have to cope with the overhead of a whole Linux OS. All of this is accomplished with a $6 microcontroller rather than a $10 to $15 single board computer.

We were astounded at how quickly we were able to connect to the internet. Despite our extensive knowledge with MicroPython’s network module, even a novice could write and comprehend the five lines of code required to initiate the connection. This is something the Raspberry Pi Pico should have had from the start. But there had to be a cost for the initial $4 price point, and Wi-Fi was it.

The original Raspberry Pi Zero W and its subsequent variant, the Raspberry Pi Zero 2 W, are the closest Raspberry Pis to the Raspberry Pi Pico W. The Pico W is slow computationally, even when compared to the Zero W, but if we don’t need the horsepower and bloat of a full Linux OS, or if your project doesn’t require a camera, the Pico W makes sense. It is inexpensive, low-power, and compatible with many of the sensors and inputs found on the Zero W. Is a Linux operating system required if all we are doing is collecting temperature, humidity, and air pressure data?

Raspberry Pi Pico W in general use

The Raspberry Pi Pico W comes with no header pins, exactly like any other Pico. This means we’ll need to get out the soldering iron and solder the 40 GPIO pins so they’re ready for the breadboard. We used a Pinecil soldering iron to do so, and after connecting via the Pico’s tiny USB connector (we still wish it had USB-C), we wired up a strip of WS2812B (NeoPixels) for a project. We soon had the RGB LEDs changing colours and pulsing with light thanks to a community-created MicroPython package.

Raspberry Pi Pico W Review

The Raspberry Pi Pico W is identical to its predecessor in terms of fundamental electronics and breadboarding tasks. We created a few lines to “blink” and turn the LED on and off to ensure that our hardware was functional. The GPIO pinout on the Pico W is the same, so all you need to do is flash your code onto the Pico W, replace the older Pico, and you’re good to go. We also tested I2C communication with an I2C HD44780 16 x 2 LCD screen, which worked flawlessly.

The Raspberry Pi Pico was the first Raspberry Pi board to include analogue inputs, and the Pico W keeps the same three analogue inputs. We created a fast example with a 10K Ohm potentiometer (a variable resistor with resistance ranging from 0 to 10 Kiloohm) and saw raw ADC values scrolling along the REPL.

Support for the Raspberry Pi Pico W Software

The Raspberry Pi Pico may have been released with only MicroPython and C++ support, but in a very short period of time, we saw support for many other programming languages. The first was CircuitPython, a fork of MicroPython overseen by Adafruit and Scott Shawcroft.

CircuitPython is the ultimate of user-friendliness, and it has become our preferred method of coding for the Pico. There is no version for the Raspberry Pi Pico W at the time of writing, but we expect that will change once the board is officially available.

The Raspberry Pi Pico W does support C/C++, however because to time constraints, we were unable to test this. While C/C++ provides better speed, many users would prefer MicroPython / CircuitPython for its ease of use. Our review model came with “MicroPython v1.18-673-gdf8d97171 dated 2022-06-24”, a rather recent release that supports the Pico W hardware. MicroPython on the Pico W performed admirably with Thonny, the editor chosen for Pico MicroPython development.

What about expansion boards? The similar GPIO pinout allows us to reuse our previous Pico extensions. The numerous third-party resellers are currently playing catch-up. With a new Raspberry Pi Pico W, they will need to test and update their software before we can reuse our old kit. Resellers frequently package its libraries as custom firmware that may be flashed to the Pico as a UF2 file. For the time being, we cannot reliably test addons, but we will and will inform you in a future update.

What Kinds of Projects Can We Make With the Raspberry Pi Pico W?

Our oyster is the entire planet! We can now develop remote control robots, collect data and communicate it to the rest of the world, and collect information and display it on LCD and OLED displays thanks to Wi-Fi networking. For $6, we get a powerful microcontroller (it can even play Doom!) with machine learning and computer vision capabilities.

With the inclusion of Wi-Fi, the Raspberry Pi Pico W will power many applications that would otherwise be powered by the $10 Raspberry Pi Zero W. If and when the Pico W’s Bluetooth 5.2 capabilities is enabled, it will become an even more appealing board. With Bluetooth, the Pico W might be used as a wireless computer device such as a game controller or mouse.

In conclusion

Raspberry Pi Pico W Review

The Raspberry Pi Pico was a terrific buy at $4. The Raspberry Pi Pico W is an excellent value at $6. If you’re familiar with the Pico, you’ll have no issue with the Raspberry Pi Pico W. Because of the abundance of tutorials and resources, new users will be able to take it up quickly.

The Raspberry Pi has a history of not having power buttons, and the lack of a reset switch is still a conspicuous omission; we don’t like having to unplug the cable every time we need to reset, but we can forgive Pico W.

The Raspberry Pi Pico W is an excellent entry-level microcontroller. We have robust hardware, good software (which will improve over time), and interoperability with peripherals and addons that we will eventually own. Currently, $6 does not purchase much, but with the Raspberry Pi Pico W, we get the entire world.

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