Photo credit: Vjeran Pavic

Photo credit: Vjeran Pavic

Cellphones


Cracked your smartphone? I’ve been there. Twice, actually: I broke the display on my iPhone 5 in December, and then again on a new iPhone 5S just a few weeks ago.

Maybe, unlike me, you were wise and paid for an extra smartphone warranty. Or maybe you’re long overdue for a phone upgrade through your wireless carrier. Great! You’re probably all set. But for those of you who opted out of insurance, or who aren’t due for an upgrade, keep reading.

For my column this week I’ve explored a variety of options for fixing cracked iPhones, as well as popular smartphones from other phone-makers. While you can always go directly through the phone-makers, I gave a couple third-party “fix it” services a try — iFixit and iCracked.

I ended up getting my iPhone 5S fixed by iCracked, which dispatches “iTechs” to your door to fix your phone. It was fast and easy, but cost me over $200. I also purchased a do-it-myself kit from iFixit for $165, to test how feasible it is for a person without repair experience (or an engineering background) to fix her own phone. A broken iPhone 5 was my guinea pig.

The iFixit fix ended up being easier than I expected, so I would probably go that route again for a routine cracked display repair. In this instance, though, I was glad I ended up using an iCracked tech with some experience for the 5S, because I was concerned about damaging the TouchID fingerprint sensor on that phone.

I did, of course, have the option to replace my iPhone 5S at the Apple store for $269 (which was obviously better than the $649 price that Verizon quoted me for a new one). And for some iPhone owners – say, if you’ve cracked your iPhone 4S – going through Apple’s “reuse and recycle” program can be more cost-effective, because you can upgrade to a 5S for $99.

Other phone repairs vary in price. For example, Samsung charges between $165 and $200 for repairs on its flagship phones, including the Galaxy S3 and S4 and the Galaxy Note 2 and 3 phones. You’ll have to ship your device to the company’s repair facility in Plano, Texas, and wait about a week to get it back.

Here’s what you need to know about these two services.  

iCracked

iCracked likes to say it’s the TripleAAA of iPhone repairs: You ring them up when you’ve broken down, and one of the techs in their network will come to you. The Redwood City, Calif.-based company serves 43 out of 50 states.

One major caveat: iCracked, as its name might suggest, only does Apple mobile repairs. 

I went to iCracked’s website last Tuesday and requested a tech. Within seconds I had a text message from a repair tech. We chatted on the phone, during which time he gave me an estimate. Then we scheduled an appointment.  

On Thursday he showed up at my door with his toolkit. The repairs should take under an hour and average around $99, according to the company. It took my iTech around 25 minutes to fix the iPhone 5S, which was great. But it cost $213, including components, labor and tax.

Afterwards, I tested it to make sure it was working properly. So far, it’s been working as it should. 

What would have happened if an iCracked tech showed up and I changed my mind about the repair cost? iCracked says there’s no fee for canceling — and they don’t have your credit card information at that point anyway — but that the company tries to make the initial assessment call as thorough as possible so that there aren’t any surprises. You can also check out iTech profiles on the company’s website. 

iCracked "iTech" Matt Jerome, working on the iPhone 5S.

iCracked “iTech” Matt Jerome, working on the iPhone 5S.

My iCracked experience was an overall positive one, but I did inquire about the quality of the parts, compared with the parts Apple uses. My new iPhone 5S display looks fine, but the iTech put a screen protector on the display so it’s hard for me to say whether anything appears different. All iCracked says is that it uses high-quality parts from China.

iCracked will buy your phone from you if you’d rather do that, and also sells DIY kits for phone repairs — in fact, about 30 percent of the company’s business comes from these kits. But for my own phone repair experiment, I turned to iFixit.  

iFixit

I’ll admit I was sort of daunted by the idea of repairing my own iPhone 5, but I was able to do it in just over an hour.

I purchased an iPhone 5 repair kit for around $165, including tax and shipping, from iFixit’s website. Within a couple days my kit arrived in the mail. It included a new iPhone 5 screen, a suction cup, two tiny screwdrivers, a plastic pry tool and a magnetized project board with a dry-erase marker – a good idea, since the screws you’re working with are speck-sized.

Then I went to iFixit’s iPhone 5 online repair guide. This is published by the techs at iFixit, but also offers helpful comments and suggestions from other users. The company just put out its iPhone 5S repair guide today, but there’s a reason why I opted to test the DIY kit on a broken iPhone 5 and not my iPhone 5S: I was concerned I might damage the cable that runs under the TouchID fingerprint sensor and disable it.

Disassembling the phone was the easy part (see video below). I was a little bit surprised when I got to the end of those steps, popped the new display in the phone and the iFixit guide told me to just reverse what I had done. Um, okay.

Aside from handling really, really tiny screws, the dicey part was reconnecting the earpiece speaker and camera sensor. I was positive those weren’t going to work once I reassembled the thing. Miraculously, they worked.

It took me an hour and ten minutes to replace the screen myself.

Let’s say you’re fixing a smartphone other than an iPhone. iFixit has guides for dozens of other smartphones on the market, and also gives “smartphone repairability scores” to let you know how easy or difficult the repair will be. (Some Motorola phones, as well as Google Nexus phones, are rated as easy-to-fix; the HTC One is the least repair-friendly, according to these guys.)

iFixit, like iCracked, has a couple different business models. In addition to selling DIY kits, it also buys back old phones and re-sells them.

But this isn’t the only “re-commerce” company out there. There are at least a handful of other trade-in services that will buy damaged phones and either re-sell the parts or refurbish the phones. My colleague Bonnie Cha reviewed a few last year, if you’re interested in learning more about these.

Lastly: The important thing to know about using these third-party fix-it services is that this will often void any kind of built-in warranty you might have had on your device. So there’s no guarantee you’ll get service from your phone-maker after this. But hopefully, you won’t need repeat repairs.



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