Thursday, May 15, 2014

I broke my screen!

Today’s mobile phones, with the beautiful screens and luscious colors have one major pain point…one little drop in the “right” angle, and the screen shatters, making usage of the phone hard and often times very annoying (for some, even embarrassing). A screen protector, despite its name, doesn’t actually prevent screen cracking – it’s only designed to prevent scratches to the screen directly. A good case can reduce the chances, but the reality is that screens break even with most cases.

Having the screen replaced usually costs at least $100, and often times over $200, which leads most people to just grin and bear it until the phone’s 2 year contract ends. However, if you have stable hands and a strong heart, you can probably fix this yourself for around $20. Let’s see how!

To be clear, a new screen for a phone does cost a pretty penny – usually at least $80, but the good news is that for many phones, the screen has two parts – the display, and the digitizer. The digitizer sits above the display, and it’s the components that reads your finger touch and tells the phone where you touched. The digitizer is also the part that usually breaks when the phone takes a blow, and the best news is that the digitizer is relatively cheap to replace.

I should say, before we go any further, that replacing a digitizer is a job that requires steady hands and nerves of steel. If you’ve never done this, you’ll be feeling like you’re destroying your phone, and if you’re easily shaken, stop reading now before you incur any expenses. The article discusses the process of replacing the digitizer on a Nokia Lumia 920, and replacing the digitizer for other models is similar.

To do this, here’s what you’ll need:

1. A new digitizer for your Lumia 920.

2. A cellphone 2mm double sided tape

3. A mini screwdriver kit with Torx and regular bits

4. A tool to separate the digitizer

5. Compressed air (can)

6. Q-tips

7. A strong vacuum handle, such as a GPS device’s car window clip

8. Tweezers

9. A hair dryer

A new digitizer can be found on sites such as Amazon or eBay, for around 20-30$. Often times, the cheaper options are low-quality non-original parts, and I can’t recommend them. These are usually less responsive than an original part and that could be annoying. Some digitizers come with double-sided tape, which makes the job easier. If yours doesn’t have the tape, you’ll need to buy it separately, and it should cost around $3 for a roll that will suffice for more than one replacement. The tool for separating the digitizer can be a simple guitar-pick, but I recommend the specialty tool that watch-makers use (see picture below).


Process outline:

1. You open up the phone

2. You disconnect the digitizer connector from the phone’s main board

3. You pull off the old digitizer

4. You peel off and clean up the glue that connected it to place

5. You connect the new digitizer and test it

6. You apply a new tape, if needed

7. You clean up everything

8. You stick the screen in place

9. You close the phone

10. Tada!

Part one – opening up the phone and removing the old screen

Opening up the Nokia Lumia 920 is relatively easy – you remove the two screws at the bottom of the phone, and push the inner part out of the casing by applying pressure on the corner of the screen, at the bottom of the phone.


To remove the broken digitizer, you need to disconnect its connector from the board. The connector is at the bottom of the phone, and covered by a metal piece, which is screwed into place. Remove the screw, the piece, and use a small screw driver to pry out the connector gently.


Take your new digitizer, and connect it to the board. This is JUST for testing purposes because if the new digitizer doesn’t work for some reason, you don’t want to remove the old screen and be left with a non-working phone altogether. If the digitizer appears to respond correctly, disconnect it and continue with the process.

Now comes the hard part – removing the digitizer. It’s glued into place with a pretty strong bond, which makes this challenging. If you warm up the glass with a hair dryer, it weakens the glue, but it’s difficult to know how hot you can get it without it starting to melt the phone’s plastics, so my advice is to pull the glass by force. To do so, use a GPS’s dashboard vacuum holder to hold on to the glass, and pull it out. Because the board connector is at the bottom of the phone, start pulling from the TOP of the phone. Keep in mind that this pressure does risk breaking the glass, so this sort of thing is suitable only when the glass is already damaged and you got nothing to lose (in other words, don’t do this just for fun). Once you’ve been able to pry the glass off a bit, you should switch to a watch case opener tool. Slide it under the open area and start pushing it around to pry off the rest of the glass. This part is very nerve-wracking, because if the glass is fractured, the pressure will crack it further, making you feel like you’re killing the phone. Just be careful not to slide the watch opener too much in, so that it doesn’t accidentally scratch the screen itself, which is about 1 millimeter below the digitizer.


Once the glass is pulled mostly off, gently push out the connector from the back side to release it (essentially, you’re throwing the glass away, so you can rip it, but be careful not to damage the phone itself by using too much force). Now, use tweezers and a knife to clean off any remaining glue from the phone’s body. It might not be possible to remove all of it, but try your best.

Part 2 – prepping the phone for the new glass

As I said before, some digitizers come with a double sided tape already mounted, so all you would need to do later is to peel the cover off and stick it into place (don’t do it yet). If not, then you need to get double-sided tape too. Don’t try to “walk” the tape all around the phone – that’s virtually impossible. I recommend working in pieces that are about 1.5-2” long and cover the entire frame. The tape won’t hold the glass as strongly as the original glue, which is good, because you can take it out again without using too much force. It might be tempting to not even cover the entire frame, but I recommend making the effort of having glue all around because if you don’t, dust can leak into the phone and stick to the screen from inside....which is really nasty and annoying.


Part 3 – finish up

Place the new digitizer on the phone, and insert the connector through the frame. At this point, the double-sided tape is still covered, because you need to test everything before sticking things together. Connect the digitizer, wake up the phone and confirm that everything still works. Now carefully clean up the screen with q-tips and compressed air, peel the cover off the double-sided tape and stick it in place. The phone’s body has grooves to help you make sure the digitizer is perfectly in place. Be sure to work with gloves and in a super-clean environment because if any dust sticks to the glass or the screen before you close it, or you get fingerprints on it, it can drive you mad.

Finally, put everything back into the phone’s case, tighten the screws, and go show-off your handy work!

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