My criticisms of hardware based on planned obsolescence

I have grown increasingly concerned about the move to planned obsolescence in ICT devices. Here are some of the observations that I recently posted in the comments section of three hardware reviews at Anandtech, which reflect those concerns. Finally, I include an online debate I had about the relative merits of an Apple iPhone vs an Android phone, where I point out Apple’s policy of planned obsolescence.

The HTC 10 Review
amosbatto – Wednesday, September 21, 2016 – link

This review (and every other review I have ever read) doesn’t cover the most important issue, which is the longevity of the phone. Here are the issues which I suggest that a review should cover:

1. We all know that the battery will die after 2 years. Every phone which has a replaceable battery should automatically get a higher rating, just because it will probably last longer than one which doesn’t. If a phone has a sealed case, the reviewer should try to open the case and give readers an idea how hard it will be to replace the battery. If the case is glued together, if the battery is glued to the case or if it is impossible to buy replacement batteries on the internet, then the review should let us know.

2. Reviews should emphasize the amount of storage space a phone has and how expandable the phone is, because this has a big impact on how long the phone will last. If a phone is limited to 32 gigabytes of storage, then the phone will probably not last more than 2 years, because people tend to buy new phones once they run out of space. Trying to decide what apps to uninstall, what music to remove, what photos to delete, etc. is such a painful process, that many people simply buy a new phone. Reviews should really knock phones which don’t have a MicroSD slot to expand storage and I would love to see some benchmarking on the difference in speed between the internal NAND and a normal MicroSD.

Frankly, I wish that smartphone manufacturers would offer us phones with two MicroSD slots, where one is used to expand the storage for apps on the phone and the second is the memory that we can remove to transfer files to our PC.

Another thing that reviews should cover is how hard is it insert and extract a MicroSD card. On my HTC Sensation from 2011, it was very easy to pop the MicroSD card in and out of the computer, but it can’t be done without a special tool on my Moto X Pure Edition. Not a single review ever covers how hard it is to insert and extract the MicroSD card, but this is essential information for people like me who intend to keep their phones for many years.

3. Every review should mention how good the manufacturer is about offering security updates and OS upgrades to its phones, which are essential for extending the life of the phone. HTC has an excellent track record of offering fast updates when a new version of Android is released, whereas Samsung does not. Every review comparing an HTC phone to a Samsung phone should mention this difference, because it will influence the buying decisions of people who care about the longevity of their phones.

4. Another way to extend the life of a phone is to install an OS that doesn’t come from the manufacturer. If the manufacturer stops offering upgrades, then we have the freedom to install CyanogenMod or another mod to get the new features in the latest version of Android. No review ever covers how hard it is to unlock the bootloader and install a mod in the phone, but this is essential information for a phone buyer who wants to be able to keep upgrading the phone. Does the manufacturer offer for free the code to unlock the bootloader and does it have a policy of voiding the warranty if a mod is installed? Five years ago when I bought my Sensation, HTC had the best mod policies in the industry, but I have no idea who is best today and this review didn’t mention it.

Another piece of essential information is how standard the hardware is and how likely mods will be developed for the phone. For example, the SoC on the HTC 10 is a standard Qualcomm Snapdragon 820, so it is highly likely that mods will be made for this phone, whereas it is highly unlikely that mods will ever be created for a custom SoC made by Huawei, Samsung or Apple. Yes, that custom SoC probably processes a couple milliseconds faster, but frankly most people will never notice the difference.

5. Another way to extend the life of a phone is to turn it into a PC. I frankly don’t see the point of buying a flagship phone like the HTC 10 which costs $600, but I might consider it if I know that it can be used as a low cost PC. Kudos to this review for at least mentioning that the HTC 10 supports Slimline and Android 7, but it doesn’t explain why that is important. The phone has the necessary hardware and software to be hooked up to a monitor and bluetooth keyboard and mouse, so it can be used as a PC with multiple windows and a mouse pointer. I would have loved to read a review about how well this works with the HTC 10.

Reviewers spend an inordinate amount of time covering differences in processing speed and other minutiae which most people will never notice when using a phone, but they don’t provide the most essential information to help people choose phones with long lifespans. Part of the reason is that reviewers are the type of people who get a new phone every year, so they don’t worry about the battery wearing out. However, I think a more important factor is that fact that sites like AnandTech rely on advertising from the same manufacturers who they are reviewing. Manufacturers of smartphones and other electronic devices promote planned obsolescence as a way to increase their sales. A reviewer who dwells too much on the fact that a phone is designed to be thrown away after two years probably won’t get much advertising and is unlikely to get free samples to review.

Apple has always had some of the worst policies in the industry in terms of planned obsolescence, but within the last 5 years the entire phone industry has started to copy Apple in designing sealed black boxes which are difficult to open and even harder to fix. Yet, I have not seen a single review of the iPhone 7 or any of the other recent smartphones which even mentions how hard it is to fix the phone or even replace the battery. If the reviewers don’t mention it, then consumers won’t think to check and the phone industry will conclude that consumers don’t want fixable and modifiable phones, so they will offer more and more Apple-like devices.

Extending the life of smartphones is not just a way to save consumers money. One of the biggest ecological problems on the planet is the fact that 1.5 billion smartphones will be manufactured this year and most of them will be junked within 2 years. More smartphones are manufactured today than all the other ICT devices combined (servers, routers, desktop and notebook PCs, tablets, gaming consoles, cameras, televisions and advanced wearables). The amount of energy, metals and other vital resources which are wasted every year in making throwaway devices is astounding. If we estimate that the average smartphone and its charger weighs 150 grams, that means we are generating 225,000 metric tons of eventual e-waste every year, which is toxic and needs special treatment.

Even more alarming is the amount of greenhouse gas emissions being generated to manufacture all these smartphones. Apple estimates that 83.6 kg of CO2-equivalent were emitted to manufacture and transport its iPhone 6 to point of sale, whereas using an iPhone for a year emits 3.5 kg CO2-e and recycling it at the end of its life emits 1.0 kg CO2-e. Of course, Apple didn’t include all the energy to operate the cell towers, internet servers and routers, etc. that are used by an iPhone, but manufacturing a smartphone clearly has far more environmental impact than using it, so the best way to lower the environmental impact is to make the phone last as long as possible in order to avoid manufacturing a new phone.

Apple does not explain how it calculates its emissions, but it is highly likely that Apple did not include the SF6 which was emitted in manufacturing its screens or all the other types of greenhouse gases which often get overlooked. It also probably doesn’t include in its emissions all the advanced processing to make the ultrapure chemicals, water and gases which are used in silicon and flat screen fabs. Today’s crop of smartphones probably have an even higher environmental impact, considering that they are using larger screens, more memory and more processing cores than the iPhone 6, which had a 4.7in screen, 1 GB of RAM and 2 processing cores. Now-a-days, 5-6in screens, 2-4GB of RAM and 4-8 processing cores are the norm, so we can conservatively estimate that manufacturing today’s smartphone will emit 100 kg CO2-e. For the 1.5 billion smartphones produced in 2016, that means 150,000 metric tons of CO2-e.

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga Review: OLED and LCD Tested

amosbatto – Wednesday, October 05, 2016 – link

Let’s talk about the longevity of this device. How hard is it to open the case and replace the parts? You didn’t even bother to mention in the review that the battery is sealed in the case, which is very important when it dies after 2 years of use. Is it soldered or glued inside, or is it designed to be replaced? Is the keyboard a user replaceable part? Is the RAM soldered on the motherboard? Does the SSD use a standard connector? This is the essential information that determines whether a laptop lasts 5 years or 2 years and it is never included in any review.

I just bought a Thinkpad T450s and I replaced the screen and added more RAM. The lid of the T450s is too thin to protect the screen in a fall in my opinion. The case is extremely hard to open without a plastic spudger and I marred the plastic because I only had a flat-head screw driver. Reviews used to open up laptops, but now we seem to live in a world where every device is designed for planned obsolescence.

These are important questions because the fabrication of a new laptop emits between 200 and 400 kg of CO2-equivalent. Between 60%-80% of the total energy of a laptop lies in its initial fabrication and the majority of its greenhouse gas emissions and other types of pollution are also caused by the fabrication. The best way to reduce the environmental impact is to use a device as long as possible and avoid new fabrication. I would appreciate reviews which at least give me some idea of the longevity of a device.

Another think that I would appreciate is some mention of the environmental hazards of its contents. Does it use PVC plastic and phthalates? Does it contain brominated flame retardants in the casing and motherboard? Does the screen contain arsenic? Does the manufacturer have a take-back policy, so the device can be easily recycled? For me, these are far more important questions when I buy a laptop than whether this device scores 5% better on some CPU test. I will never notice the incremental difference in the speed of the CPU, but I care whether I am being exposed to chemicals that may effect my hormones and could give my child a birth defect. Why do review sites like Anandtech never talk about whether the power cord on a laptop contains phthalates or not?

Review of the HP Spectre (mid-2016 model)

This silly quest to chase Apple and be the thinnest laptop means that the HP Spectre doesn’t have proper cooling, a big enough battery, or any ports compatible with my existing hardware (USB Type-A, HDMI or an SD card reader), so I have to buy expensive adapters. I can’t find an ifixit teardown for this model, but I bet it held together with lots of glue and is almost impossible to fix or upgrade. I can understand being light because it easier to carry, but there is no point in getting this thin. It is just as easy to hold a laptop which is 0.7″ thick as on which is 0.4″. I own a Thinkpad T450s, which weighs 3.26lbs, but that extra 0.8 lb allows it to have standard ports (DisplayPort, VGA, 3 USB, SD/MMC card reader, ethernet, docking port), fingerprint reader, good cooling with a quiet fan, a 14.1″ screen, a fantastic keyboard, a free RAM slot, a 2.5″ SATA HHD/SDD, a free M.2 slot for SSD/Wireless upgrade, and MILSPEC testing. In other words, for 0.8 lbs more, you get a real PC, that can be fixed and upgraded and is designed to last 5 years. It may not be as stylish as this piece of planned obsolescence from HP, but a PC is a tool, not a fashion statement. Plus, I care too much about the environment to buy a PC whose manufacture generates 250-350 kg of CO2-e and is likely to end up as e-waste after 2 years of use, because it not designed to be opened and fixed/upgraded.

Galaxy Note 7 Owners: Which Phone Do You Get Now? We Have Some Options

Angryenglish

You guys banging the Apple drum need to realize that some of us think iOS is a locked down boring system, iPhones in my opinion offer nothing over any Android or any of the $399 mid rangers. You’re paying for the Apple moniker most of the time with 90% if it’s user base clueless to what’s inside.

Apple to you us great but Pixel is over priced junk

Apple to me us severely overpriced junk with its dated screens, not even full HD on the regular non plus iPhone

Peevee Angryenglish

“You guys banging the Apple drum need to realize that some of us think iOS is a locked down boring system”

So are Androids on most phones, including Samsungs.

“iPhones in my opinion offer nothing over any Android or any of the $399 mid rangers.”

Wrong, iPhone 7 Plus offers a whole lot of advantages over Note 7 and the rest of $400 and $900 Android phones, including:
1) faster real life performance
2) faster OS updates (over anything except MAYBE Pixel), meaning up-to-date security
3) longer duration of OS updates, 3 years at least of full OS updates, plus minor updates for security – vs 1 update (issued 6-9 months too late) at most for so-called “premium” Android phones and 2 years for Pixel
4) 3D touch
5) Apple stores with immediate support, including replacement
6) dual camera
7) CHECKED !!! App store, without 90% of free (and even many paid) apps being spyware or even Trojans for botnets. I cannot stress this enough! Most people who haven;t programmed for both have NO CLUE.
8) EVERY 3rd party device imaginable (including now CARS) is produced and specifically tested and optimized for iPhones. There are too many Androids to test them all.
9) Compatibility with Apple-only software like Facetime and iMessage. You can contact your friends on WhatsApp or Hangouts (who uses it yet?) from iPhone, but you cannot contact your friends on Facetime and iMessage from Android.

Remember, I AM NOT AN APPLE FANBOY, I use and used for years Nexus phones and tablets ONLY. Because I am a geek and know how to deal with all the spyware (although it is tiring). But I would NEVER buy an Android for my daughter.

Unlike all the other Android junk like Samsung, Nexus phones had more or less timely OS updates and no junkware slowing it down, AND had decent value.

This year everything has changed, Pixel is not a decent value anymore and is not better than Chinese phones with the same Qualcomm 820/821, while Apple speeding up ahead. It makes no sense anymore in terms of value, while offering NONE of iPhone’s advantages.

Amos BattoPeevee

Since we are listing the “advantages” of Apple, let me list the reasons why not to buy Apple:

  1. Apple is the biggest promoter of planned obsolescence in the industry. It was the first company to make an MP3 player without an removable battery (first iPod in 2001). The first to make a phone without a removable battery, which was both glued and soldered (first iPhone in 2007). The first to make a laptop with the RAM soldered on the motherboard, the battery sealed in the case and a custom SSD adapter (first Macbook Air in 2008). The first to glue the battery to the case (1st gen iPhone in 2007, 4th gen. iPod Touch in 2010, 2nd gen iPad in 2011, Macbook Pro Retina in 2012). The first to fuse the front glass to the LCD and have a glass back (iPhone 4 in 2010). First to design special screws so their cases can’t be opened without a special pentalobe screwdriver.
  2. There is no equivalent to CyanogenMod, so you are totally dependent upon Apple and its walled garden. You can loose your warranty by jailbreaking, but you can’t fundamentally change the walled garden controlled by Apple.
  3. You have to pay for apps in iOS, which you can get for free, and iOS apps generally cost more than Android apps.
  4. There is no expanding the memory, because Apple doesn’t include an SD Card, so you are likely to buy an new iPhone sooner once you run out of space.
  5. For half the cost of an iPhone, you get an Android phone with higher resolution screen and a camera with more megapixels, and an SD Card that can be expanded up to 256GB. Android phones with a dual lens were available 2 years before the iPhone 7 Plus.

Yes, that Apple A10 processor is better than the Snapdragon 821, but 99% of people will never notice the difference, whereas they might care about all the other things I listed above. Of course, if you care about style and brand recognition, then stick with your iPhone, because you will be much happier.

PeeveeAmos Batto

“There is no expanding the memory, because Apple doesn’t include an SD Card”

Neither does Pixel, any previous Nexus or pretty much any “premium” Android phone nowadays. And anyway, microSD is way too slow compared to modern flash, and absolutely unnecessary when all music and movies are streamed anyway.

Amos Battopeevee

I have benchmarked my 128GB MicroSD Card which cost me $30. (Note that to get 128GB on an iPhone, you have to pay $100 extra dollars.) The read speeds of my MicroSD Card are around half the read speed of the NAND flash on the motherboard of my Moto X Pure Edition, but the write speeds are around 10MB/s, which is about a quarter of the write speed of the internal memory. Since I mostly store photos and maps for OpenStreetMap on it, I don’t notice the difference, however, I tried using it as normal memory (which is an option in Android) and the speed is slower, but acceptable for running programs, so I have no fear of ever having to get rid of my phone for lack of memory.

However, the new USF cards are going to eliminate most of the difference in speeds between internal and external memory. Another thing to keep in mind is that the prices of external memory will keep dropping and the size keep growing, so I can expect to upgrade to a 512GB MicroSD card in two years.

As for your point that Google and OnePlus are copying Apple in not including a MicroSD card, I have the choice to not buy from those manufacturers with Android. With Apple, you don’t have any choice, because there are only two models available and neither offer a memory expansion card. I don’t like being trapped with no options.

PeeveeAmos Batto

“Yes, that Apple A10 processor is better than the Snapdragon 821, but 99% of people will never notice the difference”

Or yes they will. Smartphones are too slow at simple stuff like starting apps or even switching between apps yet. Not to notice the difference response needs to be below 0.1s, it is about 0.5s or more on Androids. Missed frames when scrolling etc like on Samsung junk is also noticeable. Low frame rates and low battery life in games because they use QHD for no reason when even FHD on a fking PHONE (not 65″ TV!) is huge overkill. QHD has DOUBLE the pixels, meaning its uses DOUBLE of fill rate of GPU, memory and power per frame. While nobody can see a difference without a microscope with calibration for measurement!

Amos Battopeevee

I agree that there is no reason for the qHD screen resolution which I have on my Moto X Pure Edition. Over 300 ppi is just wasting processing power and decreasing battery life. In that respect Apple made a better design decision. However, I can find plenty of Android phones with a p720 screen if I want one. Also, the qHD screen never causes my phone to stutter, and I’m using a Snapdragon 808, which was last year’s second tier processor. Of course, I’m running CyanogenMod 13, which is a leaner OS. I also never noticed any stutter using Motorola’s OS (which is close to stock Android). Maybe I would see some stutter if I used Samsung’s TouchWiz, but I deliberately buy hardware which allows me to install custom Mods, so that I don’t depend on any one company to decide how I can use my phone.

Basically, it comes down to a choice whether you want to be trapped in a walled garden or not. I prefer the freedom to look over the walls and jump over them once in a while. I like to be able to fix my hardware. I like to be able to install a different OS. I bought my phone for $210 on eBay. If you like to pay 3 times as much for a similar phone from Apple, but with less freedom, then nobody is stopping you. Honestly, I haven’t played with a recent iPhone to really compare functionality, so it might be better. However, I want longevity, fixability, configurability and freedom in a phone, and the iPhone is not a good phone by those measures. I also care about my digital rights and privacy. On that score, Apple appears slightly better than Google, but with Android, I have the freedom to install a custom mod that doesn’t give any of my data to Google, whereas you can’t with iOS.

I am one of the developers of SimiDic, which is a dictionary app for indigenous languages, which runs in both Android and iOS. With the Android version, we have instructions on how to install the app if you don’t have an internet connection or an account in the Google Play Store (which often happens when you are out in the countryside where indigenous languages are spoken). With iOS, we didn’t even bother trying to explain how to install our app if you don’t have an App Store account and an internet connection. Several times, people in Bolivia and Peru have asked me to help them install our app in their iPods and iPads, because they don’t have a credit card to set up an App Store account. In the Andes, most people don’t own credit cards. After passing 2 hours learning how to jailbreak the iDevice and sideload our app, I want to scream in frustration. It is so easy to manually install an app in Android.

When my friends have a problem with their phones, they often bring them to me and ask me if I can fix them. When they bring me an iPhone, I shake my head and tell them that I can’t even open the case because I don’t have one of Apple’s pentalobe screwdrivers and I can’t get one in Bolivia. I can’t just go online and order one from ifixit.org, because they don’t deliver in Bolivia. Maybe I can order online from China and wait 6 weeks for delivery.

Now maybe you live in the 1st World and you have a credit card so you can create an account at the App Store without any problem, but most of the world doesn’t. When you have a problem with your iDevice, maybe you can afford to pay for Apple Care, but most of the world can’t.

PeeveeAmos Batto

“1. Apple is the biggest promoter of planned obsolescence in the
industry. It was the first company to make an MP3 player without an
removable battery (first iPod in 2001). The first to make a phone
without a removable battery, which was both glued and soldered (first
iPhone in 2007). The first to make a laptop with the RAM soldered on the
motherboard, the battery sealed in the case and a custom SSD adapter
(first Macbook Air in 2008). The first to glue the battery to the case”

And now EVERYBODY is doing it, so the reasons are not valid anymore. TODAY. Yes, there were reasons for me to buy Nexus phones in the years past. NOT ANYMORE – that is my point.

“2. There is no equivalent to CyanogenMod”

I never ever used CM on any of my Nexus phones or tablets, I do not want important hardware dependent features to stop working and not having timely updates (because Google _now_ withholds new Android builds from AOSP for too long). I never saw a point, just like 99.9999% of phone users. I and almost everybody else want a good, fast, convenient, secure smartphone, not a toy to play with unofficial builds with various levels of broken functionality and security. I have more than enough tech troubles in my day job to want the same in my phone.

Amos Battopeevee4 days ago

Yes, most of the world has started to copy Apple, which is a very bad thing for our environment. However, there are still some high-end Android phones like the LG G5, LG V20, LG V10 and Fairphone 2 which are designed for fixability and durability. We don’t want to reward companies for promoting planned obsolescence, which is what you are doing when you buy Apple. Instead, you should consider one of these phones: http://www.androidauthority.co…

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