Stepcounter internals

If there’s anything workaholics do too much, obviously, it’s working. No problem, of course, unless that work is done while sitting. One of the oldest tools around to motivate people to walk more, is the stepcounter (pedometer). Today, I’m going to have a look inside of one.

Modern stepcounters usually contain a 3D-accelerometer and can be carried in any orientation. They count steps and perform simple calculations; for example displaying the number minutes you have been active, the amount of calories burnt, and the distance walked. These are all rough estimates, not accurate measurements. It’s the idea that counts.

Compared to modern activity- or fitness trackers (Garmin Vivoactive, FitBit, Withings Pulse, Polar Loop, Jawbone and many more) and smartphone apps, the stepcounter is a low-tech gadget. It does not sync to a webservice, it does not allow sharing of fitness data on social networks, it does not integrate with bathroom scales, and you can’t challenge your friends.

However, if you’re not interested in sharing your activity and fitness data with the world, or storing it in a cloud, the lowly stepcounter is a great choice. The battery will last for well over a year, it is inexpensive, lightweight and discrete, and does what it should do: give a rough idea of how much you’ve been walking. It’s super easy to use: just put it in your pants pocket.

Stepcounters have only one enemy. The washing machine.

The stepcounter in the picture above has actually been washed (40 Celcius, mild detergent). It turned out to be a good quality product; it can be serviced. There are 4 screws that hold the case together, and 6 that hold the print in place. It was easily taken apart.

OregonScientific_PE988_internals_overviewThe components were rinsed to get rid of the detergent, carefully wiped, then left in an open plastic container to dry for a few days.

Shown in a plastic container, on the left: back of unit with piezo beeper, upper right: faceplate, lower right: the circuit board.

Keep sets of screws separate, they often are different sizes/lengths.

The display is not really “attached” to the circuit board. It is held in place by pressure only, (6 screws securing it to the faceplate). It will fall off when you disassemble the unit.

OregonScientific_PE988_internals_display_detail_back_and_frontMark the orientation of the display. The back of the display connects to the circuit board with two little strips of flexible conductive material.

Under the display on the circuit board is a black “dot” where all of the display logic resides, and two rows of contacts for the LCD dot-matrix display. The contacts for the three buttons are on the right.


Re-assembling the unit is easy, put in the strip with the button contacts, and take care to put the display in the faceplate with the correct orientation. Otherwise it will still work, but some rows will be shifted and not all text will be readable. Before putting the conductive strips back, make sure they are clean. A tiny little dust speck can disable half the display.

Then put in the screws and tighten them, all a little bit at a time, to avoid unequal pressure. Check by holding the battery on the contacts. Re-attach back plate and put in a fresh battery. You’re good to go for another year, unless you wash it again.

Independent operations rating: 3 out of 3 stars. This activity tracker does not depend on cloud services. Works 100% offline. No downloading or installing software necessary.

Independent operations rating: 3 out of 3 stars. This activity tracker does not depend on cloud services. Works 100% offline. No downloading or installing software necessary.

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