The time my phone almost died
I love my phone. It’s a Sony Z3 Compact. I can’t stand the way phones keep getting bigger, so my next phone will most likely also be a Sony Compact phone.
Apparently, the Z3C has a well-known design flaw. The frame flexes more than it should, and combined with the heat the system can generate, it loosens the adhesives and allows the front screen to lift up. This happened to me, but it was a small lift (top corner) that didn’t really impact on my use of the phone, so I put off doing anything about it.
About a year ago, I asked about it on XDA and someone gave me some pointers. Apparently it’s not very hard to replace a screen. Still, I’d never done this kind of thing before so I waited. I had noticed an occasional visual glitch that I took to be related to the lifting screen but it wasn’t a bit deal.
About 3 weeks ago, I managed to drop the phone onto the floor and the adhesive decided that it had had enough. The front screen practically came off the phone. It was time to do some fixing.
Side note: Sending it to any kind of authorized repair place was out of the question because those places charge stupid fees and there was no way it could be considered a warranty issue. I thought about going to one of those phone repair places you see at the shops but I expect they only really know how to deal with Apple and Samsung phones (ie. the most common ones) and the reply on XDA indicated that repair shops were known to have problems with this phone. I’ve taken apart computers, laptops and dealt with electronics so I wasn’t expecting something too difficult. My main concern was how the outer glass bits are glued to the frame (called a glass sandwich). Clearly, removing those would be tricky?
The best thing about having an older phone is all the people on the internet who have already done the thing you want to do and who have documented the process. Between the XDA reply, iFixit and youtube videos, I was quite confident in what I had to do. I already had most of the tools I’d need too (spudger, pick, screwdrivers, suction cup). My purchases were a heat gun to get the glue off, and the B-7000 glue I’d use to put everything back together. Sony actually uses adhesive stickers for their production but I could only source them from the US which added time and expensive shipping. Apparently the glue is better anyway.
Going in, I intended to take the front screen off and on. However, the screen is connected to the main board via ribbon that connects on the back. I wanted to try re-seating this connector so I would have to take the back glass off too.
As I’ve already mentioned, the front screen was already mostly off. It barely needed any help to completely separate from the body. Apparently my back glass adhesive was also worn out because I had very little problems getting the back off either. Of course, to get to the video connector you also have to remove a support frame. By the time I had done this, the phone was mostly disassembled. I figured it would be fun to do the last few steps to completely disassemble the phone, just to see how all the bits fit together.
I’m glad I did, because I found out that the headphone jack was suffering from the same worn out adhesive issue. I had been noticing recently that my headphones weren’t quite right. Knocking them would cause the system to momentarily think they were disconnected. Since the socket was glued to the frame and the glue was failing, the socket was able to move into the phone, preventing the jack from fully entering the socket. It was easy to fix with all the other bits out of the phone.
I also noticed that some pieces were missing! I can only guess that my phone was originally a refurbished model or put together by someone dodgy? There was supposed to be a bracket around the camera that was missing (though it didn’t seem to matter at all that it was gone). I also found that 2 screws were missing. One from the support frame and one that is supposed to hold the main board to the frame. Unfortunately, I didn’t have replacement screws but the phone seemed to have done ok without those screws so far.
After marveling at the design, including the large volume taken up by the battery, I proceeded to put everything back in. I got everything back together and figured it would be good to make sure it booted up before I glued it shut. It booted up and ran fine.
The assembly guides suggest to glue the front screen on before connecting the display cable, then turning the phone over and completing the assembly there. I didn’t really want to do that because it’d mean unplugging and partially disassembling the phone again. So I went and glued the front. It was a bit annoying with the screen there (couldn’t get it out of the way due to that cable). I settled the screen down and put some books on it to hold it while it cured overnight.
I checked it the next day and it didn’t look so good. I used both too much glue (blobs that leaked out) and not enough glue, with most of the screen not really holding on at all. Oh well, practice makes perfect right? I figured I’d do the back screen for more practice before attempting the front again. I did a better job on the back, but it still had issues. Apparently squeezing a consistent amount of glue around a frame is hard.
The phone wasn’t in any shape for use, so I had to try again. The front was again really easy because it barely had any glue actually connecting the glass to the frame. The back was a little harder, but I found an edge that I had done a poor job on and was able to move around from there. I did notice that I had to be more generous with the heat gun this time. I had done a better job, which was encouraging.
I figured my poor attempt on the front screen may have been caused by having the screen getting in the way, so I followed the guides more closely this time. I glued the front screen on before connecting the display connector. Then I did the back glass. I could already tell that I’d done a better job of gluing.
However, something was wrong. The display glitch was back worse than ever. The screen wouldn’t display anything unless I pressed the lower part of the glass in. Once again, the phone was not in any shape for actual use, even though the glue was good.
Can you say frustrating?
I had to make another purchase. The suction cup I had used till now was small and from a mirror. It didn’t even have a handle or anything. It had been difficult to lift the rear glass the last time. I was pretty sure my gluing was now good enough that I’d need more lift. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any of the suction cups I saw in the videos, with a key ring attached to a plain old suction cup. At least, I couldn’t find any that were cheap or able to deliver quickly. I settled on a chunky looking thing with a lever. Unlike a suction cup where you press down to get the air out and make a good seal, this one started flat and used the lever to lift the cup. I think that is relevant to what happened next…
I started on the back. Lots of heat gun. Suction cup helping to provide some lift. Working the spudger along the bottom edge until I finally got it under. Definitely the hardest start to a glass removal so far. I moved the spudger sideways and hard a crack. My back glass shattered.
After taking some time to calm down, I slowly tried to get the back glass off in as few pieces as possible. The top half of the glass came away intact but the bottom half was a bunch of shards radiating out from a central point where the suction cup had been. In retrospect, I think that the way the suction cup attached had placed a big load on the glass. Moving the spudger under the glass had never been a problem before, but the glass had never been under such a load while I did that before.
Moving on to the front and it was the same thing getting under the glass (ie. hard). This time I was careful to remove the suction cup before moving the spudger around. The front came off in one piece. Phew!
Remove and re-seat the display connector. Boot up and the phone works. I figured I would use the first method again (ie. start with a connected display when gluing the front) since it had worked the first time. I just needed to be careful with the glue. By now I’d had a lot of practice applying the glue anyway. After drying, it looked good and the display still worked.
What to do about the back?
I normally have my phone in a case. Not because I actually like such things but because the only good holster I could find was designed to be used with a matching case. The thing about this case is that it completely covers the sides and back of the phone. With the case on, the lack of rear glass was almost unnoticeable. The only cutouts on the back were for the camera and flash, plus a SONY logo. Since the top half of the glass was intact, I could put it back to cover those holes and just leave the bottom open. So that’s what I did. Before putting the case on, I put some gaffer tape over the back glass because I thought I saw some cracks extending up there and I’d hate to have glass break off and fly around.
There is good news. The headphone jack works great now. The front screen is attached securely and works well. With the case on, the broken back isn’t even noticeable. I even somehow fixed the hands free speaker. It hasn’t worked for ages. I noticed at least some places where “wires” painted on one part were pressed against another part to connect things. I guess the hands free speaker was just disconnected due to things not being pressed together enough? I also replaced my matte screen protector, which had been wearing a bit and I did a really good job.
There is bad news. Obviously the rear glass being broken is a bummer. And even though I thought I was being careful, I have managed to mark the front screen. There’s a bit that looks like a small crack or maybe a line of dead pixels. Only obvious with a white background. Noticeable but I can live with it. There’s some other odd marks that only really show up when looking at the screen from an angle. They’re on the edges of the display. I think I got the spudger/pick between the backlight and the screen. But at normal viewing angles they’re not visible so I don’t mind.
My initial concern has been getting my phone back into a working state as quickly as possible. Now that I’ve done that, I can afford to wait. I looked online and found that replacement backs are cheap if you order from China (and wait the month or more it takes to ship). I have ordered one so hopefully by next year the phone will be more or less intact again.