You could almost see it happening in slow motion: your smartphone is in your hand one moment, and the next thing you know, it’s barreling toward the ground in a nosedive. Sometimes the layers of glass and plastic will hold up, but all too often, this scenario will lead to a chipped, cracked, or broken phone screen.
Thanks to the right-to-repair movement, the options for mending a broken phone screen have expanded. Between simple DIY fixes, third-party repair shops, and even manufacturer-sponsored mail-in programs, there’s an option for everyone.
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So take a deep breath before you pick up your damaged cell phone to examine it. Even if the cracks radiate out like a spiderweb, there’s a fix.
Why Do Screens Break So Easily?
Ah, the perennial question: Why is this $1,000 device so prone to damage in the first place?
It all boils down to a difficult-to-reach compromise between consumer desires and engineering reality. In other words, we want phones with maxed out displays that also feature an elegant design. However, those slim edges and nearly bezel-less screens have to make some concessions in the durability department.
But regardless of the design specifics, it’s really about elastic energy, according to Red Zombie, a Clearfield, Utah-based repairs and accessories shop.
“When you drop your phone, elastic energy stored in the phone’s glass is converted into surface energy, which is why your glass cracks,” the company notes in a September 2018 blog post. “[W]hen you drop your phone, the force of impact will overcome the surface compression, resulting in small stresses that could lead to the shattering of your screen.”
To combat this reality, manufacturers like Apple and Samsung are constantly experimenting with tougher kinds of glass to absorb the impact. Red Zombie says most companies mix zinc into aluminum to create a strong base for the body of the phone.
What to Do Right Away
Broken screens come in various levels of severity—from light scratches, to spiderweb-like patterns, to entirely missing chunks of glass—and you could be dealing with anything from a completely shattered display and a broken phone, to a simple cosmetic issue.
First, you should assess the damage, which means getting your phone on a solid surface and under a good light, not just giving it a quick once-over before stuffing it back in your pocket. With a little bit of stress testing and careful prodding you should be able to work out whether the screen is about to fall off or fail completely. In a lot of cases it will stay in place, cracks and all, so you can at least keep tweeting, as long as the screen is still visible and functioning.
If the phone is seriously damaged, back up your data as quickly as you can, making sure all of your photos, videos, and important files are saved somewhere else just in case it dies completely and you can’t get the phone working again. If it’s already stopped functioning, then a professional repair is probably your best bet.
Here are the solutions, in ascending order of professionalism.
Option #1: Apply Packing Tape
The name of the game here is, “hold out until I’m eligible for an upgrade.” If you want to keep using the cracked phone, and don’t want to risk losing glass or slicing up your fingers, cover the screen with a layer of packing tape. Line everything up carefully and trim it with an X-Acto knife, and it may look almost like a real screen protector.
Option #2: Use a Screen Protector
This is the gussied-up version of the packing tape solution. Using a screen protector ensures you have no seams and a clean line around the edges of the screen. Granted, that might not be much of a concern when there’s a spiderweb of cracks underneath.
Option #3: Replace the Screen Yourself
It’s possible to replace a broken phone screen on your own. We’ll refer you to iFixit for their excellent, step-by-step guide with photos. A few key things to keep in mind here: Before you decide to go this route, look into the cost of a replacement screen. Today’s phone screens, which incorporate touch interaction and possibly biometric sensors, don’t come cheap.
You should also look into the warranty situation. If you’re the kind of person who is willing to fix a phone yourself, you’re probably not too worried about maintaining your warranty—but it still can’t hurt to know if you’re going to void it.
Finally, unless you’re already accomplished at repairing modern solid-state electronics, you probably lack the specialized tools you’ll need for the job. Luckily, iFixit sells a handy kit that includes pretty much everything you’ll need, with the possible exception of the iOpener, a tube you heat up and apply to the phone to soften its adhesives.
Option #4: Call In a Pro
You can always just take your broken phone screen to a professional repair shop. If you’re an iPhone person, look for your local Apple Store or consider trying out Apple’s mail-in repair program. Best Buy will work on iPhones and Samsung phones. And finally, UBreakIFix has more than 700 locations across the country.
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