Mini-Ramble: I’m one of TI’s Community Members of the Month!

Yesterday I received a nice little email from The Texas Instruments E2E Community team. I was chosen as their Member of the Month of their analog electronics forum, specifically the battery fuel gauge section (of course!).

CaptureTI is sending me a Fuel Tank BoosterPack for their Launchpad microcontroller development platforms. It includes a 1200 mAh lithium-polymer battery, a bq27510 fuel gauge, and a bq24210 lithium-ion charger, all on one board. They’ve also offered me the opportunity to write a post on their power management blog, Fully Charged, regarding this little board. When I receive it I’ll definitely be taking a closer look at it.

Thanks, Texas Instruments!

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Tearing down and analyzing a cheap-ass “Xtreme” $3.50 external phone battery

I was shopping around at this electronics liquidation store and stumbled upon a couple cheap buys: A “1900 mAh” external phone battery and another 4400 mAh pack (which will be the subject of another post and teardown). The batteries were originally priced at $7 and $38 respectively, but they were on sale at half price. For $3.50, I was curious enough about the 1900 mAh battery’s real capacity that I bought it anyway, expecting to be disappointed.

The pack itself is roughly half the size of a typical smartphone and about 1.5 times thicker. The casing itself has no screws; the manufacturer decided it was too expensive to use screws so they simply ultrasonic-welded the case shut. After about half an hour with a plastic spudger tool, I was able to crack the case open.

2014-01-05 00.11.26The soldering quality, surprisingly, is pretty good for a sub-$10 device, save for a bunch of hand-soldered components with flux residue left behind. The circuit board is made up of a battery protection circuit (yes, they actually put one in!), an ME2108A-50 boost converter,  something I’d assume to be a charging circuit, and an LM324 op-amp as a “gas gauge” (if you could even call it that!).

2014-01-05 00.11.36The cell appears to be a thicker version of a typical cell phone battery. It’s similar in size to something like a Nokia BL-5C which is a 1020 mAh cell, and is 5.6 mm thick. The cell in the charger is 7.7 mm thick. The charger’s cell is only 37.5% thicker but should have 190% of the capacity… yeah, no. This is not going to be very promising, given how the spot-welded nickel strips literally fell off the cell when I tried to desolder it from the PCB.

After soldering some 20-gauge solid wire to the terminals and hooking it up to a bq27425-G2A fuel gauge chip, I noticed that it reported that the fully-charged voltage is 4.25 volts. This charger tries to squeeze the most out of the cell by overcharging it! Granted, a Li-Ion cell’s maximum terminal voltage is 4.25 volts but it shouldn’t settle down to this voltage after charging!

1900 mah charger overvoltageAfter performing a few learning cycles to determine capacity and resistance, the cell holds merely 1370 mAh. The internal resistance is about 85 milliohms, which tells me that at least they used a relatively fresh cell in this charger and not just some recycled cell (*cough* UltraFire *cough*).

1900 mah charger graphI knew from the get-go that this battery was going to be a let-down, and I was right. But hey, for $3.50 I get a half-decent 1370 mAh cell and a few scrap chips (no way I’m reusing that battery’s PCB as-is!). But my verdict: Avoid this battery pack if you intend to use it to, I dunno, charge your phone. 😛

Skin-Deep Authenticity: Tearing down a “genuine fake” Samsung Galaxy S II battery

When you have the same smartphone for almost 3 years, it’s likely that your original battery’s not going to last as long as the service contract. And as long as you’re not an iPhone user you will probably look into a replacement or spare battery.

coverMy first replacement cell was a 2-pack of “1800 mAh” batteries for $5. These had 66% of the stated capacity and TI’s Impedance Track gauge said that the DC internal resistance was about 250 milliOhms. That’s… pretty terrible. Those two cells quickly led their end in a battery recycling bin. My next two were “genuine” cells from eBay. They cost about $12 each and had rather authentic-looking labels on them too. Their performance was pretty good, but one of them became all bloated so I decided I’d take a look at the cell that’s inside. I peeled off the label, and the truth comes out…

2014-01-01 04.53.39This battery was an outright lie in terms of capacity! 1350 mAh is about 80% of the 1650 mAh capacity that was written on the outer label. The cell’s manufacturer is unknown, but the battery markings read “BMW-524655AR 1350mAh 2012.09.03.1110”. Wait, look at that manufacturer date. Something’s fishy…

2014-01-01 04.53.54The outer label states a manufacture date of July 20, 2012. The internal cell states one of September 3, 2012. Unless this battery was manufactured in a time-bending factory, then these batteries certainly aren’t genuine.

Next up was the protection circuit. The “genuine fake” battery uses a DW01 protection IC and uses a generic 8205A dual NFET for swiching. And there wasn’t even a thermistor; the PCB uses a 1.5k ohm resistor to simulate one. A genuine board uses a single SMD package that integrates the FETs and the protection IC.

Below is a comparison of the protection board of a fake battery and a “genuine fake” one. At least the “genuine fake” uses the same black appearance of the original.

The “genuine fake” battery, after only 2 months of usage (not even 20 charge cycles’ worth), became so swollen that I can’t keep the back cover on. Running this battery through a bq27425-G2A battery gas gauge determined that the real capacity of the battery is a paltry 944 mAh, with an average internal resistance of 187 milliOhms. Absolutely pathetic.

samsung galaxy s ii replacement battery old ra graphGoes to show you get what you pay for. But some things may be more deceiving than others…