Dead gadget battery? This $6 tool is a must-have for tech repairs

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Bringing a discharged lithium ion battery back to life with a TP4056 charging board

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

The other day, I found myself repairing someone’s rather painful failed repair.

The client had a defective Joy-Con for their child’s Nintendo Switchand it seemed that the battery had failed.

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Rather than buying a new Joy-Con, they decided it would make a decent repair project and bought replacement batteries. These Nintendo joycons are quite easy to open and the battery is easy to replace, so it is a good repair project.

The repair seemed to go well; but after refitting the battery, the Joy-Con still didn’t work. It was dead and wouldn’t seem to charge up, so they went back in, started poking around, and then things took a serious turn: They accidentally broke the little fastener that connected the battery to the Joy-Con.

This is where I came in. I assured the client that things like this happened, that the broken connector could be fixed with a bit of soldering, and that the problem with the “new” battery was that it was so completely discharged, it wouldn’t charge up when connected to the Nintendo Switch.

Also: How to solder: Tools, tips, and tricks to get you started the easy way

But the underlying issue here is simple — and quite common: You can’t fully trust “new” parts to be working properly. The most common repair that people start out with is a battery swap; whenever possible, I test batteries before fitting them, because having to open something up a second time to get at the battery increases your risk of breaking something.

Batteries are easy to test: all you need is a multimeter set to read DC volts, and you touch the red lead to the red wire or the one marked as positive (+), the black lead to the black wire or the one marked as negative (-) and compare the reading on the screen to the rated voltage on the battery.

Also: The best rechargeable batteries you can buy

The Joy-Con has a single-cell lithium ion battery with a voltage of 3.7 volts. Fully charged, these hit a high of around 4.2 volts, and fully discharged can be below 3.3 volts (you can find these numbers for different batteries with a quick search of the internet). For some reason the replacement battery had drained below 3.3 volts and so it wouldn’t charge.

Testing a rechargeable battery

Testing a rechargeable battery

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

It’s a super quick test.

I now make a habit of testing all rechargeable batteries before fitting, because I too have fitted a defective battery into a device, and was left scratching my head as to what was the matter.

Also: This $10 gadget is my favorite repair tool of all time

I have a trick up my sleeve, in the form of a little TP4056 charging board.

TP4056 charging board

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

This board is designed for charging single-cell lithium ion batteries — you connect the battery leads to the module (I used clips), connect USB power to the module, and wait for it to charge the battery.

This brought the Joy-Con battery to full charge, and it has been working fine since.

Bringing a discharged lithium ion battery back to life with a TP4056 charging board

Bringing a discharged lithium ion battery back to life with a TP4056 charging board

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

You can get these charging boards for USB-C and microUSBthey’re cheap — you can buy five for only $6 — and they’re great for charging single-cell lithium ion batteries outside of the device they’re supposed to be in.

Also: You’ll never guess how many tech repair tools this little bag can fit

Need a multimeter? I really like the Pokit Pro that connects to a smartphonebut if you’re starting out, you can pick up a good multimeter for $12.

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