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Turning old Tablet into Chiming Clock, or why do we need more clock apps?

Converting old tablet to a standing clock that always shows correct time, and every quarter of an hour  plays    Westminster chimes.

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Little bit of history

I'm a computer guy. I like to know my time exactly down to the second. 

And, I'm also an engineer, and I love elegant mechanical things that simply work without any electricity.

I've had this clock for over 20 years. Every week I had to rewind it with a key, which I didn't mind doing all these years. I rewinded the clock about 1000 times (52 weeks * 20 years = 1040). 

The chimes every 15 minutes were loud and clear, but everyone in the house hardly noticed it.

Eventually the spring started to wear off. So, every time after rewinding, I had to set the time couple of minutes ahead. By the middle of the week the clock would show correct time. And right before the next cycle, they would be 5 minutes late.

Currently, due to wear and tear the clock looses more than 15 minutes per week, I finally had to make a hard decision and stop rewinding it. 

This is sad -- all over sudden, something was missing. Hearing the chimes every 15 minutes (although the time was never precise) made the house alive.

I had to do something about it -- I'm an engineer, I like solving challenges like this one.

Problem definition

So, why can't we have the best of both worlds -- the precise time and good old Westminster chimes? It turns out we can!

The mechanical clock may break one day. But there always will be some old tablet laying around which no one wants to use, because it's couple of versions old. 

I happened to have exactly that -- the old android tablet which was collecting dust in a drawer. 

The first thing I tried, I looked for applications on the app store. Who knows, perhaps someone has already built something that will work for my taste. Quickly I was disappointed. The solutions I found were a lot more complex than necessary.  They all had lots of customizations. They all were mostly rather big and convoluted. And non of them offered the chimes I wanted. Non of the existing solutions would show only time and nothing else (just like I wanted).

I'm a true believer in simplicity when it comes down to engineering solutions. Simple things do not distract your attention from the important things. Simple things tend to last longer.

So, I have to build something myself, just because the existing solutions were a way too complicated, still didn't offer exactly what I wanted, and just because I can.

I want my new digital clock to behave as close as possible to my mechanical clock, with one exception -- they must show precise time.


It should work out of the box, no customizations. Think of it this way -- you bring the clock you bought at a store home, you open the box, you wind it up for the first time, you set the correct time, and that's it -- it just works. You never had to customize the mechanical clock, yet, some how no one complained back then. It's really hard for me to understand this obsession with customizations and personalization. 


If you don't like my default options you can do one of 3 things:

  1. Don't use it, find an alternative. The stores back then offered variety of colors, sizes, shapes, quality, price range and  brands. The app stores today most likely will have something that matches your desires as well. 

  2. Reach out to me with suggestions. If I like your idea -- I may add it to the next version of the application -->

  3. Make customizations yourself. The code is opensource --> . You can submit a pull request and, if it does not make the original software more complicated than it should be, I will merge it in. Or you can clone the repo and go wild.

Here are the customizations and features the application will not support:

  • Only supports landscape (I want my digits to occupy all available space on the screen).

  • Only one color scheme.

  • Only one type of font.

  • No support for military time. Not even showing "am/pm". 

  • No support for seconds. 

  • No support for calendar features. 

  • No alarm, no timer.

  • No support for dimming (can be done at the device level).

  • No support for adjusting volume sound (can be done at the device level).

  • No support for different types of chimes -- only Westminster. 

  • No support for weather updates.

The mechanical clock didn't have any of these customizations and they worked great. If you really want to change any of these defaults -- the code is open source.

The solution

Here is what I ended up building:

The clock is a decent size, visible from every corner of the living room, the proportions are nicely balanced. The wire sticking from the side is a little annoying, but hey, you can't expect everything to be perfect.

To make it stand, I had to glue a wooden cube to the back of the tablet with a piece of two sided sticky tape. 

And that's all. Nothing beats the feeling of satisfaction upon project completion.

Investing few hours of time over the weekend saved me from buying something off of Amazon, and filled my house again with wonderful Westminster chimes I was beginning to miss when my old mechanical clock was retired.

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