Guardian tech reviews: small sustainability steps but much more to do | Gadgets

Ttwo years ago, our consumer electronics reviews added a new criterion to assess – how sustainable the latest device, laptop or tablet is. So have the technology giants made progress? Somehow, yes. But there is a long way to go again.

More common products now contain recycled materials as large technology companies follow their promises of sustainability. For example, Apple’s full iPad line and most of its computers are now made from recycled aluminum, just like Google’s latest Pixel 6 smartphones. Most of Amazon’s proprietary devices feature recycled plastic, including Fire HD 10 tablets and Echo devices, as well as Microsoft’s Ocean Plastic Mouse and Logitech’s MX Keys Mini keyboard.

Most major technology companies also offer device recycling, even if it is through third parties and often only when you buy something new. Much more is needed if we are to achieve a circular economy, including better recycling.

Much of the progress has been made by a combination of consumer awareness and investor pressure. Real change can happen in a consumer industry if people vote for their wallets.

Access to information on what to use to make a device, the length of software support, and repair options are still limited, but are getting better for some things. Some of the largest companies, including Apple, Microsoft and Google, publish environmental impact assessments, but not for all products and often to a limited extent.

Software support is improved

iOS 15.2 update on an iPhone 13
Apple is still a leader in the software support package, with some iPhones receiving seven years or more, but others starting to catch up. Photo: Samuel Gibbs / The Guardian

Keeping your device instead of having to buy a new one is better for the planet and your wallet. Progress has also been made on this front.

One of the biggest problems affecting smartphone longevity is the premature expiration of software support. The completion of important security updates makes devices that are perfect for use unsafe to use. It is still very much an issue where some companies offer as little as two to three years of updates from a device release, including large companies like Oppo, especially for cheaper models.

But with Samsung extending updates to at least four years for a range of phones, not just advanced models, and Google promising at least five years for its Pixel 6 phones, others are finally starting to catch up with Apple’s five to seven years of updates to its iPhones.

Repair and resale

fairphone 4
The Fairphone 4 has a removable battery and modules that can simply be unscrewed and replaced if something breaks. Photo: Samuel Gibbs / The Guardian

The repairability of consumer electronics is also slowly improving. The Dutch company Fairphone continues to set the standard with its latest modular phone, which can be repaired at home with just a simple screwdriver, is made from ethically sourced and recycled materials and will have six to seven years of software support. The US startup Framework is trying something similar with modular, repairable laptops.

Now others are noticing it. Following pressure from the public and shareholders, Apple and Microsoft have recently expanded their efforts to make parts and repair tools available to the public.

“We’re starting to see the pendulum swing in the right direction,” said Kyle Wiens, CEO of repair specialists iFixit. “We’ve seen shifts from major manufacturers, such as Microsoft, redesigning the Surface Laptop to make it easier to repair, and jumping from one to five in our scoring system. But others, including Samsung, seem to have done very little, so we still have a long way to go. “

But where the big tech companies are starting to step in, the cheaper end of the market is not yet following. “Cheap disposables are a real problem,” says Wiens.

Even where products are designed to be sturdy enough to last, many of the smaller devices such as headphones and portable technology are difficult to repair and contain irreplaceable batteries that wear out, giving them a limited life.

“There is such a great opportunity for big brands to move up and make their products long-lasting. The resale value is the real test of a product’s impact on the market,” says Wiens.

The good news is that access to good, refurbished used units will be better, which combined with easier repairs and extended software support will keep units out of recycling for longer.

However, in order for devices to be available for a second or third hand, they must be purchased new first, and therefore we will continue to review devices thoroughly to help you choose among the best available.

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