Getting the most from the Sony Liveview

It's been a long time since I thought to myself "Hey! I really want to buy that Sony product!" Years of repairing their garbage at work, struggling to get support for hardware that's just out of production, and watching them commit atrocities in the courts has left me soured to their products. But I confess, when I heard about the Liveview, I was intrigued.

The Liveview Remote is a little battery powered bluetooth device with an OLED touchscreen that connects to an Android phone. It shows who's calling, reads out texts, alerts you of updates to facebook and twitter, etc. It also allows you to download plugins that add things like media player controls and a GTA-esque mini map. Given that 97% of the power used by my Sidekick 4G goes to running the screen, this sounded like a handy way of boosting my battery life. Not to mention making Mp3 playback a bit nicer.

Ahh, but this is Sony we're talking about. The unit was probably produced in a Chinese sweatshop by slave kittens on their way to being turned into soup. And I had many misgivings about its quality. So while I eventually broke down and bought one, I chose to get a second hand one off of Craigslist for $50 instead of buying it new at $89 plus tax.

It turns out I was right to be concerned. Out of the box the unit barely worked, despite being factory sealed. And my opinion of it continued to drop as I clipped it into the included wrist strap and stuck it on. The unit was huge, the strap was uncomfortable, and it was very very clearly not the least bit waterproof. I'd have to fumble with the strap and stick the thing in my pocket if I wanted to wash my hands, or even go outside in the rain.

This would not do.

Rather than get mad or whine uselessly on a forum about how crap it was, I decided to try making the device into something I'd actually want to use.

First thing to do was check for a firmware update. It seems I'm not the only one who was having constant disconnect and crash issues, as Sony has a patch on their website. It would have been nice if the Android app that runs the Liveview had bothered to tell me that my firmware was out of date, but so be it, the patch loaded smoothly. Upon rebooting I found that the disconnects had been reduced from every 5 seconds to simply whenever I least expected it. Progress I suppose. But the hardware problems were not going to be solved so easily. No firmware updates could fix the uncomfortable and bulky strap or the lack of gaskets around the buttons/USB port. I would need to get creative to correct those.

I decided to tackle the case first while I considered how to build a new strap. The case has a seam around the perimeter, a USB port with an ineffective rubber plug, and 2 buttons with large gaps around them. Water could easily get into any of these points and ruin the device. So I decided to seal the whole case with some very flexible black RTV silicone adhesive.

This stuff is great. It forms something resembling soft rubber or latex when it dries. It can be stretched and twisted and squished, only to spring back to its original shape. Just what I needed to seal those buttons.

To open the screwless case I turned to my secret electronics technician weapon; Nylon guitar picks. These are the thinnest ones I keep on hand and they just fit the gaps in the plastic.

The trick was to get a corner in around one of the buttons, then slide it down toward the bottom of the unit.

A gap opened as the side and bottom clips released. The thin plastic was easily chipped on one side by the soft nylon pick. Through the chip I could see copper and circuit. The case didn't even pretend to be waterproof.

Once the sides and bottom were free I only needed to pull down on the top section and give it a wiggle to release the top clip.

Then I could lift the top enough to peer inside. A small flex cable from the touch screen was socketed on the left side of the PCB, preventing the unit from opening all the way. Carefully lifting the plastic clip with a tiny flat head screwdriver released it.

I would like to suggest to the reader that if he or she feels compelled to follow in my footsteps, that now would be a particularly bad time to get up and check the laundry. In my case it resulted in the watch falling from my desk and crashing to the floor. Fortunately the only damage was the ground wire which ran to the power button's RF shielding. Still, oops.

No matter. We see that the unit is able to be opened half way. The short copper ground wire next to the display cable prevents the unit from being opened any further. I decided to desolder it to make things simple.

Now the unit could be opened fully. You'll note that I nicked the side plastic with my soldering iron. I used an x-acto knife to smooth out the rough lump along the edge. Had I left it like that the case would not have been able to close all the way. Also be aware that the orange display cable is very fragile where it connects to the board. We want to avoid flexing it any more than necessary.

Two screws release the PCB, and by gently lifting it between the buttons, the whole thing slides free of the bottom shell.

Here we see the empty bottom shell. Note the piece of orange kapton tape. It covers the pinhole which can be used to remove the Sony Ericsson badge on the backside. Funny that Sony thought to seal the opening even though the badge already covered it, but completely ignored the buttons and USB port. But oh well, time for some silicone.

I used a toothpick to spread the black RTV silicone across the USB port. I had to get it underneath the curved edges and across the back while also doing my best to avoid getting any inside the port itself. This was especially tricky since there are 4 openings in the metal of the port for the locking tabs on the USB cable to clip into. In the end I simply had to be a bit heavy handed with the stuff to ensure water tightness, even if that meant a little squeezed into the port.

I also applied a healthy dollop of the stuff to the case around the USB port. You probably can't see it here but the rubber dust cover is in place under all that silicone. The silicone will prevent it from pulling out all the way, but the cap can still be folded back to plug the cable in.

The next step was to stick the board back in, screw it down, and tidy up the port. A glob of silicone was hanging just in front of the pins until I wiped it off with a q-tip. Then I looked inside the connector. Sure enough, there was 4 bits of silicone sticking through the locking holes. To fix this I used a wooden toothpick and a lot of patience. After that I repeatedly plugged and unplugged the USB cable, wiping the silicone off of the tip each time. Before long it was as easy to insert as it had been before I started.

It was time to address the matter of the buttons. My earlier tests of the silicone suggested that it would remain flexible enough to be used on something that had to move. I decided to liberally spread the silicone across the walls of the button cutout. In hindsight it may have been better to seal around the exterior edges of the buttons only. I applied lots of silicone on the inside walls of the power button and it no longer has a distinct click. The select button, which saw more on the outside than the inside, has the better feel. Both still work though, so I'm willing to live with it.

Almost done. At this point I had to reconnect that tiny ribbon cable and place the buttons in their cutouts, as both would become much harder after the perimeter of the case had been covered in silicone. You can almost see the line of silicone I drew across the top of the button.

I did not attempt to be at all neat or careful with the silicone along the edges. I was more concerned with sealing them fully than with having the silicone leak out of the seams. It's very easy to clean up wet silicone, much harder to repair wet electronics.

As a result there was a line of silicone all the way around the case when I did finally snap it together. I was able to remove it by slowly turning a q-tip as I wiped it along the edge. It took a few passes and clean q-tips, but soon there was no sign of the overflow. I also used a toothpick to apply a second coat of silicone around the buttons. Were I to do this again I could probably get away with only using silicone on the outside of the buttons instead of the inner sidewalls as well.

As you can see, the plastic cleaned up nicely.

And here it is running.

So far I'd call the seal a success. The USB port and the buttons work acceptably well, and I no longer have to worry about it when I wash my hands or head outside.

When it's finished I'll update this page with my new strap design.


Page created September 19th 2011

Come together now, yeah, let's gel