18 November 2015


Code in the hole.

Back in our day, the most useful thing you could take with you from school was a few GCSEs and your life (we went to really rough schools). But these days it seems that one of the most important skills kids can pick up while young is coding and programming computer software. But because not everyone has access to a computer, how do you make sure the kids can get the best possible start? Easy, you grab a Raspberry Pi 2, load it with simple programming software, and package it with everything a kids needs to get started with, and be excited about, coding. We review the Kano.

The Kano is a kit with everything you (and indeed a child) needs to both build and programme a small computer. Included is a Raspberry Pi 2, the brains of the operation, plastic case parts which need to be clicked together around the Pi like LEGO, a bright orange wireless keyboard with built-in track pad, a speaker unit, a WiFi dongle, the Kano operating system on Micro SD card, and of course the power lead and HDMI cable. Straight out of the box are instructions on how to clip it all together,and there is also a few sticker sheets which allow you to customise the look of your Kano.

The only other thing you'll actually need to get started is a screen. We decided to plug ours into – via that included HDMI cable – the TV, which was a great way to get started. Power up the Kano and it will automatically start to run the Kano OS (which is based on Linux) and prompt the user to create a profile. Once that is complete you are left with what is essentially a very capable micro computer.

Using the wireless keyboard we sat back and explored. Already installed on the Kano desktop are apps such as Make Art, Make Snake, and Make Minecraft as well as others. These allow you to use simple coding techniques (all covered in one of the included booklets – nicely laid out and worded for kids) to create pictures, programme you own game of Snake, and – as you might have guessed – build a Minecraft world to explore. Hey, you might need your Gameband at this point!

In fact much of the Kano marketing these days has really pushed the connection with Minecraft and how kids can play a familiar game using the coding practices. Having it pre-installed is a nice touch, and we also discovered the standard Minecraft game was there too, so kids can play direct from the Kano using the keyboard.

Despite being designed for little fingers, the keyboard isn't that
much smaller than a full-sized version.
Obviously coding is at the very heart of the Kano and there are lots of other ways and apps that kids can pick up the basics while having fun. But we were also struck by how useful the kit is for adults as well. The OS features a version of Google's Chrome and thanks to the WiFi dongle you can browse the internet pretty quickly. Also, because the Kano (by way of the Raspberry Pi 2) has two spare USB ports once you plug in the WiFi and keyboard dongles, you can connect an external hard drive for watching saved films and TV. So when the kids are done coding and playing games, mum and dad can use the Kano too.

We must admit to falling in love with the Kano quite a bit. The kit has held our interest since first opening the box, and actually having to assemble the computer yourself creates a real sense of ownership. Kids will understand what each component requires to make it work, and that brief experience and interest is expanded during the gentle and fun coding practices - simply buying programming software wouldn't achieve the same results, we feel. Plus, once built and up and running, your child will have their own personal computer; one that is small, personalised to their own tastes, and relatively cheap.

And then they'll go on to be the next software billionaire, obviously. That's when you get your money back!


Visit www.kano.me

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