I love finding bargains in unexpected places. Pound-shops, markets and boot sales are all great places to find simple electronics items for less than their component costs - particularly things like USB hubs, various connectors and cables, and sometimes non-functional products with valuable (working) components like steppers and ICs.
Quite often an idea for a new hack will come from finding something extrodinarily cheaply. Today I picked up three 7" x 5" deep solid Oak picture frames for £1 each from Wilkinsons. These frames happen to be exactly the right size to accommodate a 7" display; meaning that they can cheaply and easily become an attractive enclosure for various tablets and external monitor devices.
I happened to have two such devices to hand from previous projects - an external USB display (the Nanovision MIMO DisplayLink monitor), and the O2 Joggler; a few of which I acquired when they were on offer for £50 a piece.
I'm a big fan of using materials like wood and metal in things I make or modify, as they tend to be more durable and attractive than the plastics used in most electronics products. Wood is also satisfying to work with - although as it would turn out, no woodworking was required at all to fit these frames...
Framing A Joggler
The Joggler is an Atom-based X86 slate with a 7" capacitive touch-screen display, Wifi and Ethernet. Intended as a 'home media hub' device, it was initially sold by O2 (a UK mobile operator) for £150.
Despite the high spec, limited software functionality and near non-existent promotion on O2's part led to poor sales. As a result, it soon became heavily discounted to £50. At this price it was a total steal, and drew interest from Linux enthusiasts whom worked out how to install alternative operating systems on the device. I've used one of these in the past for my Joggler Car Computer project.
The Joggler happens to be a perfect fit for the Oak frames, so I dropped one of them into a frame to serve as an attractive bedside Internet-connected tablet.
In order to keep the Joggler in the frame, I pushed a length of plastic tubing into the gap between the Joggler's case and the frame's backing slot, securing it without any modification required to the Joggler or frame.
As the Joggler now sat almost an inch higher on the table than before, the stand was not long enough to keep it at a reasonable angle. To compensate I added an adjustable rig made from a plastic construction kit (intended for teaching in schools) that I'd acquired years ago for prototyping purposes.
The only possible modification required to the frame would be cutting out a small inner slot for the USB port on the side of the Joggler, used for loading a custom OS. There are very small Micro SD readers available (that sit almost flush with the USB port) that would work well here, requiring only a very small cut-out with no external alteration.
Replacing A DisplayLink Monitor Case
DisplayLink USB monitors are an interesting technology that I haven't seen a great deal of promotion or publicity for. They are effectively external graphics cards embedded into LCD panels, connected to (and powered by) a host computer over USB. generally the power requirements of driving a large display limit these displays to 10" or less, as the USB bus normally can't provide more than 500mA to a connected device without an external PSU.
As such, they aren't that useful as desktop extensions - their small size and low resolution doesn't allow them to show full windows applications. However, where they excel is in displaying specialised information - for example, system temperatures, status reports and Internet feeds.
The monitor shown here is a Nanovision MIMO 7" display that I have had attached to my media encoding machine. It shows the Handbrake GUI whilst the machine is chugging away, avoiding the need for a full external monitor.
Whilst it's a great device, the standard case is fairly cheap and ugly. Since my media machine also happens to be built into a wooden storage box (long story), replacing the MIMo's case with one of these wooden frames seemed like a good match. Unfortunately as the factory enclosure was much bigger than the Joggler's (despite the panel and electronics being much more compact), I had to completely remove the case in order to get it to fit.
I cut a piece of mounting board to the same inner dimensions as the display panel (and outer dimensions of the frame), then hot-glued the panel and board to it. I then cut an MDF backing piece and wedges to keep everything in place. A piece of foam padding secures the assembly by pushing against the back panel, holding the wedges in place.