What To Do When Your Phone Gets Smashed

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Even though Corning brags about the strength of its Gorilla Glass, more iPhones are brought in to the Apple Store for broken glass than anything else.

Broken iPhoneIt doesn’t matter that there are thick rubber, hard plastic, and even metal cases, phones still get smashed. From the most careful user to someone completely lackadaisical, smartphones take more abuse than a notebook and are lucky to live out their two-year contract.

So then what? Who do you call (when you get a replacement phone, that is) to get the data off your old phone?

Nature and the economy both abhor a vacuum, and there is a growing market for data-recovery firms. They started out dealing with 3.5-inch drives from PCs, and are now extending into the SSD flash drives in smartphones.

That’s why David McGroty, director of computer forensics at Flashback Data, is happy to take your money to recover data from your phone. But he also says be smart – starting with backups. There’s no excuse not to back up your phone anymore, he argues. Between vendor-provided backups like Apple’s iCloud and backup to the PC, to third parties like Dropbox or Microsoft SkyDrive, a mangled smartphone should not mean lost data.

“Often the issue is people don’t set those backup programs up,” said McGroty. “A phone can be real easy to use, so the person doesn’t take care of it. It never occurs to them that it’s something they should back up,” he said.

“People are not as careful with their data as they ought to be. A new version of iOS comes out and it asks to make a backup of your phone before upgrading and and people say ‘I don’t need that’. Then guess what happens,” he added.

“I’m a big fan of backing things up because we see so much of the effects when you don’t back things up. If you lose data collected over a long period of time [it] may not be reconstructed.”

And in almost all cases with phones, when the screen is damaged, there is no pulling data off the phone since you can’t interact with it. McGroty again stated that the best data recovery plan is a backup.

The alternative can get expensive. For phones and flash drives, it can run $150 to $500, depending on time and labor. For hard drives, it can start at $300 and run to thousands, depending on the severity of damage and the amount of data to be recovered.

Recovering data from SSD drives are a series of chips and companies like Flashback Data that have to read each NAND flash chip, hope the chip isn’t physically damaged, and then assemble all of that data. So it’s a very tedious process. As the drives get larger they get more complex to repair, costing time and money.

The good news is the screen is most likely to be damaged. “The flash memory is fairly protected. It’s surrounded by a bunch of other components. So it’s unlikely you will drop a phone and crack a chip. You are much more likely to drop a phone and break a screen,” said McGroty.

McGroty recommends hard casings to reduce shock transmitted to the phone. The damage they prevent around the edges and to the back is the easiest to occur. The most common problem he sees is people dropping a phone or laptop and then can’t power the device up or they can’t see anything due to a broken screen.

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