Having experienced the trauma of watching my iPhone leap to its death and shatter its screen, the decision was made to attempt to resuscitate instead of upgrading. With a $7 kit ordered from Amazon for the front glass, digitizer, and about an hour of surgery the iPhone has fully recovered, albeit with a slightly different look and feel. Read on as we walk you through the repair process step by step, with pictures, videos, and plenty of warnings.
As described last week, my iPhone fell off its mount while riding the last 5 miles of a 140 mile charity bicycle ride, with Baltimore claiming ownership to some of the worst road conditions I've ever seen. Researching all the options, I decided to give it a go with a $7 kit from Amazon (via The OEM Shop). The rationale being that this was a cheap enough attempt that if it failed horrifically it would only be $7 lost, not a horrible expense, and I would have to replace the phone anyway. Receiving the kit yesterday at the office, here's a detailed account of the repair process and my experiences, followed by the video tutorial that The OEM Planet sent me in an e-mail. My writeup is not intended as a step by step guide for repair but to describe my experiences and the difficulty levels in doing the repair.
The kit arrived with quite a few pieces, some of which ended up not even being used (what are those yellow guitar picks?) or different from the product pictures. The screwdrivers were quite rusty too, but really not a big deal for the price and everything worked as advertised.
WARNING: Remember to fully turn off your iPhone before beginning the repair. Fortunately nothing bad came of it except for nervous anticipation as the phone constantly rang and buzzed as it received calls and text messages throughout the procedure.
Remove the Outside Screws: (Difficulty Level: 1 of 4)
Using the provided screwdriver, first remove the two screws at the bottom of the phone. You might think this would be a piece of cake but there was a ton of built-up gunk that made it difficult for the screwdriver to catch and even when removed it was still a lot of hard unscrewing. Not a huge deal, but these screws are tiny and I was afraid of stripping the screws and then being stuck.
Pull up the Glass: (Difficulty Level: 1 of 4)
A little suction cup was provided to pull the glass out of the case. This took a couple of tries but wasn't terribly difficult. The problem with my phone in particular was the amount of broken glass that made the suction cup not want to stick, but it worked soon enough.
Remove the Three Labeled Connectors: (Difficulty Level: 1 of 4)
Unfortunately I didn't snap a picture but there are three connectors to be pulled out. I'll refer you to the video down below for instructions, but essentially you just snap them out once you lift the screen up to disconnect it from the main body.
Remove the LCD Frame Screws: (Difficulty Level: 1 of 4)
There are 6 very tiny little screws holding the LCD to the touch panel frame (3 on the right, 2 on the left, and one underneath). It was a cinch to unscrew them, but they are so tiny so please be careful not to lose them.
Separate the Glass from the Frame (Difficulty Level: 4 of 4)
The next step was a bit of a challenge, with instructions to heat up the adhesive using a hair dryer and then separate the glass from the frame. Your experience here will vary, and as the video demonstrates it can be quite easy. The difficulty for me here was that my phone's glass was cracked directly on the bottom of the phone where the adhesive holds it to the frame. I ended up having to use the screwdriver to scrape out tons of little pieces of glass and adhesive.
Add The New Adhesive Sticker: (Difficulty Level: 2 of 4)
Scrape away all the excess old adhesive to make way for the new adhesive, which comes as two double-sided stickers. Be sure to match the stickers up properly and then use the little tabs to pull off the backing. The tabs are extremely small and can be difficult to separate from the backing without pulling off the entire thing. Also be sure once the backing is off to fold the excess tab back into the main body of the adhesive so it doesn't stick out towards the screen area.
Insert the New Glass and Screw The LCD Back In: (Difficulty Level: 2 of 4)
Make sure to line up the new glass and press it firmly on the adhesive. Then screw back in the6 screws for the LCD into the frame. The only reason I thought this was slightly difficult was the screws are so incredibly small that I had hard time getting them lined up to go back into the holes. The screwdriver was magnetic so that helped a bit.
Plug In the 3 Connectors and Close It Up (Difficulty Level: 2 of 4)
Again apologies you'll have to refer to the video for imagery on the connectors, but you simply reconnect the 3 connections you earlier disconnected. I had to open up the screen again because one of the connectors came out. The problem was that the adhesive wasn't strong enough and the glass was coming out without the frame/LCD. After a few whacks it came out and I was able to reconnect everything properly. Screw in the bottom two screws and you're done!
Unfortunately a couple of side affects of the self-repair kit cropped up, and I chalk it up to you get what you pay for. The kit was only $7 after all.
1) The entire installation is a bit "puffy" to put it mildly. Because the adhesive is simply a sticker, the glass panel doesn't really adhere to the frame very tightly. This causes the screen to sit slightly higher than before and depress a bit when touched. The home button also sits extremely low and can be hard to press. For the first 24 hours I stuck rubber bands around the entire thing and the compression seems to have helped the adhesive grab on a bit.
2) Because the LCD is exposed and the seal between the touch screen and the LCD isn't as tight as before, dust entered the space between the two. Annoying, but better than tons of cracks (and previous dust and scratches. Which brings us to warning number 2.
WARNING: Don't touch the LCD screen against anything (your finger for example) as it will create a smudge that's impossible to clean off. Also keep it in an area that's as lint-free as possible while you're working on this repair.
iPhone 3gs Lives To See Another Day
Given my plans to upgrade within a few months and the inexpensive price of the kit, this was definitely a worthwhile repair. Reviews have gone both ways in how it works out, and my experience was decent, if not a very fun hour of repair. The phone isn't perfect, but it works well and the screen is nice and clear.
iPhone Repair Resources