MotePhat and lights - NOT for beginners!


I wasn’t really sure where to post this, so I apologise if it’s in the wrong forum.

After reading a glowing review about how great they are and easy to set up in the RaspberryPi mag, I bought a Mote light, cable and MotePhat for my Pi3, thinking it would be fun for my interested 13yr old to get into. Wrong.

Firstly, there’s no documentation with the package that arrives. Nothing at all. A trawl through this site reveals a page about getting started with the mote lights, but isn’t specific to the motephat board and didn’t work.

After a lot of reading and googling and basically a couple of hours having to do the legwork, I THINK what you are supposed to do is:
Solder the 40 pins on the plastic header to the board.
Install Python libraries for the Motephat.
Activate an i2c something or other which I found on yet another website. Yours mentions it in passing at the bottom of one page, something about how none of this will work unless you activate the i2c whatever it is.
Spot a post on your site from someone else who mentions running the script. Erm, what?? Where is it? Why isn’t it documented anywhere???

So, with very poor soldering skills and absolutely no documentation on your site to explain pre-purchase that I would have to do this, I try my best to solder the 40 pins in place. Did it work? Nope. I have no idea whether I have dry joints or whether one of them isn’t quite done properly because I’m not an expert solderer and don’t have a magnifying glass handy to examine the ridiculously small pins.

Seriously, couldn’t you sell these ready done? I’d even have paid more quite happily. Instead, I’ve probably ruined the board and effectively wasted £5 and many hours trying in vain to figure out what to do with all this stuff you sent me.

Needless to say, my 13yr old was totally lost. This was supposed to be for his benefit to get him into the Pi and Python coding.

So, I officially give up and will relegate the kit I bought to a box or the bin as it was a complete waste of time and money.

Please take all this as constructive criticism. Yes, I’m incredibly frustrated by your products and the total lack of help in the form of beginners documentation. Would it have been that difficult to include even a single printed sheet saying…do this, go here and do that, solder this etc. It’s not rocket science, is it?

If all the docs I need, as a complete beginner, are available somewhere here with step by step, novice oriented instructions on what exactly you’re supposed to do with this kit, I apologise. However, you’ve put them somewhere so well hidden that I gave up searching your site after 90 very frustrating minutes once I’d opened the package and realised I’d bought something not for new Pi hobbyists, but for experience soldering experts and people who not only know Python, but what do with daughter boards.

There isn’t even a single instruction anywhere I can find to tell me which way around the mote board is supposed to be connected to the Pi. Seriously??

Apologies for the tone of this post, but I am absolutely floored at just how hard all this has been. I spent 6hrs yesterday trying to get it working and reading numerous posts on various websites. It really shouldn’t be this hard and with some minor effort on your part, doesn’t have to be.

I tried, but it’s too difficult without support from the company who makes it. I’m a novice. I’m not good at soldering. I just have no clue whether I’ve even done any of this correctly or missed something stupidly obvious because I’ve been left to guess and work it out.


It’s not exactly a full getting-started guide, but the shop page ( links to the Python library ( which tells you how to use our one-line-installer to set up the software side of things.

The pictures also how orientation, but don’t make it as explicit as a beginner might need- we’ll have to get a getting-started-with-mote-phat guide written poke @sandyjmacdonald

Try the one-line-installer and see if it gets you up and running. You can always prod us on these forums for 1:1 support and we’re happy to help.

If all else fails, prod me and we’ll see about getting you a replacement Mote pHAT.

You might also be interested in our solderless hammer header kits, albeit now it’s a little late! They cut out the tricky soldering steps with the, somewhat controversial I’ll admit, application of good old fashioned brute force:

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Thanks for taking my ranty post on the chin. It was a rant and yet I did have point to make that not everyone has the first idea what to do with the things that arrive in the post, assuming there will be some noddy instructions on what to do next.

Yep, I’d have bitten your hand off at the solderless solution if I’d known it was available. I think the mote board I have is probably shot due to the sheer amount heat I’ve put to it with my granted, appalling soldering ‘skills’. It certainly looks a mess.

The thing is, all the info seems to be available with a lot of work trying to figure out where to go and which order to do it in, but it’s far from obvious.

I followed this page first on Github and I appreciate it’s not your site:

That all worked, although the end comment about i2c was a bit worrying and cryptic to say the least.

From there I came to your site and found this:
It kind of all unravelled at the ‘Connecting Mote’ section because it’s not the same board, I didn’t have a ‘red’ cable and started to wonder there and then whether I was in the wrong place. Another search and hunt around your site kept bringing me back to this page.
Further down in ‘Lighting Pixels’ I’m told to import the Mote library. I guessed this was supposed to be done in the Python IDE, but it wasn’t explicit and anyone with zero knowledge would have floundered immediately. As it turned out, the command ‘from mote import Mote’ never worked anyway with an error I cannot remember now about there being no mote module or similar. The error was reported in a forum post by someone else and their solution didn’t work.

So, at every step, total and utter failure. I still think one or more pins are not soldered properly or that I got a bit close to the surface mounted resistor near one of the chips because plugging the board into the Pi, the cable into the board and the light strip into the cable results in nothing happening. I finally did find the examples folder and ran a couple of them. Nothing doing.

I also came across this site to help enable the i2c bus (still no idea what or why):
I followed the instructions and ran the testing script ‘sudo i2cdetect -y 1’. I got the nice grid on screen, but double dashes everywhere and no numbers. Presumably, that means that although the bus is enabled, the mote board isn’t registering for some reason.

It’s at this point after 6hrs yesterday and another 2hrs today I threw in the towel and posted here.

I’ve gone round the houses so many times, tried all sorts of different things and still haven’t seen the lights. Literally. I actually also saw a post somewhere on the forum with a comment about how they are supposed to light up briefly when the Pi is switched on. Again, not officially documented and I don’t know if that’s true or not. Mine doesn’t light up even when powering on the Pi.

I hope this helps give you an idea of just how hard this stuff is for a novice and why it doesn’t really encourage me to spend more money with you. To put this into perspective…I’ve worked in IT as a techy, manager, Pascal programmer, Oracle and SQL DBA and have lots of experience with Linux and a little with the Raspberry Pi. Still, this project completely defeated and deflated me. What chance does a 13yr old have of learning this stuff if I can’t even make sense of it?

Please do document it all properly. Encourage people like me to come back and give you repeat business by making it easier than it is to work with your products. The thing is, your delivery time was astonishingly quick, the products well packaged and clearly very well made. The Pi Mag review was glowing. But, it’s all been a bit of a let down because I cannot begin to guess how it all fits together (and shouldn’t have to) or how to make it work once I open the packets and I’m now left with lights and a cable I can’t do anything with.

I’ll stop posting War and Peace now.

All the best,

I find that I’m totally unable to use lead-free solder without making a complete pig’s ear of the whole thing so I just use old-fashioned leaded now and can reliably and cleanly do a Pi Zero or pHAT in about five-ten minutes. There’s the hammer headers too, as mentioned, but if you’re doing soldering in future for other boards it may be worth getting some leaded solder.

That there was any soldering to do was unexpected. I have an iron with a tip I think is probably too large for a job this intricate and lead free solder is unbelievably messy, you are right there. I can work on full size boards and components happily, but not this one. It’s too small.

Unfortunately, I have had to throw the board in the bin as it was a total disaster and I doubt I’d have been able to desolder what I’d done without creating more damage.

I get by on them with a (I think) 3mm chisel tip but aye, it’s a fiddly business. I’d be interested to know the practicalities behind selling pre-soldered, I’m sure there used to be some of these §HATs etc that had the choice. I suppose the numbers don’t work out, which is where the hammer headers come in.

I think the documentation on the whole is pretty good but there’s definitely points where certain knowledge is taken for granted. I sometimes get the impression that the Pimoroni guys get excited about bringing out new products and forget to keep up with all of the boring bits too :)

Yeah it’s a tricky one in many respects- we went for unsoldered to keep the cost of pHATs as low as possible but that means doing a soldered version is tricky because we have to manage and restock two products instead of one, and find the production time to actually solder them. Since it’s all done in the UK in our now very, very cozy premises that’s not very easy.

Still, @jimboh, your point stands about introductory guides and has reminded me that there’s a great deal I want to change on our product pages to link people to the right places. We’re getting there, slowly and surely.

Thanks for your candid feedback it’s useful to know what the stumbling blocks are so we can write accordingly- we don’t get enough opportunities in workshops to quite get a handle on this.

Would you like a replacement Mote pHAT? I’d be happy to pre-solder (or hammer header) it for you!

Aye, for my part I’d rather pay less and do the soldering myself because I quite enjoy it (as long as not using lead-free solder) and getting the stock ratios of soldered vs non-soldered would be awkward. I doubt you’d be able to solder them as orders come in without risking hurting dispatch times.

gadgetoid - I must apologise for not understanding the difficulties of stocking the right product and I guess you’re always going to find someone who isn’t happy with it (yes, me in this instance). I do wish I’d been a little less blunt and more polite in my post, but hindsight is wonderful and in my defence I was more than a bit miffed at the time.

Thank you for the offer of a board with a header. Look, I’ll pay for another (as it was me who ruined this one) if you’ll please, please give me some step by step instructions or pointers on how on earth I’m supposed to get it all working with the Pi and if you’d fit a header for me?

My son is still really keen to do this and I want to encourage the enthusiasm while it lasts. At 13, attention spans are in very short supply.

For the software setup, you should only need to run the installer detailed at the very top here:

IE: curl -sS | bash

Installing the library and enabling i2c is all done automatically with that one command.

From then on, you can run some of the examples which you’ll find in /home/pi/Pimoroni/motephat if memory serves me correctly.

The examples also serve to show how a script can be put together- it’s often easier to tweak an existing example to accomplish something than start from scratch.

The instructions from the learning portal article ( ) will work if you substitute the Mote library for the Mote pHAT one. So the first 3 lines:

from mote import Mote

mote = Mote()

could become:

import motephat as mote

There’s more advanced API documentation here:

Thank you for the help gadgetoid, very much appreciated.

Would it be possible to buy another board with a header fitted from you please? I’d feel too cheeky accepting a freebie, but do want to try again with it.

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Absolutely. But there’s no harm in being a bit cheeky!

If you’d like to order another one, please ping me your order number ASAP via PM on these forums and I’ll make sure to solder on the header. If you want to be a bit cheeky, ping me your address via PM and I’ll do the same :D

I’ve messaged you :)

Got it. I’ve intercepted your order and soldered the Mote pHAT header for you. It should ship today.

Wow, thank you! Very much appreciated.