Nexus 7 Teardown Reveals Highly Repairable Device, Giant Battery

After Apple released the MacBook Pro with Retina Display last month, there's been a great deal of discussion around Apple's decision to make the device nearly impossible to repair. It's a "feature" that's Apple has steadily pushed across most of its product lines; the iPad 3 is similarly difficult to modify. iFixit has just posted their teardown of the Google Nexus 7 tablet, with an eye towards discovering whether Google took a page from Apple's book or pointedly refused to do so.

1mm difference Between iPad, Nexus 7

The Nexus 7 uses retention clips to hold the frame together; iFixit describes the process of releasing those clips as "smooth as butter." The size difference between Apple's glue and Google's clips boils down to just one millimeter. As iFixit notes:

  • That's the difference in thickness between the 9.4 mm glued iPad and the 10.4 mm retaining-clipped Nexus.
  • That's the difference between being able to open a device and service all of its internals, and not.
  • That's the negligible difference between extending the life of your device through repair, as opposed to tossing it in a landfill.
  • And most of all, nobody will complain about that one millimeter difference in day-to-day use, but the user-serviceability it brings will make all the difference when the device breaks.
Much of the tablet's interior space is taken up by its 4326mAh, 16W battery. Charge life is somewhat better than the Kindle Fire, which uses a similar pack; the Nexus 7 measures at 9.5 hours compared to a bit under 8 hours for the KF. The battery itself is easy to remove / replace. The glass, unfortunately, continues the trend Apple kicked off and is bonded to the LCD. That means there's no such thing as a cheap replacement -- break the glass, and you'll be out the full display cost.

The unit's overall ranking from 1-10, where 10 is the easiest to repair, is a thoroughly respectable seven -- but there's a bit more to discuss here.

What Kind of Devices Do You Want To Own?

Apple has made it increasingly difficult for enthusiasts to repair their devices going all the way back to the iPod. Customers, in return, have flocked to Apple products. This sends a message to the company -- the overwhelming majority of people don't care. As iFixit's Kyle Wiens wrote a few weeks back, however, this trend isn't a good thing for anyone long-term.

"The future of this planet," he writes, "depends on the quality of our electronic devices — and how long they last." He continues:
I dream of a sustainable technology industry that makes life-changing innovations like the iPad available to everyone on the planet. But I have a message for Jonathan Ive. I think that on top of building amazing new products, the technology industry should have three goals:
  • Make our innovations available to everyone on the planet, not just the richest 12 percent in America and Europe.
  • Stop the devastating environmental and social impacts of hardware manufacturing.
  • Depend far less on mining than we do currently. It’s not just the coltan mines fueling wars in the DRC — the Berkeley Pit disaster was so devastating that many in Montana wish they had never tapped the copper deposits. That same situation is repeating itself in parts of China and Africa right now.
The Berkeley Pit is a mine in Montana. Water in the mine is heavily saturated with heavy metals and chemicals -- sufficiently so that its pH has risen to ~2.5, equivalent to lemon juice. Water levels in the mine have been rising steadily since it was closed in 1982, to the point that they're now just 150 feet below the water table. Once the two meet, the heavily acidified Berkeley Pit water will backflow into the Silver Bow Creek -- which is the headwater of the Clark Fork river. The water is apparently so toxic, it's possible to extract copper directly from it.

That's one small example of a greater problem that involves companies far upstream of Apple and further downstream from you and I, the end consumer. It's our dollars, however, that ultimately do the talking, and Wiens argues that we, as a society, have great reason to prefer recyclable, repairable, and sustainable devices, regardless of whether you take a liberal or conservative view of such things.

His piece is worth a read, and it frames the repairability question nicely. What is an iPad, or a Kindle Fire, or a Nexus 7? Is it a device you buy, then throw away in two years when the replacement comes out -- or is it a product you expect to still be using in 3-5 years, or to have passed down to kids / grandkids / other friends? If it's the latter, then we need devices people can fix, without having to unilaterally pay a specialist top dollar.