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Replace a Dying iPhone 5 Battery

iPhone batteries generally last long enough that charging once a day is sufficient. But when I upgraded my iPhone 5 to iOS 7, my iPhone started shutting down when I tried to use it with 20–30 percent battery life left (“Four Problems with iOS 7: Crashing, Messages, Siri, and Audio,” 2 October 2013). The maddening problem had never occurred before installing the beta of iOS 7, and not only was I unable to avoid it with any of the usual advice for optimizing battery life, the crashes became more frequent in our increasingly cold weather, with the iPhone shutting down even with 50 or 60 percent battery life left. (iPhones work best from 32° to 95° F, or 0° to 35° C. With entire weeks where the outside temperature never exceeds the freezing point, and lots of winter sports, my iPhone was not a happy camper.) Clearly, it was time to do something.

Although the battery life was sufficient to get me through a day of normal usage if the iPhone didn’t crash, I decided the only solution remaining was a battery replacement. I had replaced the battery in my iPhone 4 when it stopped being able to hold a charge for an entire day, and the process outlined at iFixit was so easy (watch the video to see what I mean) that I figured I’d have no problem doing the same for my iPhone 5.

(If the mere concept of opening an iPhone fills you with dread, Apple will replace the battery for you, for $79, plus $6.95 shipping if you can’t go to an Apple store. That seems expensive to me, especially when iFixit charges $29.95 for the same battery plus the necessary tools. But, as you’ll see, that $50 difference might be worth the peace of mind. If you need to return it, start at the Service Answer Center for iPhone, select your country at the top, and then click Battery Replacement on the right side.)

So I ordered iFixit’s iPhone 5 Battery Replacement Fix Kit, and once it arrived, sat down with the full set of instructions and instruments. As is common with iFixit, the instructions were clear, thorough, and well illustrated, although they weren’t entirely forthcoming about how difficult it is to separate the display from the case. (The video was more up front about this.) I had to apply significant pressure, and when the clips finally released, I almost pulled the display’s cables out by force. That step, which hadn’t been required with the iPhone 4, was nerve-wracking.

Nothing else was quite as scary, but it was far from simple. Prying the old battery out of its adhesive bed was difficult, especially given the warnings about not breaking the logic board, and it took me several tries to reinstall the tiny screws, one of which wouldn’t cling to the magnetized tip of the screwdriver.

The real problem, though, was that the iFixit guide warned that it was difficult to reattach the LCD cable from the screen, and if it wasn’t properly affixed, the screen might stay black when powering the iPhone back on. On my first try, that’s exactly what happened — nothing appeared to happen once I reassembled the iPhone and tried to power it on. But here’s the problem — without the screen, there’s no way of knowing if the iPhone was on, and it’s a bad idea to open an active iPhone.

Without thinking it through sufficiently, I started to disassemble the iPhone again, figuring it would be easier the second time. It was, but not that much, and when I got the iPhone put back together again, the screen remained black. That’s when I realized that the new battery itself might simply be completely discharged, so I plugged the iPhone in, and after a minute or two it rewarded me with a dead battery display. So all was well, and my second effort, while likely unnecessary, hadn’t been on an active iPhone. After an hour or so, the battery was fully charged, and the iPhone has been entirely reliable since, even in cold weather.

Would I do this repair myself again? In retrospect, I think not — the chance of making a costly mistake was just too high, and far higher than with the iPhone 4. iFixit has a tool that’s not mentioned on the iPhone 5 replacement page — the iSclack — designed for opening the iPhone 5, 5s, and 5c safely; the latter two are even trickier to open. But adding its $24.95 price to the cost reduces the win over Apple’s $79 replacement unless you’re planning to use it more than once.


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Comments about Replace a Dying iPhone 5 Battery
(Comments are closed.)

And if you happen to live near an Apple Store, you won't have shipping to pay for.
I did this procedure to my iPhone 5 and managed to damage it. Essentially the front-facing FaceTime camera quit working and repeating the procedure and checking the ribbon cables didn't fix it. A replacement part also didn't work, so I am left to wonder if I damaged the connector on the board. The repair effort also separated the glass from the LCD (it is possible!).

I'd really recommend going to Apple for this even if you are experienced in repairs. Taking the screen off is really hair-raising, the screws tiny, and the cables/connectors fragile. It's not a design meant to be opened by the layperson.
Hey Adam. Timely article. I live in MN and am experiencing the exact same symptoms with my iPhone 5. Did the replacement help with the cold weather shutdowns?
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2014-03-06 06:38
I haven't tried using it while skiing yet (it would die after 20-30 minutes, even though it was in a pants pocket), but it was also dying in the car while playing a podcast, when it was in the single digits out (and not warm in, either). That has stopped - it's had no trouble operating in the car regardless of temperature outside.
Adam, I think this is a good article. But I'm more for supporting Apple than iFixit. All of their videos fail to disclaim about ESD damage, the "me-first" take apart is just about advertising traffic and that basically, they want to make a buck from those too cheap to get it repaired by Apple. When you are investing +$600 in a phone, an $80 battery is less than 10% to keep that phone working, and piece of mind. Apple's designs have never been technician-friendly so take it to an Apple store. (but beware that those stores also have arrogant, pudgy know-it-alls, whom will condescend you like an idiot...I know... visit the store in QBMall)
Pay me now, or pay me later, we say.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2014-03-06 06:49
I like iFixit's general attitude in the sense of demystifying technology, but I agree that the initial tear-downs are just promotional.

I do think it's a good thing to give people an option for DIY repair though. There are no Apple Stores within an hour of where I live, for instance, and I'd prefer not to be without my iPhone for several days while sending it in.

And while $80 isn't necessarily unreasonable for the parts and labor in this case, until you know that the labor is important, it's basically a comparison against $30 for a simple battery. (While the phone may cost $600 straight, it's only $200 out of pocket for most people, since the contract is necessary too.) In this case, I think the difficulty level was understated - it was rated at Moderate, just like the iPhone 4, which was trivially easy.

I wish iFixit had had a repair guide for the Garmin Forerunner 305 GPS watch; I had to replace its battery two years ago (an $80 replacement for a $300 watch that was already several years old), and it was a much, much harder job, complete with trying to source a battery with the right dimensions and soldering wires. The instructions I found were OK, but would have been improved by iFixit's system. That really taxed my minimal electronics skills and equipment.
Josh Centers  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2014-03-06 08:52
I was having terrible battery life after updating to iOS 7, but I did something a bit less drastic last weekend. Instead of cracking open my iPhone 5, I wiped the phone and started fresh. HUGE improvement to battery life and performance.
"and it’s a bad idea to open an active iPhone" Why beyond not wanting to unplug/plug cables in while powered up?
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2014-03-11 10:53
Depending on what components you touch with metal tools while inside the iPhone, you could short circuit something like, say, the logic board.