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iPhone CPR: What to Do When Your Handset Goes Swimming

By Jesse Herman MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Nov 8, 2011 5:00 AM PT

My first impression of the iPhone 4S was that it does not perform well in water, and the screen shatters easily, just like the iPhone 4. This is unfortunate because I knew this to be true but decided to find out the hard way on the morning of the phone's release.

iPhone CPR: What to Do When Your Handset Goes Swimming

The original idea was to break it in some sort of "launch" into the air. But when my dad told me he was going fishing, somebody thought it would be a good idea to cast the iPhone 4S into the Atlantic Ocean. I remember thinking, "Well, that would be cool if we captured the video and got the phone to work again."

That would be cool, but reality proved to be a bit crueler.

Real Life Situations

Water-damaged phones can typically be fixed if corrosion is the issue. A phone gets fried sometimes when it is on and wet at the same time. This is why it is very important to power the phone off and remove the battery ASAP.

Knowing this, I still decided to go to the beach without the needed pentacle star torx screw driver to open the phone and remove the battery. The reality is that nobody walks around with the special torx screwdriver in their hip pocket.

So while we did not follow the best methods for saving a phone, we did manage to emulate a more real-life scenario where somebody has their phone on and it gets wet.

When the phone was reeled back in, after what turned out to be an impressive cast into the ocean, the iPhone 4S came back completely powered off. My hope was that it would actually still be on, with the video recorder running, and I could power it off right away. This dream was stupid or ignorant at best, and I clearly have more experience fixing these phones rather than breaking them.

When we were walking the phone back (it probably took about five to 10 minutes), the light flash turned on and stayed on. This was distressing, because obviously the phone was still on and we could not remove the battery. When I say "distressing," what I mean is I was freaking out and annoying people around me. The phone was very hot at this point.

If I had not been closer to our place I would have busted the back screen and removed the battery that way. Looking back, that would have been the smart move, because we ended up doing that anyways.

Can't Swim, Can't Fly

Once we opened the back case and turned the phone off we went ahead and looked at the motherboard. There were multiple black marks, indicating that indeed it was fried in a few spots to some degree. The most glaring mark was where the LCD connected to the motherboard. Knowing this, we decided to toss the iPhone 4S on the concrete to show it can still break. It does break in the same way that the iPhone 4 breaks. The design looks cool, but with glass sitting on the top and bottom of the phone, the iPhone 4S is as fragile as any iPhone before. Any iPhone 4S owner that does not buy a protective case it rolling the dice, and Apple always ends up winning.

After our UltraSonic water damage treatment, which knocks off all corrosion safely and gently, the phone actually booted up, though the only video we could watch was the footage we shot before we cast it into the ocean. We bought a new LCD/Digitizer assembly to replace the old part, but still the picture would not show. This was a bummer, but not a surprise at all, because the motherboard was in rough shape, especially where the LCD connected.

When someone calls and asks if their phone can be saved, I usually ask them "Did you power it off right away? Did you remove the battery right away? Did you wait until it was dry to turn it back on?" If they say "yes" to these questions then there is a good chance your phone only has corrosion and can be saved. If they say "no, I messed around with it for a little while," I tell them you never know but your phone could be toast.

Sometimes it's good to follow your own advice and a little common sense.


Jesse Herman is a freelance writer and founder of the RepairLaunch repair services network.


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What should be the role of adaptive accessories, like Microsoft's Xbox Adaptive Controller, in video game competitions?
Anyone should be able to use them in any context, including in competitions.
Only people with physical limitations should be allowed to use them in competitions.
They should be banned entirely in competitions due to the potential for unfair advantage.
Their use should be limited to special competitions set up for gamers with disabilities.