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Most annoying Cracking Open teardowns of 2013

December 21st, 2013 No comments

From smartphones and tablets to our first wearable item, we’ve cracked open a lot of tech this year. And as we do at the end of each year, it’s time to take a look back — this time with a twist. During this special episode of Cracking Open, I’m counting down my top five most annoying teardowns of 2013.

5. Apple MacBook Air
The No. 5 spot on our list goes to Apple’s 2013 MacBook Air. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great laptop. I use one on a daily basis.

Removing the bottom cover of the 11-inch 2013 MacBook Air


(Credit:
Bill Detwiler/TechRepublic)

But its special pentalobe screws make the case difficult to open, and even once you’re inside there’s really not much you can do. Most of the components are soldered to the motherboard.

View the full 2013 MacBook Air teardown video.

4. Apple iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C
At No. 4 is another Apple creation — actually two of them. The iPhone 5S and 5C aren’t much more difficult to crack open than their predecessors, but thanks to their external pentalobe screws, variety of internal screw sizes, and all the components that are glued to the case, these iPhones are still a pain to repair.

iPhone 5S teardown

Inside the iPhone 5S


(Credit:
Bill Detwiler/TechRepublic)

View the full iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C teardown galleries at TechRepublic.

3. Apple iPad Air
Coming in at No. 3 is the last Apple device on our list — the iPad Air. As with previous iPads, the front panel is glued to the
tablet‘s metal body. And you’ll need to heat the panel to open the case. Even after separating the panel and case, you can’t remove it without first removing the display. Throw in that the battery and most other internal components are glued in place, and this tablet definitely isn’t repair-friendly.

Inside the iPad Air


(Credit:
Bill Detwiler/TechRepublic)

View the full iPad Air teardown gallery at TechRepublic.

2.
Google Glass Explorer Edition

The second spot on our list goes to the first wearable device we’ve cracked open — the Google Glass Explorer Edition. The camera and eyepiece assembly’s cover came off relatively easily. But despite my prying, poking, even heating the main and rear modules, nothing worked. And since I didn’t want to destroy the device, I had to give up only halfway into the teardown.

Inside the Google Glass Explorer Edition


(Credit:
Bill Detwiler/TechRepublic)

View the full Google Glass teardown gallery at TechRepublic.

1. Microsoft Surface 2
Well, we’ve reached the end of our list. And standing above all the others is the king of annoying 2013 teardowns — the Microsoft Surface 2. Now unlike the Google Glass, I was actually able to dissect the Surface 2. But it was a miserable 2-hour ordeal. Why?

Removing the Surface 2 front panel


(Credit:
Bill Detwiler/TechRepublic)

For starters, the front-panel adhesive is incredibly strong. And heating the front panel is difficult as some of the tablet’s internal components and external trim pieces are made from plastic, which will warp if overheated. I know. I did it.

There are also more than 60 screws inside the case, of all different sizes. The battery is glued in place. And most of the motherboard connectors are extremely fragile and easily broken.

The Surface 2 is definitely an improvement over last year’s model when it comes to hardware specifications and performance. But it is the most difficult-to-crack-open tablet I’ve ever worked open.

View the full Microsoft Surface 2 teardown gallery at TechRepublic.


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Surface 2 design changes make it more difficult to crack open and repair

November 23rd, 2013 No comments

On the outside, the Surface 2 may look like its predecessor, the Surface RT. It’s ever-so-slightly thinner and lighter than the original, but you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference between the two. That doesn’t mean, however, that they’re identical. Far from it.

The Surface 2 has a new two-position kickstand, the microSD card slot has been moved down slightly, and there are no longer screws on the back of the case.

These subtle, external differences, however, pale when compared with the massive internal hardware and design changes Microsoft made on the new
tablet.


(Credit:
Bill Detwiler/TechRepublic)

For more information on the Surface 2, including real-world tests and pricing, check out Eric Franklin’s full CNET review.

Unfortunately, when making all these hardware upgrades, Microsoft also completely reworked the tablet’s internal design, and in doing so made the Surface 2 much more difficult to crack open and repair than its predecessor.

Cracking Open Observations


(Credit:
Bill Detwiler/TechRepublic)

Glued-on front panel, plastic body make opening difficult: Opening last year’s Surface RT began with removing the tablet’s back cover. Not so for the Surface 2. As with the Apple iPad, cracking open this tablet requires heating the edges of the front panel to loosen the adhesive that holds it to the tablet’s body. While heating the panel, you’ll need to gently pry it away from the body with thin tools. Unlike the
iPad, however, the Surface has some internal components and external trim pieces that are made from plastic, which can warp if overheated.


(Credit:
Bill Detwiler/TechRepublic)

Redesigned interior: The internal hardware is mounted to the Surface 2′s body, with the front panel and display being a single, removable unit. The Surface RT’s hardware on the other hand was actually mounted to the front panel and display assembly, which also served as the tablet’s body. There’s also a new plastic bezel that runs around the tablet’s outer edge and serves as the mounting surface for the front panel/display assembly. The Surface 2 is built more like the Surface Pro than the Surface RT, which makes the tablet more difficult to open and repair.

Filled with hardware upgrades: Along with the radically changing the tablet’s internal design, Microsoft also gave the Surface 2 lots of hardware upgrades. The Surface 2 has two microphones (compared with the Surface RT’s one), stereo speakers, a USB 3.0 port, better front-facing (3.5-megapixel) and rear-facing (5.0-megapixel) cameras, a new 1,920×1,080-pixel-resolution display, and a faster 1.7GHz Tegra 4 processor.


(Credit:
Bill Detwiler/TechRepublic)

Difficult, time-consuming to open repair

The Surface 2 is definitely an improvement over last year’s model when it comes to hardware specifications and performance. Kudos to Microsoft for that.

But it has also officially become the most difficult-to-crack-open tablet I’ve ever worked on. The front-panel adhesive is incredibly hard to work around, there are more than 60 screws inside the case (of all different sizes), and most of the motherboard connectors are extremely fragile and easily broken. I can only hope Microsoft will make some design changes for next year’s model. Unfortunately, I doubt it will.

(A more detailed version of this story was published on TechRepublic’s Cracking Open blog.)

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iPad Air teardown reveals significant internal changes

November 16th, 2013 No comments

The 2013 iPad Air is the thinnest and lightest version of Apple’s flagship tablet. It also has a faster processor, better front-facing camera, a completely flip-flopped internal layout, and lots of other hardware updates. Unfortunately, it’s still extremely difficult to disassemble and repair.

For more information on the iPad Air, including real-world tests and pricing, check out Tim Stevens’ full CNET review.

Cracking Open Observations

Heat, patience required to open the iPad Air: Like previous iPads, the Air’s front glass panel is held to the metal body with double-sided adhesive strips. I used a heat gun (set on low) to loosen the adhesive. Then, starting from the lower-left corner, I used a series of thin tools to gently pry the panel off.


(Credit:
Bill Detwiler/TechRepublic)

New location for front panel ribbon cables: As I noted above, Apple has rearranged the Air’s internal hardware. In doing so, they moved the cables that connect the front panel to the motherboard from the lower left side to the lower right.

Must remove LCD to detach front panel: You can’t completely remove the Air’s front glass panel without removing the LCD.


(Credit:
Bill Detwiler/TechRepublic)

Redesigned interior: Along with giving the Air a slew of upgrades, Apple also rearranged the internal hardware. The motherboard and battery have swapped spots. The motherboard is now on the right and the battery is on the left.

Reduce battery capacity: The Air has a two-cell, 32.9Wh battery compared to the previous iPad’s three-cell, 42.5Wh unit. Apple was able to cut the battery’s capacity without sacrificing battery life by increasing the efficiency of other components–chiefly the display. According to IHS iSuppli, the Air uses fewer than half the LEDs found in the third-generation iPad to illuminate the LCD.


(Credit:
Bill Detwiler/TechRepublic)

New chips: Like the
iPhone 5S, the Air has Apple’s 64-bit A7 processor. According to benchmark tests performed by Primate Labs, the Air’s version of the A7 is running at 1.4GHz. In addition to the new processor, the Air also has Apple’s M7 motion co-processor, new wireless chips and new power management chips, just to name a few.

Two microphones: The Air has two digital microphones instead of the single analog microphone found in all previous iPads, except for the
iPad 2.

Thinner components: At a mere 0.29 inch thick, the Air is 20 percent thinner than the 4th generation iPad. According to IHS iSuppli, Apple was able to reduce the
tablet‘s thickness at least in part by using both a thinner LCD and front panel.


(Credit:
Bill Detwiler/TechRepublic)

Still difficult to repair

When it comes to performance and design Apple is definitely moving the ball forward with each iPad iteration, and the Air is no exception. But when it comes to repairability, they’re actually going backwards.

Most internal components and cables are attached to the metal case with adhesive and many components are part of a multi-part assembly. These construction methods make removing or replacing damaged parts extremely difficult, if not impossible.

(A more detailed version of this story was published on TechRepublic’s Cracking Open blog.)

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iPhone 5C teardown reveals upgrades and design changes

October 3rd, 2013 No comments

The iPhone 5C has the same processor, rear camera, and Retina Display as the iPhone 5. But Apple didn’t just slap a series of colorful plastic cases on last year’s phone. On the inside, the 5C is a unique device, with hardware upgrades and design elements from both the 5 and the new 5S.

On the outside, it’s the iPhone 5C’s choices of colorful polycarbonate case that really set the phone apart from the 5 and 5S. And thanks to this case, it’s also slightly longer, wider, thicker, and a bit heavier than the other two iPhones.

But peel back the case, and the 5C reveals itself to be a unique device, which borrows traits from both the other phones.

For a complete list of iPhone 5C specs, pricing information, and real-world performance tests, check out Scott Stein’s full CNET review.


(Credit:
Bill Detwiler/TechRepublic)

Cracking Open observations
Opening the phone still requires special tools: One thing that all three phones share is how you crack them open. You’ll need a special pentalobe screwdriver to remove the external case screws and a suction cup (and possibly a few thin prying tools) to remove the front panel.


(Credit:
Bill Detwiler/TechRepublic)

Home button similar to iPhone 5: Unlike in the new 5S, in the 5C there’s no ribbon cable connecting the Home button to the lower connector assembly. This simplifies the task of removing the front panel.

Familiar internal hardware layout: The 5C shares the same general hardware layout as the iPhone 5 and 5S, but there are both differences and similarities — outlined below.


(Credit:
Bill Detwiler/TechRepublic)

Better battery than iPhone 5, but no removal tab: The 5C has a slightly higher-capacity battery than the 5, but a lower-capacity battery than the 5S. And like the 5S, it lacks the battery removal pull tab found on the iPhone 5.

Unique camera mount: The 5C’s camera is covered with a metal bracket. The 5 has no bracket and the 5S’ camera is covered with a rubber flap.

Motherboard similar to
iPhone 5S:
While the 5C may have the same A6 processor as last year’s iPhone 5, the main system board has the same general design and connector placement as the 5S. You can’t swap this board out for the one on your old iPhone 5.

Speaker and connector assembly similar to iPhone 5: One bit of 5C hardware that is more like its counterpart on the 5 than the 5S is the external-speaker-and-lower-connector assembly. This isn’t surprising given the 5S’ new Home button with integrated fingerprint reader.


(Credit:
Bill Detwiler/TechRepublic)

Same Retina Display and new FaceTime camera: All three phones have the same Retina Display, but like the 5S, the 5C has an upgraded FaceTime camera and redesigned screen connectors. The Home button (and its pressure contacts) are more like those on the iPhone 5.

Main board shields soldered in place: Unfortunately, like the boards in the iPhone 5 and 5S, the EMI/RFI shields are soldered in place.

Case components held in place with screws/adhesive: Unfortunately, the external speaker, Lightning connector, headphone jack, vibration motor, flash, and a bevy of connector wires are held to the case with a mix of screws and adhesive. If any of these components gets damaged, removing and replacing it is possible — just not easy.


(Credit:
Bill Detwiler/TechRepublic)

More than an iPhone 5 clone, still a pain to repair
I’m glad Apple took the opportunity to not just give the iPhone 5C a new case, but also upgrade the phone’s hardware and tweak the phone’s internal design. And while it’s still no walk in the park to crack open, the 5C is no more difficult to work on than the iPhone 5 or 5S.

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iPhone 5S teardown reveals subtle internal design changes

September 25th, 2013 No comments

If it weren’t for the redesigned Home button and larger flash, the iPhone 5S and iPhone 5 would look like identical twins, at least on the outside. Take the new 5S apart, however, and the differences are more apparent — even if only slightly so. And although it isn’t the easiest phone to repair, with the right tools and a little patience, it is possible.

For more information on the iPhone 5S, including performance and battery life benchmark tests, check out Scott Stein’s full CNET review.

Except for the redesigned Home button and larger flash, the iPhone 5S is nearly identical to the iPhone 5, at least on the outside.


(Credit:
Bill Detwiler/TechRepublic)

Cracking Open observations

Opening the phone still requires special tools: With the iPhone 5, Apple ditched the twin-glass panels in favor of a wraparound metal case and single, front glass panel. This change made the phone easier to open and repair than its predecessors. The iPhone 5S shares this same basic design. Unfortunately, it also has the same tamper-resistant screws along the bottom edge. You’ll need a special pentalobe screwdriver to remove them.

iPhone 5S removing front panel

Removing the iPhone 5S’ front panel and display assembly


(Credit:
Bill Detwiler/TechRepublic)

Once you’ve removed the outer screws, you can lift off the front panel. I used both a suction cup and several plastic tools to pop it loose. Interestingly, I found the iPhone 5S’ front glass more difficult to remove than the iPhone 5′s panel. The pair of metal clips hold the right side of my iPhone 5S’ panel to the case were extremely tight. And it took me nearly 20 minutes to remove the front panel.

Beware the Home button’s new wire: The iPhone 5′s Home button was connected to the phone’s internal circuitry with a simple pressure contact. The iPhone 5S’ new fingerprint-scanning Home button uses a thin ribbon cable. When removing the front panel, you must be extremely careful not to damage this cable. And you’ll need to disconnect it before completely removing the front glass.

iPhone 5S teardown

Inside the iPhone 5S


(Credit:
Bill Detwiler/TechRepublic)

Familiar internal hardware layout: The iPhone 5 and 5S share the same basic internal hardware layout. There’s a speaker and docking connector assembly at the bottom, battery along the left side, motherboard along the right, and the rear camera and flash at the top. Attached to the front panel are the display, front camera and sensors, earpiece speaker, and the Home button.

Home button can be removed: Despite the new Home button being able to scan fingerprints, it can still be removed and replaced.

Slightly higher-capacity battery: The iPhone 5S has a 3.8V, 5.92Wh, 1,560mAh battery compared to the iPhone 5′s 3.8V, 5.45Wh, 1,440mAh unit.

No battery removal pull tab: Unlike the iPhone 5, there’s no pull tab mechanism under the iPhone 5S’ battery. You’ll need to pry the battery away from the case with a thin tool, being extremely careful not to puncture the cell in the process.

iPhone 5S teardown

Removing the iPhone 5S’ iSight camera


(Credit:
Bill Detwiler/TechRepublic)

iSight camera covered with rubber flap: The new rear-facing, iSight camera is covered with a very thin, rubber flap. This flexible strap is new to the iPhone 5S. It is secured to the right side of the camera’s mounting bracket and when it’s folded over the camera and attached to the bracket’s left side, it appears to help hold the camera in place. It’s also possible that it helps cushion the camera or dampen vibrations, I don’t know for sure.

Main board shields soldered in place: As on the iPhone 5, the EMI/RFI shields that cover the iPhone 5S’ motherboard are soldered to the board. As I wanted to put this phone back together in working order, I refrained from breaking out the soldering iron and snips.

iPhone 5S teardown

The iPhone 5S’ main system board


(Credit:
Bill Detwiler/TechRepublic)

Case components are held in place with screws/adhesive: The phone’s vibration motor, speaker assembly, headphone jack, Lightning connector, and lots of connector cables are attached to the case with either screws, adhesive, or both. If any of these components were damaged, removing and replacing them wouldn’t be difficult. But I didn’t want to risk damaging them during removal. So, I left them in place.

Two simple design changes would simplify repairs

With its new 64-bit A7 processor, M7 motion coprocessor, improved camera, and fingerprint-reading Home button, the iPhone 5S is a solid upgrade to the line. And I’m glad that Apple didn’t make the phone any more difficult to crack open than its predecessor. Unfortunately, the iPhone is still one of the most difficult-to-repair flagship smartphones on the market.

If Apple engineers wanted to make the iPhone more DIY repair-friendly, which I doubt they really do, they should take a few cues from Samsung’s
Galaxy S4 and Galaxy Mega. First, stop using tamper-resistant screws on the outside and settle on a single length for the screws on the inside. Second, stop gluing nearly every ribbon cable and internal component to the case. A little adhesive is fine, but not everything needs to be glued in place.

Perhaps Apple will take my suggestions to heart and include them in next year’s iPhone 6 — along with a larger screen.

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Samsung Galaxy Mega teardown: Oversized phone with average hardware

September 6th, 2013 No comments

The Samsung Galaxy Mega looks like an oversize version of the Galaxy S4. But looks can be deceiving. The Mega may best the S4 in sheer size, but it lags behind Samsung’s flagship phone in nearly everything else.

At 3.46 inches wide, 6.59 inches tall, and a weight of just over 7 ounces, the Galaxy Mega is a monster phone or a small
tablet — depending on your point of view. And if you’re really into cute product names, you can even call this crossover device a phablet.


(Credit:
Bill Detwiler/TechRepublic)

The Mega has a 1.7GHz dual-core processor, 1.5GB of RAM, 16GB of storage, an 8-megapixel rear camera, a 1.9MP front camera, and a 6.3-inch display with a 1,280×720-pixel resolution.

For more information on the Galaxy Mega, including performance and battery life benchmark tests, check out Jessica Dolcourt’s full CNET review.

Cracking Open Observations

Easy to crack open: Like the S4 and the most Samsung phones and tablets I’ve cracked open, the Mega is relatively easy to disassemble and doesn’t require any special tools, just a Phillips #000 screwdriver and maybe a thin blade.


(Credit:
Bill Detwiler/TechRepublic)

Hardware layout similar to the Galaxy S4: The Mega’s overall internal design is similar to the S4′s. The main board is located at the top and there’s a smaller board at the bottom.

Fused front panel/display/internal frame: Like the Galaxy S4′s, the Mega’s front panel, display, and internal frame are fused together. If one part breaks, you’ll likely need to replace the whole assembly.


(Credit:
Bill Detwiler/TechRepublic)

Monster phone with merely average hardware
If the Mega is so similar to the Galaxy S4 in appearance and overall construction, why are its looks deceiving? It all comes down to hardware. The S4 has a 1.9GHz quad-core processor, 2GB of RAM, a 13-megapixel camera, and a screen resolution of 1,920×1,080 pixels. The Mega is a step behind in every category except the battery.

Why would you want a device that’s really too large to be a phone (in my opinion) and has hardware that’s less than cutting-edge? Well, price. At the time of publication, the Mega is $149 (US) while the S4 is still $199 (although some carriers offer slightly better deals). And the Galaxy Note 3, which is similar in size but has better hardware, will cost $299. So if you’re in the market for a midrange phablet, the Mega is worth a look.

Article source: http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/cnet/pRza/~3/aQfdSDFrTOs/

MacBook Air 2013 teardown reveals hardware upgrades, no design changes

Apple didn’t make any changes to the exterior of the Air. The 11-inch Air is still 11.8 inches wide, 7.56 inches deep, and between 0.11-0.68 inches high. It weighs 2.38 pounds. Pricing starts at $999 (US) and can reach $1,749, depending on the configuration. But thanks to several hardware updates, the new Air offers faster Wi-Fi, more base storage, and almost double the battery life.

For more information on the 2013 Air, including performance and battery life benchmark tests, check out Scott Stein’s full review.

Cracking Open Observations

Opening the Air still requires special tools: The bottom panel is held on with special, pentalobe screws. And while your local hardware store might not have the necessary driver to remove them, plenty of online retailers do.

Removing the bottom cover on the 2013 MacBook Air 11-inch.


(Credit:
Bill Detwiler/TechRepublic)

Same internal layout: Despite all the hardware updates, the 2013 Air has the same basic layout as the 2011 and 2012 Airs. Along the back edge is the motherboard, cooling fan assembly, and a small I/O board. A pair a speakers flank the battery.

So if the 2013 Air looks so much like the previous models, what did Apple change and how did they so dramatically improve battery life?

Apple didn’t change the overall internal layout of the 2013 MacBook Air.


(Credit:
Bill Detwiler/TechRepublic)

Better battery: For starters, the battery is better. The new Air has a 7.6V, 5,100mAh battery compared to the 2012 model’s 7.3V, 4,680mAh unit.

Power-efficient processor: But this change alone can’t account for the jump from 5 hours of battery life to 9. For that, Apple turned to Intel’s new 4th generation Haswell processors. By combining the CPU and the platform controller hub onto a single BGA package, these ultra-low voltage chips are better able to manage power than previous chips. They also require less space on the motherboard. A 1.3GHz dual-core Core i5 comes standard on both the 11-inch and 13-inch Airs. Our test machine had a 1.7GHz Core i7.

Removing the cooling assembly from the 1.7GHz Dual-Core Intel Core i7 “Haswell” processor.


(Credit:
Bill Detwiler/TechRepublic)

Faster graphics: Along with the new CPU, the chip also has Intel’s HD Graphics 5000, which Apple claims is up to 40 percent faster than the old GPU.

Faster solid-state drive: But it’s not only the graphics that are faster. Thanks to a solid state drive, which uses a PCI Express interface instead of a slower SATA connection, the new Air is 45 percent faster when accessing files. You also get more storage for your money. The base-model Air comes with a 128GB drive compared to last year’s 64GB.

Removing the 2013 MacBook Air SSD.


(Credit:
Bill Detwiler/TechRepublic)

Faster Wi-Fi: Rounding out the upgrades is a new wireless card that also speeds things up by supporting the 802.11ac standard. Just remember you’ll need an 802.11ac access point to take full advantage of the new card. Conveniently, Apple released new Airport stations that do just that.

Bottom line

This year’s Air upgrades were all about efficiency and speed. More efficient power management, faster graphics, a faster SSD, and faster Wi-Fi. Thanks to these updates, Apple definitely hit a triple with new Air. Had the company included a Retina display, given the 11-inch version an SD card slot, and upgraded the camera — they would have hit a home run.

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Google Glass Explorer Edition teardown reveals hits and misses on repairability

Not since the iPhone or
iPad has a gadget generated more buzz than Google Glass. So of course I wanted to take it apart and explore its internal hardware. Unfortunately, as I’ll show you, this version of Google Glass wasn’t built to be easily dissected or repaired.

According to Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, Glass is still “probably a yearish away” from hitting store shelves. But true to the company’s iterative development style, Google is shipping 10,000 or so Explorer Edition units to developers, beta testers, and winners of Google’s “If I Had Glass” contest. And while the company might make a few tweaks to the product before launch, these test units still give us a good idea of what to expect in terms of overall design and hardware.

The Google Glass specs page says that Glass has a 5-megapixel camera that can shoot video in 720p. It supports 802.11 b/g Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Audio is provided by a bone-conduction transducer, and the display is “the equivalent of a 25-inch high-definition screen from 8 feet away.” As for buttons and connectors, Glass has a Listen button, an on/off button, a capture button, a touch-sensitive area, and a Micro-USB port for charging. There’s also a status LED and rear-facing sensor array.

Google notes that Glass has 16GB of flash storage (12GB of which are available to the user). But, the company doesn’t specify which processor the unit uses or how much RAM it has. And normally this wouldn’t be a problem. As fans of Cracking Open know, this is the point where I show you how to pop off the gadget’s cover and get to the tech inside. Unfortunately, Glass was less than cooperative.

Cracking Open observations

  • Removable frame and nose piece: Cracking open Google Glass begins by removing the frame and nose piece. Thanks to a single Torx T5 screw, this process is relatively simple.

  • Easy-to-remove eyepiece cover: Removing the eyepiece’s plastic housing, which covers the camera and display assembly, was also relatively simple.
  • No easy way to open repair main and rear modules: Unfortunately, this is where my cracking open came to a screeching halt. I tried everything I could think of to get inside Glass’ main and rear modules. Prying, poking, even heating. Nothing worked. And because I wasn’t given the green light to destroy this unit during my teardown, cutting the plastic off wasn’t an option.

So what are the CPU and RAM specs for Glass?
Developer Jay Lee used an
Android debugging utility to pull information on the Glass CPU and RAM from the device’s operating system. If his information is accurate, Glass has a Texas Instruments OMAP 4430 processor (which was also used in the Amazon
Kindle Fire) and 1GB of RAM. Given what other developers and journalists have posted online, Glass also appears to have a host of sensors, including a gyroscope, accelerometer, and ambient light sensor.

Bottom line
I know this Cracking Open wasn’t as thorough as most. And I hate not being able to show you the circuit boards and chips inside Google Glass. But as there are so few of the Explore Edition units available and given that they cost $1,500 each, I just couldn’t risk damaging the device.

Perhaps that’s the biggest takeaway from this “sort-of” teardown. Glass is a mixed bag when it comes to repairability. The titanium frame and nose piece are simple to replace. And given the eyepiece’s construction, it’s not inconceivable that it, too, could be removed and replaced. But I don’t see any way to safely get inside the main or rear modules. If they break, you’ll likely need a complete replacement.

A more detailed version of this story was first published on TechRepublic’s Cracking Open.

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Samsung Galaxy S4 teardown: Redesigned interior, easy to crack open

With its 1080p screen, 13-megapixel camera, and quad-core processor, the Samsung Galaxy S4 is packed with impressive hardware. On this episode of Cracking Open, I explore the phone’s redesigned interior and show you why it is easier to disassemble and repair than its predecessors.

Samsung Galaxy S4
(Credit:
Bill Detwiler/TechRepublic)

Full TechRepublic teardown gallery: Cracking Open the Google Samsung Galaxy S4

Despite its larger screen and new internals, the Galaxy S4 is nearly identical to last year’s Galaxy S3 model in size, shape, and external design. The new phone has a 5-inch display with a resolution of 1,920×1,080 pixels at 441ppi. Our ATT version has a 1.9GHz Snapdragon 600 processor from Qualcomm, 2GB of LPDDR3 RAM, 16GB of built-in storage, a microSD card slot, an 18-megapixel rear-facing camera, a 2-megapixel front-facing camera, NFC support, and even an IR blaster so you can use it as a TV remote.

A variant without LTE is available with Samsung’s own 1.6GHz eight-core Exynos 5 Octa processor. And buyers in South Korea, the phone maker’s home country, will even be able to get an LTE version with a 1.8GHz version of the Exynos 5 Octa processor.

For more information on the Galaxy S4, including real-world tests and pricing information, check out Jessica Dolcourt’s full CNET review.

And not only does the new Galaxy have some of the most impressive specs among
Android handsets, it’s one of the easiest to disassemble and repair.

Samsung Galaxy S4 teardown
(Credit:
Bill Detwiler/TechRepublic)

Cracking Open observations

  • Easy to crack open: Because the battery is user-replaceable, the back cover can be popped off with just a fingernail. After removing a few Phillips screws, you can pop the internal circuit board cover off with a thin plastic tool, metal blade, or the aforementioned nail. And voila, you’re inside the phone.

  • Redesigned interior: Compared with the Galaxy S3, Samsung redesigned the interior of the S4. The main system board is located at the top of the handset instead of the bottom. The battery compartment has been shifted down. And instead of a single board running the length of the phone, the S4 has a main board and a daughter board.

Samsung Galaxy S4
(Credit:
Bill Detwiler/TechRepublic)

  • More discrete internal components: I criticized Samsung for joining several of the Galaxy S3′s internal components with a single ribbon cable and gluing that cable to the front-panel assembly. Because of this construction method, if one part broke you had to replace all the attached parts. The S4 does have a few component clusters, but they are smaller and more localized — no long ribbon cables.

  • Fused front panel and display: As is common with modern smartphones, the Galaxy S4′s front panel and actual display are fused together. If one breaks, you’ll likely need to replace both.

  • Replacing front panel/display assembly: And you’ll need to remove all the other internal components in the process.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Motherboard
(Credit:
Bill Detwiler/TechRepublic)

Bottom line
Having cracked open the original Galaxy S, S2, S3, and now the S4, I’m impressed by the hardware improvements and design refinements Samsung has made with each new model. The S4 is a worthy addition to the Galaxy line, and it’s one of the easiest phones to disassemble that I’ve worked on in a long time.

(A more detailed version of this story was first published on TechRepublic’s Cracking Open.)

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Pricey Chromebook Pixel: Built well but impractical to upgrade

Unlike Chromebooks from Samsung, Acer, and HP, the Google-designed Pixel has both high-end hardware and a high-end price tag. On this week’s episode of Cracking Open, I go inside the Pixel and show you why it’s easy to service, but nearly impossible to upgrade.


(Credit:
Bill Detwiler/TechRepublic)

Full TechRepublic teardown gallery: Cracking Open the Google Chromebook Pixel

With pricing that starts at $1,299, the Pixel costs five times more than the top-selling $249 Samsung Chromebook. Why the huge difference? Hardware. The base-model Pixel ($1,299) has a third-generation 1.8GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor, Intel Graphics HD 4000, 4GB of DDR3 RAM, a 32GB solid-state drive (SSD), and a touch-sensitive 12.85-inch display with a 3:2 aspect ratio (2,560×1,700-pixel resolution at 239 ppi). An LTE-equipped Pixel with 64GB of local storage is available for $1,449.

For more information on the Pixel, including real-world tests, check out Seth Rosenblatt’s full CNET review.

Not only is the Pixel the best-equipped Chromebook on the market, its thin profile and sleek design make it the best-looking. But that’s all on the outside. I’m more interested in how the machine is put together.


(Credit:
Bill Detwiler/TechRepublic)

Cracking Open observations

  • Easy-open case: Those comfortable working on laptops should have no trouble cracking open the Pixel. The case’s bottom cover is held to the body with four screws (hidden beneath the unit’s rubber feet) and two metal clips (one on each side of the cover). Once the screws are removed, you can pop the clips loose with a thin metal or plastic tool.


(Credit:
Bill Detwiler/TechRepublic)

  • Clean internal hardware layout: The Pixel’s internal hardware layout isn’t quite as clean as the Apple MacBook Air‘s design, but it’s not bad. The 59Wh Li-ion battery is located at the front of the case, with speakers on either side. The motherboard and cooling assembly run along the back.

  • Built solidly but impractical to upgrade: Overall, the Chromebook Pixel is built as well as other high-end, ultrathin machines. And cracking it open wasn’t difficult. But, as with many laptops these days, there isn’t much you can do once you get inside the case. Nearly everything is soldered to the motherboard and there really isn’t anything to upgrade.


(Credit:
Bill Detwiler/TechRepublic)

$1,300 for a Chromebook?
As for whether the Pixel is right for you, that’s a tough question. It certainly has the hardware of a high-end laptop. But other than the touch screen, I’m not sure how much that hardware really improves the user experience. If the point of Google’s Chrome OS is to have the cloud be your hard drive and handle the heavy lifting for most tasks, do you really need $1,300 in hardware? I think the jury is still out on that.

(A more detailed version of this story was first published on TechRepublic’s Cracking Open.)

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