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Say hey to longlife tech that may problem our throwaway tradition | Shopper affairs

It is a behavior that has turn into ingrained in so many customers that you might be forgiven for pondering there was no different manner: dumping your previous and drained tech for a shinier mannequin yearly or two, shelling out a whole bunch of kilos within the course of.

However a brand new era of expertise is creeping into the mainstream that’s designed to upend this consumerist churn – units that may be taken aside, repaired and upgraded by the consumer, and never through an over-priced service.

As soon as area of interest, these telephones, headphones and laptops are vying for a similar prospects that purchase iPhones and Samsung units. And laws being pushed via the EU will finally drive even the massive manufacturers to supply extra repairable units. So is it time to make the soar now, or wait to spend later?

The Fairphone 4, which has replaceable parts you can change with a screwdriver.
The Fairphone 4, which has replaceable components you possibly can change with a screwdriver. {Photograph}: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian


One of many leaders of the repairable, upgradeable revolution is Dutch upstart Fairphone and its eponymous smartphone, which is now in its fourth era.

The Fairphone 4 is an Android-based system with all the standard options, together with water resistance, packed right into a barely chunky design that hides absolutely modular components.

This implies you possibly can pop the again off and alter the battery together with your fingernail, whereas every part else simply wants one small Phillips screwdriver. Fairphone even presents a five-year guarantee and goals to supply updates for as much as seven years.

The catch? It isn’t the quickest, the digital camera isn’t on the identical stage as a Pixel and, at £499, is dearer, spec-for-spec, than rivals.

There are cheaper options, corresponding to a handful of Nokia telephones costing about £120 and up, with user-replaceable components.

However they aren’t fairly as straightforward to repair because the Fairphone, and Nokia solely gives as much as three years of updates from launch.


Most computer systems was once modular and upgradeable, with customers in a position to swap out boards and playing cards to extend their energy. However someplace alongside the way in which, lately they’ve more and more turn into sealed bins.

However Framework, a US startup, has modified that with its now third-generation Laptop computer 13 and upcoming Laptop computer 16 gaming machine.

The Laptop computer 13 seems like an ordinary pocket book PC operating Home windows or Linux. However it’s designed to be simply taken aside with reminiscence, storage and wi-fi playing cards simply replaceable and upgradeable.

The ports on the perimeters may be simply modified, too. Plus there’s a DIY equipment do you have to need to construct an entire laptop from scratch at house.

Framework additionally gives processor improve kits, so, in concept, you might hold the identical laptop computer and simply hold altering processor bits to maintain you updated.

Construct-your-own desktops nonetheless exist, however Framework is the primary to take the area of interest upgradeable laptop computer in direction of the mainstream.

The catch, as with the Fairphone, is that the Framework 13 is barely dearer than equal rivals, beginning at £1,049. That’s about £200 further in comparison with Dell, Acer or others.


Outdoors a small band of high-end manufacturers, headphones have been a disposable commodity for many years. The addition of batteries for wi-fi fashions made the scenario worse by making waste much more poisonous. However there are answers.

Danish agency Aiaiai, which has been making modular headphones since 2010, means that you can simply swap completely different components, past simply the cable and ear cushions.

Its TMA-2 is available in completely different variants, together with a Bluetooth model, and a DIY version you set collectively your self. The headscarf, audio system, cushions and cables can all be modified, with spare components and refurbished bits available, plus a lifetime trade-in provide. The one factor they don’t provide is noise cancelling, and so they aren’t low cost at £200 for the Bluetooth variations.

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Another contender is Fairphone’s Fairbuds XL, a set of wireless, noise-cancelling headphones that you can completely take apart. The modules, including the battery, can be replaced by using just a fingernail.

At £219 they may not compete with high-end rivals on sound, but they offer a real alternative to Bose or Sony.

What else?

Beside these cutting-edge products, the big brands are also slowly improving the sustainability of mainstream products. Over the last five years there’s been a shift towards longer-lasting devices, with the best providing key software support for at least five years from a phone’s release.

Framework’s Laptop 13: designed to be taken apart.
Framework’s Laptop 13: designed to be taken apart. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The batteries are lasting longer, with many maintaining their useful life for in excess of 1,000 full charge cycles, or roughly five years’ charging, if done once every two days.

Battery life is the number one cause of phone replacements, according to data from market research company IDC, so progress here is essential. “Today’s phones are much more resistant to breaking than even five years ago,” says Francisco Jeronimo, IDC’s vice-president of devices analysis.

Another positive trend is the inclusion of more recycled materials. Apple, Google and Samsung all now include recycled plastics and metals in phones, tablets and other devices. All three also offer some degree of DIY repair, but nothing like the simplicity of products from the new generation of companies that focus on sustainability.

These slow, but needed, changes have been driven, in part, by increasing consumer awareness, with a growing percentage of buyers actively seeking out more sustainable, or longer-lasting, devices.

But it is the EU’s upcoming new rules on eco-design that will force the issue.

The overhaul of regulations for batteries, device durability, longevity and repairability will come into force in about 2027. They will ensure any device sold in the European market, and, by extension, probably any other market – including the UK – will have to be designed to be easier to repair, more durable, have much longer software support and user-replaceable batteries.

The big firms are likely to be able to make such design changes, but phones may become thicker and more expensive as a result.

Either way, the Android or Apple phone of 2027 may have a battery you can replace yourself with simple tools, be durable enough to survive drops and dunks in water, and be supported for as many as five years after the device is discontinued.

But the question is whether longer-lasting phones will stop yearly or biannual upgrades.

“Even if manufacturers could make a phone that lasts 10 years, consumers don’t want to keep them that long. They want them to last better in the first two to five years, but most want change, just like in the car market,” Jeronimo says.

If that is the case, the biggest boon may be in the secondhand phone market. A phone with a longer useful life has more value to a second or third owner, which is beneficial to wallet and the environment alike.

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