How I Destroyed an iPod in Order to Save it

Michael Brown

It’s not uncommon for older rechargeable batteries to lose their capacity for holding a charge. If you’re experiencing this problem with an older iPod, you might be tempted to purchase a battery-replacement kit instead of chucking the player altogether. Tread with care if you do.

Blue Raven Technology recently pitched their iPod Battery Replacement Kit to me, so I decided to try it out on our Lab iPod (a fifth-gen 30GB with video). The $30 kit consists of a replacement lithium-polymer batter, a jeweler’s screwdriver, and a plastic pry tool. The package shows three simple steps: Use the provided tools to open the case, remove and replace the battery, close the case and enjoy your music.
Following the asterisk at the second step takes you to the disclosure that more detailed instructions are enclosed, and that “opening your iPod may void the manufacturer’s warranty if less than one year old. If you are not comfortable replacing the battery yourself, please consult a technician or electronics repair facility.”

Blue Raven’s $30 kit consists of a lithium-polymer battery and two cheap tools. You provide the iPod.

The instructions inside are a little more detailed, with 10 steps accompanied by photographs. They have you insert the screwdriver between the plastic front and the metal back of the iPod. If you can’t get the tool into the gap, you’re supposed to squeeze the player at both ends in an effort to “cause a slight buckling.” I didn’t find this technique very helpful, but I did finally manage to get the tool inserted with only a few flecks of plastic falling off.

Once I’d opened a gap in the case, I inserted the green plastic pry tool and proceeded to run it around the seam holding the front and back together. The plastic tool’s edge deteriorated rapidly during this process, making it less and less effective as a wedge that would separate the two pieces.

Look closely at the top right corner and you can see how Blue Raven’s tools (or—ahem—the person wielding them) chewed up the iPod’s case.

As I worked the tool around the top corner of the iPod, a small black bloom appeared in the same corner of the LCD. “Uh-oh,” I said to no one in particular, “that doesn’t look good.” But I was committed now that I had the case open; sealing it back up wasn’t going to make that bloom disappear.

Once I had the case open, it was interesting to see the insignificant amount of shock absorption surrounding the Toshiba disk drive inside. There are strips of neoprene clinging to the sides, small chunks of the same material on the bottom, and a donut of foam on the face; that’s it. I also noticed that my iPod was wired just a little differently from the one shown in Blue Raven’s instructions, but it wasn’t enough of a difference to be confusing.

Here’s what the inside of a fifth-gen iPod looks like. The blue material provides shock absorption for the hard drive.

Using the green plastic tool, I pried the factory battery off its bed of glue and gingerly plucked its ribbon cable from the player’s power socket. I then pressed the replacement battery into the remaining glue. Aside from prying the case open, I had the most difficulty shoving the new battery’s power cable into the socket. The thin ribbon bends easily, and I was concerned about breaking the delicate wires inside. But I eventually managed to squeeze it in.

Closing the iPod up was a simple matter of arranging the hard drive back into place and squeezing the front and back together again. I panicked a bit when the iPod didn’t immediately fire up, but then I realized that I would need to charge the new battery first. Duh.

Now that the new battery is in place, it’s time to reseal the iPod .

The black bloom I noticed when the iPod was turned off was still there two hours later, and even more LCD damage appeared when I finally turned the iPod on. The player works, and the damage doesn’t limit its usefulness for playing music, but it’s been rendered useless for viewing photos and watching videos (unless I use an external monitor).

If your iPod is out of warranty and its battery will no longer keep a charge, Apple will replace it for a $59 fee. Or you can pay half that much and take your chances with Blue Raven’s kit and your own skills. I’m not laying odds on the chances you’ll damage your own iPod trying to replace its battery, but I know I won’t try my hand at it again.

Ironically enough, the damage to the LCD makes it nearly impossible to monitor the player’s battery level.

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