The Retro Revive

20170914_112947After getting removed from a parent’s basement, my friend showed me the bag of retro games and consoles her parents had returned to her after years of sitting dormant. In my excitement of holding an original Game Boy, I flipped the device on only to have nothing happen. Batteries must be dead, was my natural assumption. I opened the battery compartment to find the batteries had leaked and corrosion EVERYWHERE.

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Alkaline Battery Corrosion! The HORROR!

A younger me would have said, “Well, nothing we can do with it now. We’ll have to get rid of it.” And if time travel were a thing, I might go back and give my younger self a rough shake and an education on when to declare an electronic dead.

Battery “Acid”

My younger self was told to never touch exploded batteries; “it’s acid and it will burn”. Well, it was a half-truth from my parents to keep me from playing with something potentially dangerous. Alkaline batteries don’t leak acid, they actually leak a material that registers as a base on the pH scale: potassium hydroxide.  Potassium hydroxide is a conductive solution used in alkaline batteries that can be harmful to us if the proper precautions are not taken in handling it. It’s a corrosive and can cause an itchy/burning sensation if it comes into contact with your skin, eyes, or if inhaled, so be sure to use gloves, safety glasses, and work in a well-ventilated area. Also, I wish it could go without saying, but DO NOT INGEST and wash your hands and work area after any contact with it, gloves or no.

Cleaning Alkaline Corrosion

(Please make sure you’re working with alkaline batteries before performing this cleaning method.)

When cleaning alkaline battery leaks, you want to use an acid like vinegar or lemon juice to take on the base corrosion. What you don’t want to use are other base materials to clean it like baking soda, ammonia, or bleach, you may just make things worse this way. If you’re concerned that the acid may be too strong for cleaning your device, feel free to use a 50/50 mix (equal parts) of distilled water and vinegar or distilled water and lemon juice instead.

Use a Q-tip or small brush (soft bristle toothbrushes work just fine, just don’t use it for teeth cleaning afterwards) dipped in your chosen cleaning acid to scrub off/eat away the corrosion. Wipe with a dry cloth to remove any lingering corrosive particles. Repeat as necessary and let it dry completely before trying to put new batteries in. (Recycle old batteries.)

Some devices are caked in corrosion and require a more thorough cleaning which involves taking the device apart and soaking the contacts as I had to do for this poor Game Boy.

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Taking the Game Boy apart to remove the contacts
corrosion on contacts: before and after
Before and after soaking the contacts to remove the corrosion

 

What if I can’t save it?

Corrosion is the eventual fate of all metals, whether they are corroded irreparably depends on the type of metal and the type of corrosive as well as the amount of corrosive it’s been exposed to and how long it’s been there. I don’t know how long the batteries in this device have been leaking exactly, but the corrosion had eaten through enough of the top layers of metal to pockmark it. Fortunately, it was not enough to cause it to be irreparable for this project, a good scrub allowed us to get this device up and running again.

Should the damage to your device be irreparable and replacement parts unable to be found, recycling your device is the best course of action to take. Since Illinois state law has a ban on electronics like these in landfills, you can find local recyclers that can take your devices. Nintendo also offers repair of their products and take back programs which will allow you to send your old Nintendo devices (and sometimes other companies devices) in for recycling for free. Sony also offers a version of recycling as well.

What if it’s not Alkaline Battery Corrosion?

In regards to other types of corrosion, the cleaning methods vary. Different corrosives require different techniques. Isopropyl alcohol (90% and higher) is frequently used to clean/rinse motherboards as it dries quickly, but you could also soak/rinse a board (only the board, no power source or hard drive, etc.) in distilled or de-ionized water. It’s not the water itself that causes the corrosion, but the impurities and chemicals found in the water (like fluoride and chlorine). We don’t recommend submerging the boards although it can be done, we find it a bit risky and wasteful of resources, instead we use Qtips to apply cleaner/remove corrosion and soft bristle toothbrushes for some extra scrubbing power when needed.

 

All That Glitters Is Not Gold

With the release of the iPhone 8 and the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 anticipated this month, it’s a little hard to ignore the hype that new reveals can bring in the technology world. As consumers, we tend to want the latest and greatest devices, not wanting to be left behind the ever increasing technological curve of obsolescence, and the manufacturers know we’re willing to pay a premium for these brand new items. Preorders for the Galaxy Note 8’s start at $930 and iPhone 8’s cost is being estimated to be the first iPhone to go for over $1000. Now, I can’t speak for everyone, but I think that’s a pretty hefty price tag for a device that may last you 2-3 years due to planned obsolescence or less if you’re one of the few individuals who buys each year’s model new regardless if the previous phone works or not (please stop).

So, I wanted to take a look at some of the features of smartphones that sound new and exciting and level the playing field a bit. Don’t get me wrong, I love new technology as much as the next person, but the big developments these devices tout aren’t really game changers… especially when comparing them to the last models that were released.

Smartphone

Screen resolution
1080p is losing out in favor of 4K for televisions and larger displays but still is at the high end of the screen resolution spectrum for phones… at the moment. But consider the size of your smartphone for a moment, is 1080p really necessary for a handheld device? Higher screen resolutions require more power to operate, not only because of the screen, but also the processor, draining your battery faster than lower resolution screens like those set to 720p would. Screen resolution isn’t the only factor to be considered when looking for a quality image, screen size comes into play as well. There is a big difference between having 1080p on a 5 inch screen versus a 72 inch screen; this is because the factor you want to look at is pixel density – or how many pixels there are per square inch. 300ppi (Pixels Per Inch) or so exceeds what the human eye is able to distinguish at a normal viewing distance. Many devices nowadays tout high ppi in their screens: the iPhone 7plus has 407 ppi and the Galaxy S8 has a whopping 570 ppi… that means you’d have to hold the phone closer than 6 inches to your eyes to make out the pixels on the screen. Basically, if you typically hold your phone over a foot away from your face when you’re looking at it, anything over 300ppi is just gravy.

Broken Glass back phone

Glass backs
Sure, they look absolutely beautiful from a design standpoint, but do little to protect your device should it be dropped. Gorilla glass, the type frequently used in smartphones, is designed to be damage resistant. The problem is it’s glass and any small surface marring – those tiny scratches your phone gets from everyday wear and tear – can weaken the overall structure of the glass making it more likely to shatter. Not to mention that glass on both sides of a device can make for a slippery surface conducive to jumping out of pockets with little warning; even a short drop to the carpet can have bad results and many glass back devices rely heavily on adhesive to hold the device together and this can make repairs quite a bit more stressful depending on how the device was designed.

image of smartphone

Curved-edge screens
While comfortable to hold and allowing for extra display area, curved-edge screens are some of the most difficult to repair and/or replace. Not only that, but according to a 2015 article from Tech News about the creation of 3D thermoformed glass used for the Galaxy S6 almost half of the screens produced were unusable… which means for every screen made another was thrown away. Also, that curve to the screen adds considerable cost to it; the cost of a flat gorilla glass screen can start at around $3, but curving the display runs the cost up to around $25 a screen.

Smart phone with water dropsWater resistance
Water resistance is great for those who are accident prone, but water resistant does not mean the device is water proof and issues can still arise with the device, most commonly problems with the speakers and ports. Although it’s a touted selling feature in many smartphones these days, there’s no warranty to back up the water resistance claims.

charging low battery phone

Internal batteries
Long battery life is what everyone looks for in a phone, but what happens when that battery wears out after two years of recharging? Many devices nowadays have sealed in their batteries in order to get higher water resistance ratings and subtly force you into purchasing a new phone every few years when the battery just won’t hold a charge anymore.

Finger print in blue

Fingerprint readers 
To be fair, these have come quite a ways since they were first introduced, but identity theft through fingerprint replication can be done albeit a bit troublesome and unlikely. But consider if someone did manage to duplicate your thumbprint, what can be done about keeping your device secure? It’s not like you can get a new thumbprint, that’s unique to you as an individual. Changing a password seems far simpler.

Take your time when deciding to make a device purchase so that you can evaluate your wants and needs and distinguish between the two and we at the Gadget Garage encourage you – whenever possible – to prolong the use of a device you own, because the most sustainable device you will ever find is the one that you already have.

*Links found in this article are provided for reference purposes and are not an endorsement by the Illini Gadget Garage or any outside entities.

Tech Terror: “I don’t want to break it”

“I don’t want to break it.”

It’s a phrase we hear quite frequently here at the Gadget Garage as a preamble to attempting a repair and we completely understand that concern. Technology can be costly: in both its initial purchase price or in replacement parts; it can be valuable, holding important documents or all those digital copies of family photos you have stored on it; it can be complicated, trying to determine what caused your device to stop cooperating or to stop working all together; and it can even be dangerous at times, dealing with electrical components and batteries. But not wanting to break it doesn’t mean you should be afraid to try to fix it… for many of the same reasons. Technology is expensive to replace; some information is too valuable or troublesome to lose without trying to recover it; some complicated problems have very simple fixes; and a little bit of danger can be exciting now and then. So why don’t more of us take a deeper look into the electronic devices we use everyday when something goes unexpectedly wrong?

“I don’t want to break it.”

It’s a bit of hesitation.
A bit of trepidation.
A small dose of anxiety.
A little bit of fear.

And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Fear is a natural reaction to something new and unfamiliar.There is a wide range of fears which can prevent us from being more involved with our technology. In general, it’s a fear of making a bad problem worse, but fear can inhibit us from even trying as some of us don’t want to ask for help because we don’t want to appear ignorant or admit to not knowing how something works. Understanding technology is a learning process for everyone. The people who design circuit boards and smartphones and tablets they all started with a blank slate … and overtime they learned bit by bit… just as we learn any other skill: through patience, practice, and a bit of trial and error. So don’t tell yourself you can’t do it before you even try.

Where would you be today if you let something that scared you a little bit stop you? Would you know how to ride a bike or drive a car? Would you know how to play your favorite sport or instrument or how to cook safely in the kitchen? Would you have made friends or started relationships with people who were once complete strangers to you? Learning about technology and your devices and how to repair them isn’t radically different from these things, and at the rate which new technology appears nowadays, we’re all learners. Even the individuals who work with technology everyday sometimes struggle to figure out a new device or a new program feature, so try not to get disheartened by your failures.

You can do a great deal more than you realize, you just have to be willing to try.

Splish Splash, the IP Ratings Bath

Sitting poolside this summer, the electronics never seem to be far from hand. Whether it’s a Bluetooth speaker you have sitting out to listen to some tunes, a phone chilling out next to the cold beverage you’re sipping on, or a wrist watch that you forgot to take off before that really impressive cannonball, your devices have a good chance of encountering liquids.

Some of you may be less concerned about this than others as you own devices that are promoted as being water resistant, so let me just start out by saying that water resistant does not mean waterproof.

Companies are trying to make electronics more water resilient since so many of them end up going for a swim. In testing their devices, they assign them IP ratings which are good for letting consumers know just how dust and water resistant your device can be. The first digit following IP gives a rating for dust or other solid objects on a 0-6 scale, and the second digit following IP gives a rating for the device’s resistance to water on a 0-8 scale. The higher the numbers, the greater the level of resistance. For example, a device that is labeled IP67, like Samsung’s Galaxy S5 or the iPhone 7, has a dust resistance of 6 which is the highest rating, meaning it is essentially as dust resistant as a device can be; and a water rating of 7 which means that the device has been lab tested to survive a temporary immersion (30 minutes or less) in less than 1 meter of water.

(Click here for more information on what your device’s IP rating covers.)

So, your phone’s immersion safe. Sounds great, right? Let’s take pictures underwater with it.

Mmm, no, not so much.

Even smartphones with the highest rating, IP68, like the Galaxy S7 , can still manage to drown.

The problem with IP ratings is that they only prove that they’ve passed the required tests in a controlled lab; real world conditions will vary. Perhaps the tests were performed for the IP ratings were done with a gradual submersion opposed to a sudden dunk; using fresh water rather than damaging salt or chlorine; or using static water rather than running water; or in lukewarm water versus a hot tub or frozen lake. There is such a wide array of variables that impact the water resistance of a device that your safest bet is to keep it away from liquids as much as possible.

Companies like Apple, Samsung, and Sony have lots of caveats for what should and shouldn’t be done with their devices regarding their interaction with liquids such as: not using the device while submerged, letting the device dry out for a few hours afterwards, and not opening the device when it’s wet as it can damage the adhesives that help give it its water-resistant rating.

Most device warranties, even those with higher IP ratings, do not include liquid damage due to the high levels of unpredictable conditions that can affect them, including water resistant components that can wear out gradually over time. And if you think you can try and take it in to see if you can get it replaced after its taken a dunk and dried out, think again. A good portion of smartphones have water damage indicator stickers inside the device and on batteries that will change colors when exposed to liquids or water vapor, a red flag to anyone opening your device for repair.

Due to the nature of phones, it seems unlikely that they will ever be truly waterproof, needing open areas for ports, picking up sound vibrations, and maintaining equal pressure with the surrounding atmosphere, but companies are making an effort to keep liquids from destroying them. And as liquid damage is the second most common way of destroying a smartphone, I think it’s a device safety net that we all can appreciate.

Apple Dreams in Green

In recent news, Apple released their annual Environmental Responsibility report which highlights the things that the corporation is doing to be more “green” such as encouraging renewable energy throughout the manufacturing process and trying to create sustainable practices for the paper used in their product packaging. But perhaps the most notable mention that came from this report was the declaration that one day it would end its reliance on mining and make its products solely from recycled materials or renewable resources. This is certainly a lofty goal for Apple and one worth pursuing even if they’re not sure how to go about it or when they’ll be able to achieve it.

Apple has been dubbed one of the most environmentally friendly technology companies in the world according to Greenpeace’s Clean Energy Index, leading the way among other tech industry giants like Google and Facebook. Apple has made significant progress in being environmentally conscientious from where it was several years ago and it hasn’t gone unnoticed. However, as they continue to seek ways to benefit the environment, they do so in pushing forward in developing new technologies rather than seeking to extend the life of existing ones.

Lifespans for electronics in the industry – as a whole – are dropping; even Apple places the iPhone’s estimated lifespan at around 3 years; not terribly impressive considering its cost. Two elements which play largely into determining how long a device can be considered relevant and useful are planned obsolescence and consumerism. Planned obsolescence, where devices are designed to fail at some point so that new devices can be purchased, can be done through a variety of means such as: limiting warranty periods, ending software upgrades and product support, hardware decisions, and discontinuing the availability of repair parts.

For all of Apple’s green efforts, they clearly do not want individuals working on repairing and extending the life of their products, even going so far as to shred its old products so that salvageable parts are not resold; a method that is used to protect its brand by preventing secondhand parts from flooding the market. While the shredded remains of iPhones are sifted apart and recycled to the best of Apple’s ability, the fact remains that those components could have been put to better use in keeping another device from landing in the shredder itself.

Image of shredded electronic devices
Shredded electronic devices from a Canadian E-waste Recycling Facility (no affiliation with Apple or this article). Photo from iFixit.org. Click the image to read more.

Consumerism is the other side of the technology lifespan coin for those individuals who want to have the latest and greatest devices. As a culture, we’re far more willing to go out and purchase something new rather than attempt to repair it and the tech industry knows this and promotes it. Apple, in showing off their going green endeavors, are either consciously or unconsciously coaxing consumers into feeling less guilt about buying new models each year. Consumers enjoy feeling that their purchase is created in an environmentally friendly way and that the devices will be recycled at the end of their lifecycle, but supporting Apple’s sustainable practices is negated by buying a brand-new phone each year when the old one worked just fine. In fact, studies have been done that show the availability of recycling as an option can lead to an increase in resource usage.

While recycling is a good alternative to throwing things away, prolonging the useful life of a product is far better. There’s a reason that Reduce, Reuse, Recycle is presented in that order.

Splash! When Liquid Meets Laptop.

coffee spill
Coffee Spill

‘Tis the season when the weather starts to turn warmer and people find themselves craving iced tea and lemonade or perhaps the increased necessity of caffeine to fuel us through the workday (or school day) as deadlines approach. Whatever the reason, we frequently find ourselves with a beverage in hand as we interact with our personal electronics, so what do you do when… WHOOPS… happens?

*Sirens in the distance*

Liquid spills are a gamble of time and no small portion of luck. When it happens, you’ll want to react as quickly as possible. So here are a few steps to keep in mind to help prevent damage to your laptop – and yourself – due to a spill.

  1. Turn it off
    • Don’t bother with the start menu shut down command. Do a hard shutdown. Hold your finger down on the power button until the laptop turns off.
    • Liquids and electricity DO NOT MIX and when they do it can be dangerous to both you and your laptop.
  2. Kill the power
    • If you’re plugged in to power your laptop, unplug immediately.
    • If you have a removable battery, remove it.
  3. Unplug anything else
    • If you have any cables, devices, or drives (mice, USBs, flash drives, etc.) attached, unplug them. If your laptop shorts, it can short them as well.
  4. Flip it over
    • Help keep the liquid from traveling further into your laptop’s components by not letting it sift through it.
    • When you flip it, try to do so in a way that you keep the liquid from traveling towards the screen.
    • Do not shake the laptop in order to try and get the liquid out. It may cause further damage to internal components as it wiggles around your laptop finding new crevasses to hide in.
  5. Clean up the spill
    • Fingers crossed it was just a tiny spill, but if it wasn’t, you’ll want to be sure to blot the spill with a lint free paper towel or cloth
    • Pat, blot, but don’t wipe. Wiping may push the liquid onto other areas of the keyboard causing further possibilities for damage.

By this point, you’ve done most of what you can to save it. Now it’s just a waiting game. Try not to turn your laptop back on for at least 24 hours so that the internal components can dry out thoroughly. If you are able and willing, it may be a good idea to open your laptop and remove some components to help speed up the drying process and check for damage.

Now, the next thing to consider is what kind of beverage was spilled on it. The great majority of liquids will require some cleaning of your keyboard and likely some of the internal components as well, especially those that contain sugar. Sticky laptops are no fun. Aside from shorting out components, the biggest problem with liquids invading your laptop is that the particles in the liquid can cause corrosion. Many times, if you notice some small quirks of your computer like a few keys don’t work after your laptop has been turned back on after a spill, this is due to corrosion and it can get worse over time.

corroded motherboard
Corroded motherboard

corroded connector
Corroded connector

Please keep in mind, these steps are not guaranteed to save your laptop; they are just best practices for minimizing the damage. So save early, save often, and always try to have important projects, files, and folders saved somewhere else. Just in case.