By Brian Bray
John Biggs graciously gave his sister, my wife, an unlocked 3G iPhone for Christmas. My son, just over a year at the time, quickly realized this new piece of tech was competition for his Mom’s attention, so he sent it sailing off of our kitchen countertops onto a hard tile floor. The result was a short hairline fracture that turned into a long hairline fracture which then morphed into the blob shown here which completely obscures the iPod icon along with both the ‘m’ and ‘n’ buttons on the keyboard.
This series of events led me to directfix.com which supplies replacement parts for the iPhone as well as other phones, PDA’s, and portable gaming consoles. Directfix.com supplied me with a replacement LCD, 2 case opener tools, 2 small philips screwdrivers, and a replacement touch panel. The replacement LCD is listed for $49.99 on their website and the touch panel is listed for $39.99 and the tools are included in the cost. For $169.99 you have the option to buy the replacement LCD and touch panel already assembled with the home button, ear piece, case frame, and seals. The pre-assembled option is more expensive but should greatly reduce the amount of time and skill required for the replacement. This review will only cover replacing the LCD and touch panel.
Before you place an order be sure to watch the tutorials first. Robby Stanley is the man behind the video tutorials and he does a good job of providing the required information, but he does make the repairs appear more simple than they actually are in my opinion. There is no doubt that Robby has much more experience than me in the field of iPhone rehabilitation and the ease at which he demonstrated the repairs gave me a bit higher confidence that I should have had. But, in the end I did successfully repair the iPhone and that is the point. Since I feel the videos do a good job explaining the repair procedure I will only point out the steps that caused me the most trouble along with a few things I felt were missing in the video.
I quickly ran into my first obstacle after I removed the first two screws and tried to separate the screen assembly from the back of the iPhone. In full disclosure, I must admit that most of my difficulties were my own fault for not watching the video closely enough because I was prying at the wrong location with some force when the case opener slipped and cut my thumb. After I mended my wound I watched the video again and realized I was prying behind the chrome ring on the iPhone and I needed to be prying in front of the chrome piece. So, I started prying again and managed to separate the screen after a few minutes of effort but I did damage the rubber ring around the screen in one spot. In the video the screen practically fell out of the case in one prying motion, but unfortunately that was not my experience.
Things were going smoothly again until it came time to gently remove the LCD assembly. Try as I might, no amount of gentle was going to remove the LCD assembly, so I gradually ramped up the force until it popped out. Unfortunately, during this process I damaged part of the touch panel as shown in the image. In the heat of the repair I thought the damage would impair the function of the touch panel, so I decided to replace the touch panel as well. However, after the repair was done I had time to inspect the old touch panel in more detail and the area that was damaged was probably not critical.
At this point, the LCD repair tutorial comes to an end and you are left with an torn apart iPhone and the old LCD still in the LCD assembly. For whatever reason the video does not cover taking the old LCD out of the assembly and placing the new LCD in, but these steps were easy to figure out on my own. The LCD has an adhesive layer that attaches it to the assembly. Prying the old LCD away from the sheet metal worked well for me. The new LCD has a plastic film over the adhesive which must be removed and than the LCD is placed on the sheet-metal. There are two posts on the LCD panel that are inserted in corresponding holes on the sheet-metal to ensure proper alignment.
My other complaint about these videos is that they end and your iPhone is still disassembled. Anybody that has done and repair on there personal electronics knows that the re-assembly steps are never as simple as ‘follow the above steps in reverse order’. I would have like to have seen a least a few keys steps of the re-assembly process demonstrated, such as how much of connector 3 needs to be inserted back in the slot and how exactly is the best way to do that. Where is the best place to stuff all of the ribbon cables when closing the phone? I personally had one ribbon cable trying to sneak into the SIM card slot. Sure, I managed to get everything back together but some help along the way would have been nice.
Okay, so now onto the touch panel. Removing the touch panel from the case required a lot more heating time using my wife’s hair dryer and a lot of patience, since once again things will not go as smoothly as shown in the video. Once I got one part of the touch panel up I kept applying heat and slowly prying until the touch panel was free. There is a warning about melting parts in the video, but I had no issues with a standard house hair dryer. If you happen to own a heat gun you may want to be more careful.
After the touch panel is free from the frame it is necessary to apply adhesive strips to the frame to secure the new touch panel. The adhesive strips shown in the video did not match the ones provided, but the function is the same, so no big deal. Unfortunately, I did make a mistake when I set the new touch panel to the frame. The new touch panel has a plastic backing the must be removed and I, being in a rush to finish, thought the entire plastic backing was one piece when there was in fact a separate piece of plastic covering the bottom of the touch panel which I failed to remove. The result was that the touch panel was loose at the bottom because the adhesive I applied could not contact the touch panel. This was easily fixed by removing the plastic and adhesive from the bottom and salvaging the remaining bits of adhesive to use as a replacement.
In the end, the LCD screen is as good as new with the bonus of a new touch panel. There are some minor cosmetic flaws, such as the damaged area of the rubber seal around the screen, and maybe the phone is not as moisture resistant as it once was, but when working on Apple products I have long ago accepted that some things will not be perfect after I am done. Apple products are not designed for easy service so if it still works when I am done than I am happy, and therefore I am happy with this repair along with the parts and videos provided by directfix.com.
Yes, I did take about 4 hours to complete this repair, but that included eating lunch and running after my now 19 month old son occasionally. The numerous interruptions of life no doubt contributed to some of the mistakes I made during this repair, so if your life is more calm than you should have a smoother repair.