While-you-wait smartphone repair shops on the rise in South Florida

For South Floridians who can't bear a day without their cell phones, a new industry is springing up that allows users to maintain that essential – and constant – mobile link to work, family and friends: While-you-wait phone repair services.

A growing number of independent shops allow the phone-addicted to drop off their ailing, broken or malfunctioning phones, eliminating the hassle and time of mailing them to service centers. In some cases, customers can wait while the work is done and be out the door with functioning phones without missing a Tweet.

"A lot of people want their phones back the same day," said Miguel Jarquin, owner of Cell Phone Tech in Davie. Jarquin, a former AT&T business account executive who opened his business in January, can complete most jobs within 40 minutes.

uBreakiFix, an Orlando-based small electronics repair company started in 2009 by two high school pals, now has 18 stores nationwide, including four in South Florida. The company hopes to expand to 30 by year's end. Co-owner Justin Wetherill said uBreak fixes about 4,000 to 5,000 phones monthly, as well as iPods, video games and laptops.

Jarquin plans to open a second store in Miami in September called One Repair Stop, partnering with another business that refurbishes video game consoles and other gaming devices. "In some cases, a repair can save you hundreds of dollars" on the cost of a new item, he said.

The rise of while-you-wait repair shops shows how attached consumers have become to their phones, said Paul Eng, a senior web editor at Consumer Reports who has covered electronics for 20 years. "You want to believe there is some place out there that can fix your baby," Eng said. "But sometimes, the truth is that it's a piece of electronics and it's gone. Buy another."

Consumer Reports, in its latest issue, suggests generally it's wiser to replace rather than repair if the fix costs more than half the price of a new product. That is particularly true with electronics, the report said, as prices have been dropping steadily in some categories.

Users with newer model expensive smart phones or many months left on their carrier contracts might opt for fixing, experts say. The choice also depends on the price of the repair, which can range widely. uBreak charges around $10 for a software malfunction up to to $149 for a phone with a broken screen and water damage.

Another consideration: While-you-wait repair shops also may not work for consumers who purchased insurance coverage for their phones, since they must use authorized repair centers.

Cell Phone Tech services start at around $35, Jarquin said. He charges $135 to repair an iPhone 4 screen and LCD display. The Apple list price for a 32-gigabyte iPhone 4 is $299.

Both companies offer a 90-day warranty on repairs.

Trevor Misisco, an Apple computer consultant, found himself at uBreak's Boca Raton store when he unsuccessfully tried to fix his wife's iPhone 4 screen after she dropped and broke it.

Within a few minutes, Misisco said the uBreak technicians finished the job and even gave him a discount because he already had done much of the work. "If I had to do it again, I would just give them the phone first thing and tell them to fix it," he said. "I would not recommend anyone try taking apart their own phone."

When faced with a blank or shattered phone screen, consumers should take a deep breath and do the math before deciding to pay for cell CPR, Eng said. Check out what warranty coverage you might have, what replacement deal your carrier might offer, and how much your deductible is if you have insurance.

See if you can buy a used phone compatible with your plan, or borrow a one that a friend or relative isn't using, Eng said. Or explore ways to patch together your old mobile until your contract runs out.

When Eng discovered replacing a charging port in his smart phone would cost more than $100, he decided instead to buy a second battery that could be charged outside the phone. "I have to swap batteries all the time, and I lost some functionalities, but it works," he said.