We’re making it easier to choose a repairable phone
How we’re using the French government’s new repairability index to help you choose a fixable smartphone.
By Nick Gelling
It’s difficult to test the environmental cost of a product in a lab – we can’t always tell how products are built and there’s no way to know how long they’ll last. Now, beginning with mobile phones, we’re trialling repairability scores for the first time.
France’s repairability index
Responding to the right to repair movement gaining momentum around the world, the French government has introduced mandatory repairability reporting. The scheme helps French consumers choose products that are easier to repair – decreasing waste and supporting a circular economy – one where resources are kept in use for longer.
The French repairability index is a score out of 10 assigned to consumer products, which must be displayed next to the price in stores and online. It applies to five product categories – mobile phones, front-loading washing machines, electric lawnmowers, laptops and televisions – but will be expanded over time. The index is calculated from five criteria:
Whether repair documentation is available to independent repairers
How easy it is to disassemble the product
Availability of spare parts
Price of spare parts
Any other criteria specific to the product type.
The system relies on manufacturers scoring their own products. However, since the process is transparent, it’ll be self-policing – competitors and consumers should quickly call out any company that posts an inflated score.
From 2022, manufacturers who don’t comply are at risk of being fined. While the index has been mandatory since January 2021, not all businesses are complying yet – we assume they’re dragging the chain until the threat of fines becomes real.
By 2024, the French government wants to widen the scope of the index to include other sustainability information, such as reliability.
How we are using the index
In line with our campaign to help Kiwis buy things that are Built to Last, we’re reporting the French repairability scores as part of our product testing, beginning with mobile phones.
The scores have already been added to the product pages of our smartphone test results. Since the French law is new and some companies have been slow to comply, we can only cover about half of the phones we’ve tested. Two notable omissions are Oppo and Huawei, both of which sell in France but haven’t submitted scores. We’ve asked them why.
We think this kind of intervention is necessary, because basic smartphone maintenance such as replacing a spent battery has become almost prohibitively difficult. Strong adhesives and unusual screws thwart most DIY jobs, and manufacturers prefer to keep the inner workings secret from independent repairers.
There are already signs that major manufacturers are making changes in order to bump up the index:
While the Apple iPhone 12 series (6/10) doesn’t have class-leading
repairability, it is a decent improvement on the iPhone 11 series
(4.6/10) due to a simpler dismantling process and cheaper spare
parts. In March, Apple announced it would begin supplying iPhone
parts and guides to independent Kiwi repairers that have completed a
free certification process, which brings us in line with France.
Samsung Galaxy phones released in the past six months, such as the
S20 FE (8.1/10), S21+ (8.2/10) and A42 5G (8.1/10) score much better
than its previous models, such as the S20 (5.7/10). The main
difference is that Samsung now provides a free repair manual online
and has made spare parts easier to find. However, the manual is
currently only available in French, which highlights the regional
issues with using a French system in Aotearoa.
Apple and Samsung’s actions indicate that France’s law is incentivising companies to make phones easier to repair – an exciting prospect as the index is extended to more products. The European Union is considering a similar initiative continent-wide, which would provide even stronger motivation.
We want to know what you think
While we follow the French repairability index, we’d love your thoughts on how we can infuse durability and repairability – the core of our Built to Last campaign – into our product testing. Do you want to see more emphasis on sustainability in our test reports and product recommendations? Should New Zealand follow the French lead and force manufacturers to display durability and repairability info at the point of sale?