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TechApril 5, 2021

What to do when your devices cake it

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Slow phone? Broken laptop? Don’t call it quits just yet.

Too old, too slow, too heavy. Cracked screen, flat battery, summer dip in the ocean. Sound familiar? If you’ve ever owned an electronic device, chances are you’ve had to deal with a breakdown at some stage, followed by the burning temptation to upgrade to something newer and better. The lifespan issue is a simple limitation of the tech that powers them, and it’s a fact of life given the pace at which they’ve been evolving.

At the singular level, the waste of energy and resources that comes with a binned electronic device is no big deal, but when the norm among a world of consumers is to replace devices every few years, it becomes problematic. I’m sure you’ve heard enough hoopla about consumerism, but the modern replace-don’t-repair mentality goes against the fundamental shift in thinking that is urgently needed to ensure a sustainable existence for our future.

Not to say the fault lies with the consumer – big tech has made replacement by far the easiest option since they want to sell you more stuff (that’s business, baby). With that said, there are steps we can all take as consumers to manage our collection of personal tech.

Extend the life of your kit

In today’s world you’d be forgiven for feeling like you absolutely need the latest and greatest, but take it from a 23-year-old whose daily driver is an iPhone that would be in school by now if it were human – your devices can last a lot longer than you expect if you take the right steps.

The author’s five-year-old phone and smartwatch, sitting atop some newer tech used for work (Photo: Supplied)

It starts when you decide you’re going to own an item for as long as reasonably possible. Rather than thinking “a couple of years would be a good run for us” think “we’re gonna grow old together babe.”

The second step is to suit up. Your significant other needs support in the way of a shock-absorbing case, or if it’s a big boi, a protective bag or sleeve. Personally, I’ve had good times with a standard Otterbox case for my phone, and I keep my laptop in a padded backpack. Once that’s sorted, you’re going to want to get a glass screen protector – this sacrificial pane will take the bullet instead of your phone’s screen when you inevitably drop it headfirst on the driveway.

Now that you’ve got a physical insurance policy, what next? Well, if your device is already a few years old, it might’ve lost some of its pizazz when it comes to battery performance. If you’ve noticed that you’re needing to keep a power bank around more and more, there’s a good chance you could benefit from having a replacement battery installed.

Here are some ways to learn more about the status of your device’s battery:

Assuming your device isn’t under warranty anymore and you’re confident the battery is on its way out, find a local repairer and see if a battery replacement is an option. If you go through an electronics retailer for the repair, don’t be talked into replacing the device – be clear that you want to repair it. Also, be prepared to bear the minor inconvenience of being without your device for anywhere between a few hours and a few days. If this sounds like an issue, ask if a loan device is available.

For reference, I managed to get about three-and-a-half years out of my iPhone 6s battery before I had Harvey Norman put a new one in at a cost of around $150, and I was without a smartphone for three hours.

When things aren’t looking so good

If you’re struggling to read this post through thousands of cracks in your phone screen, you’re probably tempted to just go to the shop and get a new one. But hold on: your boo’s got issues, but don’t we all? If it’s a hardware issue like a cracked screen, this is usually mended easily enough. Talk to a repair shop, but again, repairs can take time, so organise a loan device or whip out your old flip-phone for this one.

When in doubt, flip it out (Photo: Supplied)

If you’re a DIYer wanting to save on labour costs associated with repairs, there are options for you too. Sites like offer repair kits made for fixing certain issues with certain devices, and they usually come with video instructions on how to carry out each repair. For screen and battery replacements (and anything that involves opening up a smartphone) paying someone experienced to do the fixing is a lower risk option as many devices can be tricky to pull apart. At the end of the day, it comes down to how extreme you are. If you travel this road, make sure you drop the old parts at an e-waste facility.

Conversely, if the issue is that your device is slower or less responsive than you’re used to, maybe it’s time for a spring clean. You could try deleting apps you no longer use, getting rid of unwanted photos and videos, or resetting the device completely (tip: using iCloud or Google Photos to store your phone’s camera roll in the cloud is a great solution to ensure your device doesn’t get clogged up).

When shit really hits the fan

You had good intentions. You were diligently protected, you got the quotes for repairs and you cleaned up the digital mess. But ultimately, the thing’s as good as a brick at this point. Whether it’s water damage or obsolescence, sometimes it’s not meant to be forever.

The good news is even if you don’t hold funeral cover, there are options out there to see your old mate off in a respectful and responsible manner.

Just one family’s contribution to the mobile phone waste problem (Photo: Supplied)

A great option if you’re looking to claw back a few dollars to factory reset the device (if possible) and list it on Trade Me as a broken item. People buy broken devices so they can harvest them for parts and you might be surprised by how much people are willing to pay. However, I don’t recommend this route if you can’t delete personal data from the device first.

Otherwise, I’d encourage you to do some research to see whether the manufacturer of your device has a recycling program that you can use as a means of disposal, like this one by Apple.

If they don’t, there are e-waste heroes all around New Zealand who accept and recycle most electronic items either for free or for a small fee. In any case, wipe your data from the device before handing it over. If you’re getting rid of a mobile phone, check out RE:MOBILE’s map, or if it’s something else electronic, check out this map I created.

Now what?

If you’ve just said your goodbyes to a device, there’s no time to lose. You presumably need a new one to replace the old one, so it’s time to go shopping with longevity front of mind. This generally means buying the best quality you can afford – and researching the models you’re interested in for red flags in terms of reliability. Once you’re ready, buy that absolute unit, then proceed back to step one.

Keep going!