Introduction: How to Fix a Slowly Charging Android Smartphone + Enhanced Privacy
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For the past two weeks my phone has been getting more and more difficult to keep charged. The initial symptom was slow charging/ finickiness with chargers. This showed on higher amperage chargers that normally worked quickly. Eventually, the phone would charge barely if at all on the best of chargers and slowly lose charge on the others. I also noticed an increasing frequency of connect/ disconnect notifications when plugged into my laptop via USB as well as frequent failure to mount as detachable storage. This left me in a cycle of powering down the device to charge slowly as I slept and scrounging for battery life as I was awake.
What follows is a step by step guide as I diagnosed the issue from easiest to hardest to fix cause. Please be aware that some of these procedures may damage your phone if you make a mistake or simply run into bad luck, so consider carefully whether it is worth your time to repair this on your own versus going through a paid or warrantied repair service.
For me, as my phone is tweaked exactly as I like it and has important documentation on it, it was crucial that I do not lose data as would be expected during a factory motherboard replacement.
Step 1: Take Command of Your Software
Many of these intrusive programs are what is known as bloatware, software from your mobile provider's partners that they are paid to install on your phone and prevent you from removing via conventional means. If you bought a subsidized phone you almost certainly have bloatware. If you are amenable to voiding your warranty and of the belief that you can do what you like with your lawfully purchased property, you should consider rooting your phone and removing the unwanted applications with Root Manager or similar software.
To root your phone, you will need to find a tutorial specific to your phone carrier and model. For the T-Mobile Galaxy SIII I used this guide. Be sure the guide is for your exact phone, android distribution, and carrier or you will most likely irreparably damage your phone. If needed, rooting may be reversed for warranty service by resetting your phone's flash counter and reflashing the stock, factory ROM. I've also had luck stretching my battery out by underclocking my phone in periods of disuse via SetCpu.
In many cases, bloatware applications actively monitor your data, web usage, and physical location for reasons completely unrelated to the function of the software. One particularly odious example of this is angry birds' location tracking. Personally, I don't believe in granting any commercial entity further access into my personal life than law enforcement would get without a warrant, and real time position tracking is one of those things.
Consider looking into the following programs if you'd like to go further to enhancing your information security and reducing logger resource usage:
- Logging Test App: Provides numerous key enhancements to encryption, ip settings, etc, blocks and deletes hidden logs, removes CIQ, and allows access to secret menus. Extremely easy to brick your phone with, you will absolutely need to restart and then backup your phone after every change you make. Software changes may break your phone in ways that are not apparent until your next attempted restart. If your phone becomes unable to boot, a Clockworkmod backup will allow you to return it to it's previous state.
- LBE Privacy Guard: Allows you to manage the permissions a la carte of every installed and system app. Notifies you whenever an application requests a permission not previously granted. Now you can battle those green pigs without your search, web, and location history being sold to marketing firms.
Step 2: Consider Your Cables
Often one of the first things to break on any device is its physical connections. Whether its the power jack on your laptop or the headphone jack on your phone, physical connections exposed to your daily movements are quite vulnerable to cracked solder or lifted traces. This is especially true for the fragile components of micro USB cables as they get put in pockets, purses, cars, and cases and banged about.
Just in case my charging issues were caused by damaging my new charger, I took one USB cable I knew to be broken, cracked it open, and checked for damages. Sure enough one trace had lifted and was quickly remedied with a bit of soldering. The case was broken in the process, but easily enough replaced with a bit of electrical tape as it was a backup cable anyways.
While my newly repaired cable worked great on other devices, it still did not work for my phone. So, moving on to step 3....
Step 3: Check for Obstructions
As a phone jostles about in your purse or pocket it may easily be penetrated by whatever lint or detritus is in there. I frequently take my phone on hikes to photograph rare or unusual specimens for my illustration work with Punk Love Designs. As a result, there is a good chance of it riding home in a pocket previously occupied by rock, plant, or fungal samples I've collected.
First, to prevent data loss and reduce risk of damages, remove your battery, SIM card, and memory card. As always when dissecting electronics, ensure you are properly grounded, stationary, and not otherwise contributing to the risk of static discharge. Under strong light and with magnification if available, take a look into your phone's micro USB jack. See anything that shouldn't be in there? Pull it out with a needle or thin, pointy implement of your choice. I also found a cleaned, dried toothbrush to be useful.
In the case of my phone, I was able to remove a collection of tiny white pebbles from the back recesses of my USB port. It did not however fix my charging issue. So, moving on again...
Step 4: Gather Your Materials
If not, your problem is most likely a broken pin on your USB jack, or corrosion from sweat, humidity, and exposure to liquids. You must consider the cost/ benefit of taking apart your phone instead of seeking a professional repair. Your phone has many fine components that may be easily lost or broken. The manufacturer may have intentionally or otherwise built the phone in such a way that it is not user serviceable and that any attempts at service may be detected and automatically void your warranty. Given that this is Instructables, you're most likely waiting to see the guts of that shiny new tech toy, so with that in mind let er rip!
- Distilled white vinegar or lemon juice
- Exacto knife
- Cotton swabs
- Micro screwdriver
- Cup/ glasses for cleaners
- Rubbing Alcohol/ unflavored vodka
- Soldering iron/ heat pen
- Paper towel
At the time of this repair I was out of rubbing alcohol and used three washes of whiskey followed by three of cologne. Now my phone smells like Prom Night at the Jersey Shore. Consider learning from my mistake and just using rubbing alcohol. The key requirements of this process are a mild acid free of detritus and impurities and a neutral, high proof alcohol to remove the acidity and dry rapidly.
Step 5: Open Your Phone, Remove Your Main Board
Remove all of the screws holding your phone's inner case in place, noting any variations in length and tamper evident features such as color coding paint or tear away stickers to aid re-installation. Then, using a micro flat head screwdriver, lift the inner case panel one section at a time until the main-board is exposed. Many phones will have stick on antennas mounted to the inner plastic case. When removing, be sure to watch out for these as tearing a connection will ruin the associated antenna. In the case of the Galaxy SIII, all such connections are physical connections held in place by the case itself, allowing removal of the case without damages.
You will find the main board is connected to the camera, display board, secondary antennas, and other such components by a series of snap on ribbon or cable connectors. In the case of the SIII, these can be easily taken on or off a limited number of times. Consult a tear down guide to your phone before pulling at any connection that appears permanently mounted. Disconnect no more than is absolutely required to freely access both sides of your USB port.
Step 6: Check for Physical Damage
Take a close look at your micro USB port, is there physical damage on either side? Most likely, this would take the form of cracked or lifted pins where it connects to the main-board. If you find one you will need to solder it in place via a precision soldering rig or with careful application of a heat pen. In my case, there was no visible physical damage, though corrosion was apparent about the USB port.
Step 7: Removing Corrosion
- Dab cotton swab in distilled white vinegar, rub all visible traces of corrosion around port with thin film of vinegar in a gentle scrubbing motion. Do not allow any vinegar to reach unaffected areas. Thankfully Samsung had the forethought to coat the areas adjacent to the port with a thin film of clear epoxy, without which I would surely have suffered further damages.
- Use a cotton swab or a craft knife to place a drop or two of vinegar inside the USB port. The surface tension will hold it in place, reaching every nook and cranny of the port.
- After 5 minutes, pull out the vinegar with the corner of a paper towel, repeat step 2 two more times to fully clean port.
- Now to remove the acidity, wash out the port by filling and emptying it three times with a high proof rubbing alcohol.
- Clean surrounding areas carefully with rubbing alcohol and a cotton swab.
- Let sit for at least 30 minutes to ensure full evaporation.
Step 8: Installation Is Reverse of Removal
All done? Congratulations, you just completed a very tricky repair! Remount the ribbon and cable snap on connectors with even, light force. They should gently click into place. Bear in mind these are not designed for repeated use. You should minimize any usage or strain placed upon them.
Next button up your inner plastic case, ensuring all screws are in their original position. In this case two blue striped screws were found to be for the top and lower back right of the case with a lone black screw for mounting the main board to the inputs board.
Everything looks good? Great, pop in the battery and cards, hit the power button, and hope for the best! If all has gone well you have saved yourself a costly and inconvenient repair and learned a little more about a device you use every day. If the fates were not on your side, well it was broken anyways right? If you did not root your phone and followed these instructions exactly, you still may be eligible for a warranty repair. Open up the phone, reseat all detachable connectors, and give it one more try just in case.
Like to see more of my work? Come visit my site at punklovedesigns.com. I specialize in pen and ink illustration and terrible photography of rare and interesting species, along with the occasional tech hack. I follow the biochemists' mantra structure= function, such that a wrench = a hammer if you swing it right.