Blog: Breaking My Phones

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Breaking My Phones - Wednesday, January 5, 2022
In November 2016, I bought two ZTE Axon 7 Mini phones - one for Priscilla and one for me. A mere two years later, Priscilla moved onto a Samsung Galaxy S8, as the ZTE wasn't able to keep up with her heavy usage. My ZTE was still good enough for me, so I stayed with it and used her old one as a spare for listening to podcasts and whatnot.

Over the years, I dropped my phone many times and finally managed to crack the lens of the rear-facing camera, rendering the camera effectively unusable. So whenever I wanted to take a picture, I'd either use Priscilla's new phone or the spare. A year ago, the degrading battery life of my phone finally pushed me to switch my sim card to the spare, which by that point also had mediocre battery life but better than that of the other phone. Normally my carrier charges a $15 fee to switch devices, but support was able to help me with it over the phone for free.

So for the last year, I've had a network-connected phone with a working camera (my newly-designated main phone), and when I'd be in situations where battery life would be an issue (e.g. when I'd be out trail running), I'd bring both ZTE phones with me and split tasks between the two. Not the most efficient, but it did the job.

But a month ago, the battery life in my main phone finally degraded to the point where the battery meter was untrustworthy under 50%, and the phone would just turn off when I was out on runs. That was the final straw, though I didn't want to pony up for a brand new phone, so I bought a replacement battery from eBay for $14. I could only find new aftermarket batteries, not OEM, but I figured they're probably all made in the same place anyway. I had wanted to replace the battery for a while now, but the slightly complicated process (you don't just pop open a cover and take the battery out like with our previous phones) deterred me.

But with YouTube videos giving me confidence, I managed to pry off the adhesive-attached speaker grills of the phone, pry apart the two halves of the case, unclip ribbon cables, and finally pry the very much adhesive-backed battery loose from the inside of the case. Reassembly with the new battery was straightforward, and finally I had a phone with decent battery life again! I tested the speakers to make sure that I hadn't damaged those.

But the next day, I found that I couldn't make calls. I had damaged a plastic part when removing the lower grill due to everything being bonded tightly with adhesive. The plastic part got bent and torn just from me trying to take the grill off. I'd assumed that that part was just a bracket, but it turned out to apparently be part of the antenna. However, I was unable to find anything online that corroborated that, and what looked like a serial and version number that was printed on the part (the only thing printed) turned up no results. But I had a spare phone with a presumably working antenna, so I very carefully opened that up, being extra careful to open the grill from the right side, since the left side is where the antenna previously sheared off. Once that antenna was removed and installed into the main phone, network functionality was restored. Success!

So now I have a phone that's more or less as good as it was the day I bought it over five years ago. Who knows, maybe the new battery will allow it to last another five years! I know that time is money and I have the means to buy any new phone I want, but I enjoy being scrappy and frugal and not buying new things when my old things still do what I need them to do. It's often worth it to me to spend time fixing something instead of paying for a replacement or even paying someone else to do the fix. Sometimes this is to Priscilla's chagrin. But the way I see it, my DIY'ing saves us money and allows me to learn things, and I do outsource plenty of things that are complicated or tedious.

It's definitely useful to have two of the same model of phones, and the same thinking led me to opt for another old 9th generation Corolla (so that we'd have two of them) a few years ago when I was buying something to replace my old Taurus. Now when something goes wrong on one of our cars, I can use the other car as a reference and even swap parts between them to help troubleshoot. Most people probably don't have that option available to them.

Most people would probably think I'm an oddball (Priscilla often does!). But not only have I come to accept that, but now I kinda relish it.