Attacking an iPod

My good lady wife does an enormous amount of travelling. She is addicted to Kiri Te Kanawa and exceptional tenors (this does not include Bocelli). Put the two things together and you have a prime candidate for an iPod. Much better than travelling with a Walkman and a bagful of tapes or CDs. Her 2002 Christmas present was one of the first generation 10GB models, and when she got her head round what it was for, and that it was easy to use, she fell in love with it. It became her constant companion.

Within a year the battery was showing signs of not holding a full charge. I tried a number of tricks to freshen the thing up – like always keeping the software up-to-date, and on several occasions following a sort of digital voodoo ceremony that involved running the thing down to flat, then doing to a complete reformat and re-install. It worked to some extent, but a couple of months ago it became obvious I was going to have to do something to sort the ’Pod out.

Apple have recognised that the batteries they use have a limited lifespan, and offer a sort of solution. Give them your iPod and a chunk of money, and you get a similar iPod back with a battery that works. The cost in NZ is somewhere north of $300 – or nearly half the cost of a new iPod. So I looked for another solution. There are plenty of places on the web that will sell you a replacement battery and a little tool which is supposed to make opening the iPod case possible without damage. Finding a company that will send one to NZ is a lot harder. Many of the companies I tried didn’t have the financial systems to take an NZ credit card (or wanted to charge a huge transaction fee), others wouldn’t ship overseas. An Australian site had exactly what I wanted, but didn’t send stuff over the Tasman. In the end, I got a friend in Florida to buy the battery I wanted and then stick it an a courier bag to NZ. Worked perfectly, and he got a US$50 note in a cheeky card to cover his expenses.

The battery I wanted to get my hands on was the Newer Technology 2100mAh high capacity battery for first and second generation iPods, and I bought it from MegaMacs. This is a “bigger” battery than the original, and so should give longer listening time. It comes complete with two little plastic tools and several pages of instructions.

iPods are not designed to be taken to bits. When Apple pushes the top onto the shiny stainless steel bottom, it’s meant to stay there. But with some gentle force and a couple of softish plastic tools, you can crack the case open, and get at the battery. I did intend to take a few pix to demonstrate the process, but in the end, getting into the thing was nerve-wracking enough without recording a possible disaster for posterity, so the battery you see in the picture above is the old Apple battery. You start at the top, attacking the join near the Firewire plug (right in the picture). You’re then supposed to work your way down the side of the case and round the bottom until you can just lift the top off. In fact, the headphone plug has a plastic centre that has to be eased out of the case. Pull too soon, and it sticks. And if you twist, you can strain the screen. The only evidence that the ’Pod has been hacked is a slight colour cast on the left of the screen where I strained a bit hard. That and one end of white plastic clip that broke off as I was “easing” the top clear.

That’s the hard bit. All you have to do then is lift a couple of sticky retaining tapes, unplug the battery, plug in the new one, replace the tapes, and push the bottom back on to the top. Simple. Opening the case took about 15 minutes because I was being careful. Replacing the battery took a minute, perhaps less. I charged the new battery over night, and though I can’t give you a battery life estimate (what – listen to hours of Kiri Te Canopener screeching? No way!) I can tell you that it’s held its charge well for over a week. When my wife gets back from her current overseas trip, she’ll test the thing properly. Worth the money? Beyond a shadow of a doubt. Would I recommend other people do this? If your iPod is out of warranty, this is one effective way to save money. All but the terminally ham-fisted should cope well.

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