What with everything that’s going on, it might not be all that easy for you to get your gadgets repaired at the moment—but should a keyboard fail, or a screen crack, all might not be lost. There are a number of useful tricks and hacks you can use to keep your hardware operational until you’re able to get it properly fixed.
If your laptop trackpad or computer mouse has broken, the keyboard can do a passable job as a replacement—you just need to know which keys to hit. Having a full-sized keyboard helps, as you get keys like the Page Up and Page Down keys, for quickly scrolling through websites and documents.
We can’t cover every shortcut here, but Alt+Tab (Cmd+Tab on a Mac) switches between open programs, for example, Tab (and Shift+Tab) jumps between fields and web links, and you can navigate open tabs in most web browsers by holding down Ctrl (Cmd on a Mac) and tapping the number key for the tab you want to go to. There are plenty more shortcuts for Windows and macOS.
The numerical keypad, if your keyboard has one, can double up as a mouse or trackpad. From Windows Settings, choose Ease of Access then Mouse, and turn the Control your mouse with a keypad toggle switch to On. If you’re on a Mac, from System Preferences choose Accessibility, Pointer Control and Alternative Control Methods, then tick the box marked Enable Mouse Keys.
Maybe your mouse or trackpad is working fine, and it’s the keyboard (or some of the keys on it) that are faulty. One of the ways you can tackle this is by getting a software keyboard up on screen—from Windows Settings it’s Ease of Access, Keyboard and Use the On-Screen Keyboard; from macOS System Preferences it’s Accessibility, Keyboard, Accessibility Keyboard, and Enable Accessibility Keyboard.
An on-screen keyboard isn’t ideal, but it might just help you get by. You can also control your computer fairly well with your voice these days, especially on macOS: You need to tick the Enable Voice Control box under Accessibility and Voice Control in System Preferences. Apple has a full list of the commands you can use.
Windows has something similar—it’s not quite as comprehensive, but it gets the job done. From the main Settings pane, select Ease of Access, then Speech, then Turn on Speech Recognition. You’ll be taken through a wizard that helps your computer recognize your voice. For a list of supported voice commands, see this Microsoft support document.
Sort of an obvious one, but worth mentioning anyway: If your laptop screen dies, you can route the display output to an external monitor, if you’ve got a spare one lying around (or you can borrow one from someone else).
Both Windows and macOS will let you duplicate what’s on the built-in laptop display and display everything to the external monitor: In Windows you need to find the Multiple displays section under Display from Settings, and in macOS tick the Mirror Displays option under Displays and Arrangement in System Preferences.
For those of you on a MacBook, there is another option if you’ve got a spare iPad to hand: You can set it up as a secondary display using the Sidecar feature built into macOS. If both devices are using the same Apple ID and have wifi and Bluetooth turned on, the iPad should appear automatically when you click on the AirPlay icon on the macOS menu bar.
We’ll be honest: It’s almost impossible to use a phone where you can’t see anything at all on the screen, and we don’t really have any magic tricks for you as far as that scenario goes. However, if just parts of the display are dead or not responding to your touch, then you can turn to the built-in voice assistants to get stuff done.
You can use Siri, Google Assistant or Bixby to send text messages, compose emails from scratch, or play music from your phone, for example—we can’t give you a full list of all the available voice commands, but you’ll be able to guess most of them without too much difficulty. If a particular function that you need is missing, such as the ability to send a tweet with your voice, you might be able to use IFTTT (If This Then That) to create a custom command.
Remember that phone-computer integration is better than ever: If you’ve got a laptop that your phone is connected to, you can use the computer to send messages, make calls and so on. Look at tools such as the Your Phone utility built into Windows 10, or WhatsApp on the web, or everything that iOS and macOS can do together.
iPhones have a feature called AssistiveTouch, which is designed to help people who can’t hold and operate a phone in the standard way. It also doubles up as a handy on-screen shortcut if one or more of the buttons on your phone are broken—it lets you lock the screen, change the volume, go to the Home screen, and more.
To bring up this floating circle, open Settings then choose Accessibility, Touch, and AssistiveTouch. As well as using the default options that appear on the shortcut, you can set up your own custom actions as well—options for opening menus, launching Siri, taking screenshots and so on.
The nearest equivalent that Android has is the Accessibility Menu, which you can enable via Accessibility in Settings. You need to swipe up with two fingers from the bottom of the screen to see the menu, which lets you adjust the volume, turn off the phone, launch the Google Assistant, lock the screen and more with just a single tap.
You might need to get a bit creative to work your way around some faults. If the speakers on your phone or laptop are bust, remember you can connect headphones, hook up a Bluetooth speaker, or turn on closed captions so you can at least understand what’s being said (if you’ve got a Pixel, you can use Android’s new Live Caption feature via the Accessibility menu in Settings).
The Bluetooth speaker trick works for smart speakers as well: If you can’t make out what your Echo or Nest Mini is saying because of a faulty component, you can hook it up to another speaker via Bluetooth (assuming you have a spare Bluetooth speaker of course). Open up the Alexa app or the Google Home app on your phone to make the connection.
Sometimes your gadgets will be well and truly bust—in which case you’ll need to wait for the repair shop to reopen—but don’t give up on them without a bit of thought and effort, even if you can’t use them in exactly the same way as you did before.