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Sunday, March 28, 2010

failing to repair an ipod nano 4th gen

So sometimes I fail to fix things, and it is only fair to document those occasions too.

I am very fond of the stories of Sherlock Holmes. In the short story "The Adventure of the Yellow Face", set at Norbury, Staffordshire. Holmes gets the case completely wrong. Later Holmes says:

"Watson, if it should ever strike you that I am getting a little overconfident in my powers, or giving less pains to a case than it deserves, kindly whisper 'Norbury' in my ear, and I shall be infinitely obliged to you."

For me, that whisper goes 'nano'

A few weeks ago I opened the washing machine and out tumbled my sons iPod nano, with the recently washed clothes. It had been in his shirt pocket and not been noticed.

So.... consulting the web the general consensus was that slow drying stood the best chance of resurrecting the device. Some advocated keeping the iPod in a bag of dry rice. I just placed it inside our airing cupboard and left it for a week.
I then plugged it into my sons PC and after a short while the display lit up to indicate it was charging. I was then able to sync it and even update the firmware. I breathed a sigh of relief as the iPod appeared to be none the worse for it's 30 degree washing cycle adventure. Even the headphones worked.
However after a couple of weeks my son asked if I could take a look as , while it still functioned, there was no back light . No amount of playing with brightness settings worked, even a reset still had a screen that was next to impossible to read. The iPod still worked, rather like an iPod shuffle, you had to navigate 'blind' as it were.
Another consultation with the web, and the consensus was that the display was busted but might be replaceable. Given the environment the iPod had been subjected to , I could see that the display might have failed, the back light is part of the display unit.
Looking on ebay, a new display module costs around £10, which seemed a good idea as with no back light the device was next to useless. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and should probably have stopped at this point. Take note.
I ordered a new display and it duly came. Good service from my seller.

I consulted youtube where a number of videos are posted showing how easy it seemed to dismantle an iPod nano. the new display came with a special tool and after all how hard could it be ?

The two videos that best seemed to explain this were this one:

I rather liked this one. I especially liked the way you can hear the Tube trains going by ,the station announcements in the background and the familiar London accent. This chap favours sliding the whole main board out the top , having first disconnected the headphone jack assembly.

And this one:

This is an American video, again, looks reasonably simple. This presenter advocates popping out the glass and accessing the display connections through the empty display window.

With this amount of advice, what could possibly go wrong ?

My experience

First off, I was able to remove the white end pieces which are glued on with a gel-like glue. The included green plastic tool worked fine for getting the ends off. So far so good

Now you realise how small the Philips screws are, and I needed to go out and get a set of tiny Philips screw drivers. PH00 is the correct size. You can see here two screws next to a UK 20 pence coin.
Having prized off the plastic end pieces , there was still glue clogging the screw heads. I used a wooden cocktail stick to pick out all the glue to expose the screw heads. I was able to remove the screws from the base of the iPod - three in total as per video 1.
I suspect that the first Video, while correct, was carried out on an iPod that had already been prepared "Blue Peter" style. It took a lot longer to get all the glue out and unscrew the Philips screws from the base.
At this point I hit my first real problem - I could not get the white jack socket assembly off. If I tugged it too hard , small pieces of the white plastic snapped off - not good. If I pulled the whole assembly down, the main board with the Dock connector slid down too. This is connected to the iPod shell via a tiny ribbon cable to the jog wheel. If that cable snaps it's certainly not going to work. I slid the jack housing back home and pondered video number 2. He takes a different approach and leaves the base, doing everything via the top.
So , I removed the top plastic and undid the screws and removed the metal top piece. This exposes a tiny piece of metal with the hold select button on it. gently lift this off and store safely. It forms the mechanical linkage between the button you slide for hold mode and the tiny switch connected to the back/top of the display. I was able to get access to the top of the display and slide the whole thing up around 5mm.
As per the video I carefully prised off the switch which is connected to the back of the display with glue and to the case with a tiny ribbon cable. Letting it dangle by the ribbon - very delicately, I gently slid the whole display up a further 10mm . IN the glass window of the iPod I could see the lower part of the display board and the ribbon cable.

So far so good .......In the second video he explains at this point that you can 'pop' out the glass screen by applying pressure at the bottom. I did this and it didn't pop, but inserting a fine blade along the top rubber seal and then trying worked. Out came the display glass window, and I put this to one side.
Next to disconnect the ribbon cable which connects the display to the mother board. This is situated in the bottom left corner. The whole lower part of the display was covered in a piece of transparent yellow tinitd tape, which I removed. I then prised the tiny black locking bar above the ribbon. This bar is normally set pointing upward and you lever it down, perpendicular to the plane of the display, with a tiny screw driver.This done I should (according to the video) have been able to slide out the display completely, but the ribbon was stuck to a silver metal tab on the lower left hand corner of the display. I had to gently insert a screw driver head beneath it and very gently prise it off the tab whilst pulling the display out.

The display was free and I removed it from the iPod case.Here is what it looked like at this point, you can see the tab at the top and the ribbon connector socket and tab just to the right as a black bar:
I inserted the new display and slid it back in until the ribbon cable was able to engage in the slot. This is very fiddly indeed. You also have to simultaneously keep an eye on the hold switch which is dangling via a tiny ribbon cable at the back, and easily broken off as you slide the display in.

Eventually I got the ribbon cable connected to the display and I snapped the black bar forward to engage. I decided to perform a quick test at this point and slid the hold switch across and pressed the Menu button. The ipod came on ....

.....but the back light was still off !

I double checked that I'd fitted the new display , I had. This was most odd.

I repeated the removal and re-installation of what was confirmed to be the new display. No change. The iPod still worked but the back light was off.

I tried cleaning the edge of the ribbon connector with a cotton bud and some alcohol, as I thought it was darkened at the edge. perhaps some arcing had occurred after the drying out ?

No change.

Things went from bad to worse as two things occurred almost simultaneously :

1) I tried to reinsert the glass window and now amount of pressure would pop it back in. Indeed too much pressure will warp in the top metal edge of the iPod. I tried bending it gently back with mixed results

2) The display stopped showing anything.

Annoyed with myself I was confronted with the fact that the nano was dead.

Frustrating indeed as I'd spent several hours and treated it it with supreme delicacy

At this point I did the only thing possible under the circumstances. Had a cup of tea, put all the nano bits in a padded envelope, and ordered a new nano from dabs . 5th Gen this time with video camera and FM radio, slightly darker green shade too...

Looking back perhaps I was lucky that the nano survived the washing machine as it did. Perhaps this had shortened it's life and my fumblings finished it off altogether.

I guess the old nano and the 2 displays can go on ebay. I suspect the displays are both fine, the problem lies elsewhere. I think the hold switch probably was flexed one too many times and the internal ribbon broke, meaning the nano was trapped in whatever mode I'd left.

So this device was most definitely not mended

A postscript

the broken nano went for £12 on ebay. Not bad, I think the buyer got a bargain as almost certainly it included 2 working displays. The new nano is better than the old, it has a video camera and a tiny speaker and a few extra features, so if you are going to have to replace something, it's always slightly better if there is some improvement with the new one.

It happened again !

Whilst on holiday, my sons new iPod 5th gen nano got washed in his jeans again. We dried it out over a week and then attempted to charge it. It appears to be working fine, so far. Of course this happened with the 4th gen for a while until the back-light failed. Anyway, as we say in the UK, "touch wood" for luck, it's still working. So if you submerge or wash your iPod in the washing machine the best thing to do is leave it in a warm dry place for a week and then re-charge.


Sloggy said...

The first you tube clip is of a 2nd Gen nano, the 2nd clip is of a 4th gen Nano, hence the different approaches. They are both really hard to work on.

Mr Ives said...

Thanks Sloggy - yes - I see you are right. I agree - both very fiddly. I managed to sell the old unit for spares and got a 5th gen , which has more features so not all bad news.