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The DIY Smartphone Fix

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Sometimes bad things happen to good phones. Screens crack. Batteries die. Lint takes a deep dive down the headphone jack. And so on. When accidents happen, you can always head to the manufacturer — generally the safest bet if the phone is under warranty and the repair is covered. A local fix-it shop can probably handle the job, too. Or you can do it yourself. If you’re the hands-on type, a DIY phone repair can save you money. But before you crack open the phone case, check out these handy tips:

Do the research. Before you begin, make sure the fix is an easy one. iPhones, for instance, “started out being very difficult to repair — but they’ve gotten better over time,” says Jeff Suovanen, a technical writer for iFixit, a California-based company that sells repair parts and publishes DIY repair guides online. IFixit publishes Smartphone Repairability Rankings (ifixit.com/smartphone-repairability) for major mobile phones on a scale of 1-10 (with 10 being the easiest). For example, the iPhone 6S — rating: 7 — gets praise for its easy-to-replace front panel and battery, but a demerit for requiring a proprietary pentalobe screwdriver to open.

Get parts smart. The Internet is rife with vendors hawking smartphone parts, and it’s far too easy for DIYers to buy cheap and regret it later. “Not every part is made equal,” says Anthony Martin, chief of strategy and co-founder of iCracked, a Redwood City, California-based electronics repair firm. “If you go on Amazon or eBay, there are listings that sell you just the replacement cover glass for, say, $7.”

Don’t fall for that ruse. “The way a phone is assembled, there’s the display, and then a clear glass cover bonded to the top of it,” Suovanen explains. “You can’t separate the glass from the display without a lot of expensive equipment.” Instead, you need to buy a complete, pre-assembled display with the cover glass attached. For iPhone 6 users, you’re looking at a price of around $95 on Amazon — but with the right part, it’s a much easier repair.

Double up. A cracked screen and dying battery combined “make up probably 95 percent of repairs,” says Martin, who points out that if you’re already opening up the phone to fix a busted screen, it makes sense to replace the battery at the same time. That’s because a typical lithium-ion battery will last only 400 to 500 charge cycles before it loses a significant amount of capacity. If you’re anywhere close to that number, you might as well do the job while you have the phone open.

Find free help. IFixit, iCracked, and many other tech-oriented sites provide free video and text guides that step you through common repairs. You’ll find many more on YouTube, too. “Take advantage of that,” Suovanen says. “Learn from other people’s mistakes. Even those of us who do it professionally use guides for reference.”

Admit defeat. There’s a wonderful feeling of satisfaction that comes with doing it yourself. But sometimes it’s cheaper to go with a pro. In fact, even if your phone is out of warranty, a professional fix may actually cost less for some repairs. For example, Apple’s screen repair fee for the iPhone 6 is $109 plus $6.95 for shipping. By comparison, iFixit’s iPhone 6 LCD Screen and Digitizer Fix Kit is $124.95. Two additional tools needed for the job — tweezers and the “iOpener” device — bring the total parts cost without shipping to just under $150. Do the math: Apple’s repair is $41 cheaper, excluding sales tax. So even if you’re a do-it-yourselfer at heart, always remember to comparison-shop before turning the screw.

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