It's been coming, and now it's here; ESPHome adds support for the Raspberry Pi Pico W. The Raspberry Pi Pico W is a variant of the vanilla Pico board with Wi-Fi onboard. Besides the included radio, there are no differences between the two models. Most importantly, both are powered by the first microcontroller designed by Raspberry Pi Ltd in the UK, the RP2040. While other boards using the same microcontroller are available, such as the better specced Nano RP2040 Connect from Arduino, ESPHome currently only supports the Raspberry Pis.
Warning, danger ahead
While this development is exciting, those wanting a smooth and stable operation should refrain from using this board and let others discover issues with the implementation first. If, however, you can't wait to pull the trigger, you are advised to post any issues in the appropriate GitHub repository—though only after performing a quick search and confirming that you are the first to discover it.
What is the Raspberry Pi Pico W?
As I had already explained in an earlier article, the Raspberry Pi Pico W sits somewhere between the ESP32 and ESP8266 in terms of performance and connectivity. Despite that, Raspberry Pi's smallest offering does have certain advantages: For starters, as Raspberry Pi approves resellers, so you can rest assure that what you are purchasing is the real thing. Even if the performance isn't as strong as the ESP32 on paper, the Pico is capable of running TensorFlow Lite and should suffice for all but a few specialized ESPHome nodes.
If you live in the UK and want to support local companies, the Raspberry Pi boards and the RP2040 are designed in Cambridge and mostly manufactured by Sony in Pencoed, Wales. Finally, we have a benefit for all that want to delve further in to the world of microcontrollers: the Raspberry Pi Pico W has great documentation.
Why you might still prefer the ESP32/ESP8266
What might sway you in the direction of the ESP32 and ESP8266 is the wide variety of boards. Currently, ESPHome only supports the Raspberry Pi Pico W, which is on the larger size (21 mm × 51.3 mm × 12.9 mm). Other boards are using the RP2040 available, such as the miniscule Seeed Studio XIAO RP2040 (20 mm × 17.5 mm × 3.5 mm), however, these are unsupported and only a handful of third-party boards have wireless networking.
One board I'm hoping to see supported is the Arduino Nano RP2040 Connect—though currently there are no signs of it being worked on. It comes in at the same size as the Raspberry Pi Pico W, but packs a handful of neat extras: While the SoC is unchanged, it has eight times the amount of flash memory (16 MB). It also features an onboard LSM6DSOXTR six-axis IMU (3D gyroscope and 3D accelerometer), MP34DT06JTR MEMS omnidirectional microphone, and RGB LED. Besides that, I appreciate what the Italian has done for open-source hardware and software, making me feel more comfortable with a purchase compared to a cheap Chinese knock off. What could delay the adoption is the fact that it uses a different radio module than the Raspberry Pi Pico W.