Pixel 1 data recovery.. (backup your data)

Like many parents, my kids have hand me down phones. This is generally a great way to extend the life of a device, and teenagers can be tough on phones. Some more than others.

My oldest has been one of those kids who has been generally gentle with technology, and the devices tend to last. I’ve replaced a few tempered glass screen protectors but those are disposable. I have to admit that I didn’t take the signs of problems seriously when the screen on the Google Pixel 1 started to go black occasionally – a hard reboot often fixed things up. This was just some mysterious software issue I thought.

Nope. It was the early signs of the screen going bad. One day, the screen just stayed black no matter what I did. Did we have a recent backup? Nope, it was many months old. That’s also on me. At the first sign of any weirdness with a mobile device, checking the current backup status should be a high priority.

This device was running LineageOS, and unfortunately the default security is pretty good. Oh, I tried lots of things. Blindly, boot device into fastboot mode. Load a recovery via fastboot – connect to that via adb.. but just not enough magic to get through decrypting the filesystem via recovery without access to the screen. This was back in 2020. I would try from time to time to figure out a way to recover a screen-less Android phone running LineageOS, but it continued to resist my attempts.

The picture at the top of the post is the very busted screen from the Pixel 1. At one point in my recovery attempts I thought – maybe it’s simply that the ribbon cable needs to be re-seated? Despite being careful, I can safely report that removing the screen is very hard and you’re likely to break it. I pretty much destroyed that screen.

I had reached out to a local repair shop, but they only were interested in selling me a complete screen replacement – not helping me hook up a screen and recover the data. I continued to look for economical screen replacement options, but at this point I didn’t even know if the screen was the problem.

Just the other day, I found a pair of used Pixel1 screens for $30 + $10 shipping. This was cheap enough that it was worth the risk. I got lucky, the used screen was exactly what I needed.

Cool. There is hope. The phone battery was very dead, so it wasn’t allowing me to power it on. My initial attempts to power on were also scary, I kept getting “no OS found, corrupted data”. I was able to boot to the fastboot screen, but not able to start the recovery image (if there even is one?).

After a few minutes of charging, and more attempts to boot – it started to load!

I was so happy to see the LineageOS boot screen. Now I was crossing my fingers hoping I’d get a full boot without problems. This next image increased my joy.

The touch screen worked fine, and I was able to log in. I was so close to being able to recover the files from this phone, but I had to let it charge up.

Once it was charged, unlocking the phone and connecting a laptop to it was trivial. I was able to pull down the 900+ photos and push them up to my fileserver for safe keeping. In the end it took a couple of years to recover, but I’m glad I kept at it. I also was very lucky that it was only the screen.

Go backup your data. Better yet, invest the time to create a regular backup system. Test your backups.

Pixel 4a Screen Protector

The Pixel 4a continues to be my “daily driver”. I still mostly only need to charge it every 2 days, but by the second day the battery is well into the red and I’ve needed to top up to make it through. Using Android Auto in the car (wired) has also changed things a little, as my phone is getting charged while I drive. Still, on a full battery I can go all day.

Of course, battery life is completely related to usage. I have a very modest number of apps, and I spend all day attached to a keyboard so I’m not using the phone very much at all.

I’ve had a screen protector on the phone from day one. My preference, and it seems to be where the industry has gone too, is to have a ‘tempered glass’ screen protector. This particular brand doesn’t even have a selfie camera hole – it’s just a rounded rectangle of glass. I bought these on eBay way back in October 2020 – the listing is still active. I’d recommend this vendor as the product I got was very good, they also carry many other sizes for other phones.

I’ve also got a bumper case on the phone which has saved it from many a drop. I finally got unlucky and dropped it 4 feet onto ceramic tile and the screen protector cracked.

This wasn’t the first tumble onto hard tile, but it finally landed the wrong way and cracked the screen protector. I will say that after being tossed around and living in my pocket for years, the screen protector itself was still in good shape.

As you can see, the damage to the screen protector was pretty obvious.

Since this was a 2 pack of protectors, I had another one waiting to go. Peeling the old one off revealed the pristine 4a screen, exactly what I want to protect.

The protector ships with a couple of generic wipes. After sitting around for a couple of years the wet wipe had dried out. I didn’t need much cleaning power anyways so I just gave it a good wipe down with the dry one.

The screen protector itself has a protective sticker only on one side. This is the screen side. I like to leave it in the foam sleeve until I’m about to install as that helps reduce dust. The install kit comes with a couple of stickers that you use as a ‘hinge’ once you’ve placed the new screen on the phone (with protective sticker still on). Once the hinge is setup, you lift the screen and peel off the protective sticker.

Let the clean screen flop down on the clean phone, and watch the magic ‘bonding’ happen. If you’ve managed to stay dust free, it’ll be a nice clean match up and you’re good to go. I wasn’t so lucky this time.

Yup, a dreaded dust blob between the screen protector and the phone screen. Along with the guide stickers (hinges) you get a dust remover sticker. Gently peel the new screen up, it’ll stay attached due to the sticker hinges. Then dab at the dust blob – in my case it was stuck to the new screen protector, but you can do both sides (gently). The dust remover sticker should pick up the dust and leave a clean surface behind. Re-flop the screen and if you’ve not introduce more dust it should be good to go. Carefully remove the hinge stickers and put the case back on.

Here is a good youtube video on the hinge method for screen installs.

If you need to put a screen on without the stickers – just use scotch tape. It works exactly the same. You want to avoid touching anything directly with your fingers (which are slightly greasy). I’ve installed many screen protectors, and it does get easier – but even someone doing it the first time can succeed if you go slowly and try to be in a dust free location. One hint would be to do this in the bathroom just after you’ve had a shower – the moisture in the air tends to cut down on dust.

For me, screen protectors work well. I’d rather scratch/crack the screen protector than risk a ding in my phone screen. In the past, I’ve used screen protectors to cover up / mask scratches in the screen of a used phone I’ve bought – so even if you have a scratch, a screen protector can help make your phone seem new.

Samsung Galaxy S7 Battery Swap

Sure, the Samsung S7 is a 6 year old phone at this point – but it’s perfect for my son who’s in grade 7 and doesn’t really need a phone. The other day it stopped turning on – when you plugged it in, it would indicate the battery was at 100%. I could even get it to power on while plugged in, but removing the USB power would result in an immediate black screen as it powered off hard.

I sort of dreaded opening this phone up because it’s one of the ones that is glued shut. I was pleasantly surprised, as a little heating with the heat gun and the all metal back came up pretty easily using a suction cup. After that there were some phillips screws to remove and I was able to see the battery.

It was clear there was a problem here – the connector should be squared up with the rest of the circuit board. If you look closely – you can see that the battery has also shifted down significantly within the phone, nearly 2mm.

Taking a close look at the cable – you can see the connector is a little busted up despite my photo being a bit out of focus.

I attempted to reconnect the cable, but soon found out that the connector was badly damaged and it snapped off the cable completely.

Oh well. Off to search up buying a new battery for this phone. A quick look around and it seems there are lots of choices – some as low as $16 (eBay), and the normal crazy mark-up ones at $60-$90. I opted for one of the Chinese made knock off brands off of Amazon that came with tools (junk) and the adhesive to re-attach the back. It also claimed to be 3300 mAh vs the stock 3000. It was at a slight premium vs. eBay, but only a couple of bucks and the reviews were good. Worth the $25 and it shipped to me the next day.

My pricing logic for stuff like this is to avoid the cheapest prices – these are often very cheap for a reason. There is a step up from the cheapest where you’re going to get basically the same part up to the next price plateau – if you can discern the price notches you can basically buy at certain quality levels. The danger with all of these is that lots of unethical sellers will slap OEM labels on parts that are not, so often paying a high premium is not buying quality at all. It’s always a gamble which is frustrating.

The battery I’m replacing was already previously replaced. I think this is why the battery didn’t fit very well in the phone.  The poor fit is likely what resulted in it breaking off (when the phone was dropped, probably multiple times if I know my son). If you fit the broken battery into the compartment properly there is a significant gap at the bottom.

Again, this is nearly 2mm gap. The OEM battery is tape/glued in – but I suspect it also fit much more snugly in the space. If you are replacing a battery – consider if it will slide around and either tape – or pad it – to avoid the battery moving. I know that I’ve done battery swaps and left a gap in the past – I probably won’t in the future.

The new battery fits like a glove. Top to bottom, almost no space to move around. So I didn’t bother taping it in place, I’m pretty confident it’ll stay put.

While I’m not a fan of glued shut phones – I did use adhesive to re-seal the phone. Hopefully I won’t have to go back in at all. In a couple of years this phone will basically be too old to use. While it’s still running stock firmware, it does appear that there is an unofficial but current LineageOS build for it.

The S7 got a 3/10 score for repairability – but it wasn’t really that bad to get at the battery. The places where it got hit on the score was replacing some of the other components – I’ve certainly had more than 1 USB charge port go bad, and gluing that to the screen seems like a really bad idea. There really needs to be a better trade of for waterproofing and repairability.