It may have the same general shape as its predecessor, but the iPhone 5 is taller, thinner, and lighter. And thanks to a redesigned case and interior, the device is easier to take apart and repair.
Full TechRepublic teardown gallery: Cracking Open the Apple iPhone 5
New design still feels familiar
In addition to changing the case and giving the phone a larger screen, Apple also repositioned the front camera, moved the headphone jack, and replaced the traditional 30-pin docking connector with the new Lightning connector. What hasn't changed are the position of the home button, power button, ring/silent switch, volume buttons, speakers, and case screws.
- Redesigned case eases DIY repairs: The iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S weren't difficult to open, but working on them was complicated by the phones' design: two glass panels, separated by an internal metal frame. Luckily, Apple ditched this two-panel design in favor of a wrap-around metal case and front glass panel. You'll still need a special screwdriver to remove the tamper-resistant pentalobe screws, but these tools are readily available on the Internet.
- Internal layout similar to iPhone 4/4S: The overall hardware layout inside the iPhone 5 is very similar to the interior of the iPhone 4 and 4S. The speaker and docking connector assembly run along the bottom, the battery sits along the left side, the motherboard runs along the right, and the cameras are mounted at the top. (Note: If you're wondering why everything looks backward in this comparison, remember that on the iPhone 4 and 4S you access the interior from the back; on the iPhone 5, you go in through the front.)
- Shields soldered to the main board: Unfortunately, the EMI/RFI shields that cover the iPhone 5's motherboard are soldered in place. As I want to put this phone back together in working order, I refrained from breaking out the soldering iron and snips.
- Case components are easily accessible, but held in place with adhesive: The phone's vibration motor, speaker assembly, headphone jack, Lightning connector, and lots of antenna/connector cables are attached to the case with either screws, adhesive, or both. If any of these components were damaged, removing and replacing them wouldn't be difficult. But I don't want to risk damaging them during removal. So, I'm going to leave them in place.
- Front-panel design simplifies fixes: Looking at the front-panel assembly, there are also examples of how the iPhone 5 is easier to repair than its predecessor. First, the home button is attached to the panel with screws. This makes it easy to replace a broken button. Second, the earpiece speaker is also held in place with screws and easily removed.
- Fused front panel and display: In the past, I've complained when manufacturers fused a device's front panel to the actual display. This construction technique increases the cost of fixing a broken panel or display. If one component breaks, you must replace both. But having spent way too much time trying to remove stray pieces of dust from between the front panels and LCD screens of tablets and smartphones, I've changed my mind.
Evening without taking it apart, there's a lot to like about the new iPhone 5 -- a bigger screen, faster processor, LTE support, and a thinner/lighter design. That fact that it's also easier to crack open and repair is just icing on the cake.
A more detailed version of this story was first published on TechRepublic's Cracking Open.Updated at 11:03 a.m. EST to add link to original TechRepublic Cracking Open article.