Fixing Your Own Electronics Is Fun And Almost Easy

Last year, I bought a used iPhone 3Gs that is now well out of warranty. Not a big deal. Only the battery didn’t stay charged all day anymore, and I wondered whether it was time for a new phone, even though mine is otherwise in great shape. Too bad I couldn’t just order a new battery online and snap it in like with previous phones. Except…I could. I just needed a tiny screwdriver, a few other tools, step-by-step instructions, and a lot of patience.

It’s easy to think that smartphones are sealed, enchanted boxes that aren’t ours to meddle with: if something goes wrong, just call up your mobile phone company and get a warranty replacement or buy a new phone. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Apple doesn’t want us poking around in the guts of our devices, and even switched to a different type of screws with the iPhone 4 specifically to keep us out. But that doesn’t mean we have to stay out, or pay third-party repair shops to do the work. If you can tighten the screws on a pair of glasses and follow a manual, you can probably manage basic repairs on your gadgets.

There are a lot of reliable sources for instructions and parts, many of which I’m sure will be named in the comments. For this surgery, I used a battery replacement kit from iFixit, which has user-editable repair guides for devices ranging from mp3 players to cars, and (more importantly) sells the parts you’ll need to make some of these repairs.

iFixit [Official Site]

Comments

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  1. Taliskan says:

    I told you that you could do it :)

  2. baltimoron says:

    The other option is to just not buy an iPhone.

    • Captain Spock says:

      I daresay your average android is just as difficult to open up (besides the battery of course)

      • MaxH42 thinks RecordStoreToughGuy got a raw deal says:

        The Samsung Charge has a back cover that is designed to be pulled off with a fingernail. (But I’ve never had it come off inadvertently.)

        • elangomatt says:

          My Motorola Triumph has the worst battery door design ever. It is a rubberized case (so kinda grippy) and the battery door is just held on by friction. Before I got a case the battery cover came off a ton of times from just being in my pocket.

          • ovalseven says:

            I’m tempted to take my Triumph apart to see if there’s a way to permanently disable the button lights, or at least make them all the same brightness. The menu and search buttons are very bright while the home and back buttons are barely even lit. I’m already on my third phone and they all have this problem.

            I’ve found apps that can turn the lights off, but they’re a bit buggy on this phone.

            • elangomatt says:

              I never really noticed the different brightness on the buttons. I imagine that they probably only have 2 LEDs to light the buttons and either they are closer to the settings and search buttons, or there is something blocking some of the light before it gets to the home and back buttons. Personally, I’d rather have unevenly lit buttons than no lights behind the buttons at all.

      • Pastry Minion says:

        You’d be wrong about that. My Samsung Epic and partner’s Motorola Photon both have battery covers that pop off. At least on our phones, the batteries are designed to be replaced by the user if needed. I can’t speak for all androids but the only one I know off the top of my head with an inaccessbile battery is the Droid Razr.

        • Pastry Minion says:

          Duh. Pre-coffee reading comprehension fail. You said except the battery. Sorry! That said, I think it does say something about Apple’s control issues that they would prefer that a user not be able to replace a dead battery. (And no, I’m not an Apple hater- I’ve purchased more than one iProduct, but prefer my Android phone)

          • elangomatt says:

            It isn’t just an old iOS vs Android issue though. How long has it been since Apple made a laptop with a user replaceable battery? This is just SOP for Apple these days, and the kool-aid drinkers all think it is just fine.

            • Pastry Minion says:

              Yeah, that is a problem. I wonder if these same people would freak out if they were forced to take their car into the shop or break into the engine compartment and void their warranty every time they needed to change an air filter or something. It makes sense that a user should be able to maintain a part that may need frequent replacement.

      • Naked-Gord-Program says:

        Although many things can go wrong in there it’s likely the battery dying which is the big, easy, user repairable thing that be done by the average customer.

        Not only do iPhones/iPods locked up batteries make it hard to swap in a new one (or get your old one rebuilt) it also prevents you from being able to carry around a spare battery to swap out when the juice does.

        • BD2008 says:

          I’ve had my 3GS for four years and have never needed to swap the battery. I’m even a power user on the unlimited data plan and I stream constantly. No issues. Ever. Works perfectly.

          • hotpocketdeath says:

            I guarantee that battery you are using in your 3GS is lost a bit of it’s charge. You are probably at 50-70% of it’s original charge capacity if it’s 4 years old and you’ve been discharging/recharging regularly.

            I bet if you changed that battery out, you would notice a significant boost to your “on-battery” run time.

          • Mark702 says:

            4 years? That’s impressive, considering the 3GS was released mid-2009, so it’s only existed for 2.5 years. But you’re an Apple user, so it’s no surprise your smug emissions are high.

            • BD2008 says:

              I’m not so good at math apparently. :) It has been three years, I guess. I apologize if I came off as smug. I only meant to provide my experience with my iPhone.

              BTW – You’re mean.

      • Geekybiker says:

        Not really. Most android phones cases open with a fingernail, and mine uses standard screws if I need to go further. I could disassemble it quite easily even without a guide.

    • ovalseven says:

      I’m going to try changing the battery in my girlfriend’s iPhone this weekend. I’ll avoid buying an iPhone and let you know how it worked.

  3. Captain Spock says:

    iFixit is awesome, When I am ready to buy adult tools (living with a lady now, so need to step it up) I am buying most of their kits.

    • Diabolos needs more socks says:

      Pon Farr kicking in, eh? =)

    • TheWillow says:

      yeah – I just used it to replace my fan/

    • sirwired says:

      iFixIt’s tool prices are far higher than what you would pay for the same cheap imported Chinese tools from other online outlets.

      The whole tri-wing screw “scandal” was completely manufactured by iFixIt. Other companies had been using those screws for years, and drivers for them have never been particularly hard to come by. Tri-wings don’t “cam-out” as easily as Phillips, so it made sense to swap them in, as it makes future service easier.

  4. LightningUsagi says:

    I got my iPod Classic 5G in 2007 it’s still going strong, thanks to a couple of fixes I did. I switched out the battery a couple of years ago and the screen last year. I finally decided to upgrade to a Touch, but my daughter still has the old one (she likes it better than the nano she had). I was really nervous about the first surgery on it, but it was a snap thanks to video tutorials.

  5. scoutermac says:
  6. Blueskylaw says:

    “If you can tighten the screws on a pair of glasses and follow a manual, you can”

    This is how many of the worlds problems start.

    • Torgonius wants an edit button says:

      Yes, most people are incapable of reading, comprehending and follwing a manual.

      Then again, I make a great living because of that, so YAY! Stupid people!

  7. zandar says:

    This is the perfect opportunity for me to let out a brief rant that I carry with me most days, raising my blood pressure at least one point:

    EFF Apple for making it SO HARD to perform BASIC maintenance on their products.

    I’ve felt this way ever since I traded in my tibook (which is a snap to upgrade) for a Macbook Pro lo these many years. Ever since, EVERY Apple product I’ve bought- the pro, a Mini, iPods, a series of iPhones- have been a pain in the backside to upgrade or replace batteries. Every one.

    Whew. I feel better!

    • CubeRat says:

      I have a solution for you……don’t buy Apple.

      I have several colleagues who buy Apple products and they often complain about stuff; and when the new one comes out…they go buy it. Silly.

      Now, as you seem to like your Apple products, this might be a great way for you to save a few bucks and extend the life on your purchases. Good Luck.

      Phew, got that rant off my chest.

    • Pasketti says:

      This is because Steve Jobs didn’t like seeing seams on the products. Now that he’s gone, maybe they’ll lighten up on that just a bit.

      What, too soon?

    • BorkBorkBork says:

      So uh….if they make your blood pressure rise and all, why do you keep buying Apple products?

    • GrandizerGo says:

      I work with iFanboys, they claim how much better their iStuff is. I am Android after starting off with Windows Mobile. I will never look back, and don’t consider iAnything looking forward.

      I understand how having the battery compartment sealed up allows you to have a sleeker case and thinner product. BUT having to return my device to be battery swapped is not in my opinion something I would ever want to do.

      Unless the company / store cleans it out refurbs any parts on the case that are worn or damaged, I am not interested in it at all.

      Turn around time would have to be 48 hrs or a loaner with my info on it already in my possession until the original unit came back. Music iWhatevers? No care, I can do without for 72-96 hrs. My phone? No way. I NEED the phone far more then a music player or video player.

  8. Damage Incorporated says:

    Replacing a battery is one thing. Trying to replace something like a cracked touchscreen/digitizer is a bit more complicated…

    • Hedgy2136 says:

      Apparently, not for an iPhone. 16 steps to disassemble just to replace the battery is ricdiculous.

    • MrMagoo is usually sarcastic says:

      Not really. My daughter dropped her ipod touch 4 and smashed the screen. With the help of youtube videos, it took about an hour to disassemble it and replace the screen/digitizer. Total cost was around $30.

    • babyruthless says:

      I replaced the screen on my iPhone 4. Or rather, I failed to replace the screen on my iPhone 4. Twice. Now I own a Samsung Galaxy 2s.

  9. XianZomby says:

    I had a Sony Ericsson “slider” phone. There’s a ribbon cable in there that connects the two halves of the phone and allows it to slide back and forth. The ribbon cable had developed a short in it. I decided to order the ribbon cable off the net, from Tawain, as well as additional components — other types of thin plastic film with adhesive on the back that contained conductive elements for buttons, and small connectors that snapped into place.

    I did get it back together with no parts let over, but the phone never turned on. All those connections… damn. My fingers are too big for what needed to be done there. The phone was turned in to the local electronics recycling. I was ashamed at my failure.

  10. az123 says:

    “It’s easy to think that smartphones are sealed, enchanted boxes that aren’t ours to meddle with: if something goes wrong, just call up your mobile phone company and get a warranty replacement or buy a new phone. It doesn’t have to be that way.”

    No when it comes to batteries I pretty much only think this is apple being complete idiots…. One reason I will NEVER buy an iphone… There are plenty of smart phones out there that you can replace the battery in by opening a cover, perhaps there are others like Apple that will not let you but to be honest I have never seen one, and if I did the same would apply, not going to buy it.

  11. Excuse My Ambition Deficit Disorder says:

    Good luck taking the iPhone 4 apart and putting it back together. You have to go through the front to get to the back. The battery is very simple to replace….now try to replace the glass with out replacing the digitizer too.

    Just because one model is easy or it was easy for you to do as you had a simple repair…does equate to all repairs are easy and can be done yourself. Just watch the warranty, but if you are out of warranty…have at it!

  12. speaky2k says:

    I recently had an issue with my 4yr old laptop’s power connector. I found a video of how to open my computer case and find the board the connector was on. I then ordered a replacement connector from Amazon for less than $10, a few days later I used a soldering iron to remove the defective connector (breaking it in the process since I couldn’t heat all 6 attachment points at the same time) and installed the new one. It works perfectly. If I couldn’t do this on my own, it would have been $100-200 to have it replaced I am sure.
    When ever a friend has an electronic equipment problem, the first thing I do is look up the issue online and see how many others have it and if there is a fix. Some people are too quick to sell themselves short when it comes to fixing things.

  13. lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

    If something I have is out of warranty, and clearly I have to replace it, I will tear it apart and try to fix it. Sometimes I end up with extra screws, like the time I tinkered with the dishwasher, and sometimes it still doesn’t work, but I give it a shot.

  14. chucklebuck says:

    I misread the headline as “Fixing Your Own Elections is Fun and Almost Easy” – which may also be true.

  15. Snape says:

    I repaired my little sister’s nintendo DS once. The hinges broke off so the only thing connecting the top half from the bottom was the cable that sends the data. I ordered an OEM case from an overseas website and basically put the guts inside of it.

    All and all it turned out pretty well. The hardest part is closing the shoulder buttons on their springs. They kept popping out!

  16. Weakly says:

    $80 battery replacement from the Apple store or a $6 battery from Amazon AND I learn how to take apart my phone? Done.

  17. Alan says:

    My orginal droid died just as it was time for an upgrade. Just for the fun of it, I took it apart just to see if it was something easy to fix. Needless to say I ended up riping the cord that connected the keyboard and screen. While not extremely hard, it was a lot more than anything i would recomend an average joe to do.

  18. IraAntelope says:

    I broke the clip off my Sansa Clip(less). Can I repair that?

    • catgirl4276 says:

      I just took the clip from my dead first-generation Clip, added a little Sugru to the end so it would grip better and glued it just below the broken-off hinge on my almost-new Clip with epoxy. A friend also broke hers off midway up the clippy part, bought another for herself and gave me the broken one, since I’d managed to fix my own. I wound up Dremeling the hinge off, epoxying the most rugged bag clip I could find at the hardware store (which I spray-painted black with Krylon for Plastic,) onto the back and then making a little edge border of textured Sugru on the case’s edge and the top and gripping surfaces of the new clip to make a ‘Sansa ToughClip’ out of it.

      The friend was amused and gave it to her father, who managed to kill three iPods one way or another and is notoriously tough on his electronics. The ToughClip has survived without incident for almost a year. I should really make an Instructable.

  19. maxamus2 says:

    So……changing a battery is now considered “fixing” electronics?

  20. Pasketti says:

    I do this with regular home appliances too, not just gadgets.

    I’ve fixed my fridge, washer, dishwasher, and stove. Most things are just simple replacement parts, which you can get online.

    I use http://appliancehelp.com/ , but there are others too.

  21. BuntaFujiwara says:

    My iPhone4’s top power button is broken and tales lots of force to push. People online want 89.99 + shipping to fix. I looked online seeing if I could fix it and the part is like 5 bucks, but the work is very tricky looking and has to be done just right to get everything to fit. So for me, it’s not so easy :(

  22. bluetech says:

    I need to replace the usb port on my Samsung Android. Debating whether to just deal with it or wait until I’m eligible for an cheap upgrade. The part is $35 and I need the tools too.

  23. Nighthawke says:

    Lucky folks. I got an iPad with a 1/4 corrupted screen that needs replacing. And that is going to be so much fun.

  24. No Fat Chicks says:

    Batteries Plus is always the best source or all kinds of batteries.

  25. RedMoogleXIII says:

    Ahh yes. This is very obvious if you have the patience to attempt it. Some of them are annoying with the small parts like a Nintendo DS Lite, but can be worth it as then only spending $10 on capacitors to fix an LCD monitor and an LCD TV.

  26. gman863 says:

    As an electronics tech who has seen countless failed DIY repairs on notebook PCs, iPhones and game consoles, here are a few important things to consider before attempting a repair on your own:

    * Do you have the dexterity and patience to do the job? Small electronics repair can be as demanding as jewelry or watch repair. If you have shaky hands, less than 20/20 eyesight or are the type who quickly abandons difficult projects, hire a pro.

    * Are you prepared to deal with the total death of the item if you make one false move? Testing your soldering skills on an old, almost obsolete notebook PC is a great learning tool. Attempting to use a soldering irom for the first time in years on a PC with a $500 replacement cost is risky business – screw it up and it’ll likely become a $250 motherboard replacement issue.

    * Be careful on buying parts. As an example, iPhone screens are a dime a dozen on eBay – great, unless you end up with a defective one (my iPhone tech sees an initial defect rate in aftermarket brand iPhone parts of around 25%). If possible, buy locally so you can return it if defective without waiting weeks for a replacement.

    * There is no shame in hiring a qualified technician to do repairs (unless you are stupid enough to get ripped off at the Apple Store or Geek Squad). Look for a reputable PC or phone store that guarantees their work — their price is likely to be half of what a big box store’s repair dept. charges.

  27. ashtonn4 says:

    I was an in store tech for sprint and couldnt believe how easy it was to pull apart any of the phones. I hated that we would have to refer customers to do insurance claims for things like broken screens when you could get the part online for a fraction of the price. with the internet anyone should be able to repair most hardware problems just be organized and keep the parts in order and take pictures of your process so you get everything back together correctly

  28. seishino says:

    Pretty much all home electronics can be repaired, and pretty much all warranties are bunk anyway. A few tips:

    1. Keep screws in plastic bags. Separate out your internal and external screws into separate bags if you think you’ll get them confused. Ultimately, you only need about half of them anyway.
    2. Take photos every few steps. They can be handy reference later if you forget.
    3. Always put back together after you take apart, before doing something else. It’s always harder to re-assemble if you don’t remember where things went.