Last Updated on August 21, 2022 by Dave Farquhar
My wife took a broken smartphone in for repair this week and the person at the repair store tried to talk her out of getting it fixed. That raises some interesting questions. Is a smartphone worth fixing? And why would a repair shop suggest a phone wasn’t worth fixing?
When a smartphone is worth fixing can be complicated
There is an old rule that says you don’t want to spend a third the cost of a new computer doing upgrades or repairs on an old one.
The computer field doesn’t move nearly as fast as it did when that rule was common wisdom. But when it comes to phones, that’s still a good guideline to follow. Smartphone obsolescence happens faster than computer obsolescence does today.
Her phone was going to cost $109 to repair. I priced out a reasonably nice Samsung phone at Micro Center for $159. The Samsung phone has a bigger screen, more cameras, a faster processor, and more memory. And it’s $50 more.
Some would argue we were throwing good money after bad. The phone had screen issues, and it wasn’t that long ago we replaced the battery in it, to fix its issues in cold weather.
Sometimes a phone isn’t worth fixing. And based on what I’ve told you so far, this sounds like one of those cases.
My wife asked if the phone repair shop would sell her the same model phone for $109 since it wasn’t worth fixing for $109.
And then he agreed to fix the phone. I’m not sure if the willingness to buy another one convince him that she was serious, or if he realized if one of these phones came in, there’s no way he would sell it for $109, he’d sell it for more than that.
Let’s talk about the rule, and then let’s talk about how to know if you have an exception to that rule.
How to know if a phone is worth fixing
Replacing instead of fixing is part of our culture these days. It’s why we don’t fix appliances even though appliances are usually worth fixing, and sometimes the fix is surprisingly simple.
In the case of a smartphone, it starts with simple math. Price out a newer phone that would be comparable in capability, if not a little bit better. Don’t just look at new phones, take a look on the used market as well. You may be able to get a reasonable deal on a slightly used phone and save some money.
You can absolutely spend $1,000 on a smartphone, or close to it, but you don’t have to. You can get a reasonably good smartphone for less than $200. And if you’re willing to make some compromises, you can even get a smartphone for under $100. Blu phones are not the best, but they get the job done and cost less than repairing a bigger name brand phone.
There are people who give their kids $1,000 smartphones. I bought my son an $89 Blu phone to carry with him when he walked to school. Call me cheap, but the first thing to break on that phone was the screen. By the time it happened, he was ready for something else.
Of course you factor the original cost of the phone or the cost of a comparable replacement against the cost of the repair. It doesn’t make sense to spend $100 to repair an $89 phone. It does make sense to spend $100 to repair a $1,000 phone.
Also, not all repairs cost $100. A screen or battery may or may not cost $100. Some other problems, like a bad USB or Lightning port, can be cheaper.
Exceptions to the repair rule
I can think of two exceptions to the repair rule. There may be others. I will leave it to you to decide if your case is similar to these two.
The phone my wife wanted fixed is a first generation Google Pixel. I bought that phone for myself and then found out I wasn’t allowed to use it for what I wanted to use it for, so I gave it to her. It was a great phone for everything she needed to do. And she really liked the camera.
But besides that, Google stores the photos from first generation Pixels and a higher resolution than newer Pixels. So those first generation Google pixels are popular as cameras even among people who have no interest in using them as phones anymore.
So I have a hard time saying any Google Pixel phone isn’t worth fixing, at least if the price is fairly close to $100. Even the later generation phones that don’t have the loophole the first generation phone has are still nice overall phones. And Google gives you a deal on storage. But the deal gets less good as the generations move on.
I do wish Google would support Pixels with operating system upgrades longer, considering what they cost new. That’s a problem most Android phones have, not just Google Pixels. But it’s easier to stomach with a $100 phone than a phone that costs $600 to $900. You’re getting Blu support at an Apple price.
Speaking of Apple, the other exception is an Apple phone that is still receiving iOS upgrades. Of course which models are still receiving updates is subject to change. But any Apple phone that is still receiving updates is probably worth $250, because of the Apple name and because of some corporate policies. If you need a phone for work, a used $250 iPhone maybe the cheapest option your corporate policy allows.
What if you want a new phone anyway?
Now what if you have a phone that falls into one of those categories that I would call an exception, but you want to go ahead and get a newer phone anyway? Sell the old one. The phone repair shop may or may not buy the phone and may or may not give you much for it, but if nothing else, sell it on eBay. List it as for parts, spares, and repairs.
It won’t make you rich, but it will give you a chance to recover some value from the phone, and it keeps it out of a landfill. My days of repairing phones are behind me, but there are plenty of people who do have the skills and knowledge and tools to buy broken phones and repair them.
David Farquhar is a computer security professional, entrepreneur, and author. He started his career as a part-time computer technician in 1994, worked his way up to system administrator by 1997, and has specialized in vulnerability management since 2013. He invests in real estate on the side and his hobbies include O gauge trains, baseball cards, and retro computers and video games. A University of Missouri graduate, he holds CISSP and Security+ certifications. He lives in St. Louis with his family.