Radical Tablet Repairs

Replace battery with USB battery? Replace flash chip? Upgrade ram that's built into SoC? No guarantee of success, but I might try.

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I have a terrible Android tablet, and it's only been getting worse. I want to make it better. This may involve: connecting dissimilar charge controllers in parallel, case modding, data recovery, BGA soldering, laser etching, electron beam milling, lithography, wirebonding, trace & wire length matching, custom Android OS building, adding some kind of microcontroller, integrating a Raspberry Pi (somehow), …

Here's a roadmap, I guess.

Completed so far:

  • Wait for tablet to brick itself before starting the project :P
  • Remove worn-out stock battery and replace with interim battery in a hacky way (but the tablet seemed happy with it)
  • Discover that that didn't fix the problem of not booting

To do:

  • Investigate the possibility of booting a custom recovery without installing it (I can't install it because the tablet can't boot, and even if it could, I haven't rooted it.)
    • If that works, use it and ADB (I guess) to make a backup of the data on my tablet
      • If that works, then do a factory reset and see if the tablet boots
    • If that doesn't work, remove the eMMC chip and dump its data directly (using an SD card reader?) and then image and install a new one (preferably larger) and see if the tablet boots
      • If the tablet then doesn't boot, give up on the rest of the project as currently imagined, and get or make a new tablet that doesn't have as many problems
  • Replace the interim battery with the innards of a USB battery
    • Determine whether the charge controllers will fight
    • Case mod
      • Design
      • Print
      • Cut existing case
      • Assemble
      • Refine fit
  • Ram upgrade
    • Build electron beam machine
    • Practise the following steps on a Raspberry Pi or other SoC device before doing them on the tablet
      • Laser etch and/or electron beam machine away enough of the SoC's package and if necessary the integrated ram silicon to expose the ram interface
      • Bond wires or something to the ram interface?
      • Logic analyze the ram interface to figure out how to connect ram to it
      • Connect an external ram module to the ram interface
    • While the chip is open, maybe try to diagnose the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth problems?
  • Notification LED
    • Install an addressable RGB LED in the hole where the front camera was (because its cable broke when I had the tablet open long ago, so that hole is empty; it was terrible anyway)
    • Connect it to the SoC somehow (maybe using some of the I/O that the front camera is no longer using)
  • Build a custom version of Android
    • Make it more up to date than 4.4.2 (latest official ROM for this tablet)
    • Investigate whether Project Treble is helpful for this
    • Don't include bloatware
    • Don't include a front camera in the configuration
    • Include added ram in the configuration
    • Add a driver for the notification LED

  • 1 × Acer Iconia One 7 B1-730 Base tablet. Do not buy one. It's terrible.
  • 1 × LG BL-T9 Interim battery
  • 1 × ADATA PV-150 USB battery

  • I realized what might be the problem

    PointyOintment05/25/2019 at 03:55 0 comments

    I've made no progress on this project since the last post almost a year ago. At that time, I found a Samsung Stratosphere (an early Galaxy S model) in a drawer and started using that. (I had originally found it in an electronics recycling bin at school.) It's running Android 2.3.6, basically what my first phone ran, but I've managed to get used to not being able to run modern apps. I still have no cell service, so I'm effectively using it as a tiny tablet with a built-in keyboard that I don't use. Also, I haven't taken my own advice at the very end of the last post.

    Anyway, I realized what might have been keeping the tablet from booting. Many devices take considerably more current when booting than they do to run after having booted (…I think). The battery I installed is much smaller in physical dimensions than the old one. Therefore, even though its capacity is greater than that of the degraded old one, it might not be able to source as much current as the old one could (before it was completely degraded, anyway), because that's a function of the physical surface area of the electrodes inside (AIUI). So, when I get around to working on the tablet again, I'll try connecting it to a bench power supply. If it can boot that way, then I'll just remove the interim battery and go straight to the 18650s—those should be able to give it enough current.

  • Interim battery replacement succeeded, but it still won't boot…

    PointyOintment07/20/2018 at 21:43 0 comments

    For a few months now (i.e., before the battery got really bad), I've been thinking that I would like to take the innards of one of my USB batteries (i.e., four 18650s connected in parallel, plus a circuit that controls charging and discharging and converts back and forth between battery voltage and USB voltage) and put them in my tablet. 18650s are a lot thicker than the stock battery, so they'll stick out, but I think if I arrange them right, and make a 3D-printed cover, I can use the bulge as a handle, and also integrate a tripod mount. (Also, 18650s in a 2×2 physical arrangement will be narrower than the stock battery, leaving room inside the case for a ram stick or something.)

    This is the USB battery I plan to use. It's an ADATA PV150. Memory Express sold it for a long time, with regular discounts, and it works nicely (though doesn't turn on automatically or allow passthrough), so a lot of people I know have this model. I think it's discontinued now, though, and the replacement looks from its shape like it doesn't contain 18650s. (You could still use it or any other USB battery; you'd just need to do the case mod differently.)

    The cells are adhered to both case halves with double-sided tape. Try to take off the "back" shell piece (the side with the specs and regulatory logos on it), because the PCB is attached with screws to the "front" piece (which is the same piece of plastic that makes up the end with the ports).

    The reasons for integrating the USB battery's circuit, rather than just the bare cells, are that I would then be able to use my tablet to charge other devices, and that I would be able to supply power to my tablet using the USB battery's input port while using the tablet's own USB port for an OTG device. It would also provide a rough battery level indication without waking the tablet. And I want to use the USB battery's 18650s, rather than some out of e.g. laptop batteries, because they're relatively unused and because they've been connected in parallel for their whole lives and are therefore perfectly matched (or as close as any four cells can be).

    This integration would mean that the two charge controllers (the tablet's and the USB battery's) would both be connected to the same battery simultaneously. That sounds like a really bad idea, especially because they're not even the same model, but I think it might actually be fine. (Any thoughts?)

    But… while I've been thinking about that for months, I haven't actually done any of the design work on that integration, so I'm not ready to do it. And, the other day, it became urgent to replace my tablet's battery (as detailed in the previous log entry). So I needed an interim battery replacement, immediately, to keep my tablet going until I could design the USB battery integration.

    I got out a small cardboard box that I remembered putting some lithium-ion batteries in a while back. It turned out to contain four prismatic batteries (rectangular prisms, to be precise), and a bunch of 18650s (which I discounted, because, not knowing their capacities, I'd have to use only one, and because, not having designed the case mod yet, I'd have to mount it externally with wires). One of the prismatic ones was from an iPhone and showed 0 V. The other three were LG branded and all showed around 4 V. I chose the one that wasn't a member of a pair of interchangeable ones, because those might be useful for some future project. This was a BL-T9 (lower right in the photo).

    i unplugged my tablet's stock battery, unwrapped it, and chopped the cell from the protection circuit with flush cutters. (I had, previously, attempted to look up the three chips on the protection board, with no results. The thermal fuse was a known and buyable part, though.)

    The protection circuit appears to use the cheat of using a fixed resistor (R4, right by the wires) instead of a thermistor, but I knew it was compatible with my tablet's motherboard, while I...

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  • Background

    PointyOintment07/20/2018 at 20:28 0 comments

    I've had my Acer Iconia One 7 (model B1-730) tablet for three years now, and it's been my only mobile device for most of that time.

    (I dropped my phone, an excellent LG G2, shortly after getting the tablet, which resulted in its screen breaking. I used it with a USB trackpad attached to it with popsicle sticks for a while, until I got around to replacing its screen. But the replacement screen was broken on arrival, worse than the one it replaced, and I never bothered to replace the screen again or get a new phone.)

    Anyway, this tablet is awful. I can only say one good thing about it, which is that it's somewhat durable (though it does have a broken corner and a scratched screen, and some of the paint has worn off the back). Other than that: The vertical viewing angle range of the screen is from -5° to -15°. It has so little ram that it often can't keep two apps in memory simultaneously. (f I try to cross-reference between emails and maps or a website, I'll spend most of the my time waiting for each one to reload after viewing the other. Things in the background like Spotify playing music, Tinycore monitoring ram usage, and Twilight reddening the screen also get pushed out of memory frequently while I'm, say, browsing Reddit.) It has stereo speakers, but they're both at one end, so you don't get stereo when watching something in landscape. The Bluetooth hasn't worked in a couple of years or so. (It shows up as on, but cannot be turned off or used in any way.) The Wi-Fi hasn't remembered networks through restarts or Wi-Fi disabling/enabling in a couple of years. The Wi-Fi speed varies between less than 1 kB/s and several MB/s, from one restart to the next, with some kind of up/down trend over months. The battery gauge always read 95%, even when it was also saying it was done charging, for the entire first year I had it, which resulted in the battery getting damaged because neither I nor the tablet knew it was low until it was below what should have been 0% and the tablet just died. (I think I accidentally fixed that by unplugging and replugging the battery; the gauge has worked fine since.) Occasionally (sometimes when dropped, sometimes spontaneously) the screen would stop sensing touch, for which the only solution was a hard reboot (because I couldn't touch the onscreen button to shut down cleanly).

    TL;DR: Don't pay any more than $10 for a B1-730. (Other tablets in the family might be better; I haven't tried them.)

    So that's what was already happening, before the last couple of months. In the last couple of months, the battery finally wore out to the point that it lasted less than half an hour on a charge, so I started just carrying around my tablet with a USB battery permanently plugged in. Even with that, by a couple of weeks ago, it couldn't even last one minute on a charge. Soon after that, it was so bad that apps would crash when I'd try to scroll rapidly or perform other actions that involved strenuous animations, even when the tablet was plugged into external power (which I think was because it relies on the battery to handle transient loads even when plugged in).

    Then, I tried restarting it because it stopped sensing touch at one point, and it never progressed beyond the boot animation. Forcibly turning it off and trying again resulted in a successful boot—that time. (This had happened once a few days before, so it didn't surprise me greatly.) But the Wi-Fi was slow after that boot, so I tried to reboot it again, and it got stuck again. It has not booted successfully since then, and not for lack of trying (and cache clearing).

    I assumed that this was just the battery having gotten even worse, which leads us to the next log entry…

View all 3 project logs

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