Fixing rapid charger (at least cradle) appears possible
I've got a rapid charging "cradle", the one some call a dock or a stand. (Cradle seems to be the official term for it.)
As with many others, it's been unreliable, because it's difficult to get a reliable connection when I seat the PlayBook on it. Pretty much since the start, it's been a pain, but lately it was taking me literally several minutes of fiddling, poking, and prodding to get it to seat properly and charge each night. I would have gone mad if it weren't for Battery Guru (my app) being able to show me exactly what it was doing (charging at full power, or barely charging, or not charging at all).
It was so bad I decided I might as well crack the thing open and see what I could learn, since I was ready to just stop using the thing to spare myself the daily frustration.
I opened it up (no actual "cracking" required... there are screws) and dismantled it. I was quickly able to confirm that the problem with one of the spring-loaded pins not sticking up high enough was, in fact, because of a manufacturing defect. (Actually, if two engineers were arguing over it they'd both point the finger at the other one, since an improved connector design would avoid the possibility of the manufacturing being a problem, but that's engineers you know...)
The flaw is actually visible three ways. For one, looking at the fully assembled charger you could see the one pin was slightly lower. Looking at the underside of the little connector's housing, there's a brass-coloured "barrel" which is inserted into the black metal housing, and you could see on the underside where the pin's "shoulder" is that it was lower down than the others. Lastly, looking at right angles to the pins on the underside of the PCB, where they are soldered, you could tell one was lower than the other two.
For those of you with experience and the right tools, look at the three pins of that connector where they are soldered to the small PCB, on the bottom of it. You may note that one of them is a bit lower than the others, and if you melt the solder and push up firmly on it (this is a bit tricky... need a vice, or another pair of hands) you can move it up to the same level as the others. Mine needed to be moved probably less than 1mm and afterwards the tops of all three pins came up to the same point in the connector housing.
In the weeks leading up to my fix, as I said it generally took 2-3 minutes of fiddling each time to get a proper connection.
Since fixing it yesterday, I've come up to the charger 5-6 times and just slapped the PlayBook on it rather carelessly. Each time it immediately just worked. (Once it showed only about 6.5W charging power at first, but I waited 30s for the next Battery Guru update and it jumped to 9.5W where it was supposed to be, so it was just lower because of some averaging.)
If you have the expertise to try this yourself, feel free to try. At this time I think it would be wise if only those who are truly experienced in this area attempt it, and if one or two can report success similar to mine, we can write up the details more thoroughly, with photos, and perhaps that can help some others to do the same. If you don't have the knowledge yourself, please find someone else who does (and show them this post) instead of attempting it yourself.
If you do this, consider taking photos if you're able, to show others
Safety warning/disclaimer: do-it-yourself repairs to electronics can be dangerous, even fatal, if you don't know what you're doing. You'll void whatever warranty you may have, you may permanently destroy the charger or your PlayBook, your friends may laugh at you (I certainly will), your spouse and kids may leave you, and you might burn down your house.
I will not be held liable for any of that (except the part where I laughed at you). Proceed at your own risk.
Seriously, if someone in the Toronto area (I'm 45 minutes to the north east) wanted to try to get their unit to me, I'd happily perform the same operation just to get the additional data point(s) about whether this would work in general. Not sure it would be worth your cost/effort getting the unit to me though.
- 09-24-2011, 04:57 PM #5
I've got the slightly different rapid charger but I don't see any easier access to the base of the spring pins. The entire plug is one piece of molded plastic. I've thought of using a fine drill to gain access below it and seeing if it could be propped up. It is NOT covered by the Playbook support or warranty phone number - I tried. The low pin is the one closest to the wired end of things. It is spring loaded as I can probe it and it does lower and then raise up but stays below the level of the others. Peter, any trips planned to Vancouver or Seattle? (G)
If it were mine, and I found it to be the soft kind, I'd probably take a utility knife (e.g. X-ACTO) and try cutting the bottom part off, where I would expect to find the soldered side of some small PCB. Might even be able to do it in such a way that you don't cut it entirely off, but just fold back a "flap" and be able to glue it back in place after operating.
I have no idea if the actual design of that one is the same as the one in the rapid charger though. Can anyone get a real good closeup or two, preferably looking down on the pins, but at an angle so we can see it better from the side? The cradle connector has an outer metal housing, with holes somewhat larger than the pins themselves, and then what seem to be small plastic "sleeves" or bushings of some kind that are inserted into those holes, and in which the metal pins themselves slide. Possibly Teflon.
How closely does that description match what the non-cradle version has?
- 09-24-2011, 07:07 PM #8
And since I had trouble getting the images to attach, rather than edit that one, I will write this new reply.
You can clearly see the pin is lower than its two mates. The other shows the "sleeves" that may look like your dock's equipment. Dark rings of a different material than the the surrounding plug material. Eh, one more from a slightly different angle may show the "rings" better?
Last edited by F2; 09-24-2011 at 07:15 PM.
Yes, for what it's worth, the apparent difference in height is basically identical to what I saw in my case. In my estimation, a similar fix is likely viable in your case, ignoring differences in the construction of the moulding etc.
I suspect the basic connector design "concept" is identical, though what you actually find inside will be different in at least some way. Would be nice if someone could find a datasheet for the two variants of this connector. (There was no obvious marking that would help with that, on the housing for my connector, I'm afraid.)
I still can't tell from the photo... is that outer material something you could cut with a utility knife? Making a shallow incision into one side of the moulding, and spreading the two edges apart, may give you a fairly clear picture into the interior construction, without permanent mutilation.
- CrackBerry Master
09-24-2011, 08:33 PM #11
- 1,399 Posts
Great info Peter, thanks for this! I love an excuse to whip out the soldering station so when I start having issues with mine, I'll probably just tear into it vs trying the warranty process.
Thus far I haven't had any issues, but sometimes it does take a time or two of seating it on the base again to get it to take off charging. Stupid mass manufacturing robot drones need to learn how to solder. (Or just need better programmers for the assembly line itself)
- 09-24-2011, 09:02 PM #12
I did forget to mention - the plug is kind of hard rubbery. So, an exacto knife or SAWSALL would probably work. The plug while apparently demonstrating the same flaws (spring pin not spring UP enough), it is probably easier to seat since it is a much more direct fit. I'm sure that my otterbox case makes the connection from the right (wire coursing to the right) more of an issue since the case kind of deflects the plug a bit. When the wire runs off left it is okay. But wire right gives the lightning bolt but does NOT charge so the misaligned pin may affect that or it may be that the plug is not seated sufficiently but it's funny that the bolt appears. Wire left charges with bolt. Doesn't someone have some measuring tool to check current/voltage (I'm one of those who deals with electricity in a macro definitional sense) off the the 3 pins or sets of two.
Someone has posted elsewhere (supportforums?) to report that the two outer pins apparently have the same voltage as each other, while the middle one is ground. They concluded from that that the connector is reversible.
I'm not convinced, because of the lightning bolt thing and what I've observed with my own unit, where sometimes it would begin charging, but at only about 3W instead of 9W. It seemed to me there must be some difference, and for that matter possibly some communications going on (thus the lightning-bolt-with-no-actual-charging).
When I took mine apart, it was clear from the PCB traces that the two outer pins are not electrically connected. While they may have the same voltage when measured with a simple voltmeter, possibly one does have some form of communications present, superimposed on the charging power in some fashion. The little PCB that the connector pins are soldered into also has a small chip (8-pin SOIC, from memory) and several discrete components (resistors and caps, maybe an inductor). I didn't have time to trace things out (and didn't think to take a picture of it) as I was racing against time to get it back together and tested before we headed out for some local event.
Note that even if the two outer pins are not actually identical, it's possible that the plug is still reversible, as the PlayBook side could compensate and work with it in either orientation. The fact yours acts differently depending which way you plug it in could merely be because of a slight difference in the positioning of the cable leading away from the connector (as I believe you've suggested in another post).
I have no idea if any of that helps, but it seemed like the time to mention it...
If my "repaired" cradle continues to work fine for a few more days, I'll take it apart again to get a few pictures, and to trace out the circuit a bit and solve some of these mysteries.
- 09-25-2011, 12:02 AM #14
Do you think there is room in the plug I've pictured to hold the circuit board/chip you've seen in the dock? So it is a very small circuit? The low pin is definitely still spring loaded but starts lower so you think something is missing under the spring or board under that low pin? In another thread, someone mentioned using electronic cleaner spray helping release the pin?
Your description of your low pin fits so well, however, that I can only say it seems likely there's a similar defect, though the precise fix may have to be slightly different. It's possible that the body of the pin, where it fits into the housing, is a snug fit, and could merely be pushed up until the tips are even.
Sometimes moulded plugs like the one pictured come ready-made with the plastic/rubber more or less poured right around the cable assembly, which in your case would consist of three wires coming up from the base, with the ends possibly soldered directly to the other ends of the pins. In my case the pins (not the tips, but the body of them) could not move up and down without unsoldering their bases first, but in your case it could be they could move without unsoldering anything, but it's also possible the plastic/rubber would have to chipped/picked away from around the whole thing before that's possible. I could see this being an operation with a risk of destroying the thing, higher than what I was able to do with the cradle charger.
As for the spray/cleaner approach: it might well have worked for them. It's possible it dislodged something that was interfering with the pin action, or removed some surface coating that prevented a clean contact. I can safely say that in my case the pin moved quite freely, and cleaning would have changed nothing. (I even inspected it closely with a 10x jeweller's loupe under a bright light, confirming that before I disassembled.)
It may also be they interpreted a subsequent success as a fix, when it's really just an intermittent problem, in which case they'll see it failing again shortly. That's still a possibility in my case as well, but I'm up to about 10/11 perfect fits, with only one time where I had to just pick it up from the cradle again and drop it back (no wiggling required) to get it to work.
Anyone have a charger (like F2's, not mine) which simply doesn't work at all, and they're willing to sacrifice it by slicing open the moulded plug to get pics of the inside?
For one thing, I don't believe it would be necessary for this type of connection, even if one of the pins has data (whether superimposed on power or not).
For another, we have reports from people saying their magnetic connector works in either orientation, so it seems to be reversible. (People have confirmed that, haven't they? Maybe I misinterpreted.)
Lastly, it was clear from several indications in my case that the left-most pin was unintentionally lower than it should be, and after raising it the charger has worked pretty much perfectly, where before it almost never worked without minutes of fiddling.
I expect we could also get many people with perfectly functional cradle chargers (or the other one) to report here that the three pins in their plug all come to precisely the same height within the little housing/shroud around the pins, in which case I'd say it's conclusive.
- 09-25-2011, 10:37 AM #18
I think rather than taking the sawsall to the little plug I will either call or email rim's other support number to see if they stand behind this separate pb accessory since the playbook support staff do NOT deal with accessories from my calls/emails with them.
... Well, just sent an email to Blackberry with the photos showing the low pin. We shall see (playbook support only gave an email address and not a phone number - probably because Rim does not generally deal with the public on support issues other than the new playbook)
F2, as I posted in the support forums, I just bought one of the regular rapid chargers (non-cradle) and the pin closest to the cable is lower than the other two, as in your photos.
For now, this one works flawlessly.
It may well be that the reason this is a problem with the cradle charger is because of the mechanical design of the thing: the connector with the three pins is prevented from getting quite as "deep" into the magnetic-connector on the PB side as the regular one can.
In the cradle case, I'm 98% sure the depressed pin was the problem.
In the case of the regular charger, I'm not at all convinced at this point that a pin down only as much as yours is would be a problem. I'll probably try to get some measurements later to prove/disprove that thought...
Maybe over time my new charger will start to fail as well, in which case I can try to troubleshoot the problem... for now I certainly wouldn't recommend anyone attempt my fix (above) for the non-cradle charger.
It's also possible it's just a systemic flaw in the manufacturing, so they're all "wrong" in the identical way, but it just seems mine's too exactly like F2's for this to be random chance.
Here's a series of photos for F2, and others, showing more detail about the magnetic rapid charger (not the cradle, though this thread was originally about fixing the cradle, specifically).
I'm having serious ISP reliability issues right now (Rogers bought our cable company :P ...) so I'm going to post these as-is, then start another post to describe them a bit.
Description of images posted above:
image1: connector for rapid charger; note the third pin (nearest cable) is lower than others
image2: note that the rubbery cover is easily removed
image3: metal housing for pins mounted in vice, using small flat screwdriver to pry up the cover
image4: view of the "rear" side of the connector with cover removed; note the uneven soft plastic material that's been formed on top of the connector
image5: view of the "front" side showing some of that material scraped away to expose the three soldered connections, with wires to first pin (blue insulation) and second pin (white) visible
image6: view of rear again... compare with image5 and note the different height of the harder material in the middle, versus the front side: if you go ahead with any repair attempt, make sure you know which side you should work on
This rapid charger works fine for me currently, so I'm not going to do anything more with it right now. I did this to demonstrate that this connector is also soldered, and therefore should be fixable in much the same manner as I fixed my cradle rapid charger, though with more difficulty because of the way that soft plastic material is basically melted around the solder joints and the wires.
One option to make a functional repair is probably to try sliding the cover up the cable (this seems very difficult... possibly applying a lubricant to the cable will make it slide up more easily), then simply cut the cable just past the soft plastic stuff instead of attempting to scrape it off carefully. Now you can basically hack the stuff off and clean it out to expose the solder connections. Remove the solder and pull off the remaining bits of wire, then perform the original fix described earlier, to move the first pin until it lines up with the others. Strip the wire ends, slip some heat-shrink tubing over the ends and up, resolder, slide heat-shrink down and install it (hot air, shrink it) then.... well, be creative. Maybe it's enough to just pull the cover back over the exposed ends. I'm not sure what could be done to replace that soft plastic stuff, though it's non-essential.
Another option would be to carve the plastic out of the way just around the first pin (awkward), then without removing the wire, try melting the solder and adjusting the pin position. I'd call this much trickier though, if you succeeded, the end result would possibly be cleaner. Probably not worth it though.
I've also attempted some fine measurements of the depth of the pins etc. Near as I can tell, the first pin is lower on mine by about 0.020" (about 0.5mm). It is NOT by design, given reports we've now had (in the supportforums) of cases where all the pins are aligned, and I'm certain of it now after looking into my connector and seeing how it's assembled.
Also, thinking about it more, I can see that the difference in height is not nearly enough for it to be by design, since there's nothing that actually ensures those other two pins would make contact before the lower pin. I can plug the connector in to the PlayBook while holding the connector at a bit of an angle, and the lower pin could actually make contact first. There's no way the difference in height would be so little if this were by design.
If mine ever does start failing, I'll proceed with a repaid on this one as well, but for now I've put it back together and it's still working fine for me.
- 10-01-2011, 11:33 AM #23
Seriously, good research. Image 5, I guess shows it a bit messy to get in/through the material to expose the root of the problem. I was hoping that I could just apply some upward force with some kind of probe in the area of the low pin to force it higher but it looks like it is too protected/cushioned for such simple pressure to move that pin.
My vise is a bit too macro to allow me to work like you did and my fingers have already suffered from similar probes and levering while holding small parts in the past.
I will just have to hope that the lady from rim follows through and sends me a new unit where the pins are properly exposed. If not, I may play Dr Frankenstein on one of the units to try following your info.
F2, what you just said: good point... I'm not even sure there's a need to melt the solder in this case. I could imagine it's possible to apply pressure to the solder-side of the pin and force it up, after scraping away enough of the plastic material, and without desoldering.
It's also still possible that, like the cradle charger where the pin is physically bonded to the PCB by the solder, it may still require desoldering.
I can't say which it would be without further disassembly (which as I said I'll leave until this fails, if it does).
- CrackBerry Abuser
09-02-2012, 11:18 AM #25
- 449 Posts
- No way am I listing it here
I just did basically the same thing for my rapid charging stand for the BlackBerry PlayBook. The little rubber piece on the bottom pulls right off. You will then unscrew three small screws then gently pry the little piece of plastic off. Once you accomplish that you will then undo two more small screws on the circuit board, gently pull back the piece with the connecting pins and use a soldering iron to gently push the pin back up. Once the pin is warm, you can also try using needle nose pliers to push the pin a little more. Reassemble and voila! My PlayBook is even now happily charging away on it's stand.Yes, my BB is surgically attached to my hand!
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