Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Switch off fortnight? What? NOW? Craziness...

So which blithering idiot scheduled 'Switch off fortnight' in the UK for two weeks in the late Autumn? When it's cold enough that every device left 'on' actually contributes to heating our buildings and thus means less work for the heating system to do?

In other words, switching stuff off at this time of year has almost no 'net' effect whatsoever.....

'Switch off fortnight' needs to have happened in the SUMMER term, when dramatic overall savings could have been made.

As a physicist, I sometimes despair..... 8-)

Friday, November 09, 2012

Why I will never again buy a smartphone with a sealed battery

It's true that I've been objective in the past - I wrote a long and detailed article here, pointing out the pros and cons of sealed vs replaceable batteries in smartphones. I was honestly trying to see both points of view, despite my own feelings on the matter.

However, enough is enough. I realise that most tech commentators, supplied with far more loan/review phones than me and never getting to the point with any device where it's 'old', have been very vocal about 'sealed batteries being the way of the future' and that I should get used to it. The argument is usually along the lines that 200 million iPhone sales prove that Apple's 'sealed' designs are right. But just because the other appealing factors of the iPhone make it desirable doesn't mean that Apple are right about batteries.

But yes, Apple started the rot. And now we have the HTC One X and One S, the Nokia X7 and E7, the Lumia 800/900/920 and even (horror) the LG-made Nexus 4 all coming with 'sealed' batteries, Apple-style. It's a crime, it really is.

Funnily enough, the iPhone's battery isn't impossible to extract and replace if you're handy with the right screwdriver (see link below!) Though it'll void your warranty, of course. But some of these other models are just about impossible for the end user to think about opening.

So why am I making such a big deal over this? Personal experience, that's why. Let me take just two examples:
  • My Nokia E7. Great communicator, great keyboard, rather let down by a slow processor and quirky software. Sealed battery and a nightmare to get at. One day it simply refused to work. I tried every keypress and sequence, to no avail. What was needed was to remove the battery for a minute and then stick it back in again. Failing that, stick in a new battery. None of which was possible, since Nokia sealed the E7 battery in tighter than a seized car wheel nut. I ended up sending the E7 away for Nokia to (ahem) reseat the battery and send it back. Two weeks without the phone for something that should have taken 30 seconds on another device.
  • Another Nokia (nothing against the company, I just happen to have quite a few Nokias!), the Lumia 800, with the 'fabula' design. Curves everywhere, feels 'fabulous' in the hand, alright. But the device doesn't work anymore. As Monty Python would have said, it's an ex-phone. The battery life started getting worse and worse, to the point where it would only last a few hours. "Put in a new battery", I hear you cry. No can do - again, the design precludes any user access to the battery whatsoever. I guess it's off to the Nokia Care point.... again. In contrast, my Lumia 710, with proper battery compartment, is working like a champ, I've even started using a larger capacity cell in the bay, so the device's battery life has gone up! Stick that in your pipe and smoke it, sealed battery advocates....

Add in a variety of household gadgets over the last five years which are all sitting in landfill somewhere now because their sealed batteries failed and couldn't be revived. It's a waste. A criminal waste.

One my main arguments for not going for a sealed battery design has been that capacity will decrease over time and that with a replaceable battery design, you simply buy a new cell after a year or two and you're good to go. The counter argument is that if you look after a phone and don't discharge its battery too far and too often, then the battery will last the lifetime of the phone. Which is fair enough, but the reality is that almost all phones get abused at one point or another. And so they end up with significantly less capacity well before the typical phone contract is up.

More importantly though, there's the troubleshooting element that I ran into above. Call me a cynic, but no phone, no mobile OS is perfect and something will at some point go wrong. It always has, and the number one weapon in any phone user's armoury is to pull the battery. Ah. "What do you mean, I can't take the battery out?!" Most devices have a kill sequence, usually pressing and holding the power button for more than 12 seconds, or similar. Oops. Still nothing? We're screwed then.

I do appreciate that manufacturers like to stop end users fiddling too much with their devices - and popping batteries in and out (sadly) now seems to be verboten, but it's a step too far in my view and my headline above applies. I simply refuse to ever spend another penny on a phone for which I can't get access to the battery easily.

Now... one caveat and a pointer to the upcoming Nexus 4....

I mentioned the iPhone above and its fans are always eager to point out that it's easy enough to change the battery yourself (and here again on the iPhone 5). Hmm.... that doesn't look trivial.... but not impossible. My old Nokia N8 was supposed to be sealed too, but that turned out to be a 45 second replacement.

Which begs the question about how user serviceable new devices like the LG-made Nexus 4 are. You'll recall that the Galaxy Nexus, its predecessor, was made by Samsung, who are fans of replaceable batteries, just as I am. The '4' claims to have a sealed battery and I was oh, so close to not ordering it. It does seem as though battery removal is possible:


Though apparently the battery is stuck in with glue and has to be prised out rather carefully. Gah!!

At which point I suppose I should tweak my headline slightly. "Why I will never again buy a smartphone with a battery which isn't user serviceable." That doesn't exactly roll off the tongue though, does it?

I sometimes feel alone in the phone world in some of my views on technology - though I expect there will be a few kindred spirits who are with me on this issue, at least.