Smart phone security and DYI replacement screens

May 28, 2013

A just-released survey by Consumer Reports projects more than 7 million smart phone owners had a phone that was lost, stolen, or ruined in the last year.

You can panic if someone steals your smart phone. Who knows what they could do with that information? There are pictures, bank cards, and e-mail.

The Consumer Reports National Research Center finds that almost 40 percent of smart-phone users don't take actions to secure their phones, such as backing up their data or simply setting a screen lock.

Even if you do lock, experts say a tech-savvy thief can quickly crack certain four-digit passcodes. Consumer Reports says far safer: setting a longer code that includes letters and symbols. Android phones let you do it by going to Settings, but then each phone is a little different.

With iPhones it's even trickier. Under "Settings," tap "General" and "Passcode lock." Check that the "Simple passcode" is turned off. Then tap "Turn passcode on," and you can enter your longer passcode.

Consumer Reports says there are other smart phone security risks. For example, some apps ask for permission to do too much, including a simple flashlight app. It wants to know your location and information about your phone calls.

Consumer Reports found only one-third of those surveyed ever turn off location tracking. Some apps need to know your location to give directions, for example. But you don't need to have location tracking on all the time.

Malicious software isn't as common on your smart phone as on your computer. But the problem is growing, so Consumer Reports recommends getting your apps only from reputable sources.

Android users should stick with Amazon's Appstore or Google Play. For iPhone users, Apple's App Store is the only source for apps, and it's reputable, too.

Taking a few basic precautions can secure sensitive data. And kids need protection, too. The survey projects at least 5 million preteens have a smart phone of their own.


Cracked iPhone screen? There's an app for that! Well, not exactly. But there are online videos on how to fix a broken screen and move on!

Consumer Reports wanted to know how easy or tough the repair is. So one of its engineers ordered a replacement-screen repair kit for $30 and then watched a 30- minute tutorial video from He also wanted to see how others would do.

So he recruited people with various skill levels, including complete novices who aren't comfortable working with electronics.

Some of the Consumer Reports' volunteers breezed through the process. Others regretted the decision. There were lots of steps and lots of small parts and fragile pieces.

It took most of the panelists about an hour and a half to replace a cracked screen. But for the technically challenged—it took much longer!

In the end Consumer Reports repaired five iPhones using seven replacement screens. One screen was defective, and one screen broke in the process.

So Consumer Reports says if you're thinking about replacing an iPhone screen yourself, realize that it can save you some money, but it will probably cost you a fair amount of time and aggravation.

You can buy an insurance policy to cover damage to iPhones or buy Apple's extended warranty, called AppleCare+. But given the costs and caveats, Consumer Reports thinks neither offers good value. A better investment might be a phone case that wraps around the edge of your iPhone screen. Cases like that start at about $20.

Complete Ratings and recommendations on all kinds of products, including appliances, cars & trucks, and electronic gear, are available on Consumer Reports' website

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