Culture

The End of the Repairable Computer: 'It’s a Glue-Filled Monstrosity'

(Shutterstock)

As companies make products thinner and lighter, reliability and repairability are becoming casualties. You can’t just assume that the engineers have designed a product to last, no matter how much it costs or the brand name. While looks and style are important, you’ll likely want a product that will serve you for several years. Yet two of the hottest products this year may fail that test: the Microsoft Surface Tablet and the Samsung Galaxy S8 smartphone

Microsoft Surface Pro: Unrepairable

iFixit, a website that takes apart tech products and examines how new products are constructed and designed, just published the results of their recent dissection, Microsoft’s new Surface Pro laptop computer. Their verdict:

The Surface Laptop is not a laptop. It’s a glue-filled monstrosity. There is nothing about it that is upgradable or long-lasting, and it literally can’t be opened without destroying it. (Show us the procedure, Microsoft, we’d love to be wrong.)

While the Surface looks like most conventional notebook computers with a display, keyboard, battery, and electronics, surprisingly, it cannot be repaired.

The computer is not screwed together; instead it’s glued, with some of it covered with a cloth material that needs to be peeled off and is destroyed in the process of trying to open it. Once inside, they found the batteries to be glued in place and impossible to exchange without doing more damage. A cracked display, something that occurs frequently with mobile products, cannot be fixed, and requires the entire product to be replaced.

Now, this is a product that costs $800 to $2700, depending on the processor speed and memory. It comes with a 1-year limited warranty, meaning if anything breaks or fails it will be repaired (in this case replaced) within the first year. After that, you’ll need to buy another or opt for an extended warranty. Not only is this a huge expense to the owner, it’s anti-environment because it’s difficult to recycle.

The trend of designing products that are costly or impossible to repair is not only a Microsoft issue. Apple MacBooks have also been difficult to repair. Apple, however, is equipped to make the most common repairs, such as replacing a battery or keyboard, through its stores. But often, replacing a part means replacing many other parts at the same time. In fact, when my MacBook keyboard had problems, Apple also needed to replace the electronics.

Why is this being done? For several reasons. First to make the products thinner and lighter, where every gram and every millimeter count. It’s a battle of who has the thinnest, the lightest, the coolest, and the most unique. Second, to save money. Gluing a computer and eliminating removable parts is less expensive than screwing it together and using connectors, and it’s likely faster to design products this way.

Samsung Galaxy S8: Fragility

While the Surface suffers from a lack of reparability, the Galaxy suffers from extreme fragility, meaning it’s easily damaged if dropped or bumped. This is the result of making it more stylish and cool. The Samsung Galaxy S8 is one of the most elegant new smartphones. Its curved glass display blends into the phone without the conventional bezel. But it turns out, that makes it more likely to break.

SquareTrade, a company that offers extended warranties, conducted durability tests on the Galaxy S8 phone and found that it was destroyed when it tumbled and dropped and was not to be fully water resistant as claimed. The Galaxy S8 was the first phone that the company tested that cracked on both sides in its drop test from six feet. Now, six feet is a tough test for any phone to pass, but because of its design with the exposed curved glass edges, it’s also likely that severe damage would occur from 3 or 4 feet. When subjected to its water-resistant test, the audio performance failed.

What can you do?

Before buying a product, Google it for the product’s reparability and fragility comments and look on YouTube for videos of destructive tests. Be cautious with some of the designs that push the envelope. While thinness and style are important, you usually trade off durability. In the case of the Samsung S8 phone, a protective case is a must.

You may also want to consider an extended warranty on your products. In the past I’ve avoided them, but as products become more fragile and difficult to repair, they become more useful. You don’t have to take the warranty offered by the seller. In fact, you may want to avoid them. Samsung S8 owners who have bought the Samsung warranty, issued from Assurant, are having difficulties in getting replacements on a timely basis as I noted in my blog. SquareTrade may be a better bet, based on the positive reviews it gets on Amazon and elsewhere.