DIY Fixes for Laptops, Tablets and Cell Phones

brokeputer-300x249Portable electronic devices are convenient…but they are prone to mishaps and other frustrating problems. Smartphones and computer tablets often are dropped, dunked or crushed. Built-in screens and keyboards can develop problems seemingly out of nowhere. All of these ­devices rely on batteries that will inevitably lose their ability to hold a charge.DIY Fixes for Laptops, Tablets and Cell Phones

    • Waterlogged device. It might be possible to save waterlogged electronics if you act fast, though there are no guarantees when it comes to water damage.

Immediately power down the device if it’s still on—don’t bother with the recommended shutdown procedure if there’s a quicker way to shut it off, such as holding down the power button. Remove the battery, assuming that this can be done quickly—that is, by sliding open a battery compartment or removing a few screws. If you do open the battery compartment, leave it open. Use a towel to dry off the outside of the device. (If the device is enclosed in a protective case, take this off and then dry the device itself.)

Next, wrap the device loosely in a paper towel, and place it in a jar or a plastic bag full of uncooked rice. Seal this bag or jar, and leave the device inside for at least one or preferably two days. Uncooked rice absorbs moisture.

Better yet, purchase a bag specifically designed to dry out wet electronics, available at some electronics stores or websites for $10 to $30. These bags contain desiccants such as silica gel that absorb moisture even better than rice. But you must buy these bags in advance—once a device is wet, time is of the essence and it’s too late to order one.

If you don’t have rice or other desiccants handy when electronics get wet, position the device in front of an air-conditioning or heating vent until you can get them. After a day or two in the rice or dry bag, remove the device, replace the battery and try to power it on.

Helpful: If the digital device was exposed to a liquid that contained sugar or salt and the device does not power on after the procedure above, open up the device, if possible, and remove its battery. Then use cotton balls dipped in isopropyl alcohol to wipe down all of the electronic components.

    • Failing battery. Replacing a laptop’s battery usually is easy—you generally can remove the old battery and install a replacement without so much as turning a screw. Replacing a ­smartphone’s battery is sometimes nearly as simple—just slide open an access door and perhaps disconnect a cable. But a small number of laptops (mainly Apple products), some smartphones (including the iPhone, Motorola DroidRazr and some models of the NokiaLumia) and most tablets have “embedded” batteries. To replace these, you will have to open up the case, which isn’t always easy. The battery itself might be glued into place, forcing you to painstakingly work it loose with gentle prying and perhaps a heat gun. In some cases, you have to remove additional parts just to get to the battery.Examples: To replace a Nook tablet’s battery, you must remove the motherboard—the main printed circuit board. The original Apple iPhone’s battery is soldered in place, making ­replacement extremely difficult. Batteries in more recent iPhones are easier to replace.

Battery quality varies greatly, so lean toward batteries and battery sellers that have received positive feedback from large numbers of shoppers.

    • Cracked tablet/smartphone screen.It’s often feasible to replace the cracked screen on a tablet or smartphone—it all depends on which device you own.

Examples: The iPhone 5, Motorola Atrix and certain Samsung Galaxy models are repairable. But the HTC One phone and original iPhone are hard to open without doing additional damage.

Investigate online how complicated this repair job will be for your specific device before deciding whether or not to tackle it. Also look into the cost of the replacement part. If you need to replace only the glass screen that covers the LCD panel, it should be less than $20. But costs could climb to $50, $100 or more if the LCD panel itself is broken, too, or if the LCD in your device is permanently fused to the glass and both parts must be replaced together.

If you decide not to tackle the repair but to live with a cracked screen instead, consider purchasing a case that includes a transparent screen protector.

    • Flickering laptop display. This often is caused by a loose wire. Move the screen back and forth a little, as if opening and closing the laptop. If the flickering intensifies or improves, it’s a good indication that a loose wire is indeed the culprit. Flip the laptop over, remove its battery, then remove the screws that hold its outer case together. (Instructions for opening your particular laptop can be found online if needed. With the exception of certain Macs, laptops tend to be fairly easy to open.) Once the laptop is open, locate the LCD “ribbon cable” that runs up through the laptop’s hinge to its screen. A ribbon cable is a bundle of wires grouped together into a flat, ribbonlike piece of plastic rather than a thick cable. One end of this ribbon cable should connect to the laptop’s circuit board. Gently disconnect this, then reconnect it. If this doesn’t solve the problem, it’s probably time to bring the laptop to a professional.
    • Sticking/missing laptop keyboard keys. Replacing a laptop’s keyboard usually is fairly simple and inexpensive—typically easier and more likely to succeed than replacing individual keys and probably not much more expensive. You generally don’t even have to completely open the body of the laptop. Often the plastic that covers the area between the top of the keyboard and the hinge at the base of the screen can be easily removed by gently prying it up or by removing a few screws located on the underside of the laptop. Once this plastic piece is off, removing the keyboard usually is a simple matter of taking out a few small screws that hold the keyboard in place and disconnecting a cable. Most laptops are designed to allow the keyboard to be removed without taking off the more-difficult-to-remove plastic piece at the bottom of the keyboard. Replacement keyboards generally cost less than $20, though prices can climb as high as $80 or more for certain models.

Exception: It can be very difficult to replace the keyboard with some Mac laptops. You might have to replace the entire upper case instead, which can be challenging and expensive—the replacement part is likely to cost more than $100.

Source: Kyle Wiens, CEO of iFixit.com, a website that provides repair instructions and parts for a wide range of consumer electronics and other products. In 2012, he received the Early Career Award from the Consumer Electronics Society, an organization within the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

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