We should have the right to repair our own phones


I have always been the type of person to do anything in my power to do something myself before asking for help. If I make something, I usually do it myself. If I have an ailment, I usually either wait it out or try stuff I already have at home before heading to the doctor. If I have an issue with an electronic device, I will troubleshoot my issues via Google before asking for outside assistance.

But the one exception, at least when it concerns hardware, is my smartphone.

Back when cell phones were mostly just phones, and even when smartphones were just starting out, they seemed to be a lot easier to fix if something was wrong. The backs were oftentimes removable, providing easy access to the insides of the phone. You could replace the battery, replace the back cover, replace the screen, replace the charging port, and sometimes even replace the camera, among many other of the several components that make up these tiny computers.

When I worked at Sprint, the technicians were able to replace individual parts from a lot of smartphones quite easily. And it’s been a long time since I’ve worked there, but I would have to guess that a lot of today’s smartphones just aren’t as easily serviceable. Many manufacturers have chosen to remove the removable back covers, and instead have made design choices that, while “premium”, make it difficult to access the insides of the phone (i.e. aluminum unibody, glass backs, etc.) Obviously not all phones are like this, but that’s where a lot of them have ended up.

There have only been a handful of times where I’ve needed a smartphone or tablet fixed, and I was lucky that most of the time I could fix the issue myself. I’ve had batteries replaced. I’ve had back covers replaced. When my charging port was damaged on my old Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0, I was able to pry off the back, unscrew a couple of things, and completely replace the charging port with relative ease. Suddenly my worthless paperweight of a tablet became useful again, for the small fee of about $14 for parts. I was proud, and I felt really good about being able to fix it with the help of websites like iFixit. Much better than paying another $200 or so for a new one.

Usually it isn’t impossible to fix a smartphone, even with all of the obstacles in place these days. But it is more difficult, and definitely higher risk. I particularly feel helpless because my Galaxy S7 ranked very low on iFixit’s Repairability list with a score of 3, due to glass on either side and the rear glass is particularly difficult to remove. This is probably just what happens when phones have a premium, fragile design and are built to be thin, but I’m not sure that’s a sacrifice I want to make again in the future.

On the bright side, at least if you can’t fix it yourself, there are usually local people or mobile repair businesses that can. These businesses typically have more tools and expertise in the area, and will cost less than replacing your phone completely (which is usually a refurbished device anyway, if you’re claiming from insurance). But sometimes, even with the help of mobile repair, it still isn’t enough to negate the need for a complete replacement, because opening up the phone can sometimes just ruin other components of the phone in the process. Many phones simply aren’t built with “repairability” in mind.

I think having the right to repair our own products would be ideal. Obviously not everybody is going to do it or be interested, so (and I’m no expert here) I wouldn’t imagine that mobile repair businesses would suffer. It’s like being able to fix a car, or at the very least knowing how to change the oil. A lot of people just prefer to have other people do that kind of thing out of convenience, or fear of messing up something valuable to them. But some people would also rather save a few bucks, learn something new, and accomplish something on their own, and smartphones just aren’t being built for that anymore.