Five ways manufacturers make smartphones and tablets hard to repair

Bill Detwiler shows you five ways manufacturers are making our gadgets harder to fix ourselves, and gives hints on how to leap these hurdles.

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Today's laptops, smartphones, and tablets are smaller, thinner, and lighter than ever before. But to build today's ultraslim, ultraportable devices, designers and engineers often make their creations more difficult, if not impossible, to repair.

On this special episode of Cracking Open, I show you five ways manufacturers are making our gadgets harder to fix and give you a few tips on working around these self-repair roadblocks.

Tamper-resistant pentalobe screw on the MacBook Air Bill Detwiler/TechRepublic

1. Tamper-resistant screws
Our first self-repair roadblock, tamper-resistant screws, aren't new or unique to computers, but manufacturers are using them on a lot of devices. Nintendo used tri-wing screws on the Wii and GameCube. Sony used special security Torx screws on the slimline PS3. And Apple uses pentalobe screws on the iPhone, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro with Retina Display.

Luckily, this roadblock is also the easiest to overcome. With a little online research, you can buy a driver or bit to handle any of these screws.

2. Glued-on components
Unfortunately, some manufacturers are abandoning screws altogether -- choosing to glue components in place. And, that's our second roadblock.

Whether it's the iPad's front panel, the Galaxy S III's ribbon cables, or the Retina MacBook Pro's battery, removing glued-on components can be difficult and risky. And it's best not to remove a working component that's glued in place. If you absolutely must do so, heat can sometimes help weaken the adhesive, but should be used very carefully.

3. Tiny, fragile connectors
If glued-on components weren't enough, today's gadgets are also filled with tiny, fragile connectors.

Whether it's a board-to-board connector or flexible-flat-cable connector, tablets and smartphones are filled with them. The keys to working around this roadblock are a little patience, a light touch, and a few really thin tools.

4. Battery soldered to the motherboard
Up to now, I've been able to help you overcome the repair roadblocks on our list. But, the last two aren't as easy to work around.

At No. four is a roadblock that manufacturers are using less frequently, but that still appears from time to time -- batteries that are soldered to the motherboard.

Favored by some tablet and smartphone manufacturers, a battery like this can't be replaced without using a soldering iron or wire cutters. Replacing a soldered battery is definitely an advanced do-it-yourself fix.

iPhone 4 fused front panel/display assembly Bill Detwiler/TechRepublic

5. Fused front/panel display assembly
Lastly, there's one repair roadblock that's almost impossible to overcome. And unlike soldered batteries, device manufacturers are actually using it more frequently. It's a fused front panel and display assembly.

Whether it's on the Apple iPhone or Google Nexus 7, a fused front panel and display assembly makes repairs more expensive. Because, if one component breaks, you have to replace both. And while it's sometimes possible to separate the two components, you often risk damaging the working half in the process. It's just not worth the risk.

This story was first published on TechRepublic's Cracking Open.

 

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