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Tech 911Tech 911Do you have a tech question keeping you up at night? We’d love to answer it! Email david.murphy@lifehacker.com with “Tech 911” in the subject line.

Nobody likes a broken phone screen—especially when you need to access something on your device, but can’t see your display at all. It’s a frustrating predicament, as Lifehacker reader Ayana explains in this week’s Tech 911 question:

I dropped my phone in the tub about 4 days ago now. I thought I saved it in time but the screen eventually started glitching and the screen went black. It’s still on … still rings… I hear my message notifications still going off… I just can’t see and my screen is still black. [Is] there a way to access my phone’s messages and call logs without having to do something with the other phone? 

It’s important to set up your phone before disaster strikes

This is a tough one, Ayana, because there are plenty of ways to do what you want to do. However, you’ll need to have set many of them up before you lost the ability to interact with your device. If you didn’t, you’re low on luck, and that’s the unfortunate byproduct of having devices that don’t necessarily sync your data to the cloud the minute you start using them. (This really should be the default option.)

You didn’t mention what platform you’re using, so I’ll give you some solutions for iOS and Android. If you’re on an iPhone, it’s incredibly easy to access your messages—assuming you’ve previously synchronized them to iCloud. Pull up another Apple device like an iPad or MacBook, make sure you’re logged into iCloud and synchronizing messages with iCloud, and you should be able to send and receive as if you were doing it from your iPhone itself.

Similarly, if you’ve previously connected your iPhone to a Mac and set up your iPhone as a trusted device, you should be able to access your device via Finder and make a quick backup. That won’t let you access your messages right now (you’d need a third-party app for that), but it will set you up to restore said messages on a new or fixed iPhone going forward.

If you don’t have any other Apple devices, you’re stuck. Apple doesn’t provide a web-based way to view your messages. And while some other third-party apps exist that could theoretically allow you to interact with Messages using, say, a Windows computer, you’d have to set them up on your iPhone as well. Since you can’t access it, that solution is out.

If none of these suggestions work, your best bet is to make a Genius Bar appointment and see what, if anything, Apple’s techs can do. I’d bring along your MacBook, if you have one, in the hopes that they can possibly get your device backed up before they fix or replace it. I’m not sure what they can do if you can’t authenticate into said iPhone, since the screen doesn’t work, but it’s worth a shot.

Going forward, make sure your device is regularly backing up to iCloud; if not, make sure you’re running regular backups. (The former is a lot easier to deal with than the latter.)

If you’re using an Android phone, there are different ways you could access your messages via the cloud, but you’d have to use a service that requires you to have previously set it up on your device. There are a lot of apps out there for this kind of thing, but they do you little good if they’re not already installed on your Android. For that very reason, I strongly recommend switching to Messages by Google, which at least would let you access your messages via a website going forward.

Similarly, if you previously enabled USB Debugging, you could even use a PC app like Scrcpy to view and control a connected Android. Regardless of whatever method you use to get into your phone, make sure you back it up (including your messages) so you can restore everything on a new (or fixed) device at a future point.

The best, universal fix for a phone with a broken screen

Whether you have an iPhone or an Android, you can try this slightly more expensive (and desperate) approach to accessing your device. You’ll basically need to get whatever combination of dongles, hubs, and cables you need to do the following:

  • Connect your phone to an external display (via HDMI)
  • Connect a USB mouse and keyboard to your phone

So, for an iPhone, you might look into getting something like this, which you’d connect to your iPhone, and then connect out to a TV (via HDMI) and a USB hub that itself has a keyboard and mouse connected. This might allow you to see your device’s screen and/or manipulate it with a mouse instead of your finger.

This is the approach I’d try if my phone’s screen was broken, but it will be a little costly. If your text messages aren’t worth that much to you, save this solution for last.


Do you have a tech question keeping you up at night? Tired of troubleshooting your Windows or Mac? Looking for advice on apps, browser extensions, or utilities to accomplish a particular task? Let us know! Tell us in the comments below or email david.murphy@lifehacker.com.



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