How Do You Make A Repairable E-Reader

Mobile devices have become notorious for their unrepairability, with glued-together parts and impossible-to-reach connectors. So it’s refreshing to see something new in that field from the e-book reader brand Kobo in the form of a partnership with iFixit to ensure that their new reader line can be fixed.

Naturally, we welcome any such move, not least because it disproves the notion that portable devices are impossible to make with repairability in mind. However, the linked article is especially interesting because it includes a picture of a reader, and its cover has been removed. We’re unsure whether or not this is one of the new ones, but it’s still worth looking at it with reparability eyes. Just what have they done to make it easier to repair?

The first thing which strikes us is that the screws securing the board are larger than on many devices and positioned for easy access. Then the battery connector isn’t the tiny snap-in connector we’re used to seeing on phones, but wires and an easy-to-use small two-pin plug. The digitiser and screen cables remain flexible PCB connectors, but despite finding those flip-up latches to be fragile at best, we’re guessing there’s little alternative to be found there.

We hope that these readers will be successful enough that other manufacturers may take up the idea and even that it might educate the public that such a thing is possible.

40 thoughts on “How Do You Make A Repairable E-Reader

  1. I hope laptop follows this soon. Replacing a broken power connector shouldn’t require the use of 3 very small screwdrivers to remove 157 tiny screws, unplugging a few connectors (keyboard, trackpad, LCD, CPU fans, GPU fans if separate, webcam, and speakers) that uses tiny hard to re-connect connector, battery connector shouldn’t be so small there’s a risk of plugging it 0.1mm off and causing motherboard to blow from voltages on wrong pin. On my laptop, the power connector had huge ground pour on the motherboard, it took some heating before I could start desoldering and removing the broken connector.

    1. If you’re lucky it’s a separate power connector on a cable. But for the last few years it’s a USB-C jack soldered to the motherboard. Depending on model and the side of the laptop it’s on, it could be on a small board with FFC to the motherboard, but still a custom part. Either way you’re in for reflowing blind pads or replacing the board outright.

      For a while, Lenovo was using a compression fit USB-C that could be replaced by removing a couple of screws, but I haven’t seen that show up anywhere else .

      1. I have three Fire HD 10 Kindle readers. I have been having problems with my 64G version constantly restarting. (This is a problem noted MANY times in the forums and search engines.) I didn’t suspect a hardware problem until I plugged the USB connector into my computer, and the connection itself kept disconnecting. I was prepared to go this route: , but I managed to discern that the problem was a loose connection and not a physically damaged port. I used some self-adhesive copper sheet (the type sold to musicians to shield from EMI) as a shim, and it is working perfectly now.

        My question is: What idiot designs these things? I was raised to believe that designing something required designing for reliability and repair as well as functionality.

        Hats off to Major Geeks and XDA forums for good info and the Fire Toolbox.

        1. > What idiot designs these things? I was raised to believe that designing something required designing for reliability and repair as well as functionality.

          Those who want to maximize profits, of course. If it’s designed to only last two years, that means people will buy one every two years, which is repeated profit for Amazon – not to mention the money they save on proper design and cheaping out on parts.

          It’s a plague.

          1. Don’t forget that development takes time and costs money too. They’re not necessarily designing it badly because they want to, but because that’s all they’ve got funding and time for – when it’s “good enough”, it goes out the door and they start on the next year’s model.

        2. They’re designed for manufacturing and for price point, knowing that 90% of users will be forced to replace them within 2 years or so because of security patches making them increasingly slow.

      2. Yes, I totally agree. Those type C ports in laptops main boards make them less repairable and more difficult to troubleshoot charge port issues. Definitely a step in the WRONG direction making devices more repairable.

    2. The framework laptops power port is easily replaceable. The 13″ model has 4 modular I/O bays, one of which is used for the USB-C power port (or available as a USB-C port if running off the battery). Not a bad setup. On one hand it seems to be a well-thought-out solution, on the other hand you are practically limited to 3 ports (but you can choose between USB-A, USB-C, HDMI, DP, or micro-SD and you can carry more modules to swap out as needed). If the inner connector was damaged I’m not sure how easy it would be to repair (surface-mount USB-C type connector), but the modular bay design would make it pretty hard to do anything that puts force on that connector.

      We’ve only had a Framework 13 for about a year, so I can’t comment on long-term durability.

    3. Probably most people don’t have the same use case as you do. 99.999% don’t want to replace the USB connector themselves. It’s not reasonable for the device manufacturer to support this use case when users perfer to have a smaller less expensive phone.

    4. I knew a few people on team who did hardware support, and they hated laptops with a passion, thousands of things that all must be done in the right order to fix the smallest of faults or even install an upgrade. You would enter the submarine (a playful nickname for a very small cramped basement room, with most of the plumbing for an entire building running through it – that was below the flood line of the building) and there on every desk was a laptop partially or fully disassembled in an exploded view. People beavering away from memory (because they have done the exact same procedure so many times on the exact same model) or with a website open for some of the more exotic models for which step to do next in the remove/replace/upgrade procedure.

  2. I get that things should be repairable, but at what cost? One should always look into it when deciding what to buy (will you really buy more expensive stuff just to one day, maybe, in the future repair it?). Am I willing to pay premium for repairability? don’t think so.

    1. Repairability shouldn’t be a premium. It should be standard, with sealed (throw away) equipment an expensive exception.

      Right now, yes, I am ready to pay a premium for repairability. My wife and I both use Fairphones rather than typical “throw away instead of fixing” smartphones.

    2. thank you for your portion of Fear, Uncertainty and or Doubt.
      Do you have any indication that their product is too expensive because of it’s repairability?
      Perhaps you should buy another inkjet printer?

    3. I think it’s worth distinguishing between repairable by any random person and repairable by someone with some electronics skills. I don’t think anyone is saying “we should sacrifice quality or cost for repairability”. Take phones, the big flagship phones have all sealed the case & glued the battery in. This doesn’t give any real benefit to the product. We had waterproof phones with removeable batteries in the 00s. It’s to save a few pennies per unit on gaskets & to prevent serviceability. The manufacturers also hide all knowledge of the pcb & refuse to offer spare parts.

      You should he able to replace a display & battery with only a few tools.

        1. You’re paying it anyway, if you amortize the putative remaining useful life remaining in each of the products you replaced due to unrepairability.

          Wanting the newst and shiniest shiny, therefore not worrying about being “forced” to upgrade is itself “an ideology”. And it is likewise an ideology where the cost is borne by those who do not support it.

          I’m perturbed by how many people there are who find “the game” to be skewed and in need of urgent mandated changes, until they figure out how to win. Then suddenly, the game was always fine, it was just the outcome that was a problem. Human nature, I know.

          But striving to do better is what creates all the best tools, and should be lauded.

          1. I’ll criticize chasing “shiny” and I’d like things to be better made, but I won’t say that using up every last drop of life from something you bought brand new is always reasonable, regardless of how repairable it is. For one thing, with a lot of these electronics even if they are in perfect condition they have a finite useful lifetime – who’s got a use for a 3G phone in a 5G service area, or a device incapable of being made to run current OS’s and software, even if it’s in original condition? But another thing to consider is that if someone is happy to use a device that is dated, worn out, and repeatedly repaired, then why did they buy a brand new device in the first place? They could have saved money and stayed more up to date over the years by buying a lightly-used or even heavily used older model for half the price and using it two-thirds as long. Sometimes repairs aren’t good enough, you need something that either doesn’t fall behind or can be upgraded or repurposed to extend its total useful life.

      1. > We had waterproof phones with removeable batteries in the 00s. It’s to save a few pennies per unit on gaskets & to prevent serviceability.

        IP67 rating on a phone with a removable battery and back cover is a joke. You drop it and the cover goes flying with the battery, because otherwise the tabs that hold the cover in place would shear off. There are mechanical reasons why you can’t have your cake and eat it as well. Even screws have the same issue – gluing it down distributes the shock loads evenly across the seam, and you can place the seam along the neutral axis of bending.

        Every phone like that I’ve ever owned – and I do buy them because of the replaceable battery – has not stayed waterproof for long. There’s cracks and bending and dust that gets in between the gasket to the point that after a few months it’s barely good enough to hold out light rain – the water would wick in at the seam.

        1. Or, you put a case on it and the case dealt with drops while the phone’s design dealt with droplets. Or, you let the battery be inserted from the end so that your structure can be more rigid, or you make the phone a little thicker. Or in some devices not limited to phones, maybe you just make it so that the battery is on the outside of the water-protected space, and accept that the battery contacts will be exposed to water. I think some water resistant phones supported battery cases, even if their main battery wasn’t serviceable?

          1. I considered that, but with today’s ever-growing phones it’s just become too big to put in a case and fit in a pocket. It’s difficult enough for me to reach across the screen with my thumb already, and if I add a bumper it would actually increase the chances of me dropping my phone.

          2. Ah, maybe so. I’ve never used the bulky cases, and even then I’ve still preferred the smaller phone options. I went for an iphone for my work phone mostly because their mini was smaller, even though I normally avoid Apple. Without a case the smooth phones can be slippery, so even though I don’t generally damage my phones I do still have to get a case, but I just went for silicone.

    4. Things that are likely to fail during the machine’s lifetime and which are cost-effective to repair need to be “user repairable.” Batteries are the most obvious example, but glass, screens (if available cheaply), and the outer case also fall into this category. Non-main-board circuit boards, buttons, and the like might also qualify depending on the device.

      Things like the motherboard and in some cases the screen are simply too expensive to replace for most users (just replace the device) so they should be durable enough to hardly every break.

      Now, what should the “lifetime” of a device be? I’d say at least a year per $10 of purchase price, but I’m willing to negotiate. The exception would be things where the underlying technology will be turned off before then. For example, if you sold a G3 (non-G4/LTE) phone in 2015, I wouldn’t expect it to last beyond the G3-cutoff-date as a phone even if it did cost $100.

  3. I don’t think educating users that this kind of thing is possible is going to help much. I don’t think they care. Ordinary people just really suck! Sorry, not sorry.

    Buying new devices all the time is a status thing to them. They want to feel rich and show off to their friends that they have money to throw at it. It’s all about shallowness and pride.

      1. The reason why it “can’t be fixed” is because getting the repairman over is just as expensive as buying a new one. The parts aren’t expensive and fixing it isn’t difficult – it’s just that you either aren’t allowed to fix your own electric appliances, like ovens, or you don’t know how to.

        I see the cost to fix a washing machine quoted at between $150-500 and the cost of a brand new machine at $400. If it’s an older machine, would you pay to fix it knowing that something else is going to break soon after, or just buy the new one?

        1. If you mean an electric resistive oven, why aren’t you allowed to replace a heating element you probably don’t even need tools to access?

          I actually am using an older washing machine because it outlasted its own replacement. So I probably would pay to fix it, but I take your point. (It was zapped with double voltage by a miswired outlet and we believed it would need repairs as it didn’t want to work that day. The replacement stopped working in only a few years when some part of all the opaque electronic controls and safety overrides decided it was unwilling to operate, and that’s when we discovered the original didn’t need repairs after all.)

          But as for e.g. a chest freezer, repairing an old one is unlikely to be economical, given the extra work of adhering to rules on working with refrigerants. My old one which used R-12, aka the ozone hole killer, consumed quite a bit of power and it would have been a pain to pay someone to capture that if it hadn’t been hauled away as a part of the offer for the delivery of the new one. The newer ones may consume even less power, and be better insulated or have less ice buildup and more internal space than whatever someone currently has, assuming they don’t replace the things frequently.

          1. Maybe; it wasn’t that many years ago now. But it would have been hard enough to find someone willing to come get the freon from me, much less to also pay for it.

  4. I doubt the picture is from one of the new Clara/Libra readers. The logo on the CPU looks like the Freescale logo. But if I search for information on the exact CPU, everyone says Mediatek.

  5. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard someone say” Nobody wants that.” about an option that doesn’t exist here. Build it and see. Ask Ford if the Maverick mini-truck is selling at all.

  6. I suspect that all this visibility by Rakuten may be due to all the noise from FTC/WhiteHouse regarding RTR: Right To Repair. The entire Kobo effort may represent a good ‘insurance’ policy to keep them out of the federal purview while obtaining free PR and maybe even some new business.

    As I do not subscribe to the purchase of the newest fad-devices, my stance remains that a damaged-beyond-use computer, tablet, or cellphone is the Universe’s way of suggesting it is time to look for a replacement renewed/refurbished unit: last years model for 50% to 80% off new pricing. Once replaced, I find that hacking the old device is just fun as a successful repair is no longer a concern.

  7. Just to chime in with some experience, the old (I think 3rd gen) kindle with the keyboard was really rather repairable. Getting the back off involved a little prying, but once in, everything was either regular screws, JSTs or ribbons with relatively sturdy clip ports. I went through a few and was regularly able to repair small problems by Frankensteining; the real weak point was the glass in the eink display, but I successfully swapped an aftermarket one of those too. Haven’t had to do repairs on anything since, and have personally moved over to Boox stuff, which is probably less repairable, but has more open software – swings and roundabouts.

  8. Who uses a dedicated ‘reader’?
    What year is this?

    Issues remain with general purpose tablets, but at least those have a use for more computing power.

    I’d say pick you battles. Disposable cars are much more of an issue and aren’t being driven by anything like a ‘good reason’.

    Compare the cost of a new tablet every two years vs. physical paper newspapers and books. Do accounting in CO2, if that’s your cup of tea.

    1. “Who uses a dedicated ‘reader’?”

      Judging from what I see on the subway on my daily commute, lots and lots of people.

      For reading, e-readers are superior to a general-purpose tablet in almost every way. Far lower cost, far longer battery life, lighter, more comfortable reading experience, less distracting, etc.

      They don’t need to be replaced every two years. None of the e-readers in my house (everyone over age 13 has one) are less than four years old. Mine is about seven years old.

    2. Tens of millions of people?
      $50 for a 7″ reader is more affordable than the cheapest smartphone.
      And those are exactly the ones that are often treated as disposable.

      Based on Amazon sales alone, here is QUITE a market for these things.
      The fact that they are for reading and not for TikTok/Shorts consumption is a selling point…

  9. After going through two sealed-up, nonrepairable units, I’m done with buying tablets. I’m looking to assemble something based on the Pi platform + Python that I can maintain myself. I don’t need tiny, I don’t need elegant, I don’t need the expense, and the environment sure as hell doesn’t need more e-waste. I just want to be able to read PDFs with a rectangular, book-sized device (sans keyboard).

  10. Since when does “repairable” mean getting rid of flatflex and ribbon connectors?
    It’s not about whether or not Grandpa Shakey Hands can fix it with vice grips and a hammer.
    Repairability is about not hiding screws, not using plastic clips that WILL break, not glueing the thing together, and having some way to get parts.
    (And not etching off the label on every damn chip!)

    Demanding companies design things with bulky connectors and chonky screws only supports their claims that they can’t design their svelte little things any other way.

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