Repair vs. Replace: What To Do When Tech Breaks Down

By Tracey Dowdy

Over the past year I’ve had to replace both my laptop and my cell phone. I didn’t drop them, spill a drink or get infected with a virus, but my laptop was a dinosaur and the phone had defective hardware. In both cases I faced the dreaded question: “Repair or replace?”

My phone was still under warranty, so that was an easy fix but that wasn’t the case with my laptop. Like most people, I depend on my laptop for everything from social media to online banking, but more than that, my laptop pays my bills. I depend on it for work as much as play, so being without it for any length of time really wasn’t an option. And like most people, I don’t have stacks of cash cluttering my desk, so repair or replace had to factor in the cost of both. In the end the cost of repairs far outweighed the value of the computer and I decided to replace it.

As a general rule, if the cost of replacing the device is more than twice the cost of repairs, go ahead and fix it. The average cost to repair a cell phone is between $50 and $150, which is a bargain if you consider that a new iPhone 6 costs up to $500. For tablets, if the cost is under $200, it’s likely worth repairing. Technology maintenance company Lexicon Technologies recommends replacing desktops every 3 to 4 years, but is more circumspect when it comes to replacing laptops.

Aside from cost, there are other factors to consider when deciding whether you should pay for repairs or bite the bullet and purchase something new.

Cosmetic vs. Hardware Damage

A cracked screen on your cell phone may be annoying but may not impact the functionality of the device. When I cracked the screen on my iPhone, I had a plastic screen protector in place and although it was inconvenient and I couldn’t see everything as well as before, the phone itself worked perfectly. (As a side note, screen protectors aren’t really necessary anymore as most phone screens are made of scratch resistant Gorilla glass. However that thin film of plastic bought me time and kept the broken glass in place until I get the screen replaced.) It’s usually worth the $30-$50 to replace the glass, especially if you don’t have an “upgrade anytime” plan or your contract has more than a year left before you can get a replacement.

On the other hand, if had dropped my phone into the pool or the ocean, water damage would have been likely and you would be looking at replacing rather than repairing. My husband dove into a pool with his phone in his pocket and we were sure the phone was toast. But after 3 days he could turn the phone on with no apparent damage to the operating system and it served him well for another 2 years. However, that’s the exception, not the rule. SIM cards survive water damage better than phones, so if your phone takes a bath, take the card out, pat it dry, and leave it to air dry further.

How Old Is the Technology?

Sometimes the cost of the repair plus the cost of a new operating system just isn’t worth it and if your phone or computer can’t support the latest upgrades, you are putting yourself at risk. For example, Windows XP and Office 2003 are considered “out of support” by Microsoft, meaning they no longer offer technical support or security updates. Considering how much of your life is accessible online, using outdated software is akin to leaving your house keys in the front door with a Vegas style marquee inviting everyone in.

Time to Combine Devices

Something else to consider is whether it’s time to combine your devices: If your flip phone doesn’t let you text anymore and your clunky desktop takes forever to open a Word document, it’s time to skip the repair and upgrade your devices.

Depending on how you use technology on a daily basis, a smartphone that combines phone, text, camera and access to the Web may be enough. For me, each device plays a different role: I work off my laptop, read and play on my tablet and, ahem, live on my smartphone. My life and lifestyle are fully integrated with technology.

I recognize that for someone who never uses a phone for anything except phone calls, a feature phone may be enough. My mother isn’t Instagramming, checking her bank account or taking selfies; in her situation a basic phone and her tablet are all she needs.

Take stock of your needs and how connected you want or need to be. Consider the cost, the learning curve involved with new devices and the immediacy of the need. But don’t wait until one of your devices dies. Evaluate where you are now, do some research, familiarize yourself with what warranties are still active and where you are in your service contracts. Then, when the inevitable happens and your device breaks down, you won’t feel rushed into making a decision.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

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