Ranked: The Best and Worst Gadgets for Repairability

by Elizabeth Jardim

July 5, 2017

Looking to reduce e-waste in your life? Use our new product guide to find out which best-selling smartphones, tablets, and laptops are quick and easy to repair — and which are destined for the dumpster.

Smartphone Repair Workshop

A smartphone being taken apart at a repair workshop hosted by Greenpeace Germany.

© Sonja Och / Greenpeace

In partnership with iFixit, Greenpeace recently assessed over 40 different electronics devices to determine how easy (or impossible!) it is to repair them. Of the 44 smartphones, tablets and laptops assessed we found a few best-in-class products, which show that designing for repairability is possible.

On the other hand, a number of products are being built in ways that make it difficult for users, even repair professionals, to fix — thus shortening the lifespan of these devices and quickening the pace they transform from this year’s latest thing into unwanted e-waste.

Here’s What We Found

(Want even more details on gadget repairability and which companies are helping to reduce e-waste? Read full product guide here.)

Smartphones:

Good: The Fairphone 2 smartphone scores 10 out of 10 for its modular design and the fact that users can easily replace commonly failing parts, like the battery and display, without even having to use tools! And of course, Fairphone makes repair manuals available to all and sells spare parts on its website. Xiaomi gets an honorable mention in for its Redmi Note 3 smartphone, which earns 8 points.

Bad: LG’s G6 smartphone scores 5 points, a major downgrade from it’s predecessor the G5, which earned 8 points thanks to its modular battery. LG’s latest smartphone is housed in glass, secured with lots of glue, which means the risk of cracks is high, but the ease of opening the device for repairs is low.

 Ugly: Samsung’s Galaxy S8 smartphone gets only 4 points. The company does not provide repair manuals or spare parts, a particular offense in the case of the S8, which is housed almost entirely in glass. In fact, this “glass sandwich” has been deemed the most fragile phone in breakability tests. The complex curved design of the display and heavy use of adhesive means that accessing the inside of the phone is tedious, and in the process of doing so, you could easily crack the display (if it isn’t cracked already).

Tablets:

Good: HP’s Elite x2 tablet is another top scorer, thanks to its construction with standard screws and no adhesive. This makes repairs quick, simple and less sticky! Acer, Amazon, and LG all earn an honorable mention for tablets that score 8 points for repair.

Bad: Huawei’s MediaPad T2 7.0 tablet earns 6 points. The challenge with fixing this tablet is avoiding more damage in the process of repairing it. This could happen because the battery is held in place with excessive adhesive and prying out the battery risks damaging the back of the display. On the plus side, Huawei uses only standard Phillips screws in this device (the same is not the case for Huawei’s P9 smartphone, unfortunately.)

Ugly: Microsoft’s Surface Pro 5 tablet is among the lowest scoring of all devices assessed, earning only 1 point. The display and battery, two components which often need replacing, are held in place with strong adhesive, making their removal a hazardous chore. Only one device scores lower than the Surface tablet, and it’s Microsoft’s latest Surface laptop–with a whopping zero points.

Laptops:

Good: Dell’s Latitude E5270 laptop gets full marks and the company provides spare parts and repair manuals. All parts that commonly fail, such as the battery, trackpad buttons, display, and keyboard are easy to access and replace, and upgrading the memory is a piece of cake. HP’s EliteBook also scores top marks, and LG and Samsung both have laptops which earn 9 points, showing these companies know how to design repairable products, they just don’t design their smartphones that way.  

Ugly: With only 1 point out of 10, Apple’s Retina MacBook is a textbook case of how NOT to design a product for repairability and upgradeability. By using proprietary pentalobe screws Apple ensures that only those with special tools can get into the device. Upgrading the device’s memory or hard drive is impossible, as both are soldered to the motherboard.

Our assessment shows enormous potential for improving the repairability of electronic products and for giving users the option to easily and affordably get their devices repaired to extend their lifespans.

Making devices that last longer is the most significant step that electronics brands can take to reduce the various environmental impacts associated with electronics manufacturing–from the extraction of virgin raw materials, through to the hazardous chemicals and the large amounts of energy used in manufacturing.  Devices that can be easily disassembled for repair are also easier to disassemble for refurbishment or recycling.  

IT companies listen to their customers’ concerns. It’s up to us users of these gadgets to demand longer lasting products. Join our campaign calling on Apple, Samsung and LG to make repairable, longer lasting products!

Elizabeth Jardim

By Elizabeth Jardim

Elizabeth Jardim is a corporate campaigner for Greenpeace USA. Her work is focused on pushing the IT sector to adopt renewable energy and more sustainable manufacturing practices.

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