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Saving My iPod [6/18/2008 05:02:00 PM]:
HPIM1295 So, I've had my 4G iPod for a few years now -- same one I initially bought, never replaced or upgraded or anything like that. It kept me sane during my time as a contractor, esp. at The Big Red H and ExxonMobil's Bell St. office (right next to the elevator; yay!), and while I haven't been as diligent about keeping it in good shape as I should have, it's still working fine, and I love it.

Well, except for the battery, that is. Seems that Apple's got some battery issues they have yet to address, and I've done pretty well to have avoided running into it before now. Lately, though, I've been noticing that my iPod barely holds a charge -- by the time I finish mowing the lawn (which, I'll admit, is a multi-hour deal), the damn thing's just about empty. Running it in the car with the iTrip & the radio drains it even faster; I was stunned last week when I sat down in the car on the way home, plugged it in, and -- poof -- gone. Dead.

Now, seeing as I'm headed off to the outlet-less Grand Canyon in a week or so, I started to get kinda alarmed. While the lure of an 80GB "Classic" iPod is hard to resist, shit, I don't have that kind of money to blow right now, y'know? I went out and slapped down some cash, instead, for something I'd wanted for a while, the Solio Hybrid 1000 solar charger (see up there on the right). Clips onto a backpack, comes with USB/mini-USB connectors that'll let me charge the iPod, my cell, and my cheap-ass digital camera (plus a bunch of extra phone connectors I'll never use), the whole deal, and it weighs nothing and is just a smidge longer than a paperback book. I was also happy to discover that it actually stores the charge, rather than just channeling it through, and it'll both charge and put out power at the same time, so you can suck down solar energy and power your gadgets at the same time.

The only downside is that it doesn't charge the iPod real fast -- it took quite a while to recharge using the Solio, even in bright sunlight w/the iPod not running, 'cause just a little bit of use was zapping the 'pod so damn much. So if I spend 4+ hours trudging along behind my dad in the hot, hot sun, I figured the iPod'd still die somewhere within the first two hrs. or so. Not so good.

The other option, then, given that I couldn't (and still can't) justify the $250 for a new iPod, was to replace the battery. After the first uproar over the whole battery-life thing, Apple started offering its own service to "replace" the battery, but you have to actually send the iPod in question to them (paying your own way w/the postage), and they'll send you back a new/new-ish iPod with a new battery. While the price has gone down some since that initial deal (now it's about $60, plus the cost of shipping), I just wasn't able to force myself to send the whole 'pod off for God-knows-how-long -- especially since I'd be leaving town within a week or so. And beyond that, Apple doesn't actually transfer anything to the replacement iPod, and the thought of uploading all 4000 songs all over again made my stomach do backflips.

Thankfully, in the yawning vacuum left by Apple in the iPod battery aftermarket, a number of folks have started making and selling their own DIY kits for ripping out the old, dead battery and sticking in a new one. When I initially saw the procedure described, I'll admit that I broke out in a cold sweat -- I'm not particularly handy w/electronics, so I wasn't real keen on cracking open my beloved musical friend. Particularly since doing so, uh, voids Apple's warranty.

Now, though, I'm a few more years down the line, totally out of warranty, and halfway to buying a new iPod anyway, so I figured, "why not?" Why not try the battery replacement, considering I was able to find a battery for my 4th gen. model for about $40? I dug around a bit and found a decent-looking upgrade/replacement kit (including "iOpener," patent pending -- woo!), from San Antonio-based iPodjuice/Milliamp LTD (who also run the handy iPodBatteryFAQ.com, although it's a little cheesy the way they promote themselves there), the battery for which purports to last 100% longer than the default iPod battery, and I took the plunge.

And I have to say, I'm still somewhat stunned at how easy the whole thing was. I mean, seriously, seriously easy. Easy. My new battery kit, complete with Crutchfield-style instructions, arrived about 2 days later, so after the wife & munchkin went to bed one night, I set everything up at my nice, static-free kitchen table and went to work.

One thing to note: the instructions iPodjuice provides point out that actually opening the iPod is the absolute hardest part of the whole thing, and believe me, they're not kidding. Getting the 'pod open took me roughly a half-hour of sweating, cringing, and swearing, and after watching the instructional video on the iPodjuice site (after the fact, naturally), I think I did it wrong, 'cause that guy cracks his open like he's shelling walnuts. I think the key is that you have to jam the iOpener down in there pretty hard, then slide it sideways, even if it doesn't look like it'll go -- once I finally got it going, it was like unzipping the thing around the edges.

If you ever decide to give this a shot w/the same kit I used (or another, actually; I think most of 'em include a tool of some kind), do not use anything but the provided tool to open your iPod. I made the mistake of using a thin kitchen knife to try to pry it open when I had the iOpener jammed down in there, and not only did it not pop out like I thought it would, but I, uh, bent in the metal sides somewhat. Fuck. Ah, well -- my 'pod's a tough customer, and he lives in his little Marware carrier most of the time anyway, so eh.

Also somewhat tricky -- and again, the iPodjuice people warn you up-front -- is balancing one half of the iPod "shell" on its side and holding the battery up somehow while you're trying to pull out the tightly-seated battery leads. (Which are, of course, very fragile.) Partway through I found myself wishing my wife hadn't already gone to bed, but I persevered with the help of a mini-screwdriver to jimmy the lead connector up & out. After that, I slid the new iPod battery in, shifted the cable around under the motherboard-looking thingy (like I said, not handy with electronics), and carefully snapped the two sides of the shell back together, trying not to pinch any wires in the process.

I let it charge for a full six hours or so, and praise be to whoever, it works. Minus the creases some idiot (cough) put in the metal on the sides, it looks and runs as good as new -- hell, better, even. I may be imagining it, but I'd swear the battery charges faster and runs down more slowly than the old one ever did, even when it was brand new.

Moral to the story: if I can do this, trust me, you can. I've done some rudimentary wiring/installation-type stuff in the past, but it's always been ceiling fans, light fixtures, Crutchfield car stereos, stuff that's meant for morons to be able to do it. This was way easier than the last two ceiling fans I had to put up, so that's a big plus in its favor. Heck, I think it might've even been simpler than switching out my car stereo. I'd highly recommend the iPodjuice folks if anybody reads this & decides to give it a go, but you can also get batteries and replacement kits from Laptops for Less, PowerbookMedic, the iStore, and RapidRepair. There're probably others, too, but those are the ones I ran across while researching this stuff.

I'd also recommend checking out methodshop.com's handy info on fixing whatever goes wrong with your iPod, and definitely BatteryUniversity.com's awesomely informative page on prolonging the life of lithium-based batteries. Apple uses lithium-ion batteries for its iPods, and they operate very differently in some ways from other types of rechargeable batteries -- for one thing, they actually do better with short, frequent charges, rather than the old-school way of letting the whole thing run down to zero before recharging. (This goes for a lot of current cellphones, too; I now keep mine plugged in at night no matter what, and the battery performance seems to've improved.) Anyway, there you go -- learn from my experimentation...

Now I've gotta head home & get to packing.

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