Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 13th Apr 2017 20:38 UTC

I've been fascinated by the cell phone parts markets in Shenzhen, China for a while. I'd walked through them a bunch of times, but I still didn't understand basic things, like how they were organized or who was buying all these parts and what they were doing with them.

So when someone mentioned they wondered if you could build a working smartphone from parts in the markets, I jumped at the chance to really dive in and understand how everything works. Well, I sat on it for nine months, and then I dove in.

I never stopped to think you could do this - but it makes sense. Very cool.

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Nokia N900
by leech on Thu 13th Apr 2017 21:01 UTC
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I had made a comment in the 'right to repair' article about being able to almost get all the components for a N900 to be able to build your own. This should be a thing.

Remember in the good ol' days you'd buy a computer kit you'd put together yourself?

Reply Score: 4

RE: Nokia N900
by Bill Shooter of Bul on Fri 14th Apr 2017 18:06 UTC in reply to "Nokia N900"
Bill Shooter of Bul Member since:

Yeah, you know that's still possible. I did that what two months ago?

Reply Score: 2

Great Video
by Onyx_RE2 on Thu 13th Apr 2017 23:06 UTC
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That was a really great video. He did a great job.
Thanks for posting this!

Reply Score: 1

Comment by Sidux
by Sidux on Fri 14th Apr 2017 08:00 UTC
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People have been selling "refurbished" phones build from returned items from customers for years.
I highly doubt companies producing them don't make any kind of profit from this.
Legislation, patents and expensive contracts is what killed this off in several countries.

PS: This doesn't apply to phones only.. For example you can still assemble your own car with instructions from manufacturer if you're into it..

Reply Score: 1

RE: Comment by Sidux
by Bill Shooter of Bul on Fri 14th Apr 2017 18:08 UTC in reply to "Comment by Sidux"
Bill Shooter of Bul Member since:

There are kit cars that aren't too bad to assemble. But a real production line car would require quite the set up to build out. I also think buying parts individually might triple the cost of the car.

Reply Score: 2

Cool vid, bro, but...
by JLF65 on Sat 15th Apr 2017 17:12 UTC
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He did a great job of putting together his own iPhone, but the video also does a great job of showing why the average person won't be able to do this themselves. First and most important, you won't be able to get all the parts unless you're in China. He LITERALLY bought many of the parts from back-alley dealers - people who had a table in the alley behind the stores. You won't be getting those parts online.

Second, even if you find some of the parts online, you're going to be screwed over for bad parts. He went to an actual dealer for the logic board, and at the first place the boards were untested, the dealer refused to test them, refused to let him test them, and the price was non-refundable. He managed to find another dealer elsewhere who guaranteed her logic boards... which was good as the first one he got from her was only partly working. She actually stood by her word and sold him another that did work. Good luck doing that online.

Third, there's lots of fiddly bits you won't know about until it's too late. He couldn't get his buttons to work, so he went to a phone repair place and was actually able to get the guy to show him why the buttons weren't working, and sell him some of those tiny fiddly bits that make them work. Again, good luck doing that online.

Fourth, most folks won't be able to assemble the phone, even if they have ALL the parts. Looking at the video, I'm not sure I could assemble one and I'm an engineer! I probably could, given enough time and effort, but your average person couldn't no matter how much time you give them. Hell, most people have trouble assembling furniture, forget a complicated smart phone.

Anywho, great video, but don't get to thinking this proves anyone can build their own phone from parts and save a buck. This shows why companies that sell refurbished phones make money - you aren't going to be able to refurbish a phone yourself.

Reply Score: 3

RE: Cool vid, bro, but...
by Alfman on Sun 16th Apr 2017 03:58 UTC in reply to "Cool vid, bro, but..."
Alfman Member since:


I agree it's not something an ordinary person would want to do.

I will say this though, I'm not sure if this is representative of china overall, but he seemed to have easy access to tons of components without having to special order a single thing. He even has a choice of suppliers...I find this very intriguing because that's worlds apart from how it is here in the US. The handful of electronics stores I grew up with have closed down. Radio shack is one of the last remnants of hobby electronics and the one by us just closed down this past month.

Electronics retailer RadioShack has filed for its second bankruptcy in two years and will close 187 more stores this month, about 9% of its 1,943 locations.

The chain, based in Fort Worth, Texas, previously filed for bankruptcy in 2015, resulting in about 2,400 store closings. Subsequently, General Wireless, a joint venture of hedge fund Standard General and Sprint, acquired it and has run 1,518 stores.

In a Chapter 11 reorganization petition filed Wednesday in the U.S Bankruptcy Court in Delaware, General Wireless stated it planned to close 187 stores this month, which the process already underway. In addition, the chain says it is closing the RadioShack portion of the 360 stores that it shares with Sprint, and evaluating whether to do the same in 971 other shared stores.

There's nothing really special about radio shack in this regards, it's a victim of a far larger phenomenon where large swaths of brick and mortar businesses are becoming economically nonviable. It started with the small businesses consolidating, but in the past several years the larger brands are getting hurt and disappearing as well. If you live in the US, you likely know what I'm talking about and can see how local brick and mortar businesses have gotten dropped from the economy over time.

I have a question for those of you in in other parts of the world: is this trend happening world wide?

The rise and fall of the American shopping mall

Reply Score: 2

RE[2]: Cool vid, bro, but...
by JLF65 on Sun 16th Apr 2017 13:55 UTC in reply to "RE: Cool vid, bro, but..."
JLF65 Member since:

Yeah, here in the US, you increasingly have to order even ordinary parts online as walk-in shops are nearly all gone. Where I currently live, there was just the Radio Shack, and even when it was open it barely had more than RC cars, phones, and cables. If you wanted ICs or such, you still had to order them online from Radio Shack's main branch. The less said about brick-and-mortar video stores, the better.

As to the video, he was definitely someplace special - home of the cell phone market. I doubt he'd have been able to find everything if he'd been someplace else.

Reply Score: 2

RE: Cool vid, bro, but...
by tech10171968 on Mon 17th Apr 2017 00:12 UTC in reply to "Cool vid, bro, but..."
tech10171968 Member since:

I think it's also an indictment of our culture of throw-away electronics. A consumer used to be able to keep a television, refrigerator or other device for years because a repair shop (or even a knowledgable and sufficiently-equipped hobbyist) could easily repair said item.

These days, even if the manufacturers weren't actively trying to thwart attempts at self-repair, it seems that most consumers couldn't be arsed enough to even do it themselves. Just toss it out and get a new one.

Makes you wonder what chance a store like Radio Shack even stands in a culture like this.

Reply Score: 1

by TheRealKMan on Mon 17th Apr 2017 12:10 UTC
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I did this with a pile of broken iPod Touch 2G units I got for free and a brand new battery off eBay. Ended up with a single max-capacity unit and a bunch of recycling, for about an hour and a half of my time. Cash for old rope, if you ask me.

Reply Score: 1