Repair Stories

I Lived With a Broken Screen on my iPhone 5S—Then Fixed It Myself

Funny how things work. I’ve spent the better part of five years with nary a scratch on my Droid, iPhone 4S, and now iPhone 5s. Over the years, I became quite accustomed to not breaking my phone’s screen. Every day provided a most-excellent view into my phone’s soul through the flawless screen in front. I rolled the dice, too — there wasn’t a case on either Droid or 4S. And even the 5s only got case’d in order to protect the super-scratchable aluminum body — not because I was afraid of damaging the screen.

I teach people how to repair things for a living, so I know better than most that things break. Often catastrophically. I just didn’t think it would happen to me. And I was wrong. On December 31, 2014, I stuffed my phone under my legs while sitting in my in-laws’ truck. I had done this before without incident; but not this time. I realized the error of my ways as soon as I stepped out of the truck, having forgotten the phone under my legs.

The phone face-planted all over the concrete; the front panel had more crack than Tony Montana. Unfortunately, the Apple leather case did little to prevent the damage, since the screen was fully exposed. (Note: I don’t fault the case for this at all — it did what it was supposed to do, and protected the rest of the phone from the impact. ‘Twas a bad case of fall, is all.)

iPhone  5s with broken screen
Scarface would be proud of my accomplishment. So much crack. Wow.

It wasn’t all bad news, though — the phone still worked! A couple of glass shards initially stuck to my fingers, but most of the fragments remained in place.

Here’s the unfortunate thing about December 31, 2014. It happens to be right in the middle of Christmas and New Years, and I was out of town for the holidays. Normally I have access to repair parts at iFixit just by walking downstairs and hanging a left, but on that day I was 200 miles away. I was in a repair stalemate — I wasn’t going to buy another phone, and I certainly wasn’t going to ship parts across California because I couldn’t wait a week to return to the office. So what’s a Miro to do with his new-found crackity-crack phone? Deal with it, that’s what.

How to live with a broken screen

I already knew the first step to take: minimize the glass-shards-in-fingers effect with some magical clear packing tape. I found some and cut it to “exact” (read: good enough) dimensions, so that the home button wasn’t covered. However, I accidentally covered the earpiece speaker, so I had a couple of muffled phone calls before realizing what had happened. But after trimming the tape just a tad, I had a functioning — albeit spidery — phone.

iPhone 5s with broken screen
Cracked iPhone on concrete. Most definitely not oil on canvas.

The first thing I realized was that the phone was completely usable in its current form. Sure, it was hard to read text in some apps — on occasion I’d have to scroll up/down to reach a less-cracked portion of the screen in order to read the text — but that’s about it.

I was honestly amazed at how quickly I adapted to my phone’s impairment. I’d wake up in the morning and use it like nothing happened, albeit with a bit more scrolling. Since the one camera that mattered (on the back of the phone) was unaffected by the drop, I could still Snapchat with gusto. And after a couple of days of using the phone in its cracked state, I was tempted to not fix the screen. I figure if 1 out of 4 iPhone users are walking around with a cracked phone in their pockets right now, why can’t I? I have an in-law who didn’t think twice about using her cracked iPhone for about six months before I convinced her to fix it. So, living with a cracked screen is more than possible, it’s just not ideal.

Fixing the broken screen on my iPhone 5s

But I knew I couldn’t keep the phone as-is. I’m a Fixr 4 Lyf, after all. My Prime Directive became to locate a replacement panel as soon as I stepped foot into the iFixit office.

Thankfully, Apple made the iPhone 5s easy-ish to fix. I followed this iFixit iPhone 5s screen replacement guide and popped the screen off with an iSclack in less than five minutes.

iPhone 5s with a broken screen being opened with an iSclack
I opened up and repaired my broken iPhone 5s with this handy dandy repair guide.

Then I carefully disconnected the fragile home button cable. The rest was standard: unscrew a couple of screws and flick a couple of connectors. I did have to swap the original home button into the new screen unit, as Apple’s Touch ID wouldn’t work otherwise. It looks daunting, but the transfer isn’t super difficult.

And that was it. I restored my phone to tip-top condish within a half hour’s worth of time. No more tape, no more unsightly cracks, no more glass shards in my fingers. And no reason to keep on truckin’ with a broken screen while living in fear of the fix.

A protip: if you accidentally have to venture down my path with your iPhone 5s, make sure to get the decked-out front panel that has all the goodies (sans home button), as opposed to the bare panel. In theory, either should work fine — but I personally don’t think the $10 difference is worth the extra labor required to swap out the front camera assembly, earpiece speaker, and LCD shield plate from your old phone. That’s my two cents, though.

So, that’s how I survived a week with a broken iPhone—and then fixed it. Lesson learned, and mischief managed. From now on, I’ll be more careful about where I store my phone during car rides.