Phones can flatline, and simply be beyond repair. But even knowing this, a customer might still seek out a repair shop in hopes of retrieving data that was not backed up elsewhere.
A client of Lindwall's had a phone that fell off a roller coaster. While it did need to be replaced, he was able to straighten it out, test it with new parts, and get the phone to boot up just long enough to retrieve important data.
Lindwall uses technicians from across Canada who can work with circuit boards. "Sometimes with water damage," he says, "things get fried. As long as we can get power to the phone and get the circuit to work," he says, they can usually get enough power to retrieve data before disposing of the device.
Mobile Klinik offers additional services like device unlocking, although carriers now offer that service for free, or aiding customers in transferring contacts from one device to another.
There are also upsell opportunities for protective accessories in repair shops. Lindwall says after showing customers his own device, which is housed in a bumper case with a glass screen protector, about half of them, often parents, leave with a new case.
Tempered glass screen protectors aren't the sexiest accessories, but they can help you avoid a visit to a repair shop thanks to material that can absorb impact and prevent a cracked screen.
Do It Yourself?
If your phone falls into the toilet or pool, the first thing you should do is power it down, remove the battery, SIM card, and memory card, and place it in a bag of rice for 24 hours. The rice soaks up moisture, and if it's done quickly enough, the phone could be restored to functional status.
IFixit kits encourage customers to do basic repairs themselves, and include all of the necessary tools and accessories for opening up smartphones, as well as GoPro cameras, Kindle Fires, iPads, and MacBook Pros (2012 models.) The kits come with detailed, step-by-step instructions, complemented by instructional videos and peer forums online.
"People are scared because they don't know what lies inside their machines," says Weber. "But then they have that ‘a ha' moment when they open up the phone and say ‘oh, that's it?' They realize it's not that crazy and they have what it takes.
"We want to change people's perception on repair," she adds. "If your 10-year-old can build a Millennium Falcon out of Legos, you can follow 20 steps to open your phone and change the battery or screen."
In addition to detailed repair guides, IFixit offers teardown videos and step-by-step instructions with photos, advising how to take apart different devices, like the Samsung Galaxy Note7.
The only requirements, she insists, are some level of dexterity and good eyesight. IFixit customers span age groups and demographics, but usually fall into one of a few categories. First, there's the person who wants to do it himself to "stick it to the man" and prove to himself that he can. Then, there's the individual who doesn't trust other people with his devices. "Security is one of the reasons we hear people don't want to give their device in for repair," says Weber. In other cases, some people simply can't afford to go to the manufacturer, because they have an older, out-of-warranty device. And some don't even have the option of a third-party repair shop. In Kansas, Weber notes as an example, there's one Apple repair shop in the entire state.
What about cost? An IFixit kit for the iPhone 6S, which includes a 64-bit driver kit, anti-static wrist strap, small suction cup, 3x IFixit opening tool, various tweezers, and more, is $78. An assembly kit with an LCD screen for the iPhone 7 Plus: $116. That's a hefty price tag for a kit you might only use once, and only marginally less than what you'd pay for a premium-grade generic screen that's professionally installed. But it can save you a few bucks, and teach you a thing or two about how smartphones operate. All IFixit parts and tools are backed by a lifetime or "industry-leading" warranty, and all batteries and tools are hand-tested before they are shipped out to customers.
IFixit posts teardown videos of different devices on its website, giving each a repairability score, with "1" being the most difficult to repair and "10" being the easiest. iPhones, says Weber, typically score around 6 or 7, and are the easiest to open, with just two screws to pop open from the top. You don't have to completely disassemble the phone to get to the battery. With a Samsung Galaxy phone, on the other hand, you have to flip it over and go from the back, disassembling everything to get to the battery and screen, which are on the front. Even the older models have glass on both the front and back longer, which makes them more fragile. Overall, she says the latest premium devices are getting more difficult to repair due to much thinner designs and new adhesives. IFixit offers a heating element tool that softens adhesive to make it easier to open.
IFixit is advocating for the customer's right to repair legislation in the U.S. (see Repair.org), asking for manufacturers to make original parts and repair resources available. "When you create a device that can't be repaired," says Weber of manufacturers, "you are creating a disposable product. Replacing a battery is more eco-friendly than getting a new phone. Batteries die. It should be easy to replace them." With the Note7 battery issue, she says, Samsung could have potentially avoided a recall if customers could have replaced the faulty batteries themselves. "We have to make repair more accessible for people so they can choose to fix things instead of throwing them away and getting a new one."
Tips for Finding a Repair Shop
As much as the promise of a quick and cheap phone fix sounds enticing, especially in a desperate time of need, heed with caution. If you decide to go the repair shop route, spend the extra time, and money, to find someone trusted and reputable.
Make sure they offer a warranty on their work; most places offer one-year, but others might do three or six months. Lindwall says he offers one year on authentic parts, but won't warranty fake screens, as he simply can't vouch for how they'll work. Mobile Klinik offers a lifetime warranty on its parts and labour, unless the phone is water damaged. As long as the phone isn't physically broken or tampered with in some way, customers can return to any Mobile Klinik location across the country to have a related after-service issue fixed for free should one arise.
Lindwall, who runs his shop from a closed off area of his home in a mixed residential building, does all of his repairs in front of his clients, while they wait. "I usually have 10 people sitting around my table, and we're just having a conversation, and I explain everything as I go." Sometimes people leave and come back if they have things to do. But repairs like replacing a screen on an iPhone 5S or 6S can be done in about 20 minutes.
Mobile Klinik, which is an authorized service centre for Samsung, and does in-warranty work for the manufacturer as well, also does all of its repairs in front of customers.
Some repair shops, like Mobile Klinik, ask for a passcode so they can verify that the phone works after the repair is done. All of Mobile Klinik's trained technicians are bonded, and the company offers a data security guarantee. "You have to make sure your information is protected and secured," says Botros.
If you aren't comfortable with them logging into your device while you aren't there, ask them to verify everything in your presence once you return to pick it up.
Read online reviews before committing to a shop. Are there are a number of angry and unhappy customers? Steer clear. Ask your carrier or the manufacturer for a referral to a trusted partner, or look for a logo in the store that confirms they're an authorized service centre. Keep in mind, though, that authorized repair shops might not be able to fix everything. Apple, for example, only allows its authorized repair shops to fix iPhone screens and batteries. So a shop might forego authorization in order to fix issues authorized repair shops can't, yet still be highly rated for their out-of-warranty work.
Don't be lured in by low prices. If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. A smartphone has intricate electrical components, and it's a device you rely on daily. It hurts to fork over a lot of dough for a screen, or a repaired charging port, but it's better than paying a smaller fee for a faulty repair, or cheap components.
The inspiration for this article arose when, a few months ago, I dropped my iPhone 6S onto the hard pavement. It wasn't the first time it's happened. And I have a protective case and screen protector. But the phone fell in just the perfect way for the screen to completely shatter. I struggled with what to do. Do I revert to using my 5S? Find a good deal on a new iPhone? Or pay for a new screen?
I opted to visit a local repair shop, DeviceCare+, and have a new screen put on. The salesperson was helpful, and explained the difference between the authentic screen and the "premium quality" generic. I moved forward with a $90 premium generic screen, with the intention of eventually selling the phone second hand when I upgrade. My phone was ready for pick-up in under an hour, and a month later, it still works fine, though sometimes it seems like the screen does not accurately sense my finger taps around the top left and right corners.
Despite our best efforts, and sometimes due to issues completely beyond our control, phones will have issues. And they do break. We never want to visit a mobile repair shop. But at some point through the life of your phone, especially if you keep it beyond two years, you will have to resuscitate it in some way.
"People say it's like therapy," says Lindwall. "I have clients who I've been seeing for 10 years. They see me once a year, and they've seen my kids grow up and I've seen theirs."
Manufacturers, says Weber, often discourage repair by charging a lot for parts, or making the parts unavailable. "But you put a new battery in your car, or new tires," she says. "Doing repairs should be seen as a part of what you do to make your stuff last longer."
Read on for tips to help you avoid a visit to a repair shop...