To Repair the Essential Phone, You Need to Literally Freeze It

iFixit gave the device a 1 out of 10 repairability score.
September 5, 2017, 5:18pm
Image: iFixit

The PH-1, better known as the Essential Phone, was arguably one of the most hyped new phones in years. Created by Essential, a reportedly billion-dollar company led by Android cofounder Andy Rubin, the device was anticipated all summer. But when it was finally released in August, it got mixed reviews. Reviewers say the camera is lackluster, it doesn't have a headphone jack, and it isn't water-resistant. Now, iFixit has shown that the Essential Phone is also a nightmare to repair.


In a teardown posted Tuesday, iFixit's team shows how hard it is to remove the Essential Phone's glass display. In order to get the job done, iFixit had to freeze it using Super Cold Spray, an aerosol spray designed to cool electronics down to -60 degrees Fahrenheit.

"Normally when dealing with an unknown/stubborn adhesive, we'll either try a solvent, or heat it to soften it and make it easier to separate," a spokesperson from iFixit told me in an email. "In the case of the Essential Phone, we had zero success with heat and we couldn't open up a gap large enough to try any solvent. But getting it very cold makes the adhesive brittle and causes the materials to contract a bit, which makes it easier to break up. We didn't have to freeze the whole phone, but we did have to ice the surface down with a spray refrigerant to make any headway on the adhesive."

One additional problem is that the phone's USB-C port is soldered directly to the motherboard. That means if it breaks—a common problem in other phones—you'll need to shell out for a pricy micro-soldering job or replace the whole motherboard (which could cost even more). "We are disappointed," the iFixit team wrote.

The teardown isn't all bad: iFixit gave the Essential Phone points for being modular (right now the only official accessory available is a 360 degree camera). "Modular smartphone systems have yet to to take off, but it's an idea we can appreciate—the environmental toll of clipping on a hot new camera module is a lot lower than upgrading your whole phone," iFixit said in the teardown.

The PH-1 also got points for having a battery attached with stretch-release adhesive—which is the most friendly for repairs. iPhone batteries are also attached using this type of adhesive. But the battery is really difficult to access—so it's still pretty hard to replace.

Lastly, the Essential Phone earned some repair credibility by having standard screws. To the extent that they're used, all of the screws are Phillips/JIS fasteners. That's a big plus compared to the iPhone, which requires a special pentalobe screwdriver to open.

Overall, the Essential Phone earned a dismal 1 out of 10 on the iFixit repairability scale. The iPhone 7 Plus, for comparison, received a 7 out of 10. Essential did not return a request for comment in time for publication.

"Nearly invisible seams and copious amounts of adhesive means any attempt at repair is likely to inflict as much damage as it fixes," the iFixit team wrote.