HMD and its licensed Nokia brand is taking a swing at a repairable smartphone with the Nokia G22. Like Google and Samsung, HMD has struck up a partnership with iFixit to offer official parts and repair guides online. Besides the partnership, HMD goes one step further and claims: “Starting with Nokia G22, we’ll be designing and building smartphones that are easier to repair.” It’s great to see a company tout attempts at a more repairable design, but there isn’t much in the G22 that actually makes it more repairable than a normal cheap phone.
The phone itself is a low-end $179 (179 euro) device with a 6.52-inch, 90 Hz, 1200×720 LCD. The SoC is a ‘Unisoc T606’—a 12nm chip with two Cortex A75 arm cores, two A55 cores, and an ARM Mali-G57 MP1. It has 4GB of RAM, 64GB of storage, and a 5050 mAh battery with 20 W charging. The phone has a side fingerprint reader, a headphone jack, MicroSD slot, and, if you get the “TA-1528” model, NFC. The phone comes with Android 12 and has two years of major OS updates and three years of monthly security updates, which are both pretty good for a cheap phone. It’ll be for sale on March 8 in the UK for £149.99 ($179), with sales also happening in Europe and Australia eventually.
As for iFixit’s half of this partnership, there are four parts for sale in the parts store: A screen for $53, a battery for $26, a charge port for $20, and a new plastic back panel for $26. There are also the usual high-quality guides from iFixit that detail every screw and clip you’ll have to deal with to actually replace those parts, along with a recommended list of tools.
In what way is this “repairable” design?
So far, that’s all great. Every manufacturer should offer parts and guides on how to replace broken parts. As usual, the parts store should be more comprehensive, and any kind of effort is appreciated. HMD took things a step further, though, when it promised an actual design that prioritizes repair. But if you ask, “What deliberate design decisions were made to prioritize repair?” you won’t get a lot of satisfying answers.
The G22 is a cheap phone that isn’t water-resistant and has a plastic back. That means it’s not glued together, and you don’t have to mess around with heating pads. That’s true of a lot of cheap phones, though—water resistance and a glass back are the features that tend to bring out the gobs of glue, and cheap phones normally don’t have to deal with that, so this level of “repairability” is pretty standard for cheap phones. It would be great if a “repairable” phone took on the tradeoff of “openability over water resistance.” HMD’s glue-free opening method is jamming a guitar pick into the seams of the phone and prying at a bunch of plastic tabs. I’d rather see an opening method here that used an actual fastener, which would feel a lot more sustainable and repair-friendly.
Once inside the phone, you’ll see a pull-tab for the glued-in battery and not much else by way of repairability. A screen replacement is one of the most commonly needed repairs, but in the G22, all of the components are mounted to the back of the screen, so a screen replacement means stripping every component out of the phone to get to the display/frame combo. iFixit’s official guide lists 39 steps to replace the screen, which feels way more complicated than it needs to be, especially for something marketed as repairable.
If you look at a teardown of the phone this is replacing, the G21, the only change made to the G22 that makes it worthy of the new “repairable” sales pitch is the change from a glued-on back to plastic tabs. The G21 also wasn’t water-resistant and didn’t use glue in the first place. That’s definitely a small step in the right direction, but it seems like there has been a lot more effort given to the repairability marketing rather than the repairability of the actual phone. The second primary bullet point on the website is “QuickFix repairability,” a whole made-up camel-case brand, but there isn’t much that backs up that talk.
An actually repair-friendly design would probably look something like an iPhone 14. Apple is certainly no friend to repair, with arbitrary software lockouts, but the physical design of the phone is pretty repair-friendly, thanks to a central frame that all the components are mounted to. Mounting everything to an internal frame means the front and back panels are removable in only two or three steps (undo the bottom screws, fight with the glue, maybe unplug a cable). You get to pick which panel you take off first, so for a screen replacement, you can take off the front screen and just replace it. For a battery replacement you can take the back panel off first instead and replace the battery without touching the rest of the phone. We would celebrate a truly repairable design, but HMD’s “repairable” phone just seems like a normal cheap phone design with a parts store and a novel sales pitch.
Listing image by iFixit