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Pinephone Screen Replacement

And the wonders of reparable hardware


I love the idea of taking apart my Pinephone.[0] The reparability aspect of the device is a major bonus for me, as when my last cheap phone broke I just ended up buying another one. On the other hand, actually taking apart my only daily driver phone and computer is more then a little intimidating. But due to my habit of dropping my phone on concrete surfaces from several feet in the air, my Pinephone's screen had a spiderweb of cracks across the top corners. Not to the point where the device was unusable, just annoying. Besides, my Pinephone's screen was starting to go anyway. Images would burn into the screen after a few minutes of being shown, and stick around faintly for another few minutes before fading away. So when I saw that a replacement screen was only 40 USD on Pine64's website, I jumped at the opportunity to get my hands dirty with some hardware work. Unexpectedly, my hands ended up dirtier then I thought.

pinephone with screen replaced

What I bought

I purchased the Pinephone replacement screen,[1] a soft protective case[2] to avoid these kinds of screen cracking incidents in the future, and a replacement mainboard[3] for one of my Pinephone keyboard cases. I fried the circuit in my first keyboard case about a month after purchase, but replacement parts for it weren't yet available. So I just bought another keyboard case because it was my only option as I use the case pretty much daily. I thought replacing the circuit would be a great opportunity to get some more hardware experience under my belt and have a fully functioning backup ppkb in case my other ppkb stopped functioning. More on this in another section.

pinephone screen cracked

Actually taking apart the device

I did very little research prior to purchasing the components to replace the screen. In the box, the screen came with a heat shielding sticker to lay underneath the battery and additional side keys. This was a nice addition as the volume down and power buttons were beginning to seem tired on the Pinephone I've been using for over a year and a half. Looking back, I would've also purchased an additional FPC cable[4] for connecting the USB-C side board with the mainboard.

This repair began like the other repair I've performed on my Pinephone. Back in December of 2021, about a month after receiving the device, the phone stopped detecting the modem on a hardware level. After talking with Pine64 support, they shipped me a new mainboard and I shipped the broken mainboard back. It was up to me to replace the mainboard, which I did with the help of the amazing Pine64 wiki[5] and Martijn's great video on the topic.[6] Anyway, I took off the shattered screen protector and back cover, and unscrewed the midframe. I managed to crack the midframe in 2 places in the process of removing the clips, which is less than ideal. 2 dots of super-glue later and all was well. After removing the mainboard just like in my previous repair, I realized that this would be more involved a process then I'd hoped.

pinephone with back cover removed

I needed to transfer not only the mainboard, but the USB-C side board, FPC cable, coaxial cable, earpiece speaker, proximity sensor gasket, and a mesh sticker near the headphone jack. The proximity sensor gasket and mesh sticker were easy enough, but I was less prepared for the others. I felt like I was performing delicate surgery on a device for which it would be costly and weeks of waiting if I managed to snap a connector or break a component. I delicately peeled the FPC cable and stuck it down on the new front panel, popped open the tiny connections on the coaxial cable and transferred it over, and pried up the glued down USB-C side board and earpiece speaker. After sticking everything on the new screen, connecting it all up, and putting on a new screen protector, I was ready to test.

Fortunately, testing the hardware components was uneventful. Using the postmarketOS factory test image,[7] most tests passed. I'm still not sure if the main speaker on my Pinephone is functional or not since I never really use it. Thankfully everything seems to be working well! I've updated the Pine64 wiki with more detailed instructions on replacing the screen based on my experience, and I hope that the steps I outlined there will be of use to others.

replacement screen internals

Advice to screen replacement attemters

It's not as scary as it looks, even for someone with minimal hardware experience. As long as you can follow along with a wiki, have about an hour and a little luck, you'll be fine. Had I bought an additional FPC cable, I wouldn't have needed to carefully peel it and the heat shielding sticker off the old screen frame and place them on the new one, saving me time and nerves when it comes to peeling up thin and fragile connectors. If you're worried about breaking the coax cable connections as well, you may want to purchase a spare. After all, the FPC cable and coaxial cables are each 1 USD on the Pine store. Test everything before snapping back on the midframe, just in case you missed a cable. It'll be a lot easier without needing to remove and replace the fragile midframe.

pinephone displaying right to repair wikipedia page

Pinephone keyboard case mainboard replacement

There's less to report here, as I haven't yet had the chance to test thoroughly whether the new mainboard works, but nevertheless I'll write a bit about it. Separating the chassis of the ppkb was very difficult, and required a metal prying tool and the help of someone far more experienced than me. Apart from that, all I had to do was unscrew 7 or so screws and un-clip 4 connectors. I haven't yet put the chassis back together, because I want to test it first.

pinephone keyboard case with replacement mainboard installed

Repairing your own hardwre rocks

Replacing my Pinephone's screen today was such a cool experience. Not only was I able to tinker with my own hardware and learn and have fun while doing so, I was able to perform the repair on my own time for 40 USD + shipping, far cheaper than a repair shop. This reminds me just how important Right to Repair is, and how Pine64 does their part to uphold it by making replacement parts available for purchase. If you ever need to fix your phone or computer, I recommend giving repairing it yourself a try. You never know how much you'll learn!

pinephone with screen replaced next to old screen

Wrapping Up

If you're wondering how I managed to crack the screen, It fell out of my pocket while getting out of the car onto concrete while on my way to a practice test in early May. From there, I just kept dropping it. That being said, I'm not sure whether I'll continue using the soft protective case on my Pinephone. While I should in order to prevent these kinds of accidents in the future, it's a bit bulkier then I'm used to and because I'm using the LoRa back cover, the case is slightly too thin. I'll daily drive the case for a week or so and then decide. If I do end up using the case from now on, I'll move the magnetic sticker from under the LoRa cover to under the protective case so it sticks to the phone mount on my Nexdock better. That's about it for my Pinephone screen replacement experience, it was more involved then I expected but everything turned out well!