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iPhone 5 teardown: Redesigned case and interior simplify repairs

Bill Detwiler tears down the iPhone 5 and shows you how its redesigned case and interior hardware layout make the phone easier to disassemble and repair.

It may have the same general shape as its predecessor, but the iPhone 5 is taller, thinner, and lighter. And thanks to a redesigned case and interior, the device is easier to take apart and repair.

Full teardown gallery: Cracking Open the Apple iPhone 5

New design still feels familiar

In addition to changing the case and giving the phone a larger screen, Apple also repositioned the front camera, moved the headphone jack, and replaced the traditional 30-pin docking connector with the new Lightning connector. What hasn't changed are the position of the home button, power button, ring/silent switch, volume buttons, speakers, and case screws.

For a complete list of specs, pricing, and real world performance tests, check out Scott Stein's full CNET review.

Cracking Open observations

  • Redesigned case eases DIY repairs: The iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S weren't difficult to open, but working on them was complicated by the phones' design--two glass panels, separated by an internal metal frame. Luckily, Apple ditched this two-panel design in favor of a wrap-around metal case and front glass panel. You'll still need a special screwdriver to remove the tamper-resistant pentalobe screws, but these tools are readily available on the Internet.
  • Internal layout similar to iPhone 4/4S: The overall hardware layout inside the iPhone 5 is very similar to the interior of the iPhone 4 and 4S. The speaker and docking connector assembly run along the bottom, the battery sits along the left side, the motherboard runs along the right, and the cameras are mounted at the top. (Note: If you're wondering why everything looks backwards in this comparison, remember that on the iPhone 4 and 4S you access the interior from the back. While on the iPhone 5, you go in through the front.)
  • Shields soldered to the main board: Unfortunately, the EMI/RFI shields that cover the iPhone 5's motherboard are soldered in place. As I want to put this phone back together in working order, I refrained from breaking out the soldering iron and snips.
  • Case components are easily accessible, but held in place with adhesive: The phone's vibration motor, speaker assembly, headphone jack, Lightning connector, and lots of antenna/connector cables are attached to the case with either screws, adhesive, or both. If any of these components were damaged, removing and replacing them wouldn't be difficult. But I don't want to risk damaging them during removal. So, I'm going to leave them in place.
  • Front panel design simplifies fixes: Looking at the front panel assembly, there are also examples of how the iPhone 5 is easier to repair than its predecessor. First, the home button is attached to the panel with screws. This makes it easy to replace a broken button. Second, the earpiece speaker is also held in place with screws and easily removed.
  • Fused front panel and display: In the past, I've complained when manufacturers fused a device's front panel to the actual display. This construction technique increases the cost of fixing a broken panel or display. If one component breaks, you must replace both. But having spent way too much time trying to remove stray pieces of dust from between the front panels and LCD screens of tablets and smartphones, I've changed my mind.

Bottom line

Evening without taking it apart, there's a lot to like about the new iPhone 5--a bigger screen, faster processor, LTE support and a thinner/lighter design. That fact that it's also easier to crack open and repair is just icing on the cake.

Internal hardware

To avoid damaging our test device, I decided against de-soldering the EMI shield which covers the RAM. Luckily, our friends over at iFixit did, and we have a full hardware list thanks to their efforts.

  • 4" Retina display (1136x640 resolution at 326 ppi)
  • 3.8V, 5.45Wh, 1,440mAh Li-Ion battery
  • 8 megapixel iSight rear-facing camera
  • 1.2 megapixel FaceTime front-facing camera
  • Apple A6 SoC with 1GB Elpida LPDDR2 SDRAM
  • 32GB NAND flash module
  • Qualcomm MDM9615M 4G LTE modem
  • Qualcomm RTR8600 multi-band/mode RF transceiver
  • Qualcomm PM8018 RF power management IC
  • Skyworks 77352-15 GSM/GPRS/EDGE power amplifier module
  • Skyworks 77491-158 CDMA power amplifier module
  • TriQuint 666083-1229 WCDMA / HSUPA power amplifier / duplexer module for the UMTS band
  • RFMD RF1101 and RF1102
  • SWUA 147 228 RF antenna switch module
  • Avago AFEM-7813 dual-band LTE B1/B3 PA+FBAR duplexer module
  • Avago A5613 ACPM-5613 LTE band 13 power amplifier
  • Apple 338S1131 dialog power management IC
  • Apple 338S1117 (unidentified)
  • STMicroelectronics L3G4200D three-axis gyroscope
  • STMicroelectronics LIS331DLH three-axis linear accelerometer
  • Murata 339S0171 Wi-Fi module
  • Texas Instruments 27C245I touch screen SoC
  • Broadcom BCM5976 touchscreen controller

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...

9 comments
Weatherholt
Weatherholt

What kind of plastic does the iPhone 5 casing use? (The part that connected to the aluminum stripe across the back). I dropped my phone down some stairs and the plastic part cracked.

Fixit Phone Repair

Animal13
Animal13

Curious, I didn't see a GPS component in the parts list. Does apple do it with the regular processor and antenna or does it use a third party chipset?

caelwyn001
caelwyn001

I love the breakdown of the handset. It does seem a superb candidate for repairs. However unless Apple are going to change their philosphy of replace and do not repair it will remain a techie thing to enjoy. Maybe we are seeing the precursor to that change. I will admit I am not an I Fone fan and prefer android enabled handsets. I also hate the throwaway philosophy. Thank you for an eye opening expose of the I Fone 5.

ilovesards
ilovesards

ill try to see the 5s , might interest me.

alawishis
alawishis

All you did was pop off the cover. Some of the language here is contradictory and I find it confusing. On one hand you're telling us it's easier to take apart and repair, on the other you don't want to beyond opening the case because you're afraid of breaking it? If someone who had done dozens of tear-downs is afraid to disassemble it, that does not sound promising for someone opening it for the first time. From the sounds of it your working on your girlfriends phone and you are afraid to damage it. TR doesn't supply a sacrificial phone for these tear-downs?

Shulmandl
Shulmandl

It's happening to many using older iPhones as well, on updates. Do NOT update w/o checking the blogs for ways to preserve your old data first.

Mark_YPO
Mark_YPO

Dont know what it is but I have had the new phone for a week now and my battery has become flat everyday before the end of the day. No extra usage or spending hours learning how the new features operate, because it is not really any different from my previous phone. Is my perception of shorter battery life shared by others. Is it possibly because of the expanded screen real estate? Mark