More hands-on with the Raspberry Pi 3: Bluetooth, OpenELEC, and Ubuntu MATE

All about Raspbian GNU/Linux, WiFi and Bluetooth, my first test with Ubuntu MATE on the Pi 3, and a note about NOOBS and OpenELEC.

Pi 3

The Raspberry Pi 3 Model B.

Photo: J.A. Watson

I've had my Raspberry Pi 3 for a bit more than a week now, and I have been trying a few different things with it. The results have been mixed so far, but mostly good.

(Oh, and by the way the Pi-Shop.ch is still showing them as in stock and available for delivery, so the reputed supply shortages don't seem to have hit Switzerland, at least yet. So if you are desperate to get a Raspberry Pi 3, you could come for a nice little ski vacation in Switzerland, and pick one up while you are here!)

Getting back to the point, I have looked at a number of different aspects of the Pi 3, so rather than write this as a narrative, I am just going to make a list of points and information.

Corrections/Clarifications: The first thing I want to do is clear up something that I was uncertain about in my first Hands-On with the Raspberry Pi 3 post. There was a new release of Raspbian GNU/Linux and the NOOBS multi-OS installer package together with the announcement of the Raspberry Pi 3. It is possible to boot and run the Pi 3 from an SD card that is already loaded with an older version of Raspbian, but in order to do so you first have to install all the latest updates.

Once you have done that the Pi 3 will boot, rather than hanging like mine did, but it still doesn't include all of the wi-fi and Bluetooth packages. You can install them as well, of course, but you have to decide for yourself at what point it becomes more reasonable to just download a new Raspbian or NOOBS image, rather than fighting your way through all of the upgrades and installation, and figuring out the hard way what else is missing.

On the other hand, an SD card loaded with the latest Raspbian release (2016-02-26) will work with any Raspberry Pi. I have just confirmed that by making a fresh installation on a microSD card, then booting and configuring that card on the Raspberry Pi 3, including connecting to a wireless network. I then booted the same card in a Raspberry Pi 2, a Pi Zero, a Model B+ and a Model B.

The initial wi-fi configuration made on the Pi 3 also worked on a Pi Zero, which had the Broadcom wi-fi USB Hub, a Pi 2, which had a Pi USB wi-fi Dongle, and a Model B+, which had an ordinary Broadcom wi-fi Nano USB adapter.

Hardware: I forgot to mention in the first post that the microSD slot has been changed. The Pi 3 has a simple friction-fit (push and pray) again, rather than the click-lock mechanism that was used in the Model B+ and the Pi 2. I'm a bit disappointed with this because I really prefer the click-lock, but it seems like there were a significant number of problems with the click-lock not actually locking, so maybe that was the reason. Of course it might have just been a cost consideration.

Temperature: The web has been flaming (no pun intended) with comments about the Pi 3 CPU/GPU getting too hot. That has certainly not been my personal experience so far, I haven't noticed the Pi 3 getting excessively warm at all. There was a delay in shipping the new case, so I have been running it as a bare board on my desk. I suppose that if the board is closed up in a case, it might heat up a bit more. But honestly, my personal opinion is that if you are running hard-core benchmarks on a system for hours (or days) on end, at the very least you could say that is not a "typical use profile".

raspbian.png

Raspbian: I've been working mostly with Raspbian during the first week, and concentrating on the wireless networking and bluetooth operation. Wireless networking has been no trouble at all, but Bluetooth has been another story.

I initially tried installing the blueman package, then starting the Bluetooth Manager from the Accessories menu. That added the Bluetooth icon to the top panel, as shown here, and it was able to see a Bluetooth mouse that I had put into pairing mode, but I was never able to get it to pair.

I eventually found that the CLI tools worked, using the scan, pair, trust and connect commands. The configuration is kept across reboots, and the Bluetooth mouse will automatically reconnect the first time it is moved after booting the system.

blueman.png

Finally, for those who are very determined (or stubborn), if you keep blueman installed after you have manually connected to the mouse, the panel icon will change color to show that bluetooth devices are connected.

2016-03-13-181700500x350scrot.png

You can also click the blueman icon, and choose Devices to get a list of currently known/active Bluetooth devices.

There will certainly be an update to Raspbian in the near future which fixes this problem with connection via GUI.

NOOBS: I was also interested in seeing how the other NOOBS operating systems were coming along with the Raspberry Pi 3, so I downloaded the latest version (1.8.0) and installed it on a microSD card.

Surprise! The NOOBS installer doesn't recognize the Pi 3 built-in wireless network adapter! The Wifi network(s) tab at the top of the NOOBS window is not active, and the only distribution available for installation is Raspbian (which is included in the NOOBS image, so it doesn't need network access).

I thought this can't be right, I must be doing something wrong, so I shut down again, and plugged the Raspberry Pi USB WiFi Dongle into the Pi 3, then booted NOOBS again. Whoops! This time the wireless network tab is active! I shut down, removed the USB dongle, booted again (I'm a slow learner), and once again it didn't offer wireless network connections.

So apparently the NOOBS installer doesn't support the Pi 3 built-in WiFi adapter yet. I assume there will be another NOOBS release before too long.

NOOBS: I took the obvious alternative of just plugging in a wired network cable to the Pi 3, and then booted NOOBS again. Then came the next surprise. The way the NOOBS installer works is that it has the Raspbian image directly available, and then it has a list of other compatible distributions on the Internet. This time when I booted, with the wired network connected, it still only offered me Raspbian, OSMC (Open Source Media Center, formerly known as RaspBMC) and Windows 10 IoT Core.

That means OpenELEC, which is what I had wanted to install, has not been updated to show Pi 3 compatibility in the NOOBS image yet (I know that OpenELEC actually does have a Pi 3 compatible release, 6.0.3).

That got me curious, so I took the NOOBS SD card and booted it in each of my Raspberry Pi systems. The results were:

Raspberry Pi 3

  • Raspbian
  • Data Partition
  • OSMC_Pi2
  • Windows 10 IoT Core

Raspberry Pi 2

  • Raspbian
  • OpenELEC_Pi2
  • Data Partition
  • OSMC_Pi2
  • RISC OS
  • Windows 10 IoT Core

Raspberry Pi Model B+

  • Raspbian
  • OpenELEC_Pi1
  • OSMC_Pi1
  • Pidora
  • Data Partition
  • RISC OS

Raspberry Pi Zero

  • Raspbian
  • OpenELEC_Pi1
  • OSMC_Pi1
  • Pidora
  • Data Partition
  • RISC OS

Raspberry Pi Model B

  • Raspbian
  • OpenELEC_Pi1
  • OSMC_Pi1
  • Pidora
  • Data Partition
  • RISC OS

OpenELEC: I still wanted to get OpenELEC installed on the Pi 3, so I thought maybe I could outsmart the NOOBS installer.

I knew that the latest OpenELEC release (6.0.3) was in fact Pi 3 compatible, so maybe the problem was just that the NOOBS installer didn't know that. I thought maybe if I put the NOOBS card in a Pi 2, and installed OpenELEC there, it would pick up the new version. Then I could just move the SD card to the Pi 3 and the world would be a wonderful place.

No such luck. First, the OpenELEC version that installs on the Pi 2 is 5.0.3, which is not Pi 3 compatible. If I then go ahead and boot that on the Pi 2 and let it automatically update, it only goes up to 5.0.8, which is still not Pi 3 compatible. The jump from OpenELEC 5.x to 6.X is too large to make with automatic update.

Being particularly hard-headed, I then tried to update it manually to 6.0.3, but that failed as well, complaining about some sort of file size error. At that point I decided to surrender.

openelec.png

But I didn't give up entirely. I downloaded the OpenELEC Pi2/Pi3 image, which is amazingly small - I think the download was complete before I took my hand away from the mouse after clicking it. Detailed file information and checksums are under Details on the download page.

The installation file is a disk image, not an ISO, so all you do is dd it to a microSD card. The initial size of the ext4 root filesystem is extremely small, but during the first boot / configuration process it expands to fill the SD card. The WiFi adapter worked without problem, and a list of wireless networks was offered during the first-run configuration process. Hooray.

ubuntumate.png

Ubuntu MATE: I also saw that the Ubuntu MATE developers have already released a Raspberry Pi compatible version, so I decided to give that a try. This version includes support for the built-in WiFi adapter, but does not yet support Bluetooth.

I have to say that I was a bit disappointed with the performance when I tried this. It wasn't awful, but it just didn't feel like it was significantly faster than it had been on the Raspberry Pi 2. It might be that my expectations were too high after seeing the improvement in Raspbian, or perhaps the Ubuntu MATE developers are still working on it - as they have said that Bluetooth support isn't done yet. So I will be watching for the next release. I think that if the Pi 3 is going to be used as a simple low-cost desktop computer, as many people have said, then Ubuntu MATE should be one of the prime candidates for this use.

Summary: Although I'm very pleased with the Pi 3, it is clearly still very early days for the new hardware. The one thing that every point listed above has in common is that they are all in need of an updated software release for one reason or another. So here's to the future!

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