After a long battle getting my Adafruit PiTFT to work how I wanted it to, I’ve been keeping an eye on other TFT products for the Raspberry Pi.
There’s a lot of interest in these little Pi-shaped screens, but there doesn’t seem to be one that is truly “plug n’ play” working straight out of the box.
I may have found something that makes it a little closer to that true plug n’play goal – the 3.5″ TFT screen from NeoSec Solutions. They offer a similar product to the PiTFT however overall I’ve found it a lot easier to set up.
It’s hard to look at any small touch screen for the Pi without comparing it to the ever popular PiTFT – so rather than pretend to not be comparing it – this review will face the boards off against each other and see what’s the best screen in each category. I don’t normally do this, but it just makes sense in this scenario.
So…let’s take a look!
NeoSec 3.5″ TFT Features
The NeoSec 3.5″ TFT is a small touchscreen LCD display that pushes on to your Raspberry Pi (Model A/B) via the GPIO pins. The screen makes use of nearly all available space above the Pi, allowing a decent 480×320 resolution. It comes packaged in a small clip-top box with everything inside.
Touchscreen and Pad
The screen features touchscreen functionality alongside a little directional touch pad attached via a belt cable. I’ve not seen this kind of thing in the market yet so this was a fresh approach, and comes in handy if you need precise mouse control (or you don’t want finger marks on your screen!). The touchscreen itself does also come with a pen, another nice little addition to the package.
The GPIO is accessible via the extra PCB tab below the screen, allowing you to connect any kind of header you want (or none at all). It looks as though this could be cut/snapped off if required, as there are a number of droll holes creating the break for you. It’s subtle and out of the way:
A buzzer is mounted to the rear of the screen which makes a sound every time you touch. I found this quite annoying, however NeoSec have told me that on the latest model this is optional, in case you don’t want the ‘beeps’:
The box comes complete with a DVD containing the image file (and other files) to get your screen working.
The image file is the big winner here for me. I put the image on to a blank SD card (8Gb as it didn’t fit my 4Gb), turned on the Pi, and it was ready to go. No messing around, no code – just a working screen out of the box. Compare that to the hassle of some other TFT screens for the Pi and you’ll see why I’m so impressed with this.
Providing an image file is nothing new, but this one actually works straight away unlike others. No configuration is required on the touch screen either – it comes accurate and ready to use.
The screen itself is nice and bright, with rich blacks, and that 480×320 resolution keeping the font to a nice size to see as much as possible on screen. I love the size of this screen, and the way it covers the Pi completely. There’s also very little blank space on the screen itself.
It does feel a little more delicate than some other screens I have seen, probably down to the fact that there’s no PCB area around it. There’s also nowhere to fit nylon screws or similar to help keep things steady – but I did a DIY job on this which isn’t difficult.
I guess it’s hard to keep us happy – we all want the biggest screen on our Pi, but to achieve that you need to remove the PCB area. A tough balance to strike.
Whilst I dont normally compare products when writing a review, theres an obvious competitor that you cant help but compare to when you see other small Raspberry Pi screens…so this review will focus on the pros/cons of the NeoSec 3.5″ TFT compared to the 2.8″ PiTFT from Adafruit.
NeoSec vs AdaFruit
Although these screens are different in features and size, they’re suitable for comparison in terms of “Pi sized touchscreen vs Pi sized touchscreen”.
I’m mentioning price up front as I think it’s important to consider this whilst reviewing each screen. There’s not a lot in it price-wise.
This NeoSec screen package comes in at $41 – that’s the screen, touchpad, pen and DVD. This is also pre-assembled. A basic package with just the screen is $25.
The AdaFruit screen rolls up at $34.95 – including the screen only (no buttons). You also have to assemble this screen, including soldering the main GPIO connector and taping down the screen element.
Verdict: NeoSec wins this one. Considering the extras you get with it, I personally think it’s a better deal for a ‘screen on Pi’ solution. (and the basic $25 package is clearly much cheaper)
Out of the Box
The PiTFT requires assembly, including GPIO and button soldering, and taping the screen to the PCB. That tape isn’t very sticky at all so you’ll probably need to get your own – I used No Nails tape.
The NeoSec screen comes pre assembled and ready to go. No assembly required.
Verdict: I think self-assembly can be a good learning experience, but considering how many people I’ve heard complaining of the difficulty of assembling the PiTFT, NeoSec wins this one.
The PiTFT rocks up at 2.8″ at 320×240 resolution – using the extra space around it for the PCB which provides holes for fitting support screws.
The NeoSec weighs in at a more comfortable 3.5″ and a clearer 480×320 resolution. The 3.5″ screen covers more of the Pi, which I think looks much smarter. That extra screen space does come at a price, which is the slightly more delicate feel it has, and no mounting holes for support screws like the PiTFT:
The font on the NeoSec screen seems smaller yet clearer, allowing more on screen, but there may be a way to match this on the PiTFT that I haven’t discovered yet:
Verdict: You can’t argue with the bigger screen of the NeoSec, and it does seem to have much better colour and clarity. It seems an easy decision when considering these two as being in the same product market – however the PiTFT certainly feels more sturdy with that PCB surround. I’m going for the NeoSec here – but it is tight.
The PiTFT has holes around it to use nylon screws as a screen support. It also has PCB area around the screen acting as a bit of protection. The PCB covers the entire underside of the screen, ensuring no light comes out of the back.
The NeoSec screen doesnt have any support holes, and has no PCB area around the screen (but its a bigger screen, which is more important in my eyes). I can’t see the NeoSec doing well on a Model A without that Ethernet port holding it up. The NeoSec’s PCB doesn’t cover the rear of the screen either, so light comes out on to your Pi.
Here’s a comparison showing the light bleed:
Verdict: The PiTFT wins this one, it feels much more secure, and I’m pretty sure light bleed from the back isn’t meant to happen – even if it does look cool.
The PiTFT has an optional upside-down connector to attach a belt to breakout to a breadboard. I don’t like the whole belt thing, it feels a bit too 90’s computing for me, and the upside down back to front thing makes it hard to do something different like add a regular GPIO header.
It is hidden away though, which is nice and tidy if you’re not using it, and I’m pretty sure I’m the only person who hasn’t purchased a Cobbler belt breakout so maybe don’t listen to me!
The NeoSec is a little more traditional with the GPIO, and simply gives you a mirror of the GPIO next to the screen. This is good if you want a simple prototyping access, but perhaps not as ideal if you just want a screen, as it does stick out. It looks as though it can be removed as drill holes indicate an easy option to cut or snap it off.
Verdict: Tie – it all depends on what you want the screen for. The PiTFT may be better for breakout projects, whilst breaking off the GPIO tab on the NeoSec may be better for those looking for a simple screen solution.
The PiTFT comes ready to fit 4 tactile buttons to, however these need to be purchased and fitted separately. The blue PCB of the Adafruit board is attractive when compared to traditional colours.
The NeoSec comes packed with a touchpad, touchscreen pen and DVD software. The PCB can’t really be seen, but it is the standard green colour.
Verdict: The NeoSec clearly comes up trumps with more goodies – main winner here is the touchpad. Credit to Adafruit for the refreshing PCB colour though.
Setup and Code
A lot of my fellow bloggers will agree with me when I say the PiTFT is a bit of a pig to set up.
The image available on Adafruit’s site doesn’t seem to work properly (issues with the buttons), meaning you have to install a fresh copy of raspbian first, and then undertake the manual setup. Even that can be troublesome – so I wrote a blog guide on setting it up to help others.
The other niggle here is that it doesn’t become your default screen output, you have to use a bit of code here and there to push movies, images etc to the screen. All in all – a bit of a hair-pulling experience!
The NeoSec on the other hand, was much easier to get going. I simply installed the image provided on the DVD supplied (no long download required) and it worked straight away. You have to tweak a couple of settings if you’re using a Rev1 board, but with a Model A/B it’s real easy. You also don’t seem to need to push things to the display using code – it picks up everything as default from what I’ve tested.
The touchpad works straight away, and the touchscreen itself is already configured accurately.
Verdict: Clear winner – NeoSec’s screen is so much easier to set up.
I thought I’d add a final section on support, as I had a few questions while writing this review, and previously had questions on the PiTFT when I first used it.
The PiTFT benefits from the massive following and fan base that Adafruit command. Their forums are full of information, and generally a lot of people buy their products, so most people have had the issue and written about it on blogs and forums.
The down side of a large company like this is that getting 1:1 email support quickly is unlikely due to the sheer number of requests they must receive (although I didn’t try this option, purely on the assumption it would take too long).
The NeoSec screen doesn’t have that massive following that AdaFruit does, so finding information already out there can be difficult. Fortunately NeoSec counteract this by providing excellent personal support by email and also regularly on the Raspberry Pi forum.
Verdict: Information is easily available for both, just via different channels – tie.
Summary and Personal Choice
It’s important to stress “personal choice” here. Everyone will have different uses for a Pi-sized screen, so a lot of us will probably sway one way or another purely based on the features and functionality we need.
If I could go back in time and purchase just one of these screens, knowing what I know now after having set up and played with both of these, I would personally go for the NeoSec screen.
Sure the PiTFT has that sexy blue AdaFruit styling we all love, and the screen feels more secure and has an overall better ‘feel’ to it (plus those optional buttons are very cool), but the setup involved many hours of my life that I’m unlikely to get a refund for.
I thought it might have been down to my “Averageness”, but a lot of people have had the same problems. I usually enjoy a good challenge with my projects, but this one went on a bit too long for me – especially after spending that much money on it.
The other reason is purely the size of the screen – the 3.5″ full-size unit looks so much smarter than a 2.8″ surrounded by PCB – and it’s simply ‘more screen’ – that’s why we bought it in the first place right?
The extra size and resolution gives a much better picture too – the colour and clarity are beautiful. Add to that the extras such as the pen and the touchpad, and for a extra few dollars the NeoSec feels like the better buy.
If you’ve got $40 burning a hole in your pocket, it seems the NeoSec is a good choice for your Raspberry Pi mini screen needs.
Want one? Head over to NeoSec Solutions.
Until next time…