Faulty mobile phones: Why we need easy and cost-effective repairs
Our survey of mobile phone owners shows common faults that should be easy to fix aren’t getting fixed because the repair is too difficult or costly.
Need to know
- Data from over 5,000 mobile phone owners shows one in 20 phones less than five years old has a serious fault.
- Worn-out batteries, charging problems, or a broken or unresponsive screen were the most commonly reported serious faults.
- Fewer than half of serious faults get fixed, and less than one in five screen or battery faults.
- The cost and complexity of a repair is often why phones are left faulty.
- Manufacturers aren’t doing enough to help us fix our broken phones. It’s a low bar to make a screen or battery easy to replace, but few are making a significant effort.
Phone faults are common and often serious
Ten percent of owners report a fault with their phone – 47% of those faults were deemed serious (they either left the phone unusable, or the owner had to change how they used it to get around the problem). That’s one in 20 phones with a serious fault. Most of the phones (89%) were no more than four years old and half were less than two years old. That data comes from our 2022 product ownership survey, where we asked 5,515 people about their mobile phones.
Screens and batteries fail most often
Owners of faulty phones tell us what went wrong. Of those who reported a serious problem, 28% said the fault was with the display or touchscreen, while 25% said it was the battery or charging. That means a lot of serious faults could be repaired by swapping out one of two parts – the display or battery.
Only one in five broken screens or duff batteries get replaced
A battery and screen are easy to replace at a local independent repair shop, right? Well, maybe not, as just 18% of phones reported with faulty screens or batteries were repaired. Thirty percent of owners were thwarted by cost or complexity and 33% said they wanted to repair but hadn’t gotten started.
Making a repairable phone is a low bar that most manufacturers can’t clear
Batteries lose capacity over time and through use until they no longer hold a charge (or enough charge to see out a day of normal use). Accidents will always happen, and glass screens will break as a result. It’s no surprise that these are the two most common faults.
It wasn’t so long ago that a phone battery could be removed without any tools. So why are so many people now finding it’s too hard or expensive to replace?
The bar to make a phone repairable is very low. All that’s needed is to:
- Provide repair instructions.
- Make it easy to take a phone apart to remove broken parts.
- Make replacement parts available for a reasonable price.
Making a phone repairable is easy; the tech manufacturers just choose not to do it. In some cases, they intentionally make repairs difficult or impossible. That can be sneakier than simply gluing parts together. It can mean withholding replacement parts and hard-coding locks that prevent unofficial parts from functioning correctly.
Product repairability labels: what are they and why do we need them?
As consumers, it’s impossible to know which brands make phones that will be easier to repair. A product repairability label displayed at the point of sale would provide this information. In 2021, the French government made it mandatory for manufacturers of mobile phones to calculate and display a repair score.
Just like energy star ratings tell you how efficient a product is to use, the repairability label tells you how easy a product is to repair.
We include the French repairability scores in our mobile phone test results. But we think the repair score should be localised for Aotearoa (we need repair instructions in English and replacement parts available here) and mandatory at the point of sale. The French have shown the way – we wouldn't be the first to roll it out.
Sick of wasting money on products you can’t repair?
Let’s put the pressure back on manufacturers to do better. Show them you want products you can repair and help us demand a mandatory repairability label.