Repair Shops Are Stoked That the Samsung Galaxy S8 Is the Most Fragile Phone Ever Made
Smartphone repair companies are expecting to fix a lot of those beautiful, cracked Infinity Screens.
The Samsung Galaxy S8 is expensive, popular, and fragile. Its parts can also be sourced relatively inexpensively, which means that third party repair companies are salivating over the prospect of you fumbling the phone and bringing it to them for a screen repair.
"The price point is good, the repairability is there," Justin Carroll, owner of the Richmond, Virginia-based Fruit Fixed smartphone repair shop told me. "Durability-wise, it's definitely going to break, no question about that."
Soon after its release, electronics insurance company SquareTrade put Samsung's new flagship phone through its breakability test, a series of drops, dunks, and tumbles. It was deemed the most breakable phone of all time: "S8 is the first phone we've tested that's cracked on the first drop on ALL sides," SquareTrade wrote in a video demonstrating the drops.
There's an obvious reason for this, of course. The S8 is made almost entirely of glass, and has barely any top or bottom bezel, which is why the phone is marketed as having an "infinity screen." The upshot here is that screen replacements on the Galaxy S8 are cheaper than the Galaxy S7 was at release, and the prices figure to come down even further quite quickly.
Repair store owners like Carroll were surprised that early wholesale prices for replacement screens from China are hovering just above $200, which is between $50 and $100 cheaper than Galaxy S7 screens were at launch and much cheaper than the roughly $300 repair companies were paying for iPhone 7 replacement screens at launch. The Galaxy S8 retails for $750, so it's generally worth it to get the phone repaired rather than buy a new one.
"It's low for an OLED panel in a new flagship, especially for new screen tech like the Infinity Display," Kev Notton, founder of San Diego-based RepairMapr, an upcoming diagnosis tool that repair shops can use to annotate their repairs.
Ideally, you'd hope that Samsung would make a screen less prone to breaking, but besides that, it's good news for everyone. If they meet the sidewalk at the proper angle or enough time, all phones will break; all you can hope for is that it's cost-effective to repair the phone if that happens. The Galaxy S8 already has its predecessors—and many other Android phones—beat on that account. The S7 and S7 Edge were both incredibly hard to source parts for and difficult to repair.
Generally, Android phones are more expensive to get repaired because the fragmentation of the platform means there's no incentive for repair companies to buy parts in bulk. iPhones generally hold their value longer than Android phones as well. Many smartphone repair stores don't bother with anything but the most popular Android phones.
Carroll says the ultimate goal for any independent repair shop is to get the price of a screen replacement below $200—the price that most smartphone insurance deductibles cost.
"If we can get repair price under $200 you take away all of the value insurance has," he said. "The only thing insurance can usually beat us on price point. If they can't do that, then there's no reason to have it."
Aftermarket Chinese smartphone parts manufacturers operate in a grey market—many aftermarket parts are made by factories that supply original manufacturers, others are OEM parts that were rejected for some reason, others are recycled or refurbished, and others are true aftermarket parts that are reverse engineered or made using stolen schematics (manufacturers would call these "counterfeit" parts).
Aftermarket and replacement part pricing is a function of global supply chain economics, so it's tough to figure out why S8 screens are cheaper than expected, but Carroll has a couple theories.
He suspects that Apple may switch from an LCD to LED displays on the next iPhone, which would bring overall prices of LED displays down due to economies of scale.
The generally high cost of S7 and S7 Edge replacement screen replacements may have also turned some people off from purchasing Samsung phones—if you crack your screen and have to pay $500 to get it replaced and have few retail options for getting it repaired, you may skip the phone altogether for something more sensible. And so Samsung may also be less inclined to go after aftermarket parts manufacturers because there may be an inherent market advantage to making phones that are easy to repair.
"It could be Apple coming to the market, it could be Samsung realizing that it's a good thing to have your phone able to be repaired, so maybe they're making it easier for the parts to hit the market," he said. "Probably a little of each of those things."
Either way, there are already some unlucky people out there who already need their screens replaced: "We had a call within 24 hours of the phone being released," Carroll said. "But we're going to consistently see them in our shops within a month, I'd say."