Friday, February 1, 2013

Tips for Disassembling Your iPhone 4s

Sad Broken Screen
A couple weeks ago, I (with the help of my dog) broke the screen for my iPhone 4s.  Unfortunately, it is still about 4 months until I can upgrade at the cheaper price ($99 vs $600ish).  The LCD still worked, the touch screen function, everything on the phone was just ugly and sometimes hard to read.  More annoying than an actual problem.  Maybe I am cheap (sometimes) or maybe I am lazy and hate switching phones (definitely) so I decided to check into fixing my phone.

I did a quick search and found that you can order just the glass for $10 - including a micro tool kit and the cost of shipping.  I also knew that my brother had replaced his screen on his iPhone 3g several times.  My brother and I are pretty handy with electronics and small items (feel free to insert a penis joke here) from our pinball experience.  Google revealed that there were also plenty of articles and youtube videos of people taking apart their iPhones (please note, I didn't actually read or watch them yet...I was just checking the possibility).

I thought myself, "How hard can it be?"  I ordered a screen and wrapped my broken screen in a layer of clear packing tape to hold it together for a few days until my new glass arrived.  A few days later, I head over to my brother's place to disassemble and fix my phone.

Tip #1 - Don't

Do not take your iPhone 4s apart.  It is a much more complicated process than on older models.  It can be done...but the whole process is tedious and frustrating.  It starts off easy enough - you remove two pentalobe  screws from the bottom of your iphone (and your screen kit even came with the pentalobe screwdriver for this).  These screws are small but if you've ever had to wear glasses you are probably intimately familiar with this size of screw - not the easiest to handle, but no big deal.  Then you slide off the back...and Fuck!

Tip #2 - A Clean Environment

Not even the smallest screw that you will have to remove
The inside of the 4s is much, much, much more complicated than the 3g.  Seriously, my accolades to the people that produce are amazing.  And I can't say that it is not well made and designed to stay together.  Those 2 screws you previously took out of the case?  They were largest of 4 or 5 sizes of screws that are contained a large factor.  Here is a picture of one of the screws sitting on a penny.  It is barely bigger than Lincoln's nose...and that is not even the smallest screw.  It would help to be in a place where there are not kids, pets,  or distractions.  If you drop one and you have to search for it on a hardwood floor, it is nearly impossible to find straight on...but hold a flashlight parallel to the floor and you might be able to spot the elongated shadow.  If you drop it on carpet, I have to think you are out of luck.

Tip #3 - You Need More Tools

Some of the screws you will need to remove
Your kit came with a screwdriver for these tiny phillips-head screws. It isn't too bad taking these screws out,   but a miniature screwdriver that was magnetic would help a lot putting them back in (the one in the kit isn't). There are also a couple flat head screws that need to be removed and your kit doesn't come with a flat head and the screws are so small that almost any screw driver you have at home will be too big...we ended up having to use the edge of a razor blade to get these out (couldn't find any of the old eyeglasses repair kits that might have worked...might, they might still be too large for these screws. There are a lot of screws...more than I would have guessed by a  factor of 3.  There are even screws that screw into screws.  It is literally a ridiculous amount of screws They are hard to see and hard to handle (especially to re-install), I would recommend having an offset tweezers to help you hold the tiny screws and a table mounted magnifying glass to be able to see what you are doing would be a nice touch.

How my hands felt
Tip #4 - You Need Smaller Hands

Even with all these helpful tools, your hands are still too big and disassembly/reassembly process is awkward for your human sized hands.  Even after you get all the screws out, you still need to remove all the shields over the electronics and unhook all the ribbon cables between the various components...and once again these things are tiny.  I normally think of my hands as slightly smaller than the average person and maybe not nimble but at least functional...but working on this phone made it feel like my hand was an over-inflated balloon with polish sausage fingers.  These was some serious Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum feelings on my part.

Tip #5 - Don't Buy Just the Glass

So remember at the beginning where I said that I did a quick search and there were tons of articles and videos on disassembling your iPhone...but that I didn't actually read or watch them?  Well it turns out that you can't replace just the glass screen.  The glass & LCD screen are permanently epoxied together...if you try to remove them, you end up destroying your LCD.  You can buy the glass & LCD as a unit for about $40...but I only bought the glass.

This is useless without the LCD attached
Sadly and a little angrily, I stared with disbelief at the pile of parts that used to be my phone.  I could order and screen/lcd combo but it would take about a week to get I had no choice but to put my phone back together as it was.  This is trickier than it sounds because all the electronics fit in the case very snugly.  When I was about halfway through reassembly, I realized that one of the ribbon cables was slightly snagged on the underside of the screen.  This caused the ribbon cable to be about two millimeters short from connecting to the circuit board...with frustration, I had to take everything back apart and start the assembly process over.

Finally, once it was all back together (well mostly...a couple of the shields were not replaced due to being a huge pain in the ass)...we go to slide the rear cover back on but it will not fit snug down all the way.  Some component is sticking up just a little to high.  I am pretty sure it is the loud speaker/mic unit but I am too tired to care.  We try to force the cover back on but it applies too much pressure on the electronics and causing the phone not to work at all.  Removed cover and adjusted the pressure on components but didn't want to start taking things apart again to fix the slight bulge.  I am totally sick of the project by now and decide the cover will be slightly crooked.  And of course after removal a couple of times the super fine screws pretty much just strip out.  Fine!  The cover will held on by packing match packing tape on the front!  If I am going to have a ghetto phone, might as well go all out.

Tip #6 - See Tip #1

I figured this project would take 20-30, it took over 2 hours and was just a totally frustrating experience.  I was amazed that my phone still worked once it was back together.  Can it be done?  Yes.  Should it be done?  Probably not.  It would have helped and been much less frustrating if we actually accomplished something...but it would still have been a huge pain.  I wouldn't recommend it.  I don't want to take it all apart again, I am just going to keep using my ghetto phone for a few months until I can upgrade for cheap.  Actually, junk phone is kind of growing on I know when I do get a new phone, I will appreciate it that much more (and maybe have enough incentive to actually use a protective case).

PS - if you are going to make portable gadgets with glass screens, you really need to make them easily and cheaply replaceable.


Adam Edgington said...

That sounds like a big pain in the Ass! I'm so happy I no longer have an iPhone... My wife had to suffer through ghetto phone syndrome for a few months after our daughter dropped hers on the garage floor. Why she let a one-year-old play with her phone over concrete is beyond me.
"PS - if you are going to make portable gadgets with glass screens, you really need to make them easily and cheaply replaceable."But that wouldn't be the Apple way!

Michael said...

Definitely was not fun...but was very interesting. I knew the design had to be complicated, but I underestimated it by at least half.

I know that is not that Apple way...and avoided their products because of it. The iPhone does happen to be pretty spot on for user interface and experience I thought I would give it a try.

No company(that I know of) makes an easily replaceable screen...but all it would take would be for the guts to screw out in one chunk (instead of 14)and then pulling a ribbon cable. The problem would be that this approach would make it slightly thicker...and of course they wouldn't make as much money on people having to buy new phones.

When my time is up, I am unsure if I will get another iPhone or go with the Samsung Galaxy 3 or look into other options. Part of the reason I might stay with the iphone is shear laziness.

Adam Edgington said...

After having my 3s for a couple of years, I switched to the Galaxy. I wasn't dissatisfied with my iPhone, but I wasn't thrilled with the "updates" to the newer models. My wife upgraded to the 5 from the 3s at the same time and cannot tell a bit of difference aside from speed. Basically it's more of the same, which is what she wanted. Whereas I'm now using a phone that shares a platform with my other devices, gives me more options, and has been more reliable. But it is really personal preference.

Venus Eckert said...

I cracked up at tip #6. Haha! Anyway, it was unfortunate that you weren’t able to completely replace those damaged parts. I actually tried replacing parts before, and after hours of fiddling with those little screws, the finished job gave me such an accomplished feeling. How about giving it another shot? Those tutorial videos definitely helped me a lot!

Venus Eckert

Darryl Housand said...

I can’t advice self-repair on this matter as well unless you happen to be working in a computer repair shop. The iPhone has one of the most meticulous parts arrangements in the smart phone market. And it takes more than knowing how to use a screwdriver and memorizing each screw placement to do the job. Plus, when it comes to handyman skills, I don’t believe most of us have reached the touchscreen comfort zone.

salman javed said...

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Ipad Glass Repair

Marcova said...

Really nice, interesting and informative article about iphone 4S repair. Thanks for posting it. I appreciate your efforts.

alexxus said...

I wish i would had found you comment before i took the iphone4 apart, what a mess and to mind you that i use glasses but not all the time so having a lot of fun.I got all my parts from china tools glass, back cover and many utube videos and after 3 hours and change im too tired to put it back together i think i will finish it tommorow but it does not look good at all, good thing i have another iphone for my personal use .thanks for your article

Clara Brooks said...

It looks like you need really steady hands to handle this kind of repair! At first glance, it looks like it's very challenging, and I would rather have someone who knows what to do tinker with it, than take the risk and damage it even further. Anyway, thanks for sharing, and I hope your post should help people on deciding whether or not to DIY their phones.

Clara Brooks @ Telco World

Cordia Remsen said...

When dealing with iPhones, it’s best to let your trusted repair shop handle the damage – or in your case, wait for an upgrade. Trying to fix an iPhone is not as easy as one might think, and with how expensive it is – more often than not – it’s not worth the risk. Well, at least you tried. Thanks for sharing your experience and thoughts on the matter. Good day!

Cordia Remsen @ RB’s Computer Service

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