Having a broken cell phone is bad enough. Discovering your phone is toast just as you’re about to attend an important meeting, leave on an urgent trip, or call a client or colleague with critical information, can be anything from bothersome to disastrous.
Since most law schools still fail to offer courses in portable electronics repair and maintenance, and because many lawyers continue to believe Ohm’s Law is some type of real estate statute, it can be very useful to know what to do when a phone stops working.
Fortunately, one rarely needs any technical expertise to get a cell phone back onto its digital feet. Here’s a quick rundown on how to respond to six common dead phone situations.
Dark and Lifeless
Like the infamous dead parrot in the classic Monty Python sketch, sometimes a phone is so completely lifeless it wouldn’t “vroom if you put four thousand volts through it.”
A dead battery is the cause of most total phone failures. Even if the phone’s battery meter indicates a full charge, it may be committing a form of digital perjury. Try installing a fresh, fully charged battery (if possible) or charging the unit for at least an hour to see if the phone can be brought back to life.
If the phone is still unresponsive, try shaking it briskly to see if a loose connection is causing the problem. While shaking a phone back to life isn’t a permanent fix, and may alarm some bystanders, you might resuscitate the unit long enough to make that important call your career hinges on.
Sometimes, a phone appears to be fully operational in every respect except for it refusing to connect you to the person you’re dialing. This situation most often occurs when the cell site is overloaded. Yet there may also be other reasons why a call fails to complete, such as data corruption. Try redialing the number manually, since some type of glitch may have damaged the phone book entry.
There’s also a chance that the local cell site has lost its backhaul connection to the central network backbone. When this happens, you may still see a solid connection display on your phone even though the cell site itself is dead. If you’re dialing from inside a moving vehicle, or walking down a street, wait a few minutes until you enter a new cell and try redialing.
Another possibility is that a software glitch inside your phone is generating a deceptively strong signal reading. Try holding the phone in a new position, or moving a few feet in a one direction or another to see if that helps the call go through.
Can’t find your phone? There’s an app for that. Apple offers Find my iPhone, a free app that lets users locate their missing phone via another iOS device. The app shows the missing device’s location on a map. Users can also create a custom message to display on the missing phone’s screen, play a sound for two minutes at full volume (even if the device is set to silent), remotely lock the device and erase important data stored on the unit.
Android phone users can use a similar app, called Find My Phone, which costs 99 cents.
The typical cell phone is like a housecat: it hates to get wet. Yet this hasn’t stopped lawyers from dropping phones into sinks, punch bowls, hot tubs, swimming pools, lakes, lavatory fixtures and various other moisture-rich environments. A good spring downpour can also play havoc with a phone’s sensitive electronics.
So what do you do with a wet phone? Well, despite whatever you may have heard or read, you must resist the temptation to try drying the device inside a microwave oven (KABOOM!) or a conventional oven (do you smell that?). Using a hair dryer is also a bad idea, since the heat may melt components and the steady airflow can drive moisture deeper into the phone.
The first step in saving a wet phone is to resist the temptation to test it, since you may activate circuits that will short out and ruin the phone. Instead, when possible, pad the phone dry with paper or cloth towels. Move the phone as little as possible, since you don’t want to spill water into areas inside the device that may still be dry. Next, remove the SIM card and put it in a safe place, since the data it contains is probably more valuable than the phone itself.
Some phone repair experts recommend placing a wet phone inside a bowl of uncooked rice to sop up the moisture. Alternatively, if you have some silica gel packs handy, you can pack them and your phone into a sealed plastic case. The silica gel will gradually draw the moisture out of the phone. If you can’t use rice or silica gel packs, wrap the phone in some towels and leave it alone.
Whichever drying approach you use, wait 24 hours before testing your device (there is no fast way of saving a wet phone). If you’re lucky, the phone will turn on and function normally. If not, it’s time to ask your favorite phone dealer about the latest upgrade deals.
It’s not uncommon for a cell phone to heat up a little while charging or running a CPU-intensive app, but a phone that’s literally too hot to handle indicates a possible system problem. There also might be a problem with the phone’s Lithium-ion battery. If the phone has a replaceable battery, install a new battery and see if that fixes the problem. Resetting the phone to its original state (see the next entry) may also help solve the problem. If none of these approaches work, return the phone to its manufacturer for repair or replacement.
A cell phone may also temporarily overheat if it’s used in a hot location, such as outdoors in the summertime, or left inside a hot car. The device will usually return to normal operation once it’s brought into a cool room. Do not try to speed-cool the phone by placing it next to an air conditioner vent or inside a refrigerator, since an abrupt temperature change can damage sensitive internal components and perhaps even crack the phone’s case or display.
Following a Strange Act
Today’s smartphones have little in common with past-generation cell phones, which were essentially souped-up two-way radios. Modern smartphones are more like portable computers with built-in digital communications capabilities.
Like any computer, a smartphone will go a little crazy sometimes. Common symptoms exhibited by a loopy phone include lost calendar and contact information and apps that don’t work properly or repeatedly crash. If your phone exhibits any of these symptoms, it’s time for a system restart or reset.
To restart an iPhone, press and hold the unit’s “Sleep/Wake” button and the “Home” button simultaneously for at least 10 seconds, or until the Apple logo appears. If that doesn’t work, try restoring the unit to its original factory settings. To do this, go into iTunes, click on your iPhone’s icon, then click on “Restore” in the “Summary” tab.
To restart an Android phone, check your system’s documentation, since the process varies between different models. To reset an Android phone to its original settings, tap “Settings, Backup and Reset.” Tap “Factory Data Reset” and then tap “Reset Phone” at the bottom of the screen. Your phone will ask you for a password before you can select “Erase Everything.”