Modern smartphones are much more beautiful than older models. Instead of plastic, almost all manufacturers now use glass and often also aluminum for their products. The result is smooth, robust devices. But when you drop them, the robustness quickly comes to an end. During several self-experiments, while visiting the Repair Café and talking to various professionals, I learned a lot about the spare parts policy of the manufacturers and have come to a sad conclusion.
With all the assurances of more sustainability, complaints about ending resources and the hassle with recycling, things should not really be the way they are. Have you ever tried to repair a smartphone yourself? Or used a professional for a new display or a rechargeable battery? Regularly the saying "it's not worth it" or "costs more than a new device" comes to mind. That can't be right, I thought to myself. But I was often left disappointed. And then I ran into repair cafes.
What is a Repair Café?
In many cities around the world, volunteers are resisting the idea that old devices should only be replaced by new ones because of a minor defect. Armed with soldering irons, screwdrivers and occasionally also a sewing machine, they meet us in cafés or community centers and want to repair our broken things; partly "out of pure sportsmanship", Ralf tells me.
Ralf studied electronics and is now active in sales. Nevertheless, after all these years he still finds the time on Friday evenings to spend four hours fixing broken equipment free of charge. The basic idea is that all helpers and organizers agree this is "help for self-help". "Yet most 'patients' [because we're not customers, editor's note] are just sitting questioningly next to each other while we do most of the work ourselves."
Only rarely do you see a smartphone in such a Repair Café; mostly it's laptops, vacuum cleaners, radios, coffee machines. The reason is obvious: smartphones are apparently no longer to be repaired. Unlike a laptop (but not all of them anymore) you can't open a smartphone without some tricks. Just take a look on YouTube (which also happens ad hoc in the Repair Café) and you can see how someone can separate the glass from the actual display with a razor blade, hot hairdryer, molybdenum wire and plenty of skill. If you order these materials on the Internet, you'll probably end up on a list with the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution.
What's going on with Samsung?
Three years ago we talked to the repair expert Moritz Zyrewitz about the availability of spare parts. In particular Samsung issued the expert a bad certificate. Because Samsung monopolizes the production of spare parts. Probably the manufacturer justifies this with the fact that it fears reputation damage by faulty repaired devices.
Hopefully, Samsung will soon realize that its disposable hardware can cause major image damage in the long run. When I recently bought a used Galaxy Tab S2 on eBay for €97, I wanted to have its broken display replaced after receiving it. After I had given up the above method (I even ordered the display glass from Ali-Express for about €20 incl. shipping) I quickly got offers from several repair service providers.
They would only replace the display completely for me, "because customers often return dissatisfied after half a year after a glass-only replacement". Cost of this complete repair: €280. The estimated total cost of €380 is a good budget to go for a new tablet on Black Friday.
Apple and Honor have cheap spare parts, but...
Apple and numerous other manufacturers of Android smartphones are quite different from Samsung. With a little effort, you can get incredibly cheap spare parts. During the first year of our child's life, the Honor 8 Pro accompanied us and it was regularly dropped from the hands of our offspring. Even the protective cover could not prevent me from changing the display four times.
But already after the first repair, I saw that fixing display damages with the Honor smartphone was clearly not that hard. Not only is the display exchange with the device quite simple. The replacement display including the frame and the necessary tools at Ali-Express also costs only around €25 including shipping costs from China. The catch: the delivery time is between four and six weeks each time. With the price, I ordered two displays the next time; so I bought a replacement for the replacement.
Ali-Express can be a help
But the Honor device turned out to be a stroke of luck. I should have spared my optimism to a neighbor. I could find a display for their iPhone SE at Ali-Express for €11; we ordered two of them as well. But during installation the euphoria quickly gave way to disillusionment: Smartphone repair can be complicated. At that time I didn't know about the repair cafés in the neighborhood. The repair would certainly have been successful there. Now my neighbor is sitting on a broken iPhone and two good as new displays.
As an alternative to Ali-Express you can find a lot of spare parts similarly cheap on eBay and in the Amazon Marketplace. Really inexpensive replacement displays can be found among other things for devices of the following brands:
Expensive exceptions are devices with Samsung edge displays, including some Huawei smartphones. At Ali-Express the parts are still much cheaper than in your local shop. The repair portal iFixit provides an indication of the "reparability" of a smartphone:
A video helps with the installation, which several dealers integrate directly into the advertisement. But I'd advise you to find a repair café near you. They really are everywhere.
Find a Repair Café near you:
Together against the trend of disposable tech
In another Repair Café in Rigaer Straße, between the Youth Resistance Museum and squatted houses, Helmut, the pensioner appointed as a Repair Consultant by the municipality, explained to me why he now participates in four such associations. "We can't go on like this. We can't stop progress any longer, but we can make a small contribution here to ensuring that it doesn't go in the wrong direction at top speed."