Apple's devices have increasingly disappointed repair site iFixit-along with slippery-fingered iPhone owners-for being difficult to repair and even pushing back against such a concept. But the iPhone 5 is the start of something new.
The iFixit team flew to Australia to get their hands on, and tools into, an iPhone 5 a day in advance of U.S. sales and reported back that the iPhone 5 is the most repairable iPhone in some time.
Apple has constructed just one side of the new iPhone-the display-out of glass, making it already 50 percent less likely to break than the iPhone 4 or 4S. The other part of that good news is that Apple changed the iPhone's construction to top-down. With the display now the first thing to deal with upon removing some screws-and here Apple lost iFixi repairability points, as it continues to use proprietary screws that require a special screwdriver-instead of the last, it's tremendously easier to replace and so should also save on labor costs.
The iPhone 4S, by comparison, requires 38 steps to get to the display assembly, according to iFixit.
The good news continues. The deeper the team delved into the device, Miro Djuric wrote in a Sept. 21 blog post, the more excited they got.
"The oft-broken and hard-to-repair home button now sports an integrated metal support bracket that should reduce the chance of failure, and the battery comes out just as easily as in last year's model."
Apple increased the size of the iPhone's display in its latest model to 4 inches, giving it also a perfect 16:9 aspect ratio. The iPhone 5 is also longer and slimmed down-it has hit adolescence, suggested iFixit-at now 7.6mm, which is 1.7mm thinner than the 4S, and 20 percent lighter than the 4S at now 3.95 ounces. A portion of this weight loss is attributable to the new back case that replaces the iPhone 4S's glass.
The weight of the entire rear case of the iPhone 5, iFixit found, is only slightly (and they mean really, really slightly) more than the glass rear panel of the 4S alone.
In addition to undoing Apple's handiwork, iFixit tested out a few things. First, the sapphire crystal that Apple paired with the iPhone 5's rear camera. Will it scratch? iFixit went at it with a pair of steel tweezers, to no effect.
"While this doesn't confirm that the protective cover is made from sapphire crystal, it does mean that it is quite hard and scratch-resistant," wrote Miro.
iFixit also rubbed away at the new black coating on the iPhone 5, which indeed does scuff away.
"We found that the side is pretty tough, but the chamfered edge can be susceptible to scuffing-making for a shiny streak on the side," Miro noted. "The moral of this story: be careful, or get a case. Or be free like the wind and just don't care."
Anyone who does majorly care about such things should be pointed to the Nokia Lumia lineup. The injection-molded polycarbonate plastic Nokia developed for these phones has been pretty unanimously celebrated for being unscratchable.
Pentalobe proprietary screws aside, iFixit found the iPhone 5 tremendously more fixable than its predecessors and awarded it a very respectable 7 out of 10. The iPhone 4 and 4S had received scores of 6 out of 10-generous, it seems, given those 38 steps required to reach the most-likely-to-break component.
"We [as consumers] have consistently voted for hardware that's thinner rather than upgradeable. But we have to draw a line in the sand somewhere," iFixit's Kyle Wiens, wrote in a June 14 blog post about the new MacBook Pro.
"Our purchasing decisions are telling Apple that we're happy to buy computers and watch them die on schedule," Wiens continued. "When we choose a short-lived laptop over a more robust model that's a quarter of an inch thicker, what does that say about our values?"
With the iPhone 5, Apple seems to have received the message and responded that it's possible to have the best of both worlds.