The Electronic Clock for Raspberry Pi Pico featured a plain, minimal design. It’s housed in a clean case that’s easy to take apart and looks nice as a decoration. If you wanted to use this as a daily clock that’s absolutely possible here. It can be propped upright on a desk or mounted to a wall using the mounting holes on the rear of the case.
The housing is black and made from plastic. There are three buttons on the side protected with button covers that can be individually programmed. The matrix and display labels are shielded by a sleek, clear panel that can be removed to access the components inside.
The time is represented using a 7px x 22px matrix of green, square LEDs. There are also a few labels that can be illuminated surrounding the matrix. These labels include things like the day of the week, whether or not it’s day or night with AM/PM, or if an alarm is enabled.
The biggest factor that got our attention was how many modules the PCB offers to control. It has an RTC DS3231 module which lets the clock keep track of the time even when power is disconnected. FOR what it’s worth, the battery for the RTC Module is easy to access and change. Other modules include things like a temperature sensor, light sensor, and even a programmable buzzer.
We’ve covered enough about the clock and what it offers in a general sense, let’s take a closer look at exactly what makers can expect when this package arrives. Whether or not this clock is suitable to your needs will depend mainly on your individual project requirements as well as experience level with electronics in general.
In the box
- Electronic clock (Case and Matrix PCB only, Raspberry Pi Pico not included)
- Power cable
You will need to provide your own Raspberry Pi Pico for this kit as it only includes the matrix PCB and housing. The PCB has a spot designated for attaching a Pico. Waveshare recommends ordering a Pico with pre-soldered headers but you can solder headers to the Pico yourself for the project which is what I did for this review.
The PCB offers more modules and sensors than I expected to a notably positive degree. I’ve already mentioned a couple but here is a complete list of what makers have to work with. All of these components are accessible and can be programmed using the Pico.
On the PCB
- RTC DS3231
- Alarm clock
- Digital temperature sensor
- 2x SM16106 LED display driver
- SM5166PLED display control
- 3x Buttons
The RTC DS3231 chip is capable of tracking time to an accurate modern standard. It doesn’t just maintain the time for hours and seconds, it keeps track of the current date, day of the week, and year up to 2100, taking leap-year into consideration. It can also represent the data in either 12-hour or 24-hour format which is where the AM/PM indicator on the display comes in handy.
As I stated above, a Raspberry Pi Pico must be purchased separately and needs to have headers soldered into place. You can purchase the Raspberry Pi Pico with pre-soldered headers from third-party vendors but these will come at a higher cost. The Pico costs $4 by itself and a pack of headers will go a long way with future microelectronics projects. If you choose to solder the headers yourself, you will need a set of 1x20 male .1-inch headers.
Once your Pico is ready, installation is as easy as plugging in the header pins to the pico slot on the PCB. You can program the Pico before it’s connected (I’ll go over exactly to program the Pico clock in the next section) but the PCB includes a USB port with external access on the side of the clock. This can be used to both power and program the clock so it isn’t necessary to disassemble the unit to tinker with it.
To access the PCB, the housing must be taken apart. The front panel pulls off of the back while the button covers rest over the buttons. If you’re careful, you can assemble the unit without the button covers shifting but I found the piece to be a little awkward and somewhat in the way when trying to pop the case together.
The Raspberry Pi Pico can be programmed in both C or Python. In this case, Waveshare has produced a demo for the clock using C. This demo is available directly from Waveshare and is intended to be the primary explanation for how the clock works and can be programmed.
I mentioned before that Waveshare has marketed this clock toward students and learners. Because of this, I’m considering in this review whether or not the tools provided by Waveshare are adequate and useful for makers in a learning environment of any capacity.
If you’re familiar with C, the code is easy enough to modify and understand. The biggest hurdle is the comments provided which all seem to be in Chinese, despite the English marketing. This can be translated as you go along but definitely doesn’t lend any points toward helping inexperienced makers and novice developers.
How to run the demo
To program the clock, you can use almost any computer. A Windows, Mac, or Linux-based machine will work just fine which means you can also use a Raspberry Pi to program it.
- Connect the Electronic Clock to your computer using the provided power cable.
- Access the Pico from a file manager application.
- Drag and drop the demo code provided by Waveshare onto the Pico.
- Disconnect the clock and plug it back in.
- Use the buttons on the side to set the date, time, and any other custom settings.
Programming the clock in Python
While the official code from Waveshare is only provided in C, the Raspberry Pi community has already concocted a Python solution for devs more familiar with the popular language. Check out this unofficial Python Waveshare Pico clock demo if Python is more your speed. While it may not be official, it was shared to the official Waveshare wiki for interested parties.
Overall I would say this Pico clock is a useful project for most students. The best way to learn is with hurdles and the tools provided by Waveshare add pressure in areas that may not be easily overcome by more inexperienced users but they are obstacles that can be overcome with a little patience.
As far as novice makers go, this kit would be best to use if another experienced maker is present to help with things like soldering the headers and understanding the code. If you follow along the most basic route, the project does touch on key fundamentals that will definitely bleed over into future microelectronics studies.
Advanced makers should have no problem picking up the clock and setting the time. The fun aspect of this kit lies in its sensors and that’s where intermediate to advanced students will shine the most. You can use these sensors to trigger all sorts of responses. The variety of components lends to a lot of flexibility and room for students to generate more complex structures.
Overall this clock is suited to a range of students but improvements could be made to help teachers and students with more direct documentation for programming as well as demo code without comments in Chinese. It’s worth noting that Waveshare is a Chinese company. However, the marketing and resource information is provided 100% in English until the demo is opened in a text editor which isn’t optimal for average users looking to program their new clock.
It’s a fun gadget to tinker with for the price but also looks really nice as a decoration itself Overall I’d say this project is worth it for curious parties or for those who like the look of the digital matrix clock who don’t mind a little extra assembly
The Electronic Clock for Raspberry Pi Pico by Waveshare currently costs $32.99 on the official Waveshare online store. At this price, the cost and value really come together to create a fun experience with an end product that can be used afterward for a practical daily function.
Its flexible design, range of modules, and sleek finish make for a fun project that covers all of the fundamentals of microelectronics along the way. That said, student or not, I would say this kit is worth it for any curious parties or makers looking for a cool digital matrix clock to spruce up their workshop with.
Overall, I really like the Waveshare Raspberry Pi Pico Electronic Clock kit. It’s fun to tinker with and looks nice as a finished product. It’s big enough to house the matrix panel and PCB with a thickness lending to a solid design that feels good and sturdy in the hands. It’s clear the devs at Waveshare knew the kit required more than just room to play with but also quality to function as an everyday clock. It's always good to have a project that stays out getting regular use rather than collecting dust in a drawer.
I love an excuse to buy another Raspberry Pi and this clock is an excellent excuse to have another one on hand. Besides, what maker doesn’t like having an opportunity to make something they could easily buy? If you’re looking for something fun and practical, check out the Electronic Clock for Raspberry Pi Pico kit from Waveshare.
Nothing can slow down the Raspberry Pi Foundation, as even in 2021, the team managed to serve up a selection of new Raspberry Pi boards, modules, and fun accessories.