Choosing the most sustainable smartphone with a budget
Yesterday, while I was playing with my son on the balcony, my aged iPhone dropped into water. Her screen blacked out. She is now in intensive care resting in a plate filled with rice. Time to time we hear some sounds and I raise my hopes that she'll recover one day... We will see if the phone doctor can save her. Otherwise, I will donate her parts to be reused. Sad story...
As I am a researcher who is looking for ways to create resource loops in the economy, I wanted to test myself how can I be a responsible consumer when buying products. Here are the steps that I followed:
Avoid buying a new smartphone: I am still trying to get my phone fixed. Let's be honest, it is not gonna work out.
If you cannot get your old phone fixed, donate it to manufacturers then they can make use of the undamaged parts.
(Ideally) Buy a second-hand phone. However, I am not comfortable with using second-hand electronic devices.
Define criteria for your new phone and look for a sustainable alternative. I searched if there are pay-per-use smartphones in the Netherlands. But, couldn't find any. Probably the keywords I chose didn't work.
Make a decision based on price and sustainability.
Aim for using your new smartphone for 10 years. I know it sounds ambitious.
I defined six criteria: durable, simple user interface, long battery life, replaceable parts, good camera properties and affordable price (100-300 EUR). And here are the smartphones that I could find (there are more to share but I need to keep this post short):
Fairphone is the most sustainable and fair smartphone on the planet. However, it is way above my price range. After all, even though I look for a sustainable phone, I am a consumer with a limited budget. I roughly calculated how much would it cost to me if I replace some parts twice, let's say the battery and display, next ten years. By adding up some accessories, it would cost around 800 EUR to have a Fairphone for the next ten years.
Following my criteria, I came to find Nokia 800 Tough, that is a very durable classic half-smart Nokia phone. I really like this phone as it reminds me of the old days. It is a rugged phone designed to survive drops, dust, sand, water and even extreme temperatures. It has a battery that lasts 43-days standby! However, very difficult to use and does not support Whatsapp voice and video calls which are essential for me to communicate with my loved ones. By assuming replacing the battery once, it would cost around 200 EUR to use this phone for the next ten years. You can watch this funny video to judge how strong it is.
Another rugged smartphone that is right in my price range is Samsung XCover 4s. It is very strong and can withstand harsh environments. You can replace the battery later on if needed. It has also good camera properties. If I want to use this phone for the next ten years, by replacing the batteries twice and repair costs, it might cost me around 300-400 EUR.
Putting aside durability, I could go with one of the affordable Nokia phones, which cost the same as a charger of an iPhone. Nokia 1.3 and Nokia 2.3 deliver quite good functionalities that I look for: simple design, long battery life, good camera, removable battery and so on... I am not sure though if these phones last ten years but if they are broken you could recycle and get a new one. For the next ten years, if I buy two of these phones or replace batteries etc., it would cost me around 200-300 EUR. And is it sustainable? Not really...
Why not buy a new iPhone? Well, I find them unnecessarily expensive.
To wrap up, I spent my entire night looking for an alternative sustainable option. It is not an easy job to shop consciously. Options are limited. And I am not a person who likes shopping. It was a really difficult experience for me.
My take from this experience: consider end-users when designing circular/sustainable systems. After all, they are the ones who keep the system running with their decisions.
*Update: The operation went well. She is back to life! But unfortunately, the home button won't work. And the doctor says she can die at any moment. I should get prepared for an unexpected loss.