I've been limping along with my iPhone 7 Plus for a while now. I try to get as much life out of everything I own, believing that you buy something to use until it no longer serves a purpose. It's a given that carrying something every day for five years will cause some wear and tear, but my phone has certainly seen that and more!
Having already written back in 2017 about how this phone wasn't quite living up to my iPhone 4S in the durability stakes I guess I should retract my previous statement now that time has proven me wrong.
It's got scratches and dents all over the case and the screen is cracked in multiple places. Notably, the glass across the lenses at the rear has got a crack over the 2x lens, which when using the phone in Portrait mode and pointing it into the sun creates the most wonderful flares! But, crucially it still works much the same as it did when it was new.
Whilst I would definitely appreciate a newer iPhone for the improved cameras — the 7 Plus came just before Apple really found their stride with computational photography I feel — I decided that I would live with my iPhone a little longer and put the same money towards some new lenses for my actual cameras instead. In order to make it more comfortable to use day to day I thought I would replace some parts with new ones from iFixit.
- The screen as I could start to feel the cracks when using it.
- The battery because leaving the house after two years of lockdowns highlighted the ageing battery. That said, after 812 cycles it was still reporting 85% of its original capacity.
- The lens glass because whilst the flare it produced was nice sometimes, it was a pain at others.
- The speaker mesh because five years of pocket fluff had taken their toll and I wanted to restore as much water resistance as possible.
- The lightning port because it was starting to play up and sometimes refuse to charge.
The issue was that the lightning port was sporting a lovely bend. iFixit's tutorial to replace the port seemed fairly straightforward, certainly no more complex than any of the other repairs. However, I was struck by the number of people reporting in the comments that the repair had tricky parts to be extra mindful of and that in many cases it hadn't worked or was causing issues with mobile reception, the home button and the dreaded "accessory not supported" warning.
I decided that I would take a different approach. My wife also had an iPhone 7 Plus that she had dropped earlier in the year and completely totalled. Not having the time or will to repair it at the time we just bought her a new iPhone 12 Mini, which left me with a perfectly viable donor for a simple screen and battery swap. I'd need to replace fewer parts — which made it less likely I'd cock it up! — and would also sidestep the punctured case.
The iFixit Kit
I opted for "Fix Kits" for the screen and battery which included everything I'd need to complete the repair, not realising that it duplicated the exact same set of tools which is obvious in hindsight. Everything included felt high quality and the tools would certainly last multiple repairs. I also included a magnetic project mat in my order too for fear of losing any of the tiny parts or screws.
Apple is often criticised for how "unrepairable" their products are, and having completed this repair, I can't say I agree. They are well engineered and logically put together. Yes, they use glue for some applications but where they do it feels warranted. Yes, you need specialist tools but most people aren't going to have drivers this size knocking about anyway, even if they regularly build computers.
The most criticism I can level at them is the use of Pentalobe screws. This is often viewed as a low-key way of preventing people tampering with their devices, but given that Pentalobe drivers would always have been made to meet this need I think that argument holds less weight. Playing Devil's Advocate it may just have been Apple doing what they do best; find a better way of doing the same thing as everyone else. These Pentalobe heads may have advantages over Phillips or Torx that Apple valued.
With the screen opened out like a book there are two striking things:
- How large the battery is and how small the A10 Fusion chip is (not pictured here).
- The branding on the Taptic engine is a perfect example of "finishing the back of the cabinet".
The rest of the disassembly is pretty straightforward. Remove the screws in the correct order and try not to lose any! The only part I struggled with was where the Home button's flexible PCB was stuck to the screen and required a delicate touch so as not to bend the PCB too much.
At this point I noted that the iFixit screen looked different in places to the original Apple one. It seemed to lack the structure and rigidity of the original. Fitting was a piece of cake though, with the glue "sticker" being easy to apply.
With the phone all back together I booted it up and installed a fresh copy of iOS. I noticed that the screen had a distinctly different colour cast to the original and when compared side-by-side with the semi-working phone it was clear that the iFixit suffers from a blue tint and reduced contrast.
I did this repair back in November 2021 and whilst the colour issue hasn't bothered me much, I've noticed that it's more prone to the "squishyness" that LCD's inherently have. Coupled with the Force Touch that this era of iPhone uses and it's a regular reminder that I'm using a replacement screen.
Would I undertake repairs like this again? Probably, no. Even with Apple now offering official replacement parts, I'm quite happy purchasing and using AppleCare. I'm fully supportive of the "Right to Repair" movement and happily maintain other devices, appliances and cars; but am also very happy to leave my iPhone repairs to the professionals. By the time the parts and time are factored in, I think that AppleCare is fairly priced with the only inconvenience for me being that I need to send the phone away or take a day trip to a nearby city (Plymouth - 60 minute drive or Exeter - 90 minute drive) for a same day repair.
Was the repair worth doing? Probably...I think I'll be buying a new phone in the autumn when the next generation is released. If the next iPhone is only a marginal improvement over the 13 Pro then I may save a few pennies and just buy that one instead. Ultimately I would benefit from a better camera than the 7 Plus can offer, and that will be the main driver behind an upgrade.