I break a lot of iPhones. In fact, it’s part of my job.
The latest victim of a CNET drop test was the third-generation iPhone SE. I’m sorry to say the results weren’t pretty.
The iPhone SE was gathering dust on my desk when I saw the announcement that Apple was launching its self-service repair program here in the United States. It looks like this new program is more for DIYers than people looking to save money, especially if your broken phone is still under warranty.
Since I consider myself pretty handy for projects like this, I decided to order a repair kit and find out if I could breathe new life into this phone that had essentially become a dangerous paperweight.
Download repair manual
I started my self-service repair journey at selfservicerepair.com. This is the website Apple has set up to order parts, as opposed to the website used to order the iPhone itself.
Before you even think about ordering new parts or tools, Apple encourages you to download and read the repair manual for the phone you want to repair.
I found the iPhone SE manual and it’s only…79 pages.
Be sure to review the specific instructions for the repair you want to perform. I focused on the section for replacing the screen, but there are also great tips on how to deal with broken glass on your phone and how to deal with damaged batteries.
There’s also a section on some of the tools you’ll use and other supplies you should probably have on hand.
Undaunted by the manual so far, I moved on to ordering the parts and tools I would need to complete the job.
Repair parts and tools are available for the iPhone 12 and 13 series, as well as the latest iPhone SE.
The service is not limited to screen repairs. You can replace the battery, bottom speaker, camera, SIM tray and taptic engine inside.
Prices vary from phone to phone and job to job. The recommended display package for the iPhone SE, which includes new glass, adhesive, and screws, costs $129.56 plus tax. That’s about what it would cost to have your screen repaired by Apple, but without the sense of accomplishment of doing it yourself!
Apple offers a credit for the return of the part you are replacing. I sent my broken glass back for recycling so my price should go down to around a hundred bucks for the parts.
Before I could add the lot to my cart, I needed to provide two pieces of information.
First, the serial number or IMEI number to identify the phone you are working on, which can be found on your iPhone box. Alternatively, on your iPhone, launch the Settings the app and go to General > About to find the IMEIwhich should be displayed as a 15-digit number.
Second, to make sure you’ve read the repair manual and understand what you’re getting into, you need to enter a six-digit code that’s somewhere in the manual.
I’m not going to tell you where to find the code in the manual, as I think it’s a good idea to look at the instructions before diving in. But I will be tell you that the code is different from device to device, so the code in the iPhone 13 manual is different from the code for the SE.
With that out of the way, ordering the tools was much simpler.
Depending on your experience as a DIYer, you may already have some of these items at home, so you can just order the remaining tools you need. Of course, there are other tools on the market that you can buy that might end up being cheaper than the ones offered here.
But unless you plan on doing repairs like this quite often, I think renting a full kit is the way to go. For $49 you get all the tools you need to get the job done. The kit is specific to the iPhone model you are working on and you can keep the kit for a week.
That brought my total to $178 for parts and tool kit rental.
At this point, it should be noted that by renting the kit, you agree that a hold of $1,200 (plus tax) will be placed on your credit card to cover the cost of a lost or damaged kit. The fine print indicates that when the kit is returned within 7 days, complete and undamaged, the holdback will be released within 5-7 days.
There was no turning back for me, but I wouldn’t blame you for investigating other options at this point.
Removing the damaged screen
As expected, the tool kit came in a large black wheeled case, with everything neatly packed inside. A separate, smaller box contained the replacement screen and other parts.
In addition to the tools provided in the case, the instruction manual also recommends having additional supplies on hand for your convenience and safety, including safety glasses, cut-resistant gloves, and an anti-static wrist strap and a work mat.
Once my workspace was installed, the first thing I had to do was remove the damaged screen. It was the hardest part of the whole process.
The universal display removal tool that comes with the kit looks really cool, but I couldn’t get it to do much to help me move the screen. I guess it’s because my iPhone SE screen was so badly broken that the suction cups couldn’t form a good seal on the surface, even with the protective case installed.
I struggled with the tool for about 15 minutes before finally pulling the old screen off until I could break the adhesive holding it in place. I don’t recommend this method if you’re replacing the battery and need to keep your screen intact. But in my case, brute force was the best solution.
It is worth mentioning here that the process of removing the iPhone SE screen is different from that of the iPhone 12 and 13 series, which requires the application of heat to loosen the adhesive. I haven’t been able to try the heated screen removal device described in the manuals for these phones, but it seems even more complicated than the tool I tried to use.
With the screen out of the way, disconnecting the cables from the screen was easy enough. The repair manual showed very clearly how to do this. Keeping track of all the little screws was another story, but that’s why I bought extras.
Installing the new iPhone SE screen
After scraping off the remaining glue residue, the phone was ready to receive its new screen. Naturally, the first step is to apply a new adhesive.
There’s little room for error when trying to get the thin strip of black adhesive into place around the iPhone’s frame. Fortunately, the display pack came with enough supplies for two attempts, as I passed it on the second try.
After putting all the little cables back together and putting everything back together (do yourself a favor and research how to magnetize a screwdriver – I wish I had done that before I started) it was now time for my favorite part.
The screen press is the coolest tool in the kit and unfortunately you can only use it once. It’s basically like a big juice press that you use to press the new screen into place. After the 30-second timer runs out, the display press returns to the box, unless you want to pick one up for $216.
I finished things off with two new security screws near the lightning port, and the repair job was done, but there was one more step left.
The repair manual states that after performing a screen replacement, “You will need to contact the self-service repair store support team via chat or phone to initiate system setup.”
The manual says the system setup process helps ensure that new parts are calibrated, firmware is updated, and biometric sensors such as Touch ID are set up correctly.
I contacted a support agent via chat, which was very easy. The whole process took about 20 minutes, during which time I was able to turn on the phone for the first time and confirm that the new screen was actually working! And nothing was on fire!
Overall, I would say replacing my iPhone SE screen with the Apple Self Service Repair Kit worked very well. The screen works great, and after putting a new casing on the phone, I could overlook the broken back glass (which is not a covered part on the self-service repair site).
However, other than the display press, I’m not sure that big toolkit was worth it. The screen removal device didn’t work for me, and I ended up only needing two of the four screwdriver bits, which I probably already have somewhere here.
The support manual was very helpful and told me exactly what to do – even though I missed a few steps along the way.
In the future, if I choose to do a repair like this again, I’ll probably choose to just buy the tools I need to supplement the ones I already have (minus the screen press).