How easy is it to fix your broken phone screen yourself?

Breaking your phone screen by dropping it on a sidewalk like an idiot doesn’t have to invite gadget-shaming followed by a screen repair bill. Rather, it may result in a gadget shaming followed by a DIY buyback at a cheaper price.

And while at-home screen repair kits have traditionally involved spare parts (with the occasional risk of a phone rejecting the transplant), this spring Apple and Google have made their own components available to DIY types. .

The latter’s partnership with iFixit to sell Pixel phone parts got personally interesting in late September when I smashed my Pixel 5a’s screen by dropping it on a sidewalk like an idiot.

The tools in a Pixel 5a iFixit Kit.

Especially since iFixit is charging $99.99 for a Pixel 5a screen repair kit, well below the $236.35 price (after credit for returning broken parts) at the Apple Self Service Repair Store for a screen kit for an iPhone 12 or 13 with a slightly smaller screen.

Unfortunately, iFixit had run out of the 5a screen repair kit two days before my losing battle with gravity. “Sales exceeded expectations,” CEO Kyle Wiens wrote apologetically when I emailed him for comment. But he was able to find one to ship about a week later, and the kit is back in stock.

The box that arrived contained two smaller boxes of repair tools and one of spares, but no printed instructions beyond a “Repair is noble” warning. Instead, iFixit offers online instructions: an illustrated 15-step guide whose reviews you really should read.

The first steps, softening the adhesive holding the screen, then gently removing it, were by far the most difficult. You’re supposed to heat the kit’s “iOpener” gel-filled bag by microwaving it for 30 seconds, lay it along the right edge of the phone for a minute so the heat will weaken the glue, then use the suction cup on the kit to remove the screen.

But the suction cup kept jumping out of a glued-in-place screen, even after repeated iOpener heat treatments and my use of a comment-suggested solution of covering the cracks in the screen with tape to give to the cup a smoother surface. An attempt to release the screen instead shook a piece of glass which grazed a seam and added “slight blood loss” at my expense.

An opening pick pushed into the space between a Pixel 5a's screen and the rest of the phone.

An opening pick pushed into the space between a Pixel 5a’s screen and the rest of the phone.

Finally, I tried using the kit’s extremely sharp tweezers to probe any space between the screen and the phone, and I felt a little loose. I pressed one of its plastic “opening pins” in the same place, heard a slight pop, and was able to slide the opening pick over the edge of the phone to make it easier to open.

The instructions had me insert the other five screen selections around the edges of the phone, leaving it to look like some weird cybernetic beast that had grown blue fins. After cutting away the remaining adhesive with the kit’s “spudger”, a pointed carbon fiber stylus, I finally opened the screen, leaving it attached to a ribbon cable.

The rest was easy, certainly compared to my adventure of replacing an old iMac’s hard drive with an SSD or even replacing the battery in my HP laptop. A few turns of a T3 Torx screwdriver bit (the kit included this and two other Torx bits) removed the bracket holding this cable, after which I freed it with the spudger.

A Pixel 5a is opened, with its damaged screen tilted away from the viewer.

The result of a successful struggle with the suction cup, the opening picks and the repair kit spudger.

This is where the guide inexplicably left off, leaving it to customers such as “Lisa McManis”, “craig potts” and “barely_diy” to step in with informative comments below step 15 on how to fix the new screen.

I first used this ever-handy spudger to run an alcohol wipe down the channel around the edge of the phone to remove any remaining adhesive. Then I attached the new adhesive, which comes sandwiched between layers of protective plastic. I peeled off the bottom layer, draped the rest so it nestled just inside the phone, and peeled back a top layer of blue plastic to leave that sticky strip.

Securing the new display’s ribbon cable required aligning connectors that I couldn’t see. I gently pressed one end with the spudger until I felt the pins click into the underlying socket, after which I put the rest in place and replaced the strap and screw to secure this connector.

A screwdriver with a Torx T3 bit placed on top of the screw that holds a strap in place on the ribbon cable that connects the screen and the body of a Pixel 5a

The repair procedure only required fiddling with a single small screw.

After a final check of the new screen – the guide’s comments reminded me to remove a tiny plastic cover from its selfie camera opening – and the removal of a final strip of plastic covering the top of the adhesive strip, I I put the new screen in place and pressed firmly all around. It reminded me of achieving a major milestone in assembling a model airplane, just without the smell of glue.

I’ve never been more relieved to see a Google logo than when one flashed on the 5a’s new screen after turning it back on, after which the phone booted up as if nothing had happened.

Two hours and changes had passed since I first microwaved the iOpener. I probably would have saved the time by taking the 5a to the nearest uBreakiFix location, which also has genuine Pixel parts and estimates $159.99 for a 5a screen replacement.

But the payoff from this exercise was not so much the travel and money I saved – having zeroed in on my time, a mind trick worth playing around in DIY endeavors – but the psychic reward of righting my mistake with my own hands.

About Anne Wurtsbach

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