When we buy a gadget these days, we rarely assume that it will endure. We expect to play a video game console only for as long as companies make games for it. We expect to use a smartphone or a laptop for as long as the battery works or until it can no longer run important software. At some point, we feel that we must upgrade. We must have the latest and greatest camera. We must have apps that run faster. We must have brighter screens.
Here’s the thing: this is all the doing of marketing professionals. The reality is that consumer electronics, such as your phone, computer or tablet, can last for many years. It just takes some research to obtain tech that will endure. This will be increasingly important in a pandemic-induced recession, which has forced many of us to tighten our spending.
Strategically choosing tech with a longer shelf life is not intuitive. It involves assessing how easy or not it is to repair a particular product and determining when it makes sense to invest more money. Here are some questions to consider.
Is it easy to repair?
The next time you shop for an electronic product, try this exercise: before you buy it, find out whether you or a professional can easily fix it. If it’s too difficult, make it a hard pass.
Vincent Lai, who works for the Fixers’ Collective, a social club in New York, US, that repairs aging devices, offered several approaches to assessing whether a gadget can be straightforwardly fixed.
- Consult iFixit, a website that offers instructions on gadget repairs. For some products, the site tears apart gadgets and does an analysis on its ease of repair. Apple’s iPhone SE, for example, has a repairability score of 6 out of 10, so it could be a device worth considering.
- Check if local technicians can service the device. Plenty of technicians have the ability to service popular phones like iPhones and Samsung Galaxy devices. But if you want to buy a handset from a less popular brand such as OnePlus or Motorola, it’s worth calling around first to find out if anyone can fix it.
- Sometimes there are no local fixers but there may be enthusiasts who write their own guides that you can follow. While you probably can’t find someone to repair a Philips Sonicare electric toothbrush, there are instructions on how to service it on iFixit.
Is the battery replaceable?
One of the clearest indicators of a product’s durability is whether the batteries are replaceable. Gadgets that work without wires are powered by a lithium-ion battery, which can be charged only a finite number of times before it deteriorates.
Fortunately, most phones and laptops have batteries that can be replaced by professionals. But more compact products have components that are glued together and tightly sealed up, making their batteries impossible to replace. Wireless earphones like Apple’s AirPods and Bose’s QuietComfort 35 are examples of popular products with irreplaceable batteries. Once the batteries die, you have to buy a new pair.
So if you’re buying anything with a battery — including digital picture frames, wireless security cameras and Bluetooth speakers — first do a web search to see if the battery can be replaced.
Is it reliable?
Like household appliances, tech products have failure rates — the ratio of working to defective units. These rates can give you a sense of a brand’s reliability.
Consumer Reports, known for publishing reliability ratings for household appliances, compiles similar re-liability data for smartphones, laptops, tablets, TVs and printers by surveying subscribers who own the products.
People have more problems with products that have moving parts, such as printers, than with electronics TVs or tablets.
For phones, Apple and Samsung had strong reliability ratings.
Lai reads web forums like Reddit to see what people are saying about a product. If a large number of customers report problems with the device, he said, he steers clear.
Should I spend more?
Another rule of thumb is spending more on a product to make it last. It means investing in configurations that will make you happier in the long run, said Nick Guy, a writer for Wirecutter, a New York Times publication that tests products.
You could pay $329 for the base model of an iPad with 32GB of storage. But it’s probably a better idea to spend $429 on the model with 128GB of storage — that’s quadruple the capacity. In tech parlance, this strategy is known as “futureproofing”.
New York Times News Service