Tablets

Five things you should know before trying to fix a smartphone or tablet

Bill Detwiler shares essential advice for everyone who wants to repair a cracked iPad screen or broken smartphone.

So, you just cracked the front panel on your iPad. Should you try to replace it yourself or just buy a new one?

As host of Cracking Open, I get a lot of email from people who want advice on how to repair their broken gadgets. I do my best to respond and provide what help I can. And so, I thought it would be a good idea to put all my usual advice into a list, which would at least give people a few basic bits information everyone should know before they attempt fix their busted smartphone or tablet.

I hope these tips help you decide whether you want to repair your broken smartphone or tablet and that they point you in the right direction.

1. Repair at your own risk

Before making any repair, you must understand that you do so at your own risk. You can be injured. And, you can damage the device beyond repair.

If the damage is covered under a warranty, just take it back to the manufacturer. If the device still works and you can't afford to be without it if you really screw it up, then just wait until you can buy a new one. You should only attempt a repair if you've exhausted all your other options and aren't worrying about breaking the device any further.

Just remember that neither CNET, nor TechRepublic, nor yours truly can be held responsible for injury, damage, or loss of data.

2. Getting replacement parts can be tough, even impossible

Once you've decided to fix your device, the next step is getting replacement parts. Unfortunately, this can be a real pain. It's not like there's a smartphone parts store on every street corner and manufacturers don't make it easy for the average person to buy replacement parts.

Luckily, the Internet is your friend. There are several sites that sell aftermarket and OEM replacement parts for smartphones and tablets. If one of them doesn't have the part you need, try eBay. Even if you can't find the individual component, you might find a broken unit that you can scrounge the part from.

3. Get the right tools

With your spare part in hand or at least in transit, you'll need to make sure you have the tools you need to make the fix.

Some devices, such as the newer iPhones and the MacBook Air require special screwdrivers to open. Many devices use standard Torx and Phillips screws, but they are just really small. I recommend getting a screwdriver set with a variety of small hex, Torx, Phillips, tri-wing, and nut driver bits. Because sometimes you don't know what you'll find inside that phone.

You'll also want to pick up a few tools to help you pry and pop loose your device's outer case. I use these thin metal and plastic case opening tools, but tweezers, spudgers, and even a hair dryer or heat gun are good to have on hand.

4. Properly prepare the work space

Okay, I have all the parts and tools, and I'm chomping at the bit to fix my phone so, I know - I'll plop everything down on the kitchen table and start cracking this bad boy open, right? No. Take a few minutes and prepare your work area.

Remove any liquids that might spill or objects that might fall onto the device. Make sure you have a large enough area to work in and space to lay all the parts out neatly. And, create a safe spot to put all the tiny screws and small components you remove. Few things are more frustrating than crawling around the floor looking for a lost screw or spilling.

Lastly, consider electrostatic discharge or ESD safety by wearing a grounding wrist strap or using an antistatic mat.

5. Take your time, don't force anything, and document the process

My final piece of advice is to take your time, don't force anything, and document the process.

If you're having trouble removing your phone's cover, perhaps you haven't removed a hidden screw. If you can't separate your tablet's front panel, you may need to heat the adhesive that holds it in place.

Try not to force anything, because that's when you're likely to break your device even more than it already is.

And because you want to make sure you can put your gadget back together again, document the process with a few photos and notes as you go along.

About

Bill Detwiler is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop supp...

56 comments
suncatTR
suncatTR

I have around 20 or so. Most people get rid of them because the batteries are dead/dying. New battery kits start at around $5. If the motherboard is dead, the drive might be alive. New external cases for microdrives start at $10. Where else can I get good as new devices for under $20? Some I keep, some are gifts. Apple must hate people like us who fix our Apple devices. iPod Touch is glued together. First ones had battery soldered on. [my iMac is much worse, so are MacBook Air]. My son gave me his iPhone with broken glass, but touch screen still works. Now WiFi is broken and battery needs to be replaced. You have to take the phone completely apart to do all the repairs and soldering. P.O.S. Glad my own phones are Nokia--rarely break, and then are very easy to fix.

jayohem
jayohem

IF YOU ARE A KLUTZ, think it over about 80 times before you attempt to do this! No, I'm not singling people out; I R a klutz not to mention left handed, over the hill, and with bad hand-eye coordination (the condition that causes klutziness). :-)

dl_wraith
dl_wraith

Whenever I'm repairing anything (whether it be my paintball markers, airsoft gear, laptops, MP3 players, tablet or what-have-you) the most invaluable tool I have at my disposal is my smartphone. At each stage, lay out the parts as you remove them as close to the edge they came closest to and take the photo. Then notate the photo or simply write a note somehow. Make sure to note any unusual or hidden part/screw/catch placements. By the end of the process, you'll have a complete visual record with notes on how to take it apart, which will be a massive help in putting it back together. There is but one issue with this approach - what if it's your smartphone you're repairing? :) In that case, use a digital camera, a friend's phone or simply good old pen and paper. Sketching outlines of the layout as you go is a poor man's camera but it's saved my bacon more than once. Earlier a commenter said put white paper on the table. I'd recommend this not just for clarity, but so you can scribble notes as you go without interruption. You can even write next to a particular part any notes you feel appropriate (my favourite is 'put THIS screw in -> BEFORE this plate -> ' As for the self affirmed grammar Nazis on this thread, it's OK to strive for correct spelling and good grammar but you don't need to be rude to the author to do it. Simply saying to Bill, "There's a few spelling and grammar errors in here, Bill, that you may want to correct" is enough. This guy has sat down and wrote out his advice to share for your (and others) benefit yet you still criticise in a manner that can only be described as rude. Look, I get what you want (the correct use of English on a professional site's published articles) and that's a reasonable wish. Just don't attack people's hard work in your pursuit of your goal. Remember, however good he is with repairs and advice, Bill is (like us all) only human. In case you haven't noticed, we humans are prone to mistakes. Now, excuse me while I go and find my asbestos overcoat.... While I'm here, thanks for sharing your tips, Bill. I'm sure there's a lot of people that will get great use out of your advice. EDIT: Oh, almost forgot to mention the cardinal sin - try and get the repair done in one sitting. If you leave the table and come back to the job later, there's a greater chance that you'll forget a crucial placement or the order a group of awkward pieces go in or something similar. If you are going to leave the repair and come back to it please ensure that you have good notes and pictures and that the pieces you've disassembled so far are safe and will not be disturbed. As an example to illustrate what I mean, once I had my sister's netbook in pieces on a small tray-table in the living room. I was having trouble with the simple repair and wanted a clear head so I left it for later. 20 minutes after I'd left my repair where I had started it my door was knocked upon. My dog leapt up from the spot in the livingroom behind where I'd been sat (so she could watch me with disinterested canine eyes that said 'when will you walk me? Is a laptop more important than ME?' without me catching her), rushed past the table and knocked it over. My bits were scattered and guess what? That's right, no notes or photos. I had a terrible time putting that back together. Document, secure and one session if possible. (Oh, and if your dog likes to watch, make sure she can't disturb your workspace :) )

neil.postlethwaite
neil.postlethwaite

Or realise a Smartphone or Tab is always 'at risk' and cover it with a SqaureTrade warranty which coverers pretty much everything but theft, or claim for damage on your Home Insurance/away from home cover.

mwclarke1
mwclarke1

not after an English major... Many of us are not the best at taking the time to double check thing, in a hurry, too reliant on spell checking, not realizing that many words the spell checker sees is a correctly spelled word, just not the word intended, or picks the wrong word, we just click on replace too quick without realizing we picked were instead of where, and never proof read, Guilty! Yes we need to be more observant, just that a blog, forum, etc is not seen by many as a professional writing skilled event, like many business or other professional documents, not that it should be but maybe not with as much harsh criticism :-) As for Phone repair, back in the 80's use to repair and reporgram a lot of the older modles, had a lot of equipment to test with, tools, devices were easier. These days the smaller devices are hardly designed to repair and can ruin if not familiar, have a lot of patience and the right tools. IF you do feel up to it, one of the best sources for repair parts I have used and cheap is out of China, thecellphoneshop.net Can just about get anything needed And so far I have had no issues ordering from them I had a Nokia phone, not that much but in just a few weeks the screen cracked. The service was t-mobile, the t-mobile shop want3ed more than the phone was worth to fix and Nokia wanted to charge a ridiculous price, the cheapest I could get was 70.00 US to get fixed I was able to get a replacement screen for 14.95 from this site and was able to fix my phone and lasted for a couple of years until I changed carriers then So far no repairs since but have gotten many accessories there at a good price.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

In relation to [i]Just remember that neither CNET, nor TechRepublic, nor yours truly can be held responsible for injury, damage, or loss of data.[/I] Doesn't work, while it may sound as if you are protected from some people unfortunately there is no way to prevent some people from damaging themselves and passing the blame onto you or who they think that will give them some money. ;) Many years ago I was supposed to teach a guy how to repair company products and when he got to the class he had no idea how to use a Screwdriver. He honestly didn't know how to use a Screwdriver. Some people just can not be taught no matter how much you hold them by the hand and do the work for them. Then again some people just are not suited to repairing anything and should avoid it all of the time. Now as I made the mistake of listening to you many years ago I'm working with computers still, even though I know nothing at all about them so you'll be hearing from my Lawyers. I really Hate Computers and other Electronic Devices. :^0 :D :^0 :D Col

harry_004
harry_004

Please get the article proofread before publishing.

nwallette
nwallette

Thanks, Bill, for the article. I always enjoy the Cracking Open series and appreciate the walk-through. While I do appreciate a well-produced (and edited) article, I also appreciate the content above any minor typographical errors and choice in clothing.

HypnoToad72
HypnoToad72

Disposable people? Oh, wait, those are the users of the devices... (Wait until BYOD becomes mandatory and workers have to pay for this stuff out of their (ever-decreasing) paychecks... and don't people recall 20~30 years ago when people were encouraged to do 401ks instead of pensions and now pensions are long gone?? Still, invest in a 401k and retire at 50. Just like the dude who put $4000 into Facebook, forgetting the other phrase "Don't invest what you can't afford to lose" so while I'm on a roll, explain how people put faith into what amounts to a casino in terms of accruing retirement money when some bubble will pop and everyone else cashes in first...)

dnewman20
dnewman20

You should consider dressing more professionally. I had to watch you on my lunch break so it didn't seem to my co-workers that I was watching some non-work related vlog durring work hours.

jlc_918
jlc_918

Whenever I change out RAM or a hard drive in a laptop, I draw a rough diagram of the laptop on some regular copy paper. I draw little circles to mark the spots where the screws go. Every time I take a screw out, I place it on the corresponding spot on my diagram so that I remember where it goes when I put everything back together.

Marc Jellinek
Marc Jellinek

Make sure the repair instructions include disassembly *and* reassembly instructions When my girlfriend's phone had a cracked screen, I offered to take a shot at replacing it. After all, there was a repair kit available that included all required parts and tools. They even had an instructional video posted on YouTube, which I glanced through. Even with instructions, it wsa difficult to disassemble. After struggling to get the phone apart (the seals had to be heated with a hairdryer to remove, there were two boards that had to be pried apart... initially pried off the wrong one, etc), I was able to remove the cracked screen. The instructions left off with "now just do everything in reverse". There was a replacement screen in the kit, but no replacement seals. Taking something apart is different than putting it back together. After a couple of hours, I bit the bullet and bought her a new phone. A small price to pay for retaining my sanity.

jack.klaber
jack.klaber

For a disassembly guide. Some reference manuals have excellent disassembly instructions with images and procedures. Also on YouTube many DIY clips are available.

pdelee
pdelee

The tools you use in the Cracking Open series are very well suited for electronic device repair and difficult to find. Can you share with us the manufacturer and models of the screw driver set and case cracking tools that you use?

Storageman
Storageman

You know you've covered a subject well when all they can find wrong are grammatical errors. That said, I agree that writers and editors should proof read their articles. Or better yet, have someone else proof it for them. Nothing is worse than having to read it through a number of times to try to decipher what the writer really meant.

premiertechnologist
premiertechnologist

Thank you so much, Bill. It should be pointed out that this particular tutorial can be extended to all sorts of things, not restricted to the niche technology for which it is intended here. In fact, I suppose you could extend this advice to chef contestants on Chopped! Great reminder: Thanks! [And I think it is time to modernize to drop "Nazis" to be "Foxconns" -- just remember that for the Foxconn Grammer Enforcers next time. Or is that a too Politically Incorrect violation for Apple enthusiasts whose product may the one being fixed?] My continued admiration for the ZDnet gang of three: Bill, Toni and Jason.

Tater Salad
Tater Salad

You listed the options as 1. Fix it yourself or 2. Buy a new one. There is a third option: Several online places, (maybe some local ones, too, if you live in a big city) can repair common problems with smartphones and tablets, usually for a flat fee. This way they assume responsibility for further damage. I recently attempted to replace the LCD in an older iPod Touch. The place I ordered the parts from included the tools and had a video on their website that made it look easy. I've been working on delicate electronic stuff for 35 years and I think your 5 tips are spot on (especially #4). The operation was a success, but the patient died. Well, not really, but I did crack the digitizer (outer touch screen) when reassembling. Which is surprising because it took lot more prying to get it apart than to put it back together. Anyway I ordered another digitizer and installed that without breaking it and all is well, but it ended up costing a liitle more than it would have to just send it in to them for their professional repair. If they had broken the digitizer, they would have had to replace it. So the third option is have a professional repair it. That's what I'll do in the future.

Matthew G. Davidson
Matthew G. Davidson

Once you use the hair dryer to lift the tablet's front panel how do you get it to re-adhere?

cd613
cd613

1. before you touch anything have the right mental attitude you cant be pissed at your dog , mom, GF,BFF or anything else this will give you the patience - know you can do it, not believe you can 2. magnifying lamp = flash light + magnifying lens 3. double sided tape to stick all screws label them on tape if no double sided under lap regular tape 4. color markers to label screws on tape \ to make drwings different colors make a difference label parts as you go 5. know when to walk away {see1} frustration / fatigue can set in and this comes with experience know thy self 6. get payed up front this not only gives you incentive but gets rid of freeloaders

papertrl
papertrl

Sorry, Grammar Nazi, but you missed the most obvious one. "Take you're time ..." Bill, nice advice.

cbeckers
cbeckers

This advice is just as important for when you are popping open an old-fashioned desktop case to replace the video card or add RAM or whatever, especially the part about anti-static and preparing the workspace.

carrot1
carrot1

A spudger is an old telecom tool used to manipulate wires on the old punchdown blocks or demarks. They have a hook on one end and a slotted bar on the other end to "guide" the wire where you want it to go................TLC

kimbaslair
kimbaslair

never mind...if I read further on I would've noticed....lol

kimbaslair
kimbaslair

is what you meant "torx" instead of "trox screw? - just checking

allennugent
allennugent

I'm a big fan of surgical instruments and magnetized jewellers screwdrivers, but what in the world are spudgers?

richard.stroud
richard.stroud

Bill, Where do you get 64 or aftermarket made 128GB SSD replacements for our 16GB IPADS from sites on the internet? Is this possible? The new Retna Display updates to all the apps have killed space on my IPAD and Apple refuses to cooperate and give us high speed flash card support. My Android phone has a $30 32GB 10HC Flash card in it and it works great! Richard

cfc2000
cfc2000

It's what happens when you use Dragon NS. Give him a break! By the way, the Nazis did more than criticize grammar.

asforza1
asforza1

You forgot to mention a hammer.

readingr
readingr

Make sure that you backup the device before starting is surely missing from your list, whether you are sending off the device for repair or attempting it yourself. Regards Roger

nick
nick

You said "Some devices, such as the newer iPhones and the MacBook Air require special screwdrivers to open. Many device use standard Trox and Phillips screws, but there just really small. I recommend" Perhaps you meant " ...but they are just really small" they are is abbreviated to they're. See http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_is_the_abbreviation_for_they_are Yes I do know that I have "issues" with poor grammar.

dl_wraith
dl_wraith

I R Klutz? I almost snorted my morning drink out of my nostrils! :) Reminded me of that old cartoon, I am weasel. The main antagonist was a baboon called, wait for it, I R Baboon. I have to agree with Jay here - if you struggle to cope with fiddly components or awkward, tiny screws then a modern gadget repair is not the place for you. Brutal honesty about your chances will save you a lot of frustration. Calling all klutzes - honesty is the best policy. Think twice, get someone more deft fingered to help :)

premiertechnologist
premiertechnologist

Given the current crop of patents in the last week for processes, it seems certain to me that some of these methodologies for repair could be patented. For example, the collection of structured data to enable deconstruction and reintegration of parts of "smart phones" using integrated picture and note taking. AT&T, IBM, Google, Facebook, move over because ZDnet is coming!

xelz
xelz

@Tater Salad I live in a rural area and mail my smaller devices away for service. The place I send it only charges around $50 for the repair plus parts!

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

And press together when the device is repaired. Or as they say Reassembly is the reverse of Disassembly. ;)

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

Laying out clean White Paper to stick the device on to prevent any Static Transfer from the table to the device. That's fairly Important too. ;) Col

dennis
dennis

I doubt it. Errors stick out like a bad necktie to us grammar-sensitive types. Referencing one error made the point.

bstockha
bstockha

And as much a necessity as the trusty old American Beauty soldering iron.

carrot1
carrot1

Not awake yet, huh Kim?

draco vulgaris
draco vulgaris

The word is NOT listed in my Websters Unabridged Dictionary. If "spudgers" is a word, it's a fairly new one!

ManoaHI
ManoaHI

Spudgers are pry tools to open cases. They come in various styles and materials. For most things metal ones will damage your case. There are few made out of tough plastic.

ttraband
ttraband

Blog postings and texts, even email (to a smaller extent IMHO) can be excused for failing to "follow the rules." In contrast, this is a professionally produced article for a technically astute audience. However the first draft is created, if the article is to appear in a printed format then the author (in conjunction with a skilled editor) must be held accountable for the quality of the final product. If you want to continue to have interested readers, the least you can do is to respect them enough to turn out a grammatically correct piece.

michaellashinsky
michaellashinsky

Is Grammar Nazi (or Spelling Nazi) an elected position, or is it self appointed?

mark.cooper
mark.cooper

If an author can't take the time to proof read and double check spelling and grammar, how can I trust the content of the article? Many of the respondents to online articles are not American and English is their second or third language. I'll cut them some slack. Some respondents are just morons.

vrossano
vrossano

We need a comma after "MacBook Air." The phrase "such as the newer iPhones and the MacBook Air" is in apposition to the word "devices" and needs to be set off by commas at each end.

dennis
dennis

Sometimes they're just common typos or spelling errors, but I see a lot of people make the same mistakes habitually, like using 'to' for 'too'. I've noticed that Bill is pretty good with his grammar.

kclark
kclark

There are no such thing as having " 'issues' with poor grammar." Don't never apologize for this! :) :)

pinroot
pinroot

I'm sure it's a typo, but it's "Torx" not "Trox". Spell check and proof read, something people seldom seem to do anymore.

mark.cooper
mark.cooper

Some of these guys (and gals) show disrespect for their audience by not using good grammar and by not knowing how to properly spell. Some have used the poor excuse that they crank out a huge volume of verbiage and of course some spelling and grammar errors will sneak through. BS!

draco vulgaris
draco vulgaris

Many of our posters are NOT native speakers of English. Their spelling and grammar are usually BETTER THAN the native speakers! Why can't the Americans spell and use correct grammar? A few of us do. Far too many use incorrect spelling and grammar! If someone is clearly using English as a second (or third) language, I'll cut him some slack. The native speakers who mangle the language are saying "I'm an idiot!" every time they speak (or touch their keyboards).

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

And if the service tech has bad hair, how can I trust the quality of his work? I mean, really, this is the twenty-first century, bad hair is curable now! :^0 /snarcasm

maszsam
maszsam

Have 20+ books on English, text books, dictionaries, APA etc. Quess what? They are contradictory. And I before E except after C, what a bunch of BS. Make English as is Old English 2 and go phonetic. Get rid of verb conjugations per tense and all other obsolete legacy quirks. What is the point of I am, you are he is but I run you run they run. Useless drivel devised when a flint box was considered state of the art.

jemiller226
jemiller226

This has to be one of *the* worst-written articles I've seen on here in regards to proofreading. Just abysmal.

draco vulgaris
draco vulgaris

The schools really try to teach proper English but sometimes it's a losing battle. I once heard a grown man say "Her and Bruce went to a movie." I'm sure that some of his teachers cried with frustration! He spoke and wrote the English he learned from his parents!

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

I am not a native English speaker, but even when spelling errors annoy me, I give the other person the benefit of the doubt. Some people really do have to struggle harder to produce text. Anyway, being intolerant of errors that are easily overcome is a conscious choice. And not a choice I find particularly agreeable. Far better to choose to be tolerant, as it opens up more possibilities for both parties.

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