If it ain't broke, don't fix it. But, when it comes to electronics and all their intricate parts, they will break one way or another. Unfortunately, the age old idiom doesn't mention what to do when things do break!
When my electronics stop working, I instinctively grumble a few choice words while calculating how much a replacement would cost. Rarely has my initial reaction been to consider the option of trying to repair what's been broken.
Repairing extends the life of electronics, keeping them out of landfills longer. The sheer number of electronics manufactured, consumed and discarded puts an unsustainable strain on the environment.
The more obvious reason to repair a broken electronic is to save money. There is great potential cost savings realized against having to replace the item. There is no point in discarding something in its entirety if only a small component is rendering it unusable. Fixing an electronic yourself - in DIY fashion - can be the cheapest way to refurbish and render a potentially useless item functional again.
Sound daunting? It often isn't that bad when you give it a shot!
Before You Start DIY Repairs
Before attempting any repair on your own, it's best to make sure that the warranty period for the given item has expired. If it hasn't, great, send it back to the original manufacturer for repair. If the warranty has expired, there's no harm in trying to repair it yourself. It'd be a shame to try to fix something and void a warranty that was still in effect.
Research Potential Solutions Online
One day my iPhone 4 unexpectedly shut itself off. I didn't think much of it and plugged it in to charge. When I pressed the power button the next morning, the phone did not turn on. I had no idea what was wrong with the phone. I started to worry; I had hundreds of pictures on it I hadn't yet backed up and I was about to leave the country in few days.
On the other hand, a thought quickly jumped into my head: "Finally, I can finally justify getting a new phone." I decided that nothing could be done about the dead phone and figured I'd just toss it. I eagerly started looking for a replacement.
I was just about to pull the trigger on a new Nexus 5 but my wife was wary of spending a few hundred dollars on a new device.
"Are you sure it's really broken?"
"Is it completely unsalvageable?"
"Did you even try to fix it?"
"It's probably just the battery."
Reluctantly, I agreed to look into fixing the phone. Apple products are notoriously known for their difficulty to repair, so I figured any efforts into "fixing" it would be short lived.
To my surprise, it was much easier than I thought! A quick online search revealed an incredible abundance of resources dedicated to replacing the battery on an iPhone4. The website iFixit provided incredibly detailed instructions and pictures describing each step of the process. After ordering a replacement battery for $10 off eBay and spending 15 minutes to perform the install, the familiar Apple logo re-appeared on the screen once again. With minimal effort, the online guide helped me offset $500 in new phone costs and extended the life of my phone for the low, low price of $10.
iFixit.com is a global community dedicated to helping people repair things. They provide free repair manuals with pictures and easy to follow instructions for a wide variety of devices, ranging from phones to computers and even game consoles and cameras. They're also known to be the go to source for Apple device repair. If your broken device can't be found there, a quick online search will often result in forum posts of other product owners experiencing similar issues with their eventual resolutions.
Update Old Products To Give Them New Life
Next came my wife's phone.
She was bequeathed a Samsung Galaxy (yes, the original S1) a couple years ago, a phone which she still uses today. Not only is its interface incredibly unintuitive and difficult to navigate, the phone's performance was slow as molasses, rendering its smartphone capabilities practically useless.
I wanted to get her a cheap reliable alternative, such as an unlocked Moto G, for under $200. She protested, refusing to spend any money on replacing something that was in working order;
"It makes phone calls, doesn't it?"
"Isn't that what a phone is for?!"
I thought that maybe an update would help improve performance. However, the phone was so old, that it was no longer even supported by Samsung and updates were no longer being released.
I did some more research and discovered a custom CyanogenMod firmware that would allow me to update the phone with the latest version of Android. I loaded the firmware onto the phone and began the process. Within a couple hours her phone was upgraded with a new snappy interface and much quicker performance. With a morning's worth of work, I saved $200 by updating an outdated product with newer software.
Note From Stephen: Sometimes upgrading to a newer version of software or an operating system will actually decrease performance because it is designed for more powerful hardware. Cyanogen Mod is heavily customized and optimized to improve performance.
Upgrading Android - Custom Android Firmware
CyangenMod is a trusted community dedicated to the open-sourced development and modifications of the Android platform. It provides an interactive installation tool that makes replacing the current operating system on your Android device with the custom firmware.
Updating iOS - Jailbreaking
iOS users can jailbreak phones to gain access to recent product features previously unavailable. The website Guide My Jail Break walks first time jailbreakers through the process through a series of easy to answer questions and instructional videos.
Ask a Friend
I was gifted a brand new $2000 desktop computer with a 160GB hard drive and 1 GB RAM when I started university. By third year, the computer was on its last legs. I was out of hard drive space and the computer's performance had slowed to a crawl.
I figured (as usual) that it was time for a new machine. I asked my housemate, a technical wizard, for his recommendations. Instead of listing a series of new computers like I expected, he hopped on my machine to diagnose the problem. He told me he could get the computer back into working order for no more than a couple hundred bucks. All I needed was to install new RAM for faster performance and a bigger hard drive for more storage. I could even throw in a new graphics card if I wanted to play computer games with better detail.
He took me to a then lesser known specialty electronics store: Canada Computers; it's now a household name. We picked out 4 GB of RAM and a 320GB hard drive. I watched intensely as he opened my computer case, disconnected a couple connectors and installed the components. Within minutes, my computer had new secondary drive for storage and ran like new. Through a few more upgrades, I used my computer for another ten years, extending its lifespan to 13 years, before needing to replace it.
We all have them, the friend who has specialized knowledge in an area where help is needed. Most are happy to help out with something that is in their field of interest. At a minimum, they will be able to point you in the right direction to help get the issue resolved.
Recycle electronics for cash
Here are a few interesting facts about cell phones that end up in landfills:
- 1.8 billion mobile phones were sold to end users in 2013.
- The average American keeps their smartphone for about two years
- Up to 75% of e-waste is thrown out with most of it ending up in landfills.
- Even when recycled, a significant amount of electronic materials cannot be recovered and is lost.
In the inevitable eventuality that a new product is to be purchased, you can still offset costs of purchasing the new item by selling it, assuming it is still in working order:
- Sell the item on a free classified advertisements website like Craigslist or Kijiji
- Sell Your Electronics - touts themselves as the fastest way to sell your electronics. They refurbish most devices so they can be sold again. In the cases where devices cannot be resold, they are recycled responsibly. On their website, simply search for the item and receive an instant quote. A shipping kit will be provided with a prepaid shipping label. Once the device is packaged and sent back, payment is processed.
- CellCycle.ca - is a similar service where used devices can be traded in for cash. They have partnered with Amnesty International and funds from recycled devices can are donated in protect and promote human rights
Finally, you can prevent your electronic from ending up in the landfill by recycling or donating it:
- Give the electronic item to a family member or relative that doesn't mind using an older device.
- The Freecycle Network - is a nonprofit community where members can post unneeded items, giving them away for free. In turn, members also wind up on the receiving end of things and can also get needed items for free.
- Recycle My Cell - is Canada's national recycling program for mobile devices. It accepts all devices regardless of brand or condition and will even accept devices through the mail, free of charge. The program unifies recycling programs together and partners with companies including, Bell, Rogers, Telus along with many others with the goal of diverting waste from local landfills.
- Reboot Canada - is a charity that recycles and refurbishes donated computer equipment and distributes it across Canada in support of their programs. With a mandate to provide disenfranchised and undeserved Canadians with affordable access to recent technology. To date, they have reached over 75,000 Canadians.
- Electronic Recycling Association - is a non-profit organization that focuses on refurbishing computer, laptops and equipment and then donating them to charities or other community organizations. Materials not suitable for donation, are appropriately recycled in a responsible and environmentally friendly way.