TTwo years ago, our consumer electronics reviewers added a new yardstick to judge: the durability of the latest device, laptop or tablet. So, have the tech giants made any headway? In a way, yes. But there is a long way to go.

More and more consumer products now contain recycled materials as big tech companies meet their sustainability commitments. For example, Apple’s full line of iPads and the majority of its computers are now made from recycled aluminum, just like Google’s latest Pixel 6 smartphones. Most Amazon branded devices contain recycled plastic, including Fire HD 10 tablets and Echo devices, just like Microsoft’s Ocean Plastic Mouse and Logitech MX Keys Mini Keyboard.

Most of the big tech companies also offer device recycling, although this is done through third parties and often only when you buy something new. It takes a lot more if we are to achieve a circular economy, including better recycling.

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

Access to information about what goes into making a device, duration of software support, and repair options is still limited but is improving in some areas. Some of the larger companies, including Apple, Microsoft, and Google, publish environmental impact assessments, but not for all products and often with limited scope.

Improved software support

Apple is still leading the pack when it comes to software support, with some iPhones getting seven years or more, but others are starting to catch up. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs / The Guardian

Holding on to your device rather than 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 major issues affecting the longevity of smartphones is the premature expiration of software support. The end of crucial security updates makes perfectly usable devices dangerous to use. It’s still a big deal, with some companies offering like kinda like two to three years old updates from a device’s release, including big companies like Oppo, especially for cheaper models.

But with Samsung extending updates to at least four years for a range of phones, not just high-end 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 for its iPhones.

Repair and resell

the fairphone 4
The Fairphone 4 has a removable battery and modules that can be simply unscrewed and replaced in case of breakage. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs / The Guardian

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

Now others are taking note. Following pressure from the public and shareholders, Apple and Microsoft recently intensified their efforts to make repair parts and tools available to the public.

“We’re starting to see the pendulum swing in the right direction,” says Kyle Wiens, general manager of iFixit Repair Specialists. “We have seen changes from major manufacturers, such as Microsoft, redesigning the Surface Laptop to make it easier to repair, skip from one to five in our scoring system. But others, including Samsung, seems to have done very little, so we still have a long way to go.

However, where the big tech companies start to tread, the cheapest segment of the market is not yet following. “Inexpensive disposables are a real problem,” says Wiens.

Even when products are designed to be rugged enough to last, many smaller devices such as headphones and wearable technology are difficult to repair and contain irreplaceable batteries that wear out, giving them a limited lifespan.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity for big brands to step up and make their products sustainable. Resale value is the real test of a product’s impact on the market, ”says Wiens.

The good news is that access to good used, refurbished devices is improving, which, along with easier repairs and extensive software support, is keeping devices out of recycling for longer.

But in order for devices to be available for a second or third hand, they must first be purchased new, which is why we’ll continue to carefully review devices to help you choose from the best available.