What Really Goes Wrong With Your Tablet

We’ve all seen our share of consumer electronic devices that need repair. It’s inevitable that, however well-cared-for it will be, there’s always the unforseen that brings its life to an end. Many of us will be using devices we’ve repaired ourselves, because often other people’s useless broken electronics can be our free stuff when we know how to fix them and they don’t. This is the arena the Restart Project operate in, as through their Restart Parties they provide repair services to save unnecessary landfill. Over nearly a decade in operation they’ve fixed a huge number of faulty items, and now they’re releasing some data and have analysed common fault modes and barriers to repair for some categories.

We’re restricted to tablets, printers, and batteries, and while many of the problems  are the wear-and-tear such as tablet screens, power supplies, charging connectors, and paper feeds that most of us would expect, it’s the barriers to repair which the Restart Project are keen to draw attention to. Products that are near-impossible to open without damage, parts such as batteries which are difficult to remove, and unavailability of spares. It’s to become part of their campaigning for legal repairability standards across Europe.

Aside from their own analysis, the full data is all available for download should you have any extra insights. We’ve made our position on this matter very clear indeed.

33 thoughts on “What Really Goes Wrong With Your Tablet

  1. i’m pretty comfortable with the usual replace the screen, replace the battery, replace the keyboard sort of stuff..i’m starting to come around to being able to deal with the glued-in batteries and crap too. i just go ahead and demolish the battery on its way out, and install a fresh one. ugh. whatever. at least i still haven’t regretted not replacing the tape. my phones anymore are just held together by the little plastic clips.

    but i had an original nexus 7 that simply got slower. it was so fast when it was new! but i used it for years as an alarm clock and it simply wasn’t fast enough. the performance-demanding task: slide the circle right to turn off the alarm. not exactly mining BTC but it simply couldn’t keep up. the alarm would keep ringing for seconds after the slide operation. the alarm would ring for 10 seconds before it even displayed the thing i’m supposed to slide on. sometimes it would get confused and i’d have to wait a solid 30 seconds for it to catch up to itself before i could re-attempt the slide-to-silence maneuver. i rebooted it, no change. i reinstalled the OS to an old version, in case i’d gotten bogged down in update hell…it was actually great for a couple weeks but then before you knew it, it was slow again. literally just an alarm clock.

    i want to know why that happened. i’ve heard rumors the flash in the original nexus 7 is defective?? i don’t know what that means, and why would it slow down such a simple operation? it should have the alarm clock app and lock screen loaded in memory! i mean, obviously, there is a severe software failure underlying this.

    i just wish i knew why i can’t repair this thing. usually i at least know why i can’t repair it.

    1. I received two Nexus 7 tablets with the exact same problem. They just got slow. Reverting to the second-latest Android release helped a bit but not too much. Custom builds didn’t help either. Perhaps the rumour about flash issues has some truth in it? I can imagine that Android does plenty of small flash accesses during routine operations, so if these take a much longer time than expected, then the system could slow down to a crawl.

      1. So, Flash is actually a part that wears out over use. Regardless of any clever things that are done flash cells will stop working over time and its performance will degrade. Controllers try to spread this wear out across the disk but eventually sectors will a fail and the actual usable space will decrease and performance will suffer.

        It puts a definite lifetime on how long any device that uses flash will last.
        It’s hard not to be cynical about the fact that the 2 year or so lifetime with good performance seems to match up awfully well with product lifecycles.

        Its a crying shame that flash tends to be soldered in and not easily user replaceable, as most of these devices would be perfectly usable with a few dollars worth of new chips.

        1. My Nexus7 tablet was slowing to death (often more than 30seconds latency from tap on button to menu open !!!) I used to think the flash was the culprit, but after I installed a LineageOS distro it’s definitely much quicker. Not as responsive as a recent tablet/smartphone, but definitely useable. And LineageOS installation proved much easier than I expected.

      2. When people noticed this happening with Apple gear, it was (iirc) because the hardware was slowing down to accommodate the steadily weakening (and non-replaceable without surgery) battery. Could something similar be happening with the Nexus 7? (I bought an Asus Fonepad back when they first came out, and the same fate has befallen it; it still charges, and as far as I know hasn’t become a spicy pillow, but it’s so very slow nowadays…)

        1. I replaced my Nexus 7 battery and installed UBports it’s like having a brand new device and one that doesn’t rely on google services, put that tablet right back where it belongs on a shelf with a the other unused hardware.

    2. I didn’t know about flash wearing out. I’ve heard SSD’s slow down as they fill up. I assume all slowdowns are due to software downdates. I recently disabled the play store and my battery life has doubled.

      1. Different problems.

        Continuous overwriting will “wear” FLASH out at some stage. On things like phones and tablets the system it works in tries reduce the effect of this with “wear leveling”. Wear leveling just marks blocks as bad and maps them out so the system doesn’t try to re-use them. You (or the manufacturer) can buy FLASH that will do a small number of re-writes or a large number of re-writes. Obviously one costs more than the other.

        The SSD problem is more an OS problem with older OS’s. It is a result of a different problem. The problem is that you can’t re-write data with FLASH like Random Access Memory (RAM). To re-write data you have to erase an entire block and re-write a block with the minor change to the data. Data can be written to a blank block very quickly but erasing a block is very slow.

        When a SSD is new there are lots of empty erased blocks so you don’t have to erase a block to make changes, instead you just re-write the data to an already blank block and map it into the place the original block was. When you start to run out of empty blocks you have to erase first and the re-write which is very slow.

        The problem is that the hardware doesn’t know which blocks the OS is using so it doesn’t know which blocks it can erase (in advance) to make future writes faster. This was fixed in XP with a function called TRIM which caused the erasing of unused blocks at idle times.

  2. I’m very happy with a glued-together phone with a non-replaceable battery. As long as the software keeps evolving, the phone hardware outlives the software (the hardware outlives it’s useful life because the new software needs higher-spec hardware to run).
    Replaceable batteries would almost certainly mean far more phones in landfill, as they’d fail before their useful life had ended due to getting wet etc.

    But laptops is different. They don’t get dropped or wet nearly as much as phones. I’m not a fan of non-upgradable laptops; particularly ram and HDD upgrades can massively extend the life of a laptop, as evidenced by my 2015 MacBook, which is still working and performing fine. I probably would be if I carried a laptop around all the time, but like most people I don’t.

    1. When everything is constrained to a few square inch of screen you don’t need half as much processing to run all the application you can usefully use on such a device or to drive the tiny screen as you do on a more ‘real’ computer. So I would say that is bollocks point, for years smart phones have been pushing performance into faster than your office computer levels, with the graphics processing hardware of a small console, you don’t need a new one to run the newer software – that might be true because your phone ceases getting updates, or is deliberately updated to slow it down and push you to buy a new one, but performance wise even rather old more budget ones are pretty damn overkill for a phone…

      I do agree you have a point on waterproofing, which sealing up in glue makes easier, though as its a long solved problem to make water tight yet openable enclosures I don’t see it a good reason to glue everything together – that is just good for making repairs more difficult to perform. Plenty of old easy swap battery phones that could take water immersion for quite a while at least…

    2. I have a phone that is waterproof because the case is sealed using screws and gaskets for seams and rubber plugs for all of the ports. It has a “non-replaceable” battery that I replaced, and it is still very waterproof, again because of the gaskets and screws. The battery had bloated so much, it started to pry the phone open. That’s how I noticed it needed replacing. Once repaired, you couldn’t tell anything had been done to it.

      All they have to do is stop making things to be replaced and start making them to be repaired and all these problems go away.

    3. And then you can see that this is just your opinion. I still have a running Samsung Galaxy S2 which I use as a smarthome hub and a S6 which I use as a second car dashboard using ODBCII data. The hardware hasn’t outlived its useful life at all – to me!

  3. “other people’s useless broken electronics can be our free stuff when we know how to fix them”…be careful with this. I’m now constantly stepping around five 50” TV’s in the floor of my home office as the result of a short-sighted application of this superpower. :-)

  4. What really goes wrong with (my) tablet?
    The oldest one (Android 4.0.4) no longer connects to Wi-Fi.
    One has a broken Power button, it is apart, I’m waiting for a (tiny) replacement to show up in the junk box..
    2 have cracked screens…
    One, we’ve forgotten the access code…

    1. Broke the touchscreen of my first tablet less than a year after I bought it new. Sent it in for repair, but even the manufacturer said they were unable to get a replacement part.

      The consequence of this 115€ mishap is that nowadays I keep my tablet in a custom made felt sheath that has an aluminium plate sewn into it to protect the screen.

  5. There is nothing wrong with a tablet that breaks down and falls apart after a few years, it’s behaving exactly as it was designed. You can fight to keep it running but just remember that it was designed to break at the end of its service life, so you are just wasting your time digging in garbage. And you wonder why they are so cheap.

    1. I try to fix or repurpose my devices as much as I can but we have the chance to have open hardware or let’s say “friendly” hardware you can repair/extend easily, on which you could install an opensource OS, so sometime, bother to fix a smartphone with closed bootloader or no drivers is demotivating – yeah, strange for a diy/hack enthusiast – but this is because we do have open alternatives nowadays.

  6. It’s all very well fixing up the hardware to keep it going, but the software needs fixing up too, as a great many critical bugs and flaws get fixed over the years. With Android particularly even if google releases fixes it is up to the hardware manufacturer to release a new version specific to their hardware. And most don’t after a couple of years.

    Those “in the know” can perhaps install an independent browser and keep it updated, which is an improvement, but sooner or later it won’t support your old OS or is unbearably slow on your old hardware.

    Fancy logging into your bank account on a old phone or tablet that hasn’t been updated in years? I don’t.

    1. That’s why you keep one phabletop device dedicated for financial stuff ONLY. And a bunch of other ones for surfing dodgy websites (like Hackaday!) and don’t use email social media or anything like that on the REALLY DODGY ones.

      The air gap is very powerful.

        1. For links and SMS you can copy/paste and forward them to a fresh email address that only you know , to be picked up on your secure device.

          For those without the luxury of different devices, some extra security is afforded by running a number of browsers e.g. firefox, chrome, etc side by side. Only do your financials and nothing else on one of the browsers, and shut it down completely when you have finished. Even better would be to put the secured browser under a different login, if you have linux, or even windows (if you can sort out the permissions).

          But – separate devices are the way to go for a reasonable amount of security.

  7. One way to prevent the charging point of your phone or tablet from breaking is to use a magnetic connector. The magnetic plug is always plugged in, so you don’t wear out the port.
    I bought a Nokia8 phone, it has “Android One” (guaranteed updates for many years), within a week it already had charging issues. They had to replace the USB-C charging port. I now use a magnetic connector so not to wear out the port. Ironically I bought the phone with USB-C because I thought that would last longer than micro-USB. I had a Samsung phone with a defective Micro USB before this one. I tried to repair it, but the screen cracked when I opened the case. Glued water proof cases are a feature nobody asked for. The battery of my current phone is wearing out, I won’t have it replaced so that’s the end of it. What a waste.

    My biggest beef is obsolescence due to software. Printers which stop working or tablets/phones that slow down. This is criminal.

    1. The old Nokia cylindrical charging plug was great. I never heard of one of those wearing out.

      I’ve been disappointed with USB-C too. They seem to get loose fairly quickly and the symmetrical nature of the connector only seems to work “sometimes.”

  8. I have a Recon Instruments MOD LIVE Heads up display ski goggles from around 2013 and the battery has gone. They put a sticker with the serial nr and sizes on it which turned out to be a blatant lie (after having spent quite some time finding a way to open the case). It took me literally 8 hours before I was in a place to order a new one – which I will need to solder onto the usb charging chip when I get it in a few months (only comes from China afaik). The company itself was shuttered by Intel in 2017 so can’t help. We definitely need better repairability rules.

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