Clamshell BlackBerry cyberdeck

It’s MagPi Tuesday, technically, but we’re still going to use #MagPiMonday to make sure we don’t miss our chance to share something cool from the latest issue of The MagPi, and to also make everyone think that today is yesterday. Keeping things as compact as possible drove the design of this hinged clamshell-style computer.

EDITED TO ADD: Credit to Solder Party for the awesome keyboard that’s used in this build; it’s delightful. We’re sorry the original article missed where this lovely part came from.

The HyperPixel screen is powered via Raspberry Pi 4’s GPIO pins – a critical factor that helps keep everything extremely compact
The HyperPixel screen is powered via Raspberry Pi 4’s GPIO pins – a critical factor that helps keep everything extremely compact

As you might infer from a word prefixed with ‘cyber’, cyberdecks have their origins in the world of 1980s science-fiction. This particular version, however, harks back to the early 2000s when PDAs were a must-have business accessory, but the iPhone (and as such, smartphones) had yet to launch. Maker Michael Klements chose a clamshell version of a BlackBerry and paired it with Raspberry Pi 4 for maximum computing power, aiming for “a functional desktop computer with a GUI”.

Having installed Raspberry Pi OS, it’s time to test the cyberdeck’s BlackBerry keyboard
Having installed Raspberry Pi OS, it’s time to test the cyberdeck’s BlackBerry-style keyboard

Michael has tackled a fair few Raspberry Pi and other microcontroller projects over the years. As well as the sheer number of projects that can be undertaken, he notes the helpfulness and knowledge of the Raspberry Pi community when a build proves especially challenging. The BlackBerry clamshell cyberdeck project provided the sort of learning opportunity he enjoys and, while he would probably have chosen it anyway for its computing chops, this project became a Raspberry Pi one by default since the HyperPixel 4.0 display he would need for the upcycling challenge currently works only with our favourite single-board computer. Michael realised there was a real advantage to using the HyperPixel 4.0 screen, as it could be powered entirely via Raspberry Pi’s GPIO pins. This had space-saving advantages, since there would be no need for an external power supply or to connect to a DSI or HDMI port.

Use Michael’s step-by-step instructions at 
magpi.cc/diycyberdeck to create a suitable Raspberry Pi case
Use Michael’s step-by-step instructions to create a suitable Raspberry Pi case

Fruitful enterprise

Having solved the screen and power conundrum, for what he hoped would be an all-in-one computer that vaguely resembled a tiny laptop, Michael set about sourcing a suitable keyboard. “Most keyboards, even compact and foldable ones, are three to four times bigger than the final build size that I was going for – and you’d still need to add a mouse to that,” he explains. A Tindie store selling BlackBerry mobile phone-style keyboards, paired with a custom carrier board so the trackpad and keyboard act as a USB connected mouse and keyboard, proved a winning purchase since they worked with Raspberry Pi. The setup provided “the perfect fit for my build, as the keyboard footprint is smaller than the display’s, and still allows you to get full mouse and keyboard functionality.”

Michael designed the case in Inkspace before laser-cutting the parts
Michael designed the case in Inkspace before laser-cutting the parts

Laser-like focus

Michael designed and laser-cut parts, using Inkscape open-source software to create a case as small as possible, so the overall package wasn’t much larger than the components themselves. Designing the hinges also “took a bit of work” to get the extent to which they would open just right. Michael wanted to limit the clamshell’s opening travel to have the display at about a 20-degree angle. “This makes it easier to use as a handheld device and lets it sit on a desk like a small laptop would.” The plywood parts were glued together before the Raspberry Pi-based components, HyperPixel display, and Solder Party BlackBerry-style keyboard were inserted. Bezels to keep everything in place were then fitted and glued on both halves of the clamshell case. 

The HyperPixel 4.0 display shows off videos and games, such as Big Buck Bunny, to great effect
The HyperPixel 4.0 display shows off videos and games, such as Big Buck Bunny, to great effect

Getting the angle of the screen just right took a couple of attempts, but Michael has created several laser-cut Raspberry Pi cases before, and is used to working with their dimensions and the clearances involved. The finished build has caught the imagination of many makers who follow his blog and YouTube channel, with several requests for a 3D-printed version. 

For anyone keep to replicate the project, full build details can be found on Michael’s blog. It can be used to make a portable travel computer for a range of tasks – portable NAS, VPN, travel router, mobile programming platform etc. Michael, himself, is already looking into adding a portable battery pack and plotting further cyberdeck designs. Unlike William Gibson’s sci-fi original, Michael doesn’t seem to be intending to use his cyberdeck as a human brain-to-cyberspace interface!

The MagPi #129 out NOW!

You can grab the brand-new issue right now from Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, WHSmith, and other newsagents, including the Raspberry Pi Store in Cambridge. You can also get it via our app on Android or iOS.

MAGPI 129

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4 comments

Colin Stone avatar

I am interested in learning more about electronics things to do around my house not too difficult to start with

Ashley Whittaker avatar

Like smart home devices that are useful or something a bit more fun/frivolous?

Todd Eddings avatar

Unfortunately, the BB keyboards have been out of stock in the Solder Party store for quite some time now. I’ve been wanting to pick one up for awhile and everytime I check, the store still says 0 in stock.

Allan avatar

Did you check lilygo? https://www.lilygo.cc/products/t-keyboad
Idk if it’s the same as the BB keyboard.

Comments are closed