Everyone seems to be picking up tablets and new smartphones these days. PCs and laptops will still be around for some time to come, but for many just looking for content consumption devices, these pocket computers may be all you need. But everything’s shrinking. The PC was a nice open box with modular components and where fitting a replacement hard drive wasn’t too hard even for someone like me who isn’t a repair tech. Laptops are more compact but I’ve still managed to complete a screen replacement here. But now the ultracompact nature of smartphones and tablets makes them much harder to open up, service and repair. So what will happen in a couple of years when we have a broken screen or dud battery in our device? Do we repair or replace?
I came across a great article recently on Technibble about the mobile device repair industry. The author made the point that repair costs may be about one-quarter of the initial retail cost of the device or the cost of replacement at current market prices. Parts are easier to source for more expensive tablets. He also made the point that the owner of the device should check his insurance or device warranty to see if that covers them for a replacement. Age may also be an issue. The device may just be too old to repair. From my point of view, my Nexus 10 tablet is great and I can’t see me replacing it any time soon. I would happily pay for a repair when necessary if the price is right. The Nexus 4 may be a different case. It’s a 3G phone and I may be interested in upgrading to 4G when/if it fails in a couple of years.
So who can repair these devices? Well, I asked if traditional laptop/PC repair shops are able and willing to carry out repairs to mobile devices on the computertech subreddit on Reddit. As mentioned earlier, it seems that iPhones, iPads and branded devices can be repaired, though one commenter didn’t fancy repairing HTC devices. Some repairs like screen replacements can have a high profit margin for the experienced repair shop. One commenter made the point that the prices of parts are close to the same price as a new unit, so many people would rather spend a little more to get a new one.
As luck would have it, I’ve just listened to a Podnutz Daily podcast (tech repair tips and business tips for the tech repair industry), PND365, where among other things, Steve and Jose, two repair techs, talk for about 5 minutes on tablet and smartphone repair. If you just want to hear this section jump to 54:10 in the podcast. Here’s a summary. Repair techs can make good money repairing iPhones and iPads. These are high value items and people are inclined to repair them if possible. However, Jose says that after the 1st generation iPad, these tablets have become increasingly difficult to repair. Steve made the point that if a device is new to a repair tech, they may order two parts just in case they break the first during the repair – it’s a learning experience. The Samsung Galaxy S3 can be an expensive repair for screen replacements because very often when you remove the glass you break the screen so the glass, screen and digitizer may all have to be replaced.
So how do you know if your device is easily repairable? Well, iFixit publishes a smartphone repairability list and a tablet repairability list scoring how easy or hard they are to repair so you can check out your own device there. Apparently my Nexus 10 tablet is very hard to open. And if you are in the market to buy a new mobile device, you should also have a look into its future prospects for ease of repair on that site. They also have DIY device repair guides if you’re up for that challenge!
If you’re a device owner, what’s your experience with repairs? Was the price reasonable or was it cheaper just to buy a replacement? If you’re a repair tech, do you repair mobile devices or are you considering doing this in the future?
Update (4 Feb 2014): Lifehacker have a post today – The Most Common Smartphone Repairs You Can Do Yourself
Image credit: Robert Nelson