Love and Chaos (or, Fixing the eMate Hinge)

Although my confession here might cause those hanging out on the Newton mailing lists some degree of embarrassment for their newfound brethren (their technical aptitude, at least for hardware, seems to dwarf my own), I have to admit some trepidation, if not outright fear, in finally addressing the eternal problem of eMates: wonky hinges. It’s a well-known manufacturing defect that will cause the hinge springs to eventually pop out of their slots within the hinge and, sooner or later, puncture the display cable. However, reading the fix is enough to intimidate most beginners to electronics: it involves a lengthy process of removing the battery, opening the shell, soldering wires, stripping down the eMate to its bare components, recoiling wires with vicegrips, applying white grease or teflon lubricant, putting in washers to prevent future spring pops, and putting everything back together again. (The process, for those not faint of heart, might be found on Frank’s excellent Newton site.)

Thankfully, it was nowhere near as painful as it sounds, even though I did experience a few problems because of my tools and inexperience.

I started with my old Radio Shack electronics “binder”, a collection of screwdrivers, soldering iron, pliers and wire stripper, augmented it with a toothpick, plastic knife and vicegrip, and I was well on my way. Only three problems:

  1. The Torx screws are very soft, and the plastic holding them in had a tight grip. You guessed it: I wound up stripping a few, making it difficult to get them out. It didn’t help that it looked like somebody before me had attempted a hinge fix before, unsuccessfully, and wore them down before I even got to them. My Dremel with a cutting wheel and a fine diamond engraver point were called in to re-slot. So caution dealing with the screws is definitely advised.
  2. The first time I put the machine back together, essentially trying to follow the disassembly instructions in reverse, I neglected to align the volume and contrast sliders in the right place. This was just careless.
  3. The second time I put the machine back together, I didn’t leave enough slack for the backlight wire connection, and it popped out. Easy enough to determine (thanks to the translucent bezel around the screen — you’ll see the wires and connections at left), and fast to fix.

The operation took about two hours the first time, including the re-slotting of screws. I was paranoid, and definitely took my time. The other issues were fixed in about fifteen minutes each, once I had a little more confidence in what I was doing.

The surgery was a great success. My dear little eMate now feels brand new, with nice smooth hinge action, and no fear of one day puncturing the display cable.

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