Planned Obsolescence – Mobile Edition

Yes, I ranted about this before. In the first installment I disassembled a paper shredder to find a time bomb planted during the design stage to make sure that you need to replace something that should last a lifetime. A fancy dishrack was examined next to show how one company can fail and excel at the same time. And who can forget the food processor that was sent to a landfill due to the same evil design choices as the paper shredder. Why stop now… lets add another hot recent trend in planned obsolescence – non-replaceable batteries.

I love technology. Smart phones, tablets, laptops, music players, vibrating toothbrushes… you name it I have them. They are electronic, portable and they all need batteries. When this technology started coming on the market there was one unwritten rule – the battery should be replaceable. Your rechargeable laptop only lasts 5 minutes unplugged now? No problem, swap in a new battery and get 4 solid hours un-tethered again. It may not be cheap but it sure beats getting a new laptop.

Have you looked at your electronic gadgets lately? Chances are a lot of them run on rechargeable batteries that can not be replaced. Not easily anyway.

Manufacturers found a way to take something that should last a long time and turn it into a brick after just a couple of years. Unlike a shredder or a food processor, a phone doesn’t have any moving parts that could be made of plastic to break at some pre-determined point. What they do have is a battery that has a fixed number of charge cycles. Put a battery that can’t be replaced by your average consumer and you got a repeat customer looking for a new phone on your schedule.

I bought a shiny new phone two years ago. I owned my previous phone for 5 years before it started to feel very dated and slow. After two years with my LG G Flex 2 I am still in love with it. It is ridiculously fast with its octa-core processor, with a big bright high-definition screen, a camera that takes amazing pictures… It runs everything I throw at it and never runs out of space. I wouldn’t hesitate to put it against the latest $1,000 iPhone X or anything latest and greatest. It’s that good.

I feel zero need to upgrade. I have the same feeling of complete satisfaction as I once had with a landline phone. Of course this creates a problem in a world where 70% of the GDP is based on consumer purchases. It is downright unpatriotic to be satisfied with what you have. Not wanting to upgrade is un-American!

LG is not a non-profit. They don’t want to make something so well that it will turn off the repeat customer spigot. So when LG made this great phone they put a fail-safe to assure continued corporate profits – a non-replaceable battery. Planned Obsolescence at its finest. Brilliant.

First I noticed that my phone would sporadically restart. It happened so infrequently that I thought maybe I’m just hitting the power button without noticing. Then it started happening several times per day. Then almost every time I switched apps on my phone. Then one day my phone just went into this shutdown-restart-shutdown-restart loop that could only be broken by plugging it in.

It was pretty clear at this point that an old li-ion polymer battery was to blame. With my old phone things would be easy – just swap in a new battery. Not so easy with the LG Flex as the battery is not “user serviceable”.

Wait, so why do they sell new batteries for my phone, especially this one that comes with a set of tools? Never one to shy from DIY I bought a new battery and proceeded with tearing down my phone.

First I took the back cover off as you would to insert a SIM card. Shout out to my free voice and data SIM card that’s been keeping the monthly cell phone bill at $0 per month!

Then I used a small Phillips head screwdriver to take out 9 screws shown below.

The battery cover was then taken off to reveal the “non-replaceable” battery. A new BL-T16 battery that fits the LG Flex aka LG-H950 is shown on the left.

I unsnapped the two flat orange connectors you see raised below, no special tools, just a fingernail. The old battery was glued down so I used a thin piece of metal I had lying around, but a credit card or something similar should work too. It’s actually part of the Mountek magnetic system I use to mount the phone in my car. I’ve tried different mounts and this one is the best by far. You will see it on the back of my case in a picture further down below.

The old battery is out and the new one is ready to be installed.

I noticed something interesting – the new battery was significantly thinner than the old. They both have the same 3000mAh 3.8V rating so not sure why.

I installed the new battery and snapped the two orange connectors back in. There’s noticeably more room under the long orange connector and the battery due to a thinner battery.

I put the battery cover and then the back cover back on. Here you see the Mountek holder along with the spare one I used to pry out the battery. The back of my phone looks pretty rough in this picture but it looks brand new with this phone case I usually have on it.

The moment of truth… It’s alive!

Here is another thing I noticed. The battery in my phone is flexible and bendable. One of the design features on my LG Flex is a curved shape so I guess they had to make a flexible battery so it curves with the phone. Pretty neat.

It has now been several weeks since the repair and I’m happy to report that the new battery has solved all issues with my LG Flex. No more random restarting and the charge easily lasts the entire day.

This planned obsolescence case has a much happier ending than the other ones before it. Nothing was sent to a landfill. When this new battery dies in a couple of years I will recall this post and put a new one in. I just hope there’re no other hidden time bombs lurking inside. Did LG put another kill-switch not as easily defeated?

If your electronic gadget dies due to a non-replaceable battery don’t use that as an excuse to upgrade. Don’t play the Planned Obsolescence game using the mega-corp rule book. Replace and reuse. Google the problem and see if there is an easy solution, like this one. It’s good for your wallet and good for the planet!

 

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