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DIY electronics repair

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JUNE 10, 2013

“We spend all of our time together, and you don’t know anything about me.”

“That’s not true! I know all about you! We do everything together; you’re like a part of me.”

“Oh, really? If something went wrong, you wouldn’t know how to take care of me.”

“I never hit you. I always make sure to feed you at night. I keep you updated. What more do you want?”

“I want you to like me — even when things are slow or messed up. I want you to stop calling me a useless piece of crap every time I hesitate. I want you to try to fix things before you just give up on me.”

My Android had me there. She and I had been together for almost two years before I learned what she was really like inside. She made me realize that my grades and my life depend on my smartphone and my laptop, and both of them were beyond my capabilities if they needed repair. If my phone truly died, I couldn’t afford to replace it. If my laptop developed more than minor issues, I didn’t know how to fix it and probably couldn’t pay someone else to fix it either.

The good news is that this is a gap that can be closed with information. The even better news? This vital technical information is available for free if you know where to look. If you’ve ever had this conversation with your electronic devices or if you’re dreading the day they turn on you, these tricks could save your life.

First off: cellphones. Look around, and you’ll see that a few classmates are using smartphones with smashed screens. Often, a broken screen will keep functioning, but if the digitizer fails, the touch screen will stop responding. Whether you have an iPhone or an Android, replacement screens with the tools you need to install them are available on eBay. Prices vary, but many of them can be had for less than $30. The installation process is delicate, but there are countless DIY videos on YouTube that can take you through the steps. Buying the parts and undertaking the repair yourself can save you hundreds of dollars and restore your phone to everyday use.

If the screen hasn’t broken, you may have noticed that your phone won’t hold a charge for as long as it once did. Back in the magical marketplace of eBay, replacement batteries can be bought for any model of phone on the market. Depending on the type of phone, you may have to remove a simple back panel or unscrew the plates to access the battery compartment. Once again, YouTube can show you the way. I invested in a set of batteries as well as an external battery charger. My phone never dies.

Next, consider your laptop. Many of the issues people encounter are the result of viruses. There are a number of free virus-scan programs that can help eliminate these and guard you in the future. Avira Antivirus and AVG are both free (albeit with ads) and work as well as programs that cost way too much. Where viruses are not the cause, either hardware or software can fail. The best-kept secret of the Internet is the wilds of online forums. Forums are a dense environment where people share their experiences of success and failure in almost everything — not just laptops but cars, appliances, games, programs, mysteries of the real and imagined world as well as health issues are hashed out in these poorly organized gold mines. Remember that you are reading the ongoing conversation of a community of people dedicated to the same problem you have but also that everyone comes to the issue with his or her own set of skills, level of commitment and ability to communicate. Look for the things that sound familiar to you and agree with one another. This is significantly easier on a PC, as the platform was created for user friendliness in repairs. Apple products will resist you, but instructions and parts can be found. Save your money and don’t give up.

Learning to work on and repair your own electronics is a long process. My Android and I have been through more than a few different UIs since our journey began, but I’ve never had to pay someone else to fix, it and together, we’ll make it to the next upgrade. Learning how to fix and update my own laptop had the unexpected side effect of making me better at using it. The better I’ve gotten to know my electronics, the more confident I’ve become in their use and the better they serve me. What began as an economic coping strategy has become a lesson in electronic self-sufficiency. The important thing to remember is that the only difference between you and the person you think of as a computer guru is the process of seeking an answer and an investment of time. The difference between knowing and not knowing (in everything — but especially in repair) can be measured in dollars and cents.

Meg Elison writes the Monday column on financial issues affecting UC Berkeley students.Contact Meg Elison at [email protected].

JUNE 10, 2013

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