Replacing the battery in my iPhone (10 minutes + 1 month)

I use an iPhone 4s as my main phone. While Apple still sells this model, as someone who has been using it for over two years, it has certainly started to show its age. In pre-iPhone days, when one’s battery invariably wore out, you could buy a new battery and swap it easily. In all its wisdom, Apple pretty much squashed that idea. It’s a compromise between being able to let consumers replace their own batteries, and having slimmer phones. Apple chose slimmer phones.

iPhone 4S - open with original battery
My iPhone 4s showing the original battery

If you’re asking why I still use an iPhone 4s, instead of an iPhone 5, iPhone 5c (just kidding), or iPhone 5s, it’s really quite simple. Nothing in the more recent iPhones has been particularly interesting to me. Sure, I want more screen space, but the amount extra in the iPhone 5 is not exactly going to change my world. Sure, I’d love a faster processor, but 90% of the time it’s really irrelevant to me. Touch ID is a nice gimmick right now, but not particularly useful. I believe Touch ID will become more useful in the future, but by then there will probably be a new iPhone anyways.

That said, it makes it a simple decision to wait for a newer model, that maybe will have an even bigger screen, an even faster processor, a more advanced Touch ID sensor, etc.

Envelope from China
Envelope from China

One thing I could not wait for, however, was a new battery. Batteries don’t last forever, and certainly smartphones that never get turned off are not the best environments for keeping batteries healthy. My battery was causing me all kinds of problems. Sometimes within an hour of getting up in the morning, my phone would die. Sometimes my phone would be over 80% charged and die anyways. Sometimes it would say it was at 1% charge, but last for a long time. Crazy annoying stuff. I found myself carrying around a mophie external battery all the time, to keep my phone topped off and to allow it to boot up when it shut off prematurely (and would say it had no charge when it was still over 80%).

Smartphone repair kit
“Smartphone” repair kit

The easiest option to replace the battery would be to go to one of the many phone repair shops/booths that have popped up everywhere. In my relatively small city, we have half a dozen at least, including I think 3 different ones in the local mall. I didn’t actually ask what it costs to replace a battery at any of these stores, but from past experience I would guess it would not be less than $50, and probably more. I don’t know what the local authorized Apple repair place would charge, but I would guess at least double. There are two big advantages to using a local phone repair store, which is their repair people are experienced opening up and repairing phones, and the turnabout is very quick. On the other hand, if I wanted to replace the battery myself it would take time to get the battery, and I’ve never opened up an iPhone before.

After watching a video or two online, and reading instructions I found at iFixit, I decided I could probably do the repair myself. I went online and found batteries for the iPhone 4s from a store I occasionally order from in China. It’s true I might have been able to find a local seller of iPhone 4s batteries, but they’d probably be expensive, and if I was going to do this myself, I figured I should try to keep it as inexpensive as possible. For about $6, including shipping, I was able to get an iPhone 4S battery shipped to me. I paid an extra $7 for an iPhone repair kit, from which I really only needed the pentalobe screwdriver to remove and replace the two screws on the bottom of the iPhone. Of course, if I ever need to open up an iPhone again, I still have the kit, so depending on your perspective it either cost me $6 or $13. Either way, it’s much cheaper than getting it done for me.

The only big downside was waiting for the package to arrive. In general, when ordering from China it usually takes a couple of weeks to get something. The battery happened to be backordered, however, and it ended up taking just over a month. As I waited several months before deciding to do this, it wasn’t that bad. I was already used to using my mophie battery pack regularly, which made using my phone possible.

3030mAh Battery
“3030mAh” Battery from China

The other downside, potentially, is the quality of the product. I have no idea if the battery is any good. Amazingly the battery advertises its capacity at 3030mAh. Let’s put that into perspective. The original battery capacity is 1430mAh. The latest iPhone 5s has a capacity of 1558mAh. The significantly larger yet-unreleased Samsung Galaxy S5 has a battery with a capacity of 2800 mAh. The battery I found online is marked as being 3030mAh.

My first response to seeing such a large capacity was either the company is lying about the capacity, or it’s going to melt my phone. However, like every other smartphone user who wants to eke out every extra minute of time on my battery, I decided that it was worth a shot. The same store also sold a battery with a 1430 mAh capacity, like the original one, but the price difference was a few pennies, and I might as well try for more than double my original capacity, right? In reality I don’t think the capacity is nearly that high, but I just hope the capacity of the 3030mAh is still better than the one labeled 1430mAh.

The package from China arrived today. First things first, I backed up my iPhone and copied all the photos and videos off of it. I figured there’s a more than tiny chance that I could destroy my phone. Then I opened up the iFixit instructions and skimmed them and the comments. I recommend always reading comments on pages like these, because different people run into different problems. One person, for example, tried to remove his battery with a screwdriver instead of the plastic pry tool as recommended, and short-circuited his logic board. Another person stripped one of the pentalobe screws that holds the phone together. These are good things to know about before jumping in and taking apart the phone.

iPhone 4s - open with new battery
My iPhone with the new battery installed

Taking apart the phone was actually a bit anti-climactic. Opening up the phone was simple. Removing the battery was mildly more difficult, as you need to remove 2 tiny screws, take out a small metal piece, and pry out the battery which is glued to the case. Putting in the new battery is just a reversal of those steps. Overall the whole thing took about 10 minutes. A month waiting for the battery, about 20 minutes making sure everything was properly backed up, and just 10 minutes to do the actually battery replacement.

After the battery was back in and the case put back together, I powered up the phone (with a bit of trepidation) and everything started up normally. The battery showed a charge of 18% and I plugged it into my mophie battery pack and let it charge up to 100% (I would have plugged it in to the wall or my computer, but I was running out the door).

So far so good. Do I believe the battery is really 3030mAh? No way. Do I really care? No. I just want it to work better than my original battery. If it just works as my battery did when I bought the phone, that will be good enough. Almost anything is better than what I was going through before I replaced the battery.

Might I have gotten a better battery if I had it replaced through the official Apple repair shop here in Israel (a half hour drive and a week or two turnaround)? Sure. Would the battery have been any better if I had used one of the low-cost repair shops in town? Maybe. Maybe not. For $6, this seemed the right move. We’ll see how the battery preforms over time.

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