Fixing the Unfixable: Pebble Smartwatch Screen Replacement

pebble1

[Colt] found himself with a broken Pebble, so he fixed it. The Pebble watch really ignited the smartwatch world with its record-breaking Kickstarter campaign. Working on the Pebble has proved to be frustrating experience for hardware hackers though. Ifixit’s teardown revealed the Pebble extremely difficult to repair. This isn’t due to some evil plan by the smartwatch gods to keep us from repairing our toys. It’s a problem that comes from stuffing a lot electronics into a small waterproof package. [Colt's] problem was a bad screen. Pebble has a few known screen issues with their early models. Blinking screens, snow, and outright failed screens seemed to happen at an alarming rate as the early Kickstarter editions landed. Thankfully all those issues were corrected and replacements sent to the unlucky owners.

The actual screen used in the Pebble is a Sharp Memory LCD. Memory is an apt name as the screens actually behave as a SPI attached write only memory. Sharp sells flexible printed circuit (FPC) versions of the LCDs to aid in debugging. For space constrained designs though, an elastomeric or “zebra strip” connector is the common way to go. Alternating bands of conductive and insulating material make electrical connections between the Pebble’s circuit board and the conductive portions of the LCD glass.

[Colt] found himself with a dead screen out of warranty, so he decided to attempt a screen replacement. He found a replacement screen from Mouser, and proceeded to remove the top case of his watch. The top plastic case seems to be the hardest part of getting into a Pebble. It appears to be bonded with a glue that is stronger than the plastic itself. [Colt] broke the glass of his screen during the removal, which wasn’t a big deal as it was already dead. Prying only destroyed the top plastic, so he broke out a rotary tool which made quick work of the plastic.  The new screen worked perfectly, but had to be held in just the right position over its zebra connector. Some waterproof epoxy held it in place permanently. The next step was a new top cover. An old flip phone donated its plastic shell to the effort, and hot glue kept everything in place. [Colt] finished his work with a couple of layers of model paint. The result certainly isn’t as pretty or waterproof as the original. It is functional though, and about $120 USD cheaper than buying a new Pebble.

[Read more...]