Archive for the ‘Gadgets’ Category

Google Pixel XL

Friday, May 17th, 2019

On average I upgrade my phone every 18 months. Sometimes I’ll hang onto a phone for 2 years, and other times it’s much less than that. My most recent phone I used for about 2 years – the Motorola X Play. It was a great fit for me, huge battery, headphone jack, SD card support for more storage and the camera was pretty good. I have for many years bought used phones, avoiding the high prices for new devices and still enjoying a regular flow of great hardware. The Moto X Play was great, it did everything I needed and I really didn’t have a strong urge to upgrade.

Buying used phones, means I’ve always got my eye on the used market. I’ve usually scoped out the set of possible phones I’d consider owning and watch for the street prices to drop under $200, my personal sweet spot for buying a phone. I think it was near the end of last year that the original Google Pixel started to dip into that range locally, and I got a recently refurbished from Google version from someone for a great price. This phone went to Jenn, who had been struggling a little with her Moto X Play and I knew she wanted a better camera.

This of course started me on the slippery slope of wanting a Pixel for myself. Still, prices were fairly high and the Moto X Play did everything I needed. The one thing that the Motorola didn’t have was a fingerprint reader, and this is a nice feature to have as my work apps require long passwords OR biometric access. When I wear my tinfoil hat, I’m not a big fan of fingerprint access – too easy to fool and impossible to change once you’ve run out of fingers and toes. On the other hand, accessing my phone is super fast and easy with a fingerprint vs. typing a really long password in every time.

Then I spotted a Pixel XL with 128GB of storage, but a cracked back glass. They were asking more than I was willing to pay, but the darn listing sat there for a couple of days and ate away at me. I offered quite a bit less than asking to knock it down below my $200 ceiling – it was a bit of a low ball price, but fair enough considering the damage to the phone, and I wasn’t willing to pay more than that.

Wouldn’t you know it, they accepted my offer. I almost walked away from this deal too, because the first time I was supposed to meet up to buy it – they had a schedule mix up and were a no show. That’s usually a sign to say that something isn’t right and it’s a bad deal. They were very apologetic, and I decided to meet up a couple of hours later – where they apologized again, included a nice craft chocolate bar, and knocked another $10 off the price! I have walked away from a couple of used sales where things didn’t feel right, but in this case aside from a schedule mess up there wasn’t anything off about this deal.

Recently Woot featured the same phone for $250 USD, now they are ‘brand new’ condition and come with a warranty, but I still think I’m laughing all the way to the bank with my find. Considering when the Pixel was first launched it was north of $1000, the depreciation as always has been harsh. While my used model may not have ‘like new’ battery life, I still get a solid day out of it.

The camera continues to be amazing, and 4GB of RAM makes a huge difference over the 2GB I had before. I also really like the AMOLED screens, which was one of the attractions to the Samsung Galaxy phones.

Of course, even though the Pixel has the latest version of Android on it (Pie) and looks like it may even get the next one, I went with a LineageOS build, I’ll have to write up that process later as it was a journey. On cold boot I get a pre-boot screen telling me dire things will happen because my boot loader is unlocked, but I can live with that.

It’s been over 9 weeks since I switched over to the Pixel, and I’m still in the honeymoon phase with it. I keep telling myself that I should really fix the back glass, but I’m not sure I’ll ever get to it.

Arduboy Developer Kit

Wednesday, October 14th, 2015


When I saw Arduboy on KickStarter I knew I had to get a couple. Micro-controllers & retro-gaming in a teeny-tiny package. The KickStarter rewards haven’t shipped yet, but when I saw that there were going to be Dev kits available on tindie I leapt at the chance to get my hands on some hardware. I’m really glad they decided to make more Dev kits than were needed to fulfil the Kickstarter.

While the device can be run on a CR 2016 battery, it will also power up via micro-USB cable. The device ships with a breakout game (ArduBreakout) installed, so you just have to power it on to have some black & white retro gaming fun.

So now what? Well, of course we want to get setup to write some code and run it on this thing. Luckily there is a community site with instructions.

My desktop is Ubuntu, so here’s what I needed to do:

Then you’ll want to go to GitHub to grab the Arduboy library and some examples.

Launch the Arudino IDE and load up one of the examples (FloatyBall, a Flappy Bird game)

Before this code will compile – there are 3 things you’ll need to do

  1. Add the Arduboy library files to the Arduino IDE
    Sketch -> Import Library -> Add Library
    If you don’t do this, you’ll get an error saying Arduboy.h can’t be found.
  2. Set Leonardo as the target
    Tools->Board->Arduino Leonardo
    Using the wrong board will result in errors like: “error: ‘OCIE3A’ was not declared in this scope TIMSK3 &= ~(1 << OCIE3A);”
  3. Select the correct serial port
    Tools->Serial Port->/dev/ttyACM0
    When I hadn’t done this, the led on the board would flash like it was uploading, but then I’d get an error saying it couldn’t upload

At this point I just wanted to stay up all night hacking code..

More games can be found on the community site.


Replacing iPhone 4 screen

Sunday, July 21st, 2013



I had the chance to help out with a neighbours iPhone 4 that had a broken screen. This gave me an excuse to pick up the pentalobe screwdriver to add to my collection of useful tools. The phone came to me in the state shown at the top of this post, the screen would light and you’d get lines as the image but the touch functions seems to be non-responsive. The phone was still working and you’d hear text message notifications and the like, I didn’t bother to plug it into a PC but I’m certain you could still sync it to a PC.



The pentalobe screwdriver is essential for opening up the iPhone. Those screws are really, really small. Disassembly is pretty straight forward, I made use of a pair of YouTube videos to help me out: the first video covers both tear down and rebuild; the second one is shorter and covers only the tear down.

Immediately after removing the back cover, I was amused to find the following warning:



If you’ve gone to the trouble of removing those darn screws, is a little plastic tab with a warning really going to deter you? At this point in the disassembly I started to get the feeling that I wasn’t the first person to have ventured inside of this phone. The plastic tab with the warning actually was busted off already, the battery wasn’t very tightly glued in and the water damage dot was entirely missing.

Once you’re inside the back cover a small Phillips screwdriver will handle almost all the screws. In my case the correct sized Phillips came along with the pentalobe. In the second video they talk about a single screw needing a small flat head jewellers screwdriver, this puzzled me until I got to that part of the disassembly. A rather ‘large’ small flat head is all I needed.



You can see the screw that needs this flat head in the center of the picture above, it’s looks like a big plus sign with a hole in the middle. The 3.5mm jack is visible in the picture.

To replace the screen you need to work your way through from the back of the phone to the front, this requires taking almost everything out of the phone. At this point it was clear that not only had someone been in this phone before, but that they had skipped over some of the reassembly steps. The screen should be fastened with 10 screws, this phone only had 7 and one of those that has a washer was missing the washer.

In my case, it turns out this phone had already had a replacement screen put in so there wasn’t any glue / stickiness holding the screen to the frame. Removing the two ribbon cables is a little fiddly, take your time and they’ll side out easily.



Re-installing the screen be very careful of the ribbon cables. It is very easy to get them pinched behind if they are not pulled through completely. If you don’t have them complete through they will not stretch far enough to connect to the motherboard. There is barely any slack in the ribbon cables, so if they are not routed correctly they simply won’t reach. This is one of those things that you can’t rush and taking your time when doing the disassembly (and taking pictures) can be a big time saver when re-assembling.

This was the 1st time I’d done this type of repair and it took me a little over 2 hours. I did fail to get one of the screws to install, it felt like the hole had been stripped. I’m not sure this was me or the previous repair job, but I still was frustrated to have it happen. Oh yeah, and work on a surface that will help you find those tiny little screws, even if you drop them – I worked on the floor with really good lighting and no clutter around me.

Unfortunately a bit over a week later I was back inside the same phone. Apparently while it looked and worked fine once I was done, over the next couple of days it started to exhibit ‘strange’ behaviour: fuzzy screen, non-working screen. These problems could be resolved by giving the phone a whack, but sometimes the whack caused it to be worse. Finally after one whack too many the screen went dark and that was it. [Please, don’t whack things to fix them!]

I was hopeful that it was simply a loose connector, but after reseating the various connectors I wasn’t able to bring it back to life. The owner took the phone to a repair shop that replaced the screen again and commented that some of the ‘knock off’ replacement parts had this type of problem.

In summary – I can’t claim that I really fixed it, but it was fun taking the phone apart and putting it back together again. I’ve got the tools I need now, and the experience. I was also pleased to find out that the 4 / 4s screens are fairly cheap, even locally. The screen for the 5 is much more expensive.