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The U.S. needs to follow the E.U. in making it easier to repair our phones

Galaxy S20 Plus Review
Galaxy S20 Plus Review (Image credit: Android Central)

It's a shame we even have to write an article like this, but everyone knows that smartphone makers are notorious when it comes to designing great products with a built-in limited lifespan.

A lot of us are completely happy with a phone we bought two or more years ago or wish we could keep one like the Galaxy S20 we bought in 2020 for a good while. And we should feel that way, especially as prices keep creeping up higher and higher. But the number of people keeping a phone longer than a year or two is a lot less than the people who wish they could. And the E.U. is planning on doing something about it.

We deserve to upgrade to a phone early because we want to, not because we have to.

In what's known as the New Circular Economy Action Plan for a Cleaner and More Competitive Europe, the folks in Brussels who are tasked with doing what is best for the people of Europe set new guidelines that will make the life of things like a smartphone a lot longer. The plan doesn't just deal with consumer electronics, though; it aims to reduce waste of other things like textiles, packaging, and even new construction by making things just last longer.

You should read through the plan linked above, but what we're focused on here are the new provisions that will make electronics — specifically phones — last longer. Luckily, it's spelled out in easy to read language:

The Action Plan proposes setting up a 'Circular Electronics Initiative' to promote longer product lifetimes through reusability and reparability as well as upgradeability of components and software to avoid premature obsolescence.The sector will be a priority area for implementing the 'right to repair'. The Commission is aiming to adopt new regulatory measures for mobile phones, tablets, and laptops under the Ecodesign Directive, as well as new regulatory measures on chargers for mobile phones and similar devices. An EU-wide take-back scheme to return or sell back old mobile phones, tablets and chargers will also be considered.

Basically, this means that our phones will be easier to fix when a part goes bad, be built of better parts to begin with, and be updated longer so they are safer to use. Goodbye "premature obsolescence", and good riddance.

Source: PRIG (Image credit: Source: PRIG)

But only if you live in Europe, sadly. In the U.S. the right to repair movement is fighting an uphill battle, with no federal or even regional right to repair legislation passed in 2019, though 20 states did put a bill in front of legislators. And we're not even talking about making parts available to everyone or making phones easy to repair, these bills would have simply allowed qualified third-parties to have access.

Would you buy a car that couldn't be repaired?

Besides software outdatedness — and I don't mean free OS upgrades but critical patches and bug fixes — the biggest reason people have to buy a new phone is that the one they used either won't charge or has broken in some other way. This not only makes mountains of e-waste, but affects the pocketbooks of millions of Americans (and Canadians who also want right to repair legislation by an overwhelming majority) because spending money on even a budget phone can be a financial burden when done too often.

The best sustainable and repairable smartphones you can buy

All countries and legislative bodies pass laws we don't like. But sometimes they try to get it right, too. This is one of those times and while the final version of the E.U.'s plan will probably look different from what is being proposed today, it has to start somewhere. Let's hope it starts before the new Galaxy S20 you might have spent $1,000 or more on stops taking a charge or the screen breaks.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

14 Comments
  • There's so much regulatory capture in the US that it's near impossible to get right to repair legislation passed. Unfortunately, I don't have any answers on how to combat this.
  • We shall see how this goes. I definitely miss the days of when Android phones had a removable battery and micro SD cards. Things that iPhone NEVER had.
  • Agreed. You know how Apple is very strict on the right to repair iPhones. They don't want people modifying their phones. Apple doesn't let you have the freedom that you have with Android phones. To them it's Apple knows best
  • Apple is a follower of planned obsolescence to a T.
  • WontonSoup. Try again. I haver NEVER seen another phone manufacturer that supports their phones like apple. You HAVE to buy a new android phone every year or two in order to keep getting the newest OS/Security updates. My iphone 6s runs the exact same OS as the 11, and is just as speedy as it was when brand new. I have an iphone 8 now, and I will have updates for at least another 3 years. I keep wanting to move to android because of the better integration with my computers, however, until apple levels of support come, NOPE. As for repairing, I can replace anything on an iphone with a few tools and parts from ifixit. It's not that difficult. I have repaired, iphones, ipods, ipads, and more.
  • What planet are you living on. I'm actually on an Apply boycott right now bc of their affiliation with China, but this statement is ridiculous. iPhones get 5-6 years of software update, and even after the updates stop the phone still works. I have an iPhone 3s that still get 6 hours of battery life on the original battery and can still connect to Tmobile 3g network. An equivalent android phone would be a Samsung S2... try finding one of those still working. If you are talking about the phone slowing down when a battery degrades... well you can have the option of the phone slowing and working, or crashing when an app needs more power the battery can't supply. For anyone wants to keep that perfectly good phone, they can get a new battery.
  • Honestly, the only two things needed are easier to repair displays (and backs if they are glass) and removable batteries. Those are the two things that probably account for the majority of phone repairs.
  • Yes, I would like software updates to help my phone last longer. And when batteries were User Replaceable I used to buy a (genuine) spare battery when I got a new phone. But having the right to repair doesn't necessarily mean it is economically viable. I've mentioned before that I've still got a Galaxy Note 4 with a cracked screen (and spare battery). The screen got cracked nearly 2 years ago but it's still usable. Undamaged the phone was worth about £120. With the cracked screen it was immediately only worth £10. I got some quotes and could've got the screen replaced back then for £200 and it would've been worth £120 again. I put that £200 towards my next phone. What would you have done?
  • But if it were easy to repair and replace the parts inside a Note 4, there's a good chance a shop would have second-hand parts like a screen and you would have had to spend a lot less. But yes, in your case putting the money towards a new phone was the right call and that's part of the problem. It shouldn't have to be the right (only?) viable solution.
  • The Note 4 is 5+ years old. This isn't like a car where the same model is made for 4-7 years with similar parts across multiple models for decades. Is there really an incentive for the manufacturers to have that many spare screens for a phone that old? Third party companies aren't going to make that many bc the demand isn't there. So when you find one, it's going to cost a lot.
  • Screen, mainboard, battery, casing. That should be the main components that should be field replaceable (FRU). Of course, just like with laptops, if the mainboard needs to be replaced, its probably cost prohibitive anyway, unless you go with a second hand, used part (or can cannibalize another phone of the same model). iOS does pretty good, in that you can get security patches and OS updates for around 4 years (if I'm not mistaken), compared to the 2 year average of most Android models (Pixel I know is 3 years). But if you look at computers, MacOS can be 7 years old and get the latest Catalina (late 2012 is the earliest). PCs can be over 10 years old and still run the latest Windows 10 (an SSD hard drive helps make it practical). So why not smartphones (and tablets for that matter)? Software Updates until its unbearably slow and consumers are crying for a new one!
  • Sounds like a good idea...but we need to realize that these companies have gotten used to making tons of cash off of new phone sales. If you take that away from them...great...but you can expect to pay even more than what they demand now. Think you can cough up 2 G's or even more for a decent cell phone? Do you think the mid-range segment will survive at all? If you say yes to the mid-range, and no to the 2 G's...guess again...because all the billions of people currently using these things are not going to stop using them...we can't anymore...we're addicted whether we're willing to admit it or not! So, yes, on the surface it sounds very reasonable to be able to keep our high tech expensive cell phones for several years. But don't expect the software upgrades to be free, and don't expect the repairs to be cheap, and by all means DO NOT expect to pay the same amount we are paying to own one today. You think the S20 Ultra is expensive??? LOL
  • I was going to say, we are almost at that level now since in canada, the s20s are north of 1500 bucks. NOPE. Buy mid range. They are just as good as flagships now for everything tasks. gaming is a different story, but for 99 percent of the population, mid range phones are dandy.
  • Do to size it will be limited on what repairability means. In my expectation step one is software. By providing 4 - 5 years worth of upgrades available. All OS patches or security updates are free. OS version upgrades at a cost past 2 release years. You can't tell me a Snapdragon 835 isn't still usable. Though Essential is out of business it will be Android 11 beta compatible. All my PC'S from 2013 run Windows 10 like a dream. My mobile phone should as well with Android 13 or 14. There will be more players in the market as well as customers. Samsung will be to Android hardware like Microsoft is to Windows with Surface hardware. Samsung with set the mark on this is how it should be done. The rest of the manufactures with provide a more balanced option between value, design, performance and speed to market.