liv: cast iron sign showing etiolated couple drinking tea together (argument)
[personal profile] liv
Lots of people don't believe in ethical capitalism, for various reasons. Maybe they think capitalism is inherently unethical as a system and if you participate in it at all you're tainted. Or they think that consumer choices don't really have important ethical consequences. Or they think it's unfair that the extra costs of ethical business practices should be borne by the consumer, meaning that buying ethically becomes a kind of luxury. Or they are Effective Altruists who hold that that the good that can be done by buying the cheapest possible goods and spending the difference on efficient charities that cure childhood illnesses in the developing world outweighs the harm done by increasing the profit of companies that exploit their workers. And all of those criticisms have some merit, but I'm still an idealistic capitalist at heart, so I still worry about these issues.

One place where it's particularly acute is electronics. I am not the kind of ascetic who could live without a smartphone, and I worry a lot about the resource and labour implications of buying the things frequently. But right now my trusty three-year-old Galaxy Note II is on its way to becoming unusable as its battery won't hold charge any more. I am reluctant to replace it with a new shiny phone, though it may come down to that because as mentioned I am not prepared to live without my mobile phone, and if I can only use it when plugged in then I basically don't have a mobile phone any more.

So, I would like some advice:
I'm currently managing by just keeping the phone attached to an external battery, and in some ways I'm minded to just carry on like that, but it's more than doubling the size and weight I'm carrying around, so probably not a long-term solution.

My preferred option in many ways is to replace the battery. I really hate the idea of throwing away an otherwise perfectly good phone because of battery problems, and repairing fits very much better with my values than replacing. Does anyone know if it's possible, or at least how to find out whether it's possible, to replace the battery in a Samsung Galaxy Note II? If it is possible, there is the question of cost; it might be more ethical, but it's not very sensible, to spend the entire cost of a new phone in replacing the battery in a phone that has been far superseded by Moore's Law, and is getting kind of elderly anyway.

If replacing the battery is unfeasible or ridiculously expensive, my next favourite choice is probably to buy a second-hand phone. That way I'm at least not directly contributing to destroying the environment by mining for rare metals, nor to exploitation if not outright enslavement of people extracting the materials, manufacturing the phones, and disposing of the toxic waste when a perfectly functional phone is thrown away because it's not the latest model any more. I mean, it's coming up to Passover, not contributing to slavery is particularly prominent in my mind. The problem is that in a context of built-in obsolescence, a second-hand phone may be pretty much on its last legs even if it's only a year old. And I'm always nervous that many second-hand outlets are really fencing operations; I don't especially want to buy a stolen phone, that's not really more ethical than buying a new one. Perhaps a good compromise would be to buy a manufacture refurbished phone or ex-display one from a reputable company, rather than a rando on eBay or a pawn shop. Does anyone know any trustworthy retail outlets for refurbed phones?

Or I could try buying a phone marketed as ethical, such as the Fairphone. I really like the idea that they're concerned about sourcing their materials ethically as well as having decent labour conditions for the actual manufacture of the phone, though I have heard mixed things about whether they really live up to their hype. But even if they're not substantially more ethical than their rivals in those respects, they do have one clear ethical advantage which is that the phone is designed to be able to be repaired and parts replaced / upgraded in a modular way. That really helps to offset the problem of phones which die after only a couple of years of use. The major downside of the Fairphone is that €500 is quite a bit more than I'm happy to spend on a phone, especially one with a fairly limited feature set. Also, the fact that the phone can in theory be repaired does not mean that I personally will have the skills to repair it, nor that anyone will be prepared to service the phone for me for a reasonable price. And I have heard rumours that Fairphones tend to be unreliable; I would in some ways rather have a phone that just doesn't break, than one that is in theory easy to repair, especially if that 'easy' doesn't translate to 'possible' in the real world.

The other phone that people have recommended as ethical is the OnePlus aka Wileyfox Swift. That's certainly a much better balance of price and features than the Fairphone. But the main reason that it's ethical is that it uses Free software, namely versions of Android without all Google's proprietary bumf and privacy breaking stuff. I am broadly in favour of Free software and broadly negative towards Google, but it's not an ethical principle I'm passionate about. And I'm kind of heavily entangled in the Google Android™ ecosystem for my apps. Now, many of them I could live without; a high proportion are just games, but I do enjoy having pocket games for long journeys, and my partners' children enjoy playing games on my phone as a way of interacting with me that's fairly undemanding for both of us. So, can anyone tell me, how easy is it to use a range of apps on CyanogenMod and similar Free OSes?

I have nebulous thoughts about updating to latest versions of Android or Free equivalent. (I'm probably not going to jump ship to iOS or Windows at this point; there aren't any real ethical upsides to balance the inconvenience of changing.) Like, on the one hand I don't like it when the software I'm used to keeps updating all the time, and I especially don't like the way that contributes to built-in obsolescence as later versions of the OS are designed for newer phones, forcing me to upgrade the hardware when I otherwise wouldn't bother. But obviously there are security considerations against running old, unsupported versions of an OS, so it's not clear cut. It's probably a bad idea to buy a new phone that doesn't have the latest Android, and possibly a bad idea to buy one that doesn't receive updates as they are released.

OK, so however I decide to acquire it I need an actual handset. I'm grumpy about this because I really like my current phone, but it doesn't seem like the Galaxy Note range is really being marketed any more, and I'm in two minds about deliberately buying a slightly less out-of-date phone in preference to a new one. Anyway, I'd be glad of advice on choosing a model even if you don't have much opinion about the ethics.

Desiderata:
  • Price: Under £200 ideally, maybe up to £300 if that really makes a difference to features and particularly to how long I'm likely to be able to keep the phone running.
  • Reasonable processor. I'm thinking 2GB RAM really, if I have a new phone there's no point in it being already underpowered.
  • Decent screen real estate. Apparently phones are being marketed with edge dimensions in mm instead of screen diagonals in inches these days, which is more sensible, but I'm used to the old way, so I'm not quite sure what I'm looking for. I would like at least a 5.5'' screen in old money, as I've got used to my chunky Galaxy Note. But it's possible that I can get away with 5' given the high resolution of a mid-range modern phone.
  • Reasonably robust hardware, and ideally replaceable battery, so I don't end up in this situation again in another couple of years.
  • Plausible battery life. I mean, I know no smartphone is ever going to last much longer than a day on a single charge, but a few hours of operation would be nice, and other things being equal I'll pick the phone with the longer battery life.
  • Pleasant text entry method. I really really like the stylus on my Galaxy note, that combined with Swype makes typing on a touchscreen bearable. Does anyone know if it's possible to use a stylus on a phone not specifically designed for that?


I don't care about:
  • Status symbol phones that will make me look impressive to people who care about brands.
  • Pocketability. Most of my clothes don't have pockets anyway so a smaller phone is no better than a bigger one. And I don't think any phone is small enough for me to use entirely one-handed anyway, so I'd rather have a bigger screen than a smaller form-factor.
  • High-end graphics for playing really intensive games or watching videos, I'm a strictly casual gamer and I can't see myself watching videos on my phone.
  • Features designed for using the phone as a media player.
  • Camera quality. The phone should have a camera, but it doesn't have to be a particularly great one.


Options in consideration:
  • Nexus 5, which is reckoned to be good value for the features you get, and will keep its OS up to date (which is both an advantage and a disadvantage, see above). A bit physically smaller than I'd ideally like, and even more Google-infested than the average Android phone. Also right at the top end of my budget.
  • OnePlusX, which is a nice big phone, comes in cheaper than the Nexus 5, and lets me escape from Google. But that is only the answer if I can use apps with it because I am bad at trading off between privacy and convenience.
  • Motorola Moto G3, which everybody says is the best relatively cheap full featured smartphone. If I'm going to stick with Google Android I'm very tempted by that in spite of the smaller screen size.
  • Asus ZenFone. This is the only one that tempts me that's under £100. I trust Asus as a manufacturer, and this is a bit lacking in features but not actually dire for the price. It's probably just a bit too old to be sensible, though.
  • One of the midrange Samsung phones, possibly the Galaxy J5 but I'm a bit overwhelmed by all the models with tiny differences. I have got on well with my Galaxy Note and yes, Samsung versions of Android are a bit bloatware-ish but not unbearably so. The S6 is almost certainly out of my budget, the S5 Neo is an option if I don't mind deliberately buying an older model.
  • LG G3. Again, it's spending a fair amount of money on last year's phone, but it's cheaper than the Nexus 5 with what look to me like comparable features. I've never had an LG phone - any experience or opinions, anyone?
  • When I type my preferences into online tools, they keep recommending me a thing I've never heard of called the Huawei Honor 5X. This is the cheapest phone easily available with a screen bigger than 5', and the features look pretty good for the price. It has some weird version of Android which is supposed to be "easy to use" – I think possibly the target market is older and non-geeky users. Anyone have any opinions on this one?
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