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Upgradable tablets may not be easy, but HP proves they’re not extinct

Upgradable tablets may not be easy, but HP proves they’re not extinct

Last year, HP sent us the Elite x2 1012 G1—the first tablet to earn a perfect 10 on our repairability scale. Now, HP has followed up their repair friendly tablet with the Elite x2 1012 G2. Tearing down tech may be our forte, but we’re always wary of new tablets on our teardown table: high-performance hardware in a small package seems to be a recipe for trouble. Thankfully, this tablet has a good pedigree and a free online repair manual to boot—so naturally, we’re excited to get started.

The opening procedure is identical to the previous model, involving a T5 Torx screwdriver, suction cup, and minimal stress. The display cables are once again long enough to offer some assurance during the opening procedure, making the process painless.

Popping the screen off reveals a similar layout to last year’s model, with a few key differences. Right off the bat, we see that HP has added a separate thermal management assembly that was not present in their previous model—comprising a fan, copper tape, and a beefy heatsink bolted to the motherboard. Upon closer inspection, we can also see that the mother- and I/O boards have been consolidated into a single system board—that will need to be replaced in full if your power jack or USB ports stop working.

Similar to last year’s model, the G2 has an easily-removable battery, SSD (this year’s model featured a faster, NVMe SSD), and WLAN card, as well as a new discrete WWAN card to handle connecting to LTE networks. Extricating the motherboard is a little tricky at first, but having access to a repair manual makes the process easy. Once the motherboard is out, only a few components remain—speakers, antennas, and the bevy of cameras and sensors at the upper edge of the device. Unfortunately, we also encountered a healthy dose of copper tape holding these parts in place. This malleable adhesive is a pain to remove, replace, and increases the time and costs associated with repair.

Despite that rough ending, this really is a highly-serviceable tablet. Anyone with the right (standard) screwdriver and a suction cup should be able to easily perform battery or screen replacements. The only moving part—the hinge—can be swapped out without even opening the tablet. Despite these positives, we have to account for the addition of copper tape and shifting ports—high stress parts—from a daughterboard to the main system board. These changes make repairs more difficult and more expensive, so the 2017 revision of the HP Elite x2 1012 slides down from a perfect 10/10 to a 9/10 on our repairability scale. Even with this one-point demerit, however, the G2 still stacks up highly for repairability compared to other tablets on the market and therefore earns our stamp of approval.

My First Phone: The Teardown

My First Phone: The Teardown

When I was 14, I begged my mom to get me the Sony Ericsson T616 phone. I didn’t actually have a good reason for wanting that specific phone; I just liked it because it was tiny enough to fit in my back pocket. Literally minutes after we purchased it—while we were still in the parking lot of the AT&T store—I downloaded R Kelly’s Ignition and made it my ringtone. I remember the constant hassle of deleting songs and photos every week when I exceeded the 2 MBs of storage. And I remember the first boy who ever asked me to go steady via text message, because he was too shy to ask me in person.

Here at iFixit, we like to reminisce about old vintage tech. Being the curious cats that we are, we thought it’d be fun to explore the insides of our first phones by tearing them down. So we polled the office, rounded up some willing participants, and made our co-workers (and their first phones) spill their guts.

Just like that, our newest video series was born: My First Phone, The Teardown.

Cue the nostalgia:

Our video dude tears down his Nokia 3310

Watch me take apart my Sony Ericsson T616

Video dude #2 takes apart his Motorola SLVR L2

Kelsea might have dropped her Motorola RAZR V3xx in the toilet

What was your first phone? Tell us in the comments below and we may feature it in our video series. And don’t forget to subscribe to our Youtube channel so you can be first to get our sweet, sweet flicks.

Green Electronics Standards Are Broken

Green Electronics Standards Are Broken

Ever wonder how tech companies can make unrepairable, non-upgradeable, hard to recycle products—and still get away with calling themselves green? Because those same tech companies actually help write US standards for greener electronics, according to a new report from Repair.org.

If we want better environmental standards, we’ve got to stop letting the fox guard the henhouse: we can’t let companies like Apple, Oracle, and Sony tell us what makes cell phones, servers, and computers environmentally sound. We need to demand better, more repairable, more sustainable product designs.

What are green electronics standards, anyways?

Strictly speaking, no electronic device is “good” for the environment—they’re resource intensive to make and too many of them end up in the trash too soon. Tech companies can really only make electronics that are “less bad” for the environment. Green standards give electronics manufacturers a clear path to “less bad”—weighing things like materials use, packaging, energy efficiency, lifespan, and recyclability to rate products. If a new product meets enough of the criteria on the standard, it gets listed on EPEAT’s green product registry with a Bronze, Silver, or Gold designation. The more criteria the new gadget meets in its standard, the higher the designation.

But manufacturers don’t just seek green certifications out of the goodness of their hearts. It’s strategic. Consumers prefer to purchase sustainable products and we’ll pay more for them. Plus, the federal government—the single largest purchaser of IT equipment in the world—is actually required to buy electronics vetted by these standards. It may not be easy being green, but tech companies can make a chunk of money doing it.

Products scores are designed to be quantitative, so you can’t really fudge your final rating in a standard. But what if you could design a standard that your products are guaranteed to pass? It’s like rigging a test: instead of improving the product, manufacturers change the scoring system to match their products. Their gadget is dubbed “green,” consumers get to buy it guilt-free, and everyone wins—except the environment.

Rigging the system

So let’s say you’ve designed a server that’s coming out next year. You want it to get a high rating on the green standard, but you don’t want to change your design. No problem! Just join the open committee that develops the standard and object to any progressive rules that might flunk your product. Standards are consensus-based, so the negative voices carry the day.

“Manufacturers often make up such a large portion of standards committees, they can easily vote against policies they deem too challenging and approve more lax requirements,” writes Mark Schaffer, a standards expert and author of Repair.org’s new report on the standards development process, Electronics Standards Are In Need of Repair.

Here’s an infuriating tidbit: There doesn’t seem to be a single non-profit environmental organization in the group that’s developing the standard for greener servers. There are a whole lot of tech companies, server-makers, and chemical companies, though. What sort of standard do you think they’re gonna come up with?

When manufacturers design standards, of course they’ll fit the standard to their existing products. I saw it firsthand during the six years I spent working on UL 110—a standard for greener mobile phones. Tech companies banded together to push forward the criteria they wanted and shot down the ones they didn’t. And they were especially hostile towards any criteria that would have made mobile phones easier to repair or recycle.

We managed to get in a few repair-related criteria into the standard, but the language got so watered down that even Samsung’s Galaxy S8 can apparently meet the criterion for ease-of-disassembly. And that’s not a phone that’s easy to take apart—it’s glued together. In the end, the only really strong, effective repair criteria we managed to get into the standard—over Apple’s vocal objection—was an optional point for phones with batteries that can be removed without tools.

That’s it.

With 14 years under his belt, Schaffer has been involved in electronics standards far longer than I have. And he’s noticed a trend: In the last five years, green standards for electronics have gotten weaker. As his report details, the computer standard has become saturated with top-tier level products over the last few years. As of July 2017—the report notes—64% of 1700+ devices registered in the US to the EPEAT computer standard earned a Gold designation. And 97% of devices were listed as either Gold or Silver.

That’s a hell of a high percentage of top-performing devices for a standard that’s meant to call out only the best products on the market. And no wonder: most of the standard is over 10 years old. It’s in the middle of a revision, but standards take years to write—mostly because it’s incredibly hard for manufacturers to agree with everyone else.

Nonprofit groups and academic researchers that actually do care about the environment don’t have enough resources to invest years into writing standards, so they have a tendency to burn out and disappear. Tech companies, though, have lots of time and money, so they can afford to drag their feet until they get their way.

Green standards for electronics don’t lead anymore, says Schaffer—because tech companies don’t want them to. And despite concerted efforts to make products more reusable, more repairable, and easier to recycle—there’s been little actual progress.

“Instead, [green standards] have become a complicated way for manufacturers to greenwash products that have a devastating environmental impact and pat themselves on the back for business as usual,” Schaffer’s report concludes.

Fallen green giant

It wasn’t always like this. The first sustainable electronics standard—for laptops and computers—was adopted in 2006. At the time, the development group was smaller, and they succeeded in setting the stage for “greener” computers with a demanding standard.

At first, not a single product initially passed the standard with a gold rating and just 60 products made it on the registry at all. But manufacturers rose to the challenge. By 2008, 1,000 products were listed on the registry. EPEAT did what leadership standards are supposed to do: it led.

Not anymore.

EPEAT’s current computer standard requires that products be upgradeable, batteries removable, and hard drives accessible with a common tool. They barely make laptops like that anymore. Yet laptops like the 2012 MacBook Pro Retina (a non-upgradeable laptop with a glued-down battery and tamper-resistant screws) still met the standard. When people balked, EPEAT determined that technically an external USB port made the laptop upgradeable, that you could technically pry up a glued-down battery, and that Apple’s proprietary security screw was technically common enough.

Sure, they technically adhered to the standard’s wording, but they clearly violated its spirit. And now pretty much any laptop gets points for upgradeability, whether it’s actually upgradeable or not.

And it keeps getting worse. The mobile phone standard that I worked on for so long was just published—and the very first batch of phones were just added to EPEAT for meeting the standard. Of the 8 listed, 7 of the phones earned EPEAT gold.

“The gold-dense scoring line-up is troubling in a standard so new. A properly-developed leadership standard should start off with devices just barely able to achieve the bronze level—as the initial computer standard did in 2006. The fact that two of the largest producers of mobile phones were immediately able to achieve gold designations for their existing products indicates that the leadership standard substantially reflects the status quo. It doesn’t lead—and the new criteria isn’t driving device design in a more sustainable direction,” Schaffer writes in the report.

Repair is important

US tech companies won’t be able to dig their heels in forever. They’re losing their grip. Things are changing. This year, a dozen US states introduced Right to Repair legislation that would require tech companies to provide repair instructions, and sell spare parts for broken devices—two things manufacturers have managed to keep out of green standards for electronics. And new, balanced standards development through organizations like NSF promise better processes.

Government leaders around the world are pushing for greener, more reusable electronics, as well. France made planned obsolescence illegal in 2015. Sweden implemented tax breaks for people who repair their things instead of replacing them. And the EU Parliament recently voted to recommend “longer product lifespan” through “robust, easily repairable and good quality products.” And while the rest of the world is trying make electronics better, tech companies in the US have found a way to fake their green credentials on their way to make more greenbacks.

“Green standards play an important role. They are supposed to shape the electronics industry for the better and encourage manufacturers to make more sustainable products. As consumers, we should be able to trust them to identify only the most sustainable products,” says Gay Gordon-Byrne, Executive Director of Repair.org. “Instead, members of the IT industry have co-opted standards for their own benefit, warping them into a tool that drives sales at the expense of the environment. This is patently unacceptable, and it needs to change.”

If you think so too, then you’ve got to demand more sustainable, easier-to-repair, easier-to-recycle products from manufacturers. Join standards committees. Buy repairable products. Support Right to Repair legislation in your state. And tell your tech companies that you want longer-lasting, better products. Greenpeace has a petition you can sign here.

Podnutz Daily #488 – Matt Ham from Computer Repair Doctor

A Show for Computer Repair Techs by Computer Repair Techs

Jeff Halash from TechNutPC.com Talks to Computer Technicians

Google+ Jeffery Halash

Twitter: TechNutPC

Email: PodnutzDaily@Podnutz.com

Matt Ham from Computer Repair Doctor

Computer Repair Doctor is an iPhone repair and laptop repair company with locations across the East Coast. While they specialize in both PC and Mac repair, they are happy to look at anything with a power button!

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Podnutz Daily #487 – Paul Joyner from Sysadmin Today

A Show for Computer Repair Techs by Computer Repair Techs

Jeff Halash from TechNutPC.com Talks to Computer Technicians

Google+ Jeffery Halash

Twitter: TechNutPC

Email: PodnutzDaily@Podnutz.com

Paul Joyner from Sysadmin Today

Links:

Sysadmin Today Podcast

Call that Girl episode featuring Sysadmin Today.

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Samsung’s Doomed Note7 Gets a Second Life as the Fan Edition

Samsung’s Doomed Note7 Gets a Second Life as the Fan Edition

Almost a year after the first fateful reports of the flame-happy Galaxy Note7, the Samsung Galaxy Note “Fan Edition” has just made its redux debut. And in case you were wondering—no, there isn’t a tiny fan in there to help prevent battery fires. (We checked.)

The reissued Fan Edition phone is a response to the outcry over the forced recall of these well-reviewed (if dangerous) phones. Before they started exploding, people really liked the Note7. And lots of owners didn’t want to settle for pen-less phone alternatives. Environmental activists, like Greenpeace, also decried the idea of millions of brand-new phones (along with all the energy and resources it took to make them) being destroyed as part of the recall—and they put pressure on Samsung to deal with the recalled phones responsibly.

In response to one—or both—of these groups, Samsung refurbished and reissued the 2016 Note under the Fan Edition (FE) branding (conspicuously leaving the Note7 name out of promotion and labeling). Naturally, we got our hands on one and tore it down.

Salvaging the Note7

The “Fan Edition” is only available in South Korea so far—though it could be poised for a larger comeback. But only if Samsung has truly ironed out the issues that doomed the Note7 to its explosively short shelf life.

In the case of the Note7’s exploding battery, the problem was two-fold and occurred in two separately-sourced batches of batteries. Wired’s Tim Moynihan explains:

In the case of batteries sourced from Samsung SDI, there wasn’t enough room between the heat-sealed protective pouch around the battery and its internals. In the worst scenarios, that caused electrodes inside each battery to crimp, weaken the separator between the electrodes, and cause short circuiting.

In the case of batteries sourced from Amperex Technology Limited, some cells were missing insulation tape, and some batteries had sharp protrusions inside the cell that led to damage to the separator between the anode and cathode. The batteries also had thin separators in general, which increased the risks of separator damage and short circuiting.

If you’ll recall, Samsung actually recalled the phone twice—first recalling the 2.5 million-or-so phones with the Samsung-made battery. But when the safe, replacement phones started exploding, too … then the batteries really hit the fan. The limited recall escalated into a worldwide recall, complete with flameproof boxes for shipping the phones back to Samsung.

The episode shook consumer confidence in Samsung. It’s also my professional assessment that Samsung would strongly prefer the re-skinned, re-batteried Galaxy Note Fan Edition to not spontaneously explode.

So, what’d they do to keep that from happening?

Tearing Down the Note Fan Edition

Now, we knew this was going to be a refurbished version of the old phone, but we held out hope that maybe, just maybe, the glass/glue battery sandwich design may have changed just bit. However, after an arduous heating and prying session, the rear glass comes away just as stubbornly as before, again revealing the antenna assembly.

The astute viewer may note the only real difference here is the antenna design, but that’s not really a difference per se. Since the FE was only available in Korea, it has the appropriate Korea-compatible antennas, while our Note7 was built for North America (note the KOR vs N2).

But let’s get down to brass tacks—or rather, silver batteries. The batteries look fairly identical—but there are some important differences. The FE has a brand new battery. The one in our unit was dated June 20, so it’s pretty much fresh out of the factory. And the refurbed phone’s battery capacity is indeed smaller, clocking in at 12.32 Wh compared to the OG Note7’s 13.48 Wh whopper. The Fan Edition’s battery is still glued down in a well with slim margins. No easy pull-to-remove adhesive tabs in sight—which feels like a misstep. A non-removable battery made the Note7 recall particularly messy. So, why double down and lacquer your replacement battery into the phone again? But, I digress.

After a lengthy extraction process, we get the numbers that reveal a physical size change, not just a capacity difference. At 45.4 g, the new battery weighs 2.3 grams less than the original, and measures in at 37.4 mm x 97.2 mm x ~5.0 mm compared with the Note7’s 37.9 mm x 97.8 mm x 4.9 mm. The FE has indeed lost some mass (more insulation=less battery=lighter), and the volume seems smaller as well. The changes may well be within the tolerances of past Note7 batteries, but in theory, Samsung has adjusted their curve.

These graphs represent the frequency of the true size of a manufactured item, with the top of the curve representing the target size. Items that fall to the right of the red line are problematic. Shifting the target left lowers the max size of an item, making red-line items improbable.

A note about manufacturing variance: Not every battery a manufacturer makes can hit every design spec dead on; there’s going to be some variance. In the case of the Samsung SDI Note7 batteries, this natural deviation was enough to cause some of the edge cases to pass outside the safe operating zone. The solution then is not necessarily stricter quality control, but a shift of the entire spec, so that even the edgiest edge cases still fall within the safe zone. Then anything missed in quality control has a higher likelihood of being safe.

Now, the sample size we’ve analyzed is just one (1) old battery and one (1) new one—so we can’t say much about what the target is, or how much it shifted. Additionally, we can’t say how much the internal structure has changed. But, by our external measurements we’re concluding that the ideal FE battery is probably smaller than the ideal Note7 battery. So any swelling, crimping issues should be mitigated—but size isn’t the only issue at play here. So once again, only time will tell if Note will go down in flames.

Beyond batteries, we’ve got exactly the same phone: no evidence of the rumored processor bumps, and no surprises. So the Galaxy Note Fan Edition still earns (or rather inherits) a 4 out of 10 on our repairability scale. Well, as long as it doesn’t self destruct.

For more imagery, check out the teardown on iFixit.com.

Keep the Internet Weird: Save Net Neutrality

Keep the Internet Weird: Save Net Neutrality

The internet is a pretty neat place. Sure—sometimes it gets a little weird, but it’s usually weird in a wonderful way. The internet taught me how to play guitar. The internet never fails to comfort me with Harry Potter fan videos when I’m in need of a smile. And when the people of the Internet come together, we can do wonderful things. Because of wonderful netizens like you, iFixit was able to help almost 100 million people fix their things just last year.

The internet makes our lives better—and it’s a real shame that it’s under attack. Right now, the internet is facing one of the greatest threats in its history. The Federal Communications Commision (FCC) is on the brink of giving companies like Comcast and Verizon control over what we can see and do on the internet.

If they win, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will have the power to throttle, block, censor, and charge whatever they darn well please. Which means we could soon be faced with an internet that forces some of our favorite websites into the slowlane. Or worse, charges a hefty premium to access them. Or worse-worse, blocks them altogether.

Meanwhile, companies with deep pockets could be given special VIP internet prioritization—tilting the odds ever in their favor. Apparently money talks. But then again, so do we.

The internet belongs to all of us, and today, we’re fighting back! iFixit is proud to stand in solidarity with our fellow netizens to fight for an equal internet. We will sound the alarm against the FCC. And we will prove that if we stand together, we can use the internet to save the internet.

Will you join a massive, internet-wide Day of Action to save the open internet? Learn how you can join the protest or spread the word here.

Podnutz Daily #485 – Kenneth Litzsey from Litzsey Tech Services

A Show for Computer Repair Techs by Computer Repair Techs

Jeff Halash from TechNutPC.com Talks to Computer Technicians

Google+ Jeffery Halash

Twitter: TechNutPC

Email: PodnutzDaily@Podnutz.com

Kenneth Litzsey from Litzsey Tech Services

A long-time techie that decided to strike out on my own 4 years ago to start my own IT company. I’m a one-man IT shop that is looking to partner with likeminded people with skill sets outside my own to provide service for small businesses.

I am part of the Commercial Avenue Development Mission http://southchicagochamber.org/commercial-avenue-development/

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Take a Stand Against DRM

Take a Stand Against DRM

Today, is the International Day Against DRM, which means it’s time for your friendly, annual reminder: DRM sucks—it throttles property rights, turns owners into criminals, and artificially limits the usefulness of your stuff. So join us in taking a stand against DRM, and the corporate overreaching it stands for.

What is DRM?

Even if you’ve never heard of it, you’ve probably encountered DRM before. DRM is the reason you can’t take ebooks with you to another e-reader. It’s the reason why you can’t watch some digital movies you buy on “unapproved” devices. It’s the reason you can’t watch an out-of-region DVD on your laptop. DRM stands for Digital Rights Management, though it would be more accurate to call it “digital restrictions management.” Because, as the Free Software Foundation explains, DRM is “the practice of imposing technological restrictions that control what users can do with digital media.” So, generally speaking DRM is handcuffs for your digital stuff.

As digital activist and sci-fi writer Cory Doctorow puts it: “Anytime someone puts a lock on something that belongs to you and won’t give you the key, it’s not there for your benefit.”

Defenders of DRM will tell you that those handcuffs protect digital content—like music, games, and movies—from being illegally copied and pirated. But DRM doesn’t actually do a good job of stopping piracy. Instead, it does a great job at policing the way legitimate owners use their stuff.

“Users may be forced to use certain hardware or software platforms, limited to accessing their media on a predetermined number of devices, […] unable to use accessibility software such as screen readers, cut off from accessing media in certain locales, or even stripped of their media by having their files silently and remotely deleted at any time,” the Free Software Foundation explains. And thanks to Section 1201 of the DMCA, owners risk jail time if they bypass the DRM to get around the limitations.

DRM has become so ubiquitous in digital goods, consumers almost expect it. But it’s still jarring when DRM pops up in physical goods. Because the scam of DRM becomes that much more evident. As owners and users, we know that the hardware is mechanically capable of performing the job we’re asking of it. But the machine has been programmed by its makers to answer only to them. DRM essentially breaks an otherwise functional product—and, most of the time, people don’t find out until they’ve already bought it.

Stopping the Spread of DRM

In 2014, cat-lover and programmer Jorge Lopez discovered that his smart kitty litter box came with one particularly crappy feature: the CatGenie was programmed to shut down if its sanitizer was refilled with “unauthorized” soap. The tactic is straight out of the playbook of printer companies, who have long used DRM to force consumers into buying a new toner cartridges instead of refilling their old ones. That’s the real beauty of DRM—companies can lock consumers into buying expensive consumables, like packets of “approved” sanitizer or printer ink. And customers keep coming back for more, because they have to.

In recent years, DRM has also found its way into cars, into coffee machines, into thermostats, into juice presses, into lightbulbs, and (as we’ve written about before) into tractors where it stops farmers from fixing tractors on their own. And that, right there, is what makes DRM really scary: it’s subverting the principles of ownership. Do you really own something if it programmatically answers to a higher master? Is it really your property if you can’t use it, modify it, or repair it the way you’d like to?

But folks are banding together to wrest back their property rights. This year, Right to Repair legislation introduced in twelve states took a stand against DRM in tractors. Recently, the Supreme Court slapped down Lexmark when it tried to sue a refurbisher for circumventing DRM to refill printer cartridges. And the EFF recently filed a lawsuit against the US government over Section 1201 of the DMCA.

DRM that limits an owner’s rights—especially their ability to repair, modify and reuse the products that they’ve already paid for—is wrong. Take a stand against DRM, and tell manufacturers that you don’t want products that are defective by design. Look for products that are proudly DRM-free. And head on over to Day Against DRM’s website for more resources and ways to help.