How To

What You Should Know Before You Fix: Non-Samsung, Non-Pixel Android Phones

We’ve previously shared our tips on fixing two prominent brands of Android phones, Samsung and Google’s Pixel line. But there are many, many more Android phones out there. The huge variety of models, available at price points that go all the way down to “free from your carrier,” makes Android the world leader in smartphone distribution, and gives customers a huge amount of choice. It also makes fixing any one particular Android phone pretty, pretty tricky.

So with this chapter of our series, we’re not going to have particular advice about the adhesive on a certain screen, or where to look for trick cables. We’re going to offer up some general advice on fixing a lesser-known, non-flagship Android phone, either by yourself or with the help of your local repair shop. And we’ll offer up some advice and examples from both the iFixit technical writers and teardown engineers, and cell phone repair workers who know what it’s like to dig into these phones.

The Android repair conundrum

Apple’s iPhones are a line of devices made by a single company, with many consistent traits (and sometimes parts) between models. Apple supports their iPhones with software updates for 5 years or more. Apple has hundreds of stores, and hundreds more authorized and independent repair shops, that you can take an iPhone to for common (if limited) repairs. Because of this, and their general popularity, iPhones hold their resale value better than any other phone. There are parts, people, and incentives to fix an iPhone.

I wrote all that so I could write this next part more quickly: the Android marketplace is the opposite. There are thousands of different Android smartphones, including variants for different cellular carriers and international models. Because there are so many models, manufacturers rarely produce repair parts for them (Motorola is a notable exception, and Fairphone something else entirely). Phone makers typically don’t provide more than a few software or security updates; add in carrier delivery bottlenecks, and the software support situation is just miserable.

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So when you go to fix your phone, or get a quote for someone else to fix it, you may find the cost to be higher than buying a used model of that same phone, or even a newer version of it. I could have tried to fix the screen-dead Pixel 2 that recently died on me, but a good-condition Pixel 2 is $125 on Swappa right now, and a Pixel 3a just a bit more. A replacement screen for an Android phone with an OLED display, in particular, can often cost more than a whole other phone. Deeper fixes, involving board or component damage, are often a gamble or impossible, as few schematics for Android phones can be found floating around.

But you should still try to fix your Android phone! Because they don’t hold their value, sometimes you (or your shop) can find and sacrifice a whole phone for parts, for pretty cheap. Android phones, unlike Apple devices, rarely have proprietary locks on their batteries, screens, or fingerprint sensors. And some phones are not too hard to fix or take apart, sometimes by design, sometimes just by pure luck. 

Androids, generally

Android phones used to get great repairability scores from iFixit teardowns. They were straightforward devices, often with batteries you could remove by sliding out a case. Android phones regularly scored between 5 and 9 for repairability in our teardowns. Remember the Motorola Droid? The Galaxy SIII? You could pull the battery out of those in seconds, and do lots of work with common household tools. Around 2014-2015, though, manufacturers wanted their phones to be like iPhones. To them, that meant a single, thin slab of phone, with glass on the front and back, glued down like a middle-school shop project. The iPhone itself wasn’t really that kind of device, but phones like the Galaxy S6 Edge, HTC One M9, and Nexus 6P were the vanguard of an adhesive-forward future.

Most Android phones followed this lead, or combined it with cribbing a few other design notes from Apple. There was one good trend in leaning into a fully-full screen design, however: the disappearance of Android’s “soft buttons,” the solid-state touch panel with typically three icons (back, home, and app-switch/multi-task, or sometimes Samsung’s “menu” option). The cables for these tiny touch panels were always in the way of getting to other components, and often far too easy to break. 

Androids, specifically (as the pros see them)

I asked phone repair technicians if they had any tips for someone thinking about fixing their non-Samsung, non-Pixel Android phone, or bringing it to a local repair shop. This proved tricky, as whether or not an Android phone can be fixed depends on the availability of parts.

Almost every tech I talked to noted that iFixit repair guides were a valuable resource for fixing models outside their experience (thanks gang!). LG and Motorola devices came up a few times as being better than most when it comes to first-time repairs. Otherwise, it’s pretty hit-and-miss, whether your phone turns out to be a breeze to open or a tight-cable, glue-y slog.

“Always double-check what kind of screws you are working with,” wrote one tech who asked that their name and employer be withheld. “Samsung and most others use mainly Phillips heads, but Google and a few others have very different screws. I don’t know how many times I’ve looked at a mangled phone because someone before me tried to open everything with a Phillips.”

Emily Cottrell, lead depot repair technician at FixIT Mobile, suggested reading any device guide a couple times, all the way through, before you even think about grabbing that opening tool. “Nearly no Android phone, to my knowledge, has battery removal tabs, so take extra care with battery bending when removing,” Cottrell suggests. “Androids like to hide flex cables under batteries, too”—even more reason to go slow and use plenty of isopropyl or adhesive remover.

Because of the uncertain market for parts, you might consider buying a “parts only” duplicate phone on eBay or a local resale site, another tech suggested. “As long as it’s not water damaged,” the tech wrote, and the listing makes clear what is wrong with the device, you’ve got a good shot at extracting the parts you need. Cottrell didn’t agree with this, suggesting that most parts can be found, and that dead phones can be a real gamble. (We obviously write with a bias toward buying quality warranty-backed parts, but there are some weird phones out there!)

What did I miss? What’s a typical trait of Pixel devices you’ve found while repairing them? Comment below, tag us on social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram), or let me know directly: kevin at ifixit dot com.