Mobility

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...

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