Cell Phone Repair

John Mullen
Repairing a cell phone

A broken cell phone is a hard thing to live with these days. Most of your social and business life probably passes right through your mobile device. Without it, you're disconnected in every sense of the word. But don't worry, there's still hope. You may not have to shell out hundreds of dollars for a new device. In fact, you might be able to repair your broken phone at a fraction of the cost.

Professional Mobile Phone Repair Options

1. Service Carrier or Manufacturer

The first place most people look is with their existing carrier or the manufacturer of the phone. This makes sense, since most phones come with a one year manufacturer's warranty. These warranties cover defects and technical failures, but generally do not cover physical damage, including normal wear and tear. In addition, most carriers offer some form of third-party insurance that you can purchase for a fee. Regardless of where you decide to take your phone, you'll want to start with a call to your carrier to find out exactly what coverage you have if your phone isn't very old.

Carrier Options

Options with a few of the big carriers include:

  • Sprint: In-store service is available for some phones and types of damage. According to Sprint's support site, if their techs decide your phone is eligible for an in-store repair, they will repair or replace it for a flat $75 fee. This does not apply to iPhones, and there is no explanation of what repairs qualify. But if you're a Sprint customer, it might be worth finding out.
  • Verizon: According to Verizon's support site, "Your options for replacing a lost, stolen or damaged device are based on if you have Wireless Phone Protection (insurance) for your device or not." In other words, if you don't have coverage, it's time to move to another option. If your problem is a minor one, however, you might want to stop by your local Verizon Wireless shop anyway to see what they can do for you.
  • AT&T: This provider offers a troubleshooting program that you can run if the damage is not physical. You can access it through your myAT&T link. Otherwise, AT&T's repair options are similar to Verizon's.

Contact your specific service provider for specific details about what they have to offer.

Pros

  • Manufacturer warranties are free, so it's the best place to start.
  • Third-party insurance contracts can cover most of what the manufacturer's warranties don't - things like lost and stolen phones, water damage, broken screens and other forms of physical damage.
  • Some of these services will even ship you a new phone right away, with the understanding that you ship the old phone back within a certain time frame.

Cons

  • Manufacturer's warranties don't cover some of the most common problems people have with phones: broken screens, water damage, lost phones, etc. The third-party insurance agreements sometimes cover these, and sometimes don't - so be sure to find out what you've signed up for.
  • Warranty services often require deductibles with each repair, which can add up when you consider the monthly fees they charge as well.
  • Other costs, such as shipping and whether the service waives activation fees on new phones, can make a big difference.
  • If you don't return your old phone in time, expect to see a large 'new equipment' charge on your next bill.

2. Mail-in Repair Service

If you don't mind waiting a few days, some of the bigger repair shops offer mail-in repair services. To get started, go to their website, type in your info, and get a quote with shipping instructions. If you decide to move ahead, simply mail your phone to them. They will fix it and mail it back.

Mail-in Repair Services

Some mail-in companies to check out are:

  • Mission Repair: This company repairs a wide range of Apple and Android phones and tablets, and even some game consoles and computers. As of 2014, they have been named the top phone repair site by TopTenReviews for six straight years. Offering a huge selection of repair services and parts, they also provide a free "Got Repair" program on certain services to reduce costs for repeat customers.

  • uBreakiFix: This service provider repairs a wide range of Apple and Android phones and tablets, and even some game consoles and computers. They have physical locations in 16 states, as well as their mail-in option. They offer free diagnostics and return shipping. You pay for the shipping to them and any actual repair costs. They'll also beat any local competitor's advertised repair prices by $5.
  • Phone Doctors: This company repairs a limited range of Apple and Android phones and tablets, focusing on a few major manufacturers. They also offer a huge selection of parts for DIY projects. Their repair rates look extremely competitive. Fill out their form to get an actual quote and shipping rates.

There are even some ebay sellers offering mail-in services now, if you're a fan of ebay. The advantage with that is ebay's feedback system - chances are you'll get more testimonials than by searching for service reviews online.

Pros

  • These are typically large, professional repair facilities, and so often will have more quality control and a higher level of professional training than small, local shops.
  • By operating to scale and focusing on efficiency, they can offer lower prices for repairs.
  • They will usually have more on-hand parts available than any other repair options.

Cons:

  • Turnaround time has to include shipping, so this isn't the quickest option.
  • Make sure lower prices aren't offset by shipping rates, either. The best mail-in repair facilities should be able to offer the best prices, even if they charge for shipping.
  • Since you can't see their people or facilities, so do a little homework before making a final decision.

3. Brick-and-Mortar Cell Phone Repair Shop

Small repair shops are popping in many locations. Why? Because most people would prefer to walk into a shop and get their phone repaired right away. In fact, some of these shops offer "while you wait" service. Others require a drop off and will notify you when the repair is done - usually within 24 hours. You may be able to find stores in your area by searching the membership directory of your local Chamber of Commerce or simply asking your contacts for referrals.

Pros

  • Quick service and turnaround, assuming your parts are in stock. They'll have some parts on hand, so if you own a newer iPhone or one of the more common Android models, there's a chance they won't have to order parts.
  • You can also get to know and trust the repair people at your local shop.

Cons

  • Because of the many models of Android phones, these shops won't always have the parts needed for your repair. Some shops will have better part distribution networks than others, so you'll want to call around and get a few quotes for your device.
  • The same goes for older iPhones where parts might not be readily available anymore.

4. Small Local Home-Based Repair Service

Just like cell phone repair shops are springing up all over the country, some entrepreneurs work on an even smaller scale. These are most often home-based businesses with very little overhead. They typically rely on localized web searches and word of mouth for advertising.

My daughter recently had a cracked screen on her iPod. We found a local repair service online and decided to give it a try. It turned out to be a college kid fixing iPods and iPhones at his parent's kitchen table. For $60 he replaced the screen and did a great job.

Pros

  • This is often the cheapest cell phone repair option. These services have few costs other than their parts and initial training, so they can offer the best prices.
  • They usually work by appointment and will do the work while you wait.

Cons

  • With many of these providers, you'll need to fit into their schedule, not the other way around (since they work from home, you can't just drop by whenever you want to).
  • Skill levels and technical expertise can vary a great deal, so be sure to look for reviews and testimonials if you can.
  • Many of them only deal with iPhones, since the parts are more standard and easier to stock than hundreds of Android models.
  • If you choose this route, you might not have as much legal recourse if something goes wrong.

Repair vs. Upgrade

Of course, before you repair your phone, you'll need to consider whether you might be better served by upgrading your phone than investing money in getting it fixed. Making that decision might mean a quick call to your mobile carrier (Sprint, Verizon, AT&T, etc.) to get some information on your equipment and service agreement. You'll want to find out:

  • Is the phone still under contract?
  • Is the phone under any kind of warranty?
  • Does your line qualify for an upgrade? Sometimes carriers allow early upgrades, so be sure to ask.
  • What costs will you be charged for activating a new phone?
  • What costs will you be charged for replacing or repairing a phone under warranty?

Make sure you answer these questions before proceeding. I've seen situations where a phone was under warranty, but with deductibles, activation fees, shipping and/or other charges, it would make more sense to repair it on your own.

Things to Consider Before Starting a Repair

Upgrades

If your line qualifies for an upgrade, you're in luck! You might be able to pick up a brand new phone and not have to deal with getting yours repaired.

You'll want to compare the repair costs to the following when considering an upgrade:

  • What will your out-of-pocket costs be to buy a new phone at the upgrade price?
  • Do you want to sign a new two year contract to get your upgrade?
  • Are there activation fees that would apply to a new phone?
  • Will you need new accessories - chargers, screen shields, cases, etc.?

Sometimes, those costs add up to the point where you'd rather just repair the phone, even if you qualify for the upgrade. Or maybe you're expecting to move in the near future, and not sure what the coverage area will be, so starting a new two year contract wouldn't make sense.

Warranty Coverage

If your phone is under any kind of warranty or service agreement, you need to choose your path carefully. In most cases, you'll want to take advantage of that service, even if it's not the most cost efficient or timely choice.

The reason for that is simple: practically anything you do to a phone that's outside what the manufacturer considers to be regular use of the phone will negate your warranty. That means you can pop off the back to remove the battery, or swap in a memory card. But if you remove a single screw to take that phone apart and look inside, they can declare your warranty null and void. So be careful.

Also, consider the future when deciding whether to forego a warranty service. You may save time and money now, but what if something else happens to your phone next month? Something much more expensive to fix? You may want to have your warranty still intact.

Getting a Warranty Refund

Another cool trick that can come in handy is to get a refund on your existing warranty or service agreement. If the damage to your phone is not covered, then in most cases any future claims would be negated.

Say you pay $7 a month for a service contract on your phone, but it doesn't cover accidental damage like broken screens. If you break your screen, any future claims under the contract will probably be negated. But all is not lost, because you can at least cancel the service contract and save the $7 a month going forward.

The other possibility is if you prepaid for a service contract. In that case, you should be able to get a prorated refund for whatever's left of your plan. Sometimes, that refund might even pay the cost of your repair!

Do-it-Yourself (DIY)

If it turns out that you have no warranty and your phone is broken, if you're technically minded at all, you might take a stab at fixing it yourself. If you do have a warranty, though, you should avoid attempting DIY repairs to keep from voiding your warranty.

Simple Fixes

The first thing you should do is determine what's wrong. If it's a cracked screen, that's easy - as is fixing water damage , dealing with or scratches and other relatively common DIY repairs.

More Challenging Repairs

Some repairs are harder to judge. If you have a black screen, for example, it could be a broken LCD, it could be water damage, it could be a board or connector problem, etc.

To identify the problem, you'll want to type into Google: "How to fix <what the visible problem is> on a <your model of phone>". You'll probably get back a combination of repair services, technical bulletin boards, and You Tube videos.

Use Video Instruction

There are a lot of You Tube videos specific to different types of repairs. They'll actually walk you through a repair, so you can see the parts used and how involved it is. After watching the video, you can decide if you're willing and eager to give it a try. If not, it's time to consider paying to have your phone repaired or upgrading to a new model.

DIY or Not? Factors to Consider

  • DIY is usually the cheapest method of repairing your cell phone, since you're providing your own labor.
  • This is not the fastest option, as the first thing you need to do is order parts and wait for them to arrive - and since you're new to this, you might not always order the right parts. (Look for your parts on ebay, Amazon or any of the parts resellers like etradesupply, parts4repair, and directfix.)
  • There's always the chance of breaking the phone beyond repair - this can happen quite easily.

Many Options for Phone Repair

So the next time your phone breaks - or maybe it already has - don't despair! Think of all the options you now have. Good luck!

Cell Phone Repair