Turning an old tablet into a photo frame.

Many years ago I bought an Acer Iconia 10 tablet. It’s not a great tablet and their support for it seemed to cease around the time I got it in my hands, so it’s spent a lot of it’s time on a shelf other than the occasions I tried to find a use for it. I’m always concerned about the massive pile of discarded tech being recycled shipped to developing countries to be landfilled or dismantled by kids with inadequate safety kit. So I’m always looking for ways to repurpose tired tech.

I found it was shit as an ebook reader due to the crappy battery life and inability to lower the brightness below mildly blinding without some flaky app. It was useless as a tablet for my kid being on Android 6 and being unsupported for many modern apps. It also seemed that no-one was actively working on a usable root or replacement AOSP or minimal rom to replace the bloated and buggy Acer-flavour Android OS.

What I landed on was using it as a photo frame propped on top of the microwave. This was never ideal, but worked temporarily. Android has a basic picture frame screensaver than can use photos from your Google account, however I found that the tablet managed to run Kodi providing I wasn’t using it to watch movies or episodes or bog it down with add-ons, where it would choke and Kodi would close on me. Music and internet radio was fine. I wasn’t going to watch movies on it anyone due to the small screen and it’s need to be plugged in permanently because of the 10 minute battery life. The Kaster screensaver, which emulates the ambient mode of a Chromecast and can display images from a folder while displaying time and weather info was kinda perfect. I used Instaloader to grab my feed from Instagram to use as fodder and pointed the Kaster addon at the download folder. Mounting the tablet in a picture frame on the wall was the next step.

A white frame with a traditional white spacer/matt would be a nice contrast against the colour from the screen. I had a cheap white A4 frame lying around. No mat so I used a piece of thick card temporarily until I can grab the correct material from a decent craft shop or picture frame store. Made an arse of cutting it sadly, but as they say back home; Och, sure it’ll be grand.

The tablet was easily mounted using some Dockem Koala mounts. They come with a choice of screws or command strips. I live in a rented flat so I used the command strips, screws would be more secure, but I find the 3M Command Strips fairly decent for hanging pictures and other relatively light flat items providing the surfaces are smooth and clean. I assumed I could stick the frame and mat onto the Koala mount, but the newer versions are so minimal there is nothing really to adhere to. This would also make it harder to access the tablet should I need to. Using another Command Strip to fit a hinged hanger above the tablet and putting the frame on some twine and hanging it on it at the right level to correctly frame the tablet screen seemed the best way. I then used the high-tech solution of using White Tack to stop it shifting from the screen. I then discovered that I had planned it badly and the hanger was too high above the frame and would be visible when it was in place. I dealt with this by deciding not to worry about it for the moment.

Sadly Kodi has been a little flaky. Updating to the latest stable version from https://kodi.tv/download/android has helped a little but I need to go through the, admittedly surprisingly large, logs with a fine tooth-comb to find what’s causing it. I suspect Library Watchdog and I’m open to suggestions as to a replacement, but I find Kodi add-on development rather flaky and prone to becoming abandoned. Suffice to say it crashes to the Android desktop about once a day, I suspect, just after I’ve added something to my music library. Hence by theory that Library Watchdog is culprit as I’ve had this issue with Kodi before when it comes to scanning my music library. Usually it means finding the file that’s confusing the scanner and fixing or deleting it.

While the touchscreen works, Kodi has never really been optimised for touchscreen being primarily developed for TV and big screen media. Few skins have been developed with touchscreen in mind and those that have tend to be a little poor from my experience. I quite like the Arctic Zephyr Reloaded skin, but it’s best used with a remote control. I had one lying around that wasn’t being used that also had an air-mouse function and a keyboard on the flip-side. While it worked quite well I felt it was overkill, it also required it’s own dongle which flopped about on a USB micro – USB 2 adaptor cable. So opted for a cheap minimal Bluetooth controller. It does the basics and is small enough to sit in one of my hand-made ceramic nut bowls near the frame with some of my daughters hair-clips, a small ball of wool and a key that I’ve no idea what it’s for.

I can also, and mostly, operate it using the Yatse remote from my Android phone. I can also stream media from the tablet using it. Honestly, Yatse is one of the best apps I’ve ever installed on my phone and I’ve happily paid for the pro version twice. Kinda crucial if you use Kodi or Plex or one of the other related media servers it supports.

Something to say?