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How I dropped my Nokia N810 into the sea and (probably) got away with it

24 May 2009 20:10:22 diary, hardware, maemo
Nokia N810 disassembled

Two days ago I was Geocaching at eastern Helsinki (Vuosaari). I took a metro there and continued my way with my bike. The weather was perfect, the park there was nice and all that. Later that day when I realised it was a bit late and my significant other was probably expecting me to come home, I had just two more caches left on my primary list. I decided to take care of those. The second last was supposedly located on the side of a breakwater. You know, one of those built of rocks with gentle slope down to the sea. Obviously I got carried away with the hunt and managed to have the device slip out my breast pocket, bounce down the breakwater and drop into the sea.

Once I realised something had got loose I considered plunging after the object. However quick estimate suggested that it was too late and doing so might actually result in me going for a swim. I just stood there hoping for the best, hoping the device would come to rest on a rock or something. However Lady Fortuna wasn’t smiling at me and the device took a dip in our beloved Baltic Sea. I quickly rushed down and saw the device to shut down. Hopefully not for the last time.

Luckily the device didn’t slip down far so I effortlessly grabbed it out of the water, opened the back cover and removed the battery. While the damage was probably already done, I would do my best to minimise further damage. At least the display hadn’t took a hit. I then removed the memory card, and started getting the device dry. At some point I started to think if it was better to leave it be, and just get home as soon as possible. I decided to dry the device first. I later thought that this might have been a mistake.

Once I got back home I called my insurance company. It turned out that my insurance covered the damage – or the value of a new device minus excess (85 €). They required no proof of the damage as long as I saved proof of purchase for 12 months. I would also be allowed to do whatever I wanted with the victim. I was even told that if I managed to fix the thing, they wouldn’t mind me keeping it and their money.

Relieved with the news I downloaded disassembly guide of N810 and eventually managed to dissect the device. I poured sterile (distilled) water in a bowl and carefully rinsed all components but the display and the battery in it. Using a syringe helped to get water in (and salt out of) smaller places such as metal casings of some components on the motherboard. After studing the dislay component I decided against giving it the same treatment. I figured that the display module was well packaged, and opening it would probably do more harm than good. Finally, I blowed as hard as I could to get the components dry, and wiped visible water off with cotton cloth and cotton buds. I then left the components to dry for 12 hours. That day I also decided that I really would have to buy some pressurised air.

Tools disassemble N810

When the wait was over and I had put the device back in one piece I took all the precautions: I laid down a fire-blanked in my bathroom and placed the device in the middle of the blanket. Being fanatic to recodring things, I even set up a camera to film this accident waiting to happen. I could feel the excitement in the air. I put the battery in and pushed the power button. The led indicated that something was happening and finally the display woke from its sleep. The beast was alive!

I noticed some weird bright patterns on the display but apart from that the device seemed to work just fine. The patterns did not affect the pixels on the screen, just the background brightless. In fact, it looked kind of cool. Well, not really, but quite interesting still. I took the device back to my computer and still on the fire-blanket, plugged it to a recharger. The magic smoke was still nowhere to be seen. Could it really be that the only real damage the device took was the display? The touch display worked, wireless was working fine, GPS seemed to be ok, all the keys functioned – if it wasn’t for the display and somewhat distorted sound, it was almost like nothing had happened.

Now, two days after the accident, the display is almost back to normal. Obviously some water found its way in the display module, but even that was slowly evaporating. The patterns have diminished to next to none and the sound is almost back to normal. Earlier today I used the GPS receiver and so far things are looking good. Of course there is no guarantee that the device will stop functioning and a few weeks but I really have a good feeling about this. It may be just because I’ve used the device quite a bit now, but the device seems to run out of battery slightly faster now. Time will show.

Anyway, there you have it. While everybody knows that electricity – especially electric gadgets – and water don’t get along, its not necessarily the end. Don’t panic, remove the battery and whatever you do, don’t try to turn it on before you’ve dealt with the problem; water. If you have the tools and nerves, disassemble to device and rinse it with distilled water. Let it dry without applying extra heat. Once all dried up, give it a go. As always, use common sense. If there’s a component you feel unsure to open up, don’t. You’ll just make things worse. Naturally your best shot is to get professional help, but sometimes people like me can get lucky.