Pixel 3a Screen Replacement

I was very impressed by iFixit’s Pixel 3a Screen Replacement kit, but naturally I bought it for a reason. I have a Pixel 3a with a shattered screen I wanted to fix by following their instructions.

Well, “shattered” might be going a bit too far but it was definitely broken well beyond just “cracked”. Amazingly enough, the phone still ran in this state. As we can see here, the display works just fine. However, touch responsiveness isn’t great on account of all the cracks running throughout the screen. There are several scattered dead spots. Inconveniently, a few dead spots were where the keyboard would live which makes it a challenge to put in WiFi passwords and such. (* one workaround below)

I turned the screen off and chose a camera angle so my workbench light could highlight the damage.

Near the bottom of the screen, small bits are missing allowing us to see the phone internals within. Given this damage, I was amazed touch input still worked at all. My first order of business was to remove this impressively damaged screen. A suction cup was included in the iFixit kit to grab onto glass, but it could not get a good seal on this screen: too many cracks let in air and ruin the suction.

Backup plan: use tweezers to pick at little pieces of glass.

That was enough to open up an entry point for the Wankel rotor-shaped pick.

At certain locations, putting too much stress would damage the optically clear resin bonding the touch digitizer glass to the OLED screen. Bubbles would form, and the bonding is no longer optically clear. This would be a concern if I wanted to reuse this screen, but due to that same resin I could not.

It took me roughly half an hour of painstaking work to free the old screen from the adhesive holding it down all around the phone. Occasionally the “pain” is literal as small shards of glass stabbed into my hand. Fortunately, no blood was drawn.

Once removed and laid down as per iFixit guide, I could compare the original module with the new replacement. This is necessary because there may be small components that need transferring, and the list is not definitive because little accessories vary depending on supplier whim. In similar repairs, we frequently need to replace the speaker mesh. Fortunately my replacement module already has a mesh in place so I was spared that task. However, there’s a light gray piece of plastic surrounding the front-facing camera that I would have to transfer over.

After doing that comparison, I unplugged the old screen and plugged in the new one. I wanted to be sure the new screen will work before I roll up my sleeve for the tedious work of cleaning up.

If the new screen didn’t work, I didn’t want to waste my time on annoying tasks. Cleaning up remaining shards of glass, wipe up dirt, and my least favorite part of working with modern electronics: scraping off gummy bits of adhesive.

Once most of the adhesive was cleaned up (as much as I had patience for) I transferred this light gray piece of plastic camera surround. Then I followed the iFixit guide for applying custom-cut piece of new adhesive and installed the new screen in its home.

Left: a stack of plastic backings to protect adhesives and glass surfaces. Center: the old screen in one large and many small pieces. Right: the repaired phone with its shiny new intact screen!

I shall celebrate with a sticker from the iFixit repair kit. As much as I loved this success, I wished it didn’t have to be expensive as it was. I blame the design decision to bond touch digitizer and OLED display.

(*) One way to get an Android phone on WiFi when the touchscreen is too erratic to let us enter a WiFi password:

  1. Take another Android phone on the same WiFi network we want to get on.
  2. Tap its WiFi connection to reach “Network Details” screen.
  3. Tap “Share” to generate a QR code.
  4. Scan QR code from erratic phone.

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