Tom’s Teardowns: Verizon AC791L Jetpack 4G Mobile Hotspot

The saying “time and tide wait for no man” is usually used as a verbal kick in the pants, a reminder that sometimes an opportunity must be seized quickly before it passes by. But it can also be interpreted as a warning about the perpetual march of time and how it impacts the world around us. In that case, we would do well to add cellular technology to the list of proverbial things that wait for no one. Do you need 5G? No. Do you want it? Probably not. But it’s here, so be a good consumer and dump all your 4G hardware in the name of technical progress.

This line of logic may explain how the Verizon-branded Netgear AC791L 4G “Jetpack” hotspot you see here, despite being in perfect working order, found itself in the trash. The onset of 5G must have been particularly quick for the previous owner, since they didn’t even bother to wipe their configuration information from the device. In the name of journalistic integrity I won’t divulge the previous owner’s identity; but I will say that their endearing choice of WPA2 key, iluvphysics, makes for a nice fit with our publication.

A quick check of eBay shows these devices, and ones like it, are in ample supply. At the time of this writing, there were more than 1,500 auctions matching the search term “Verizon jetpack”, with most of them going for between $20 and $50 USD. We like cheap and easily obtainable gadgets that can be hacked, but is there anything inside one of these hotspots that we can actually use? Let’s find out.

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Teardown: Analog Radionic Analyzer

Have you ever looked up a recipe online, and before you got to the ingredients, you had to scroll through somebody’s meandering life story? You just want to know how many cans of tomato paste to buy, but instead you’re reading about cozy winter nights at grandma’s house? Well, that’s where you are right now, friend. Except instead of wanting to know what goes in a lasagna, you just want to see the inside of some weirdo alternative medicine gadget. I get it, and wouldn’t blame you for skipping ahead, but I would be remiss to start this month’s teardown without a bit of explanation as to how it came into my possession.

So if you’ll indulge me for a moment, I’ll tell you a story about an exceptionally generous patron, and the incredible wealth of sham medical hokum that they have bestowed upon the Hackaday community…

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Teardown: Sling Adapter

The consumer electronics space is always in a state of flux, but perhaps nowhere is this more evident than with entertainment equipment. In the span of just a few decades we went from grainy VHS tapes on 24″ CRTs to 4K Blu-rays on 70″ LED panels, only to end up spending most of our viewing time watching streaming content on our smartphones. There’s no sign of things slowing down, either. In fact they’re arguably speeding up. Sure that 4K TV you bought a couple years back might have HDR, but does it have HDMI 2.1 and Dolby Vision?

So it’s little surprise that eBay is littered with outdated A/V gadgets that can be had for a pennies on the dollar. Take for example the SB700-100 Sling Adapter we’re looking at today. This device retailed for $99 when it was released in 2010, and enabled Dish Network users to stream content saved on their DVR to a smartphone or tablet. Being able to watch full TV shows and movies on a mobile device over the Internet was a neat trick back then, before Netflix had even started rolling out their Android application. But today it’s about as useful as an HD-DVD drive, which is why you can pick one up for as little as $5.

Of course, that’s only a deal if you can actually do something with the device. Contemporary reviews seemed pretty cagey about how the thing actually worked, explaining simply that plugging it into your Dish DVR imbued the set-top box with hitherto unheard of capabilities. They assured the reader that the performance was excellent, and that it would be $99 well spent should they decide to dive headfirst into this brave new world where your favorite TV shows and movies could finally be enjoyed in the bathroom.

Now, more than a decade after its release, we’ll crack open the SB700-100 Sling Adapter and see if we can’t figure out how this unusual piece of tech actually worked. Its days of slinging the latest episode of The Office may be over, but maybe this old dog can still learn a few new tricks.

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Teardown: Impassa SCW9057G-433 Alarm System

This series of monthly teardowns was started in early 2018 as an experiment, and since you fine folks keep reading them, I keep making them. But in truth, finding a new and interesting gadget every month can sometimes be a chore. Which is why I’m always so thankful when a reader actually sends something in that they’d like to see taken apart, as it absolves me from having to make the decision myself. Of course it also means I can’t be blamed if you don’t like it, so keep that in mind as well.

Coming our way from the tropical paradise of Eastern Pennsylvania, this month’s subject is an ADT branded Impassa SCW9057G-433 alarm system that was apparently pulled off the wall when our kind patron was moving house. As you might have guessed from the model number, this unit uses 433 MHz to communicate with various sensors and devices throughout the home, and also includes a 3G cellular connection that allows it to contact the alarm monitoring service even if the phone line has been cut.

Diagram of Impassa home security setup
The alarm can connect to a wide array of 433 MHz devices.

From how many of these are on eBay, and the research I’ve done on some home alarm system forums, it appears that you can actually pick one of these up on the second-hand market and spin your own whole-house alarm system without going through a monitoring company like ADT. The extensive documentation from Impassa covers how to wire and configure the device, and as long as the system isn’t locked when you get it, it seems like wiping the configuration and starting from scratch isn’t a problem.

If it’s possible to put together your own homebrew alarm system with one of these units at the core, then it seems the least we can do is take it apart and see what kind of potentially modifiable goodies are waiting under that shiny plastic exterior.

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Teardown: 3D Printed Space Shuttle Lamp

Since the very beginning, the prevailing wisdom regarding consumer desktop 3D printers was that they were excellent tools for producing prototypes or one-off creations, but anything more than that was simply asking too much. After all, they were too slow, expensive, and finicky to be useful in a production setting. Once you needed more than a few copies of a plastic part, you were better off biting the bullet and moving over to injection molding.

But of course, things have changed a lot since then. Who could have imagined that one day you’d be able to buy five 3D printers for the cost of the crappiest Harbor Freight mini lathe? Modern 3D printers aren’t just cheaper either, they’re also more reliable and produce higher quality parts. Plus with software like OctoPrint, managing them is a breeze. Today, setting up a small print farm and affordably producing parts in mass quantities is well within the means of the average hobbyist.

Space shuttle lamp
Flickering LEDs provide a sense of motion

So perhaps I shouldn’t have been so surprised when I started seeing listings for these 3D printed rocket lamps popping up on eBay. Available from various sellers at a wide array of price points depending on how long you’re willing to wait for shipping, the lamps come in several shapes and sizes, and usually feature either the Space Shuttle or mighty Saturn V perched atop a “exhaust plume” of white PLA plastic. With a few orange LEDs blinking away on the inside, the lamp promises to produce an impressive flame effect that will delight space enthusiasts both young and old.

As a space enthusiast that fits somewhere in between those extremes, I decided it was worth risking $30 USD to see what one of these things looked like in real life. After waiting a month, a crushed up box arrived at my door which I was positive would contain a tiny mangled version of the majestic lamp I was promised — like the sad excuse for a hamburger that McBurgerLand actually gives you compared to what they advertise on TV.

But in person, it really does look fantastic. Using internally lit 3D printed structures to simulate smoke and flame is something we’ve seen done in the DIY scene, but pulling it off in a comparatively cheap production piece is impressive enough that I thought it deserved a closer look.

Now it’s always been my opinion that the best way to see how something was built is to take it apart, so I’ll admit that the following deviates a bit from the rest of the teardowns in this series. There’s no great mystery around flickering a couple LEDs among Hackaday readers, so we already know the electronics will be simplistic in the extreme. This time around the interesting part isn’t what’s on the inside, but how the object itself was produced in the first place.

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Teardown: VTech Smart Start

Regular readers may be aware that I have a certain affinity for vintage VTech educational toys, especially ones that attempted to visually or even functionally tie in with contemporary computer design. In the late 1980s, when it became obvious the personal computer was here to stay, these devices were seen as an affordable way to give kids and even young teens hands-on time with something that at least somewhat resembled the far more expensive machines their parents were using.

Much Smarter: VTech PreComputer 1000

A perfect example is the PreComputer 1000, released in 1988. Featuring a full QWERTY keyboard and the ability to run BASIC programs, it truly blurred the line between toy and computer. In fact from a technical standpoint it wasn’t far removed from early desktop computers, as it was powered by the same Zilog Z80 CPU found in the TRS-80 Model I.

By comparison, the Smart Start has more in common with a desktop electronic calculator. Even though it was released just two years prior to the PreComputer 1000, you can tell at a glance that it’s a far more simplistic device. That’s due at least in part to the fact that it was aimed at a younger audience, but surely the rapid advancement of computer technology at the time also played a part. Somewhat ironically, VTech did still at least attempt to make the Smart Start look like a desktop computer, complete with the faux disk drive on the front panel.

Of course, looks can be deceiving. While the Smart Start looks decidedly juvenile on the outside, that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few surprising technical discoveries lurking under its beige plastic exterior. There’s only one way to find out.

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Teardown: Franz Crystal Metronome

I wish I could tell you that there’s some complex decision tree at play when I select a piece of hardware to take apart for this series, but ultimately it boils down two just two factors: either the gadget was something I was personally interested in, or it was cheap. An ideal candidate would check both boxes, but that’s not always the case. This time around however, I can confidently say our subject doesn’t fall into either category.

Now don’t get me wrong, at first glance I found the Franz Crystal Metronome to be intriguing in its own way. With that vintage look, how could you not? But I’m about as far from a musician as one can get, so you’d hardly find a metronome on my wish list. As for the cost, a check on eBay seems to show there’s something of a following for these old school Franz models, with ones in good condition going for $50 to $80. Admittedly not breaking the bank, but still more than I’d like to pay for something that usually ends up as a pile of parts.

That being the case, why are you currently reading about it on Hackaday? Because it exploits something of a loophole in the selection process: it doesn’t work, and somebody gave it to me to try and figure out why. So without further ado let’s find out what literally makes a Franz Crystal Metronome tick, and see if we can’t get it doing so gain.

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