After paying hundreds of dollars for the tiny computer in your pocket, it can be nerve-wracking to find it won’t turn on—especially if it's no longer under warranty. After all, it's hard to be without a working smartphone in this day and age.
However, as tempting as it may be to declare your phone dead and panic-buy a new device, we think you should hold off. Here are a few troubleshooting steps you can go through to see if your iPhone or Android device still lives.
First, give your phone a good once-over. Did you drop the phone recently? Is the screen cracked or damaged? Is the battery swollen? (If so, do not attempt to turn the phone on—take it straight to a local e-waste facility instead.)
Is there any water damage? (You can check by looking inside the SIM card slot on both the iPhone and many Android devices.) If you find any hardware problems, you may need to replace the faulty component or take it into a repair shop.
It’s possible your phone may be working, but just has a damaged screen—I’ve seen dropped phones with pristine, un-cracked glass that couldn’t show a picture. Try turning your phone off by holding the power button, then turning it back on. See if you feel a vibration when it turns on.
You can also try invoking Siri or the Google Assistant. Or call your phone from another device. If you hear sounds but the screen is blank, the phone just needs a replacement display.
This may sound silly, but it’s possible your phone is just out of battery. Try plugging your phone into a charger—if the battery is truly drained, it won’t necessarily light up right away. Try leaving it plugged in for 15 to 30 minutes or so before turning it on.
If that doesn’t work, you could also have a damaged charger. Try a different cable, power bank, and wall outlet. Check the charging port, too—lint can easily get caught in there and prevent the pins from making contact. A toothpick can help dislodge any debris that may have accumulated in the port, at which point you can try charging the phone again.
If holding the power button didn’t allow you to turn your phone off or on again, you may need to perform a hard reset. On the iPhone, how you do this depends on your model:
Most Android phones are similar. On many Samsung phones, for example, you’ll need to hold both Volume Up and Volume Down along with the power button until the screen turns on. Refer to your device’s manual, or search for reset instructions, if you have trouble.
If your phone has a removable battery, you can also try pulling it out, waiting a few seconds, then putting the battery back in before turning the phone on normally.
If all else fails, you may have to completely wipe your phone and start from factory settings. (Hopefully you have a backup!) Doing this varies between manufacturers, but we can point you in the right direction.
If you have an iPhone, plug it into your computer using a USB cable, and open Finder (iTunes if you're using Windows or an older version of macOS). Hopefully, the phone icon will show up in the toolbar along the top—if not, perform the hard reset steps listed above while the device is plugged in to put it in Recovery Mode.
If the phone icon appears, click on it and select Restore iPhone to wipe it clean. If the phone doesn’t show up, skip to the next section.
If you have an Android phone, you’ll need to boot into Recovery Mode, which can vary from phone to phone. On my Samsung Galaxy S10e, for example, I need to hold the Volume Down, Bixby, and Power buttons for a few seconds until the recovery menu appears. On the Pixel 2, you need to hold down the Volume Down and Power buttons at the same time, then use the Volume buttons to select Recovery Mode.
Once in Recovery Mode, use the Volume buttons to scroll to Wipe Data/Factory Reset, and use the power button to select it. Again, search the web for your phone’s model if you have trouble finding this option.
If you can’t get Recovery Mode to work using the above instructions, you may need to enter a lower-level mode to flash the firmware from scratch.
On the iPhone, this is called DFU mode. You’ll need to plug your phone into your computer, open iTunes/Finder, and enter a slightly more complex series of button presses. It varies from phone to phone, so search for your specific model iPhone to see what you need to do. Ideally, once you do that, iTunes/Finder should prompt you restore the iPhone.
Flashing firmware on Android phones, again, varies too much from phone to phone for us to include all the instructions here. On Pixel phones, you can install the Android Debug Bridge on your PC, then download the firmware from Google and follow the instructions on that page.
Other phones may require their own specialized tools, and you’ll have to search how to flash new firmware from scratch on your specific device. Be warned, this can be very complex, so if you aren’t comfortable performing these steps, it’s probably best to bring your phone into a repair shop for some professional help.
If all else fails, it might be time to shell out for a new smartphone. Whether you're looking for Apple, Android, or even a simple feature phone, these are our top picks and our budget picks for everyone across the major US wireless carriers.