There's a big trend in budget technology because developers believe making tech affordable will help the new generation learn to love computer science.
Products such as the $35 mini-computer called Raspberry Pi sold out within a 24 hour span after it appeared on online retailers late last month.
Earlier this March, a $300 3D printer named MakiBox also met its Kickstarter-esque funding project, attempting to provide curious learners, designers, and engineers to ability to 3D print things at home.
But are these budget technology worth skimping the bill?
Yes, the mini circuit board is capable of incredible things such as displaying 1080p HD graphics, supporting AirPlay, and running video games like Quake III.
However, Raspberry Pi is as bareboned as computers come; the board doesn't even have a cover so you have to place the board somewhere it won't get shocked or damp.
You'll also need to supply your own Bluetooth keyboard, monitor, and a USB mouse at the minimum to get anything running. Most people will already own a set of these accessories, but Raspberry Pi certainly isn't powerful enough to replace a whole computer tower. Buying an extra set of those three required items will probably cost you another $150.
The tiny computer also advertises itself as low-power, so users can leave it on all day and night. The device may be energy efficient, but encouraging people to leave a computer on for long periods of time is like asking them to leave the lights on all day. It might not be a lot of power initially, but it can add up in your monthly electricity bill.
Raspberry Pi is best used for a single purpose computer, such as a separate entertainment system or a testing device for computer programming. The small investment is worth those functions, but don't expect to have a computer that you can play music, troll Facebook, record YouTube videos, Photoshop pictures, and code web sites all at the same time from the same place.
The MakiBox, founded by a Hong Kong-based engineer Jon Buford, is a compact, desktop 3D printer that is about 1/3 of the cost of its more popular counterpart, the $1,100 MakerBot Thing-O-Matic.
Buford aims for the MakiBox to be in every curious student's rooms so they can learn about industrial design and print their own smartphone cases, board game pieces, and 3D models. It is also designed it be self-contained, so you can't hurt yourself trying to melt plastic pipes into shapes.
The idea sounds amazing, especially with cellphones costing more than the MakiBox nowadays. But you have to account for the ABS plastic filaments you have to buy need to print anything. Those can cost $20 per kilogram per color. You might as well buy a quality phone case at your local retailer, and you might even get a screen protector thrown in if you schmooze with the salesperson.
Still, that's not to say printing your own 3D items won't be fun. A few hundred dollars is not a lot to spend for some learning experiments, but don't expect your 3D printed items to replace everything in your home. Even if you can print 3D food (Fast Company found a lab that have printed ramen and cake frosting), we're not confident in the tastiness or value of waiting several hours for a tiny snack.
Budget technologies aren't supposed to replace modern devices. They never truly aimed to. But the ability to create powerful technology on a tight production cost can change the way developers produce gadgets and we hope to see a trend in bigger tech for smaller prices. Both the Raspberry Pi and the MakiBox are great for educational purposes, but you shouldn't expect them to perform on the same levels as their more expensive counterparts.
As far as budget technology go, if you're looking for full performance with a value, stick to budget smartphones such as the Samsung Focus Flash, or even the now-cheaper iPhone 3GS. Those items are designed to be fully-featured without needing extra accessories to run better.
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