Technology

Guardian tech reviews in 2022: better repairable and longer lasting devices | Gadgets

Wwith a year filled with pressure on our wallets, comfort and climate, technology took a back seat in 2022. But change for the better is happening slowly as big tech companies wake up to the demands of consumers who want better, longer-lasting and more sustainable devices.

Trends established in the last few years continued to gain momentum. Recycled materials have become mainstream. Devices that contain at least some recycled plastic, metal or minerals are available in almost all categories. The range of materials being recycled is increasing – an important step towards a circular economy, even if it is very far from being fully realised.

A side effect of the tight economy was the acceleration of the device recycling trend. Exchange on new purchases exploded in availability as manufacturers and retailers tried to boost sales, often offering deep discounts in exchange for old units that would then be refurbished, resold or recycled to recover any residual value.

Changes in design to aid repair

The iPhone 14 and 14 Plus may look the same as previous versions on the outside, but on the inside they were redesigned for the better. Photo: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Ensuring devices stay in use as long as possible is the best option for both the planet and the wallet. People hold on to their phones for an average of 4.2 years, according to data from CCS Insight, making access to affordable and effective repair options essential.

Apple took a surprising step in the right direction this year. The outside of this year The iPhone 14 looked identical for previous models, but a new interior design allowing it to be opened from either the screen or the back. This makes common repairs such as replacing broken rear glass or the battery faster, easier and cheaper.

It is not quite the ideal modular, user-repairable design demonstrated by Fairphone 4 in 2021. But the move from Apple is a big deal because the iPhone sells in greater numbers than any other phone, and typically the industry follows where it goes.

A person taking apart an iPhone on a blue anti-static mat.
Disassembling a phone is challenging, but with enough skills, the right tools and spare parts, it can be done at home. Photo: Apple

Apple too expanded its do-it-yourself repair program to the UK and Europe in December. Disassembling an iPhone or Mac not recommended for beginners, but the move provides easier access to original spare parts and repair manuals for technicians. Apple still is using digital shutdown to inhibit unauthorized repairs so there is more work to do.

Also other manufacturers changes made to the aid repairs this year. Among them, Microsoft promised to provide service manuals and spare parts for its Surface laptops and tablets, and made some parts user upgradeable such as the solid state drive (SSD). Valve included easy access to authorized and do-it-yourself repair for his handheld gaming PC Steam tires, including spare parts, instructions for use and tools. In the meantime France repairability index continued to force the release of more official repair documentation from reluctant manufacturers.

Framework Laptop open on a wooden table.
The Framework Laptop looks like a regular notebook PC on the outside, but you can open it up for repair and upgrade components yourself, just like a desktop PC. Photo: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

One of the highlights of the year was Framework Laptop, which actually delivered on its promise of a notebook PC that you could take apart to not only repair, but upgrade yourself. Not only was the first version a surprisingly good laptop, the company kept its promise and provided components to upgrade its 11th generation Intel chips for the latest 12th generation models. Long may it continue.

However, true wireless earphones remain a low point. Many are excellent products which is extremely practical, durable and lasts a long time. But very, very few are repairable, which makes replacing their consumer batteries impossible and ultimately making them disposable. That’s especially disappointing given the volume in which they sell, with more than 252 million sold last year and 170 million in the first nine months of 2022, according to data from International Data Corporation’s (IDC) device tracker.

Devices that last longer

OnePlus 10T charging on a wooden table.
The battery in the OnePlus 10T can be charged in 19 minutes and will last up to 1,600 full charge cycles – more than twice that of regular cells – but its software support falls short. Photo: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

While hardware typically lasts longer – provided you don’t lose it – batteries still typically retain only 80% of their original capacity for around 500 charge cycles. This is why your phone’s battery life gets shorter towards the end of its second year.

Improving efficiency so you don’t have to charge the battery as often is one way to make it last longer. However, changing the design of the battery and implementing systems to maintain its health during charging can also prevent degradation for a longer period of time. OnePlus put a battery in the latest 10T that can hold at least 80% charge for 1,600 full cycles, effectively making the phone last for at least 6.5 years.

Unfortunately, the company only supports the 10T with four years of Android updates from release, meaning that while the hardware may be able to work for longer, the phone shouldn’t be used after August 2026 due to potential security issues.

Software support remains a particular problem for phones. While Apple, Google and Samsung provide at least five more years of security updates their high-end and mid-range phones, there are many more that limit themselves to as little as two years, which is pitiful. The longer a phone receives software support, the longer it can stay in circulation, even if that means with one second or third owner.

More efficient for the planet and wallet

Sky Stream box and remote control on a wooden table.
Modern devices such as the Sky Stream box are becoming more energy efficient, making them better for the planet and cheaper to run. Photo: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Efforts to improve the battery life of wearable devices have also had a knock-on effect on the efficiency of connected devices, as they typically use similar chips and technology.

Tasks that used to be demanding and require power-hungry processors can now be performed by cheaper, low-power chips. This generally means that more modern devices are more efficient and costs less to run. Cloud is new satellite-free Stream TV box is a good example that consumes a third of its power satellite-provided Sky Q box when watching television.

With the cost of living crisis putting the spotlight on energy consumption, this is a positive trend that will only continue.

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