Apple’s newest phones are out, more expensive than ever, and selling like crazy to early buyers eager to get their hands on the latest, greatest handset. Yes, even if they had to camp out for a week or sell a kidney to do it.
But what about those of us who love the phone we have and want it to keep working like new? Smartphones are famous for working great for a year, then sputtering out right about the time the latest launch. Some people think it’s a conspiracy by the phone makers, but experts say you really just have to know how to keep them running right.
“There are very simple steps that you can take to make it new again,” says Matt Zieminski, lead tech engineer at Puls, a company that sends a tech-expert to your house or office in more than 30 cities nationwide. Zieminski made a same-day house-call to my Oakland, California home last week, to walk me through the five most common ways to breathe new life into the smartphone you have right now.
#1. FIX WHAT’S BROKEN
If you have a cracked screen, broken camera, wonky buttons, or even drop your phone in the toilet, there’s likely an easy-ish fix, if you know what you’re doing. “It can take a pro twenty minutes to replace a cracked screen,” Zieminski says. “It can take someone who’s never done it before several hours.”
You can watch YouTube videos or turn to a website like iFixIt for DIY-help. iFixIt has thousands of how-to guides and can walk you through making repairs on your own.
The site rates fixing the screen as a “moderately” difficult endeavor, but you’ll have to have the right tools on-hand to do it. That included a Spudger, iSclack, and the correct replacement screen. Since most of us don’t walk about with a spare Spudger in our pocket, you can buy them all at the site. Or pay someone else to do it.
If your device is under AppleCare+ coverage, a trip to an Apple store for a screen fix runs around $29, according to their website. If it’s not under warranty, you’ll pay anywhere from $129-$329 depending on the model.
If you’re not super handy at fixing your own electronics, you can go with a service like Puls, HelloTech, or any number of local i-repair businesses. The big caveat here is to make sure you go through an Apple Authorized Service Provider. That’s the only way to know that you’re getting genuine Apple parts and Apple backs the repairs.
For Puls to replace the screen on an old iPhone 6 we had lying around; the total cost was $59. I answered a few questions on the Puls site, was able to pick the day, time, and location (my house). It doesn’t get any more convenient than that.
#2. INSTALL UPDATES
iOS 12 is a must-have for any iPhone model 5S or newer — no worries of batterygate this year. For phones older than the 5S, which came out in September of 2013, Zieminski says it’s better to buy a new phone than try to repair it. “If it’s five-plus years old, it’s usable as a phone, just not a smartphone” because most of the apps that make a smartphone so great aren’t compatible with phones older than the 5S anymore.
This tip is also mainly directed at people with iPhones since Google’s Android updates might be held up by tweaks from the phone’s manufacturer and your wireless carrier before they land on your phone. Apple, on the other hand, pushes its updates directly to any phones that support it, and this year’s launch of iOS 12 does make your phone faster. Yes, even your older phone.
The latest speed tests from around the web show noticeable speed improvements over iOS 11. Apps launch faster, the camera opens quicker, and everything is just much more smooth and snappy. It’s not that iOS 11 was terrible, but it slowed down some of Apple’s older devices. iOS 12 fixes that, and since it’s compatible with all the same phones that iOS 11 was, it could seriously speed up your older iPhone.
#3. REPLACE THE BATTERY
One of the biggest complaints about smartphones more than a year old is that they don’t get through the day anymore. “Often, just updating a used phone with a new battery will make it good as new,” Zieminski says. “Lithium batteries, like the kind that exist in today’s smartphones, start to die after 18 months.”
You can check the battery health yourself by going to Settings —> Battery —> Battery Health. That page might offer up a recommendation that you replace the battery and Apple might replace it for as little as $29 through the end of this year if you’re eligible for a fix.
iFixIt sells replacement batteries for as little as $20, though an almost-new phone like the iPhone 8 will only set you back around $45. For Puls to replace the battery in my husband’s iPhone 7, we paid $79 — and it’s true, it does work like new again.
#4. CLEAN HOUSE
Nothing makes a still-great smartphone feel old like a home screen packed with apps you don’t use and storage that is packed-to-the-gills. Start by nixing any apps you haven’t used in the past month, and organize your home screen and folders so that your most-used apps are front and center.
To free up some space, go through your photo library and ditch anything you don’t want to keep. I’m talking old selfies, duplicate photos you took to make sure you got the right shot, and pocket pictures you probably took by accident. The same goes for videos too. If you have an iPhone, you can free up even more space by using iCloud Photos to store the full-resolution versions and keep smaller, optimized versions of them on your device.
On Android, you can use Google Photos to store your pics remotely and free up space on your phone. Or, if your Android phone has expandable storage, you can pick up a larger microSD card and score some more room that way.
#5. GET NEW ACCESSORIES
Updating cases and older chargers, especially cheap car chargers, can also make a huge difference. You feel like a whole new person when you get dressed up for a fancy night on the town, so give your phone the same treatment. Snatch a flashy new case and screen protector and go for a color you’ve never tried before. If you’ve been settling for black plastic or dull cases, go for something bright and colorful, or class it up with a nice leather case that will change as it ages. Set it all off with a new home screen wallpaper and your smartphone makeover is complete.
“You have to be a smart shopper though,” Zieminski cautions, “you can’t buy any old backup batteries, you have to buy an MFi certified battery or charger. If you don’t, it could overcharge your phone and blow a chip and damage it more.”