back to article iFixit slams Samsung's phone 'upcycling' scheme for falling short of what was promised

It's a sad, pointless, and frankly wasteful cycle. You buy a phone. Two years later, you buy another. The old phone goes into a drawer, where it sits until you eventually get around to recycling it. In 2017, Samsung proposed breaking this cycle with its "Galaxy Upcycling" scheme. The premise was simple: turn that antiquated, …

  1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "You buy a phone. Two years later, you buy another"

    Nope. That's not how I do things.

    I buy a phone, and I keep it until it dies.

    It's a phone. I use it to <gasp> actually call people, and recieve calls.

    For the rest, I have a desk, three computers and five screens, plus assorted keyboards and mice.

    I'm not wasting my time squinting at a screen smaller than my hand where I have to be extra careful to push the exact right pixels not too hard with my fat fingers to send an SMS that ressembles English.

    You've got the latest model ? Good for you. I don't care. I can replace the battery on mine in less than 60 seconds, no tools needed.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "You buy a phone. Two years later, you buy another"

      That you are not average is small comfort to the rest of us. Your comment does not address the larger problem of 'new!' becoming old and useless for the greatest proportion of customers. So why did you comment thusly?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @AC - Re: "You buy a phone. Two years later, you buy another"

        He's not trying to comfort you or any of us. He's just telling us it can be done and also how he did it.

      2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

        Re: useless

        Useless ? Are you saying that after two years your phone stops being able to phone ?

        I have a Samsung Galaxy A3, It can phone, manage text messages, take and send pictures, show videos and use apps from the bloody store.

        If I buy a new phone, I will be able to phone, manage text messages, take and send pictures, watch videos and use apps from the bloody store. It just might, additionally, be able to do that slightly better. Big whoop.

        What can your brand new phone do that my "useless" phone cannot ?

        1. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

          Re: useless

          Most likely referring to the perception of uselessness, obsolecence and underperformance that phone companies and network providers want consumers to believe. If Joe Public believes their current phone will be perfectly good for many more years, where's the compulsion to buy a new one, sign up for a new X-year contract?

    2. Anonymous Coward Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: "You buy a phone. Two years later, you buy another"

      Good for you. Some of us actually leave our desks occasionally and need portable communication devices which have capabilities beyond shouting at someone who can't hear you very well.

    3. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

      Re: "You buy a phone. Two years later, you buy another"

      Downvoted for being smug. And irrelevant.

    4. heyrick Silver badge

      Re: "You buy a phone. Two years later, you buy another"

      I get a new phone every two years because I'm passing for it in my contract.

      The older one gets used as a little tablet, or a webradio, or anything that doesn't need to be more mobile than WiFi.

      As to the one prior? By this point either the battery is dying or its been so long since the last update that sticking it on the internet would be dumb.

      So, it's pretty much the same churn, only with a grace period in between as I find uses for "the phone before".

      It's a surprise that iFixit got as far as they did. A phone manufacturer's job is to think of reasons to sell you a newer better model. Repurposing an old device isn't that, so the lack of interest isn't surprising. They probably did the minimum necessary in order to be seen "to be doing something", as I would imagine they're a lot more frightened of a government legislating that devices must be supported for at least X years.

      1. Down not across

        Re: "You buy a phone. Two years later, you buy another"

        They probably did the minimum necessary in order to be seen "to be doing something", as I would imagine they're a lot more frightened of a government legislating that devices must be supported for at least X years.

        Or requirement for manufacturers to provide unlocked bootloader, if not during support cycle, at least at end of support.

      2. Shalghar Bronze badge

        Re: "You buy a phone. Two years later, you buy another"

        I did not look at the sales figures for anything raspberry, actually but looking through the usual suppliers for tinkertronics, i always see quite a number of packages, addons and other peripherals for the various pi that gives me the idea theres money to be made.

        If Samsung is shortsighted and narrowminded enough to not see this potential and use older variants of their current products as an equivalent to pi addons while the actual flagship (maybe with a simplistic pseudoprogramming app thrown in) being the equivalent to the most actual pi, then hard luck for them.

        There is a multitude of roles that older phones already fulfill, from IP cameras to webradios to whatever the hardware can deliver. Add a pseudo GPIO and power delivery adapter to the usb slots and you have something to tinker with. Samsung could produce those adapters, a programming/developing environment, everything one might want or need but directly dependant on Samsung hardware. They had their own phone OS (bada) once, why shouldn´t they be able ot augment the older and newer phones OS for this kind of new purpose ?

        This would also be a selling point for the newer samsung phones and/or tablets. Bonus points and profits for delivering their own "smart home" IOTrash gadgettery.

    5. WolfFan

      Re: "You buy a phone. Two years later, you buy another

      Errm… I currently have two older phones sitting as spares which can be and are used as devices on my local network but not out of the house because their SIMs have moved to new phones: a iPhone SE, retired because it’s battery lasted for five years but now struggles to hold a change for a day, and a iPhone 6, even older than the SE and with a cracked screen. They still work as phones over the network thanks to Apple’s tech (maybe Android has something similar, I don’t know, I haven’t own anything Android in over a decade) and can do useful work, but they’re about six years old now. Without a SIM they’re useless outside of wireless range of the house, but still can receive and make calls as long as they’re in range. The new phones which replaced them, a iPhone SE2 and a iPhone 12, are noticeably superior in most respects, especially battery life. And are quite useful as emergency web devices, though I prefer a tablet or a real computer for that.

      I use my phones and tablets until the batteries start giving trouble, then get a new one and park the old as a backup. This is being typed on an iPad Pro, the iPad 6 it replaced is a backup. It was down to 42% power this morning, I set it to charge, I must remember to unplug it.

  2. don't you hate it when you lose your account

    Marketing cycle

    The big money is made from persuading people they need the new shiny. So the old shiny becomes waste, basically just wasted shit. Dont blame ifixit stance, they were fed lies to give credence to the marketing cycle.

  3. Anonymous Coward Silver badge

    something that didn't "have a clear product tie-in or revenue plan."

    Well, if people know that when a device is no longer useful for its primary purpose it can live on in another role, that's a massive marketing win - especially with eco-aware consumers.

    It may well have influenced my buying choices if it had been developed properly.

    1. IGotOut Silver badge

      My old phone is my SatNav (Here, so works offline) and music player.

      My old tablet streams music to my HiFi and sometimes slings content to my TV.

      Just stop thinking them as a phone or tablet and crack on.

      1. Danny 14

        same here. my note3 is a copilot and car wifi. it stays in the car mostly. daily phone is an s8, it had an unlocked bootloader so thats flashed with many years to go. the battery will be an issue to replace but im sure I can do so.....

  4. Oh Matron!

    But what about Apple?

    Apple's recycling scheme is actually quite decent..... Last autumn, I got £560 towards my new iPhone for the previous year's iPhone 11 pro. I got £250 for my two year old Apple watch

    Yes, throw all the insults you wish about me needlessly upgrading every year, but at least my device get's properly recycled / reused (which is the kicker)

    Apple's supply chain is brilliant. That iPhone I took in gets dismantled, the case gets proper recycled, and the components go into a "refurbished" iPhone that you either get from apple's Refurb site, or as a replacement when you go and get your phone replaced at the genius bar

    The problem is that Samsung is a "stack it high and sell it, erm, not so cheap". The depreciation is hideous. And once the phone is sold, Samsung don't give a rat's ass about what happens to it after that. Despite its faults, you have to admire Apple's supply chain and dedication to reuse / recycle

    1. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

      Re: But what about Apple?

      "Apple's recycling scheme is actually quite decent..... Last autumn, I got £560 towards my new iPhone for the previous year's iPhone 11 pro. I got £250 for my two year old Apple watch"

      I love Apple, as regular commentards know, but their recycling scheme is a pile of crud. You would have been WAY better off selling your <1yr old iPhone 11 Pro on the second hand market; you would have got far more money for it, and it would have gone to somebody else who could continue to use it; which is the ultimate form of recycling.

      1. Cuddles

        Re: But what about Apple?

        "it would have gone to somebody else who could continue to use it; which is the ultimate form of recycling."

        Exactly. This is why the catchphrase is "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle", in that order. Sending a 1 year old phone off to be recycled is terrible. Yes, it's slightly better than just throwing in a landfill, but not by much. Every phone bought will become waste of some form or another eventually, so by far the best thing you can do to reduce that is to not buy a new phone at all. If you absolutely must replace it, then the best thing to do is reuse it somehow, either by giving it to someone who still thinks it's fine or by repurposing it in some way. That latter part is what Samsung has apparently decided not to do. You only resort to recycling when an item is no longer suitable for any use, and all you can do is try to salvage something useful from its remains.

        Boasting about Apple's supply chain being great because they dismantle and recycle large portions of perfectly good equipment betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of how environmentalism actually works. Binning a perfecly good phone and buying a new one is not a good thing to do. Sending it to Apple who will dismantle and throw out significant parts of it is not a good thing to do. You don't get to justify a needlessly wasteful lifestyle by saying that your waste disposal is very slightly better than the worst option possible.

      2. DS999 Silver badge
        Stop

        Re: But what about Apple?

        Apple has a third party (Brightstar IIRC) refurbish and resell the phones they take in trade, they are not recycling any of the phones they do a trade in deal on unless they are badly damaged.

        You can get more money selling them yourself, but that's the same with any sort of trade in. If you trade in your car you never get the same value you could make if you put it on Craigslist and sold it yourself. You take Apple's trade in option for convenience's sake, the same reason you trade in your Ford to the Ford dealer instead of selling it yourself.

  5. b0llchit Silver badge
    Childcatcher

    Its a problem of volume

    Even when few phones get used in another way, it still is a huge problem. There are sold about 1.5e9 smartphones per year. That calculates to an astonishing 45 smartphones per second sold! All year round every single second of the year and that has been going on for at least the last five years at this level.

    Even if a few percent get refurbished, up-cycled or down-cycled, it is still a mountain of old phones produced every single year. Now, think about that mountain of trash for a moment and go feel bad about your behavior and the way you contribute to that mountain. Then start to think and act how you can do better for the future generations.

    1. johnfbw

      Re: Its a problem of volume

      1.5billion? That is basically one for every 5 people on the planet

      I tend to keep my phones till the battery dies (2years+) and they aren't cheap for me, that is 1 per 2.5 people like me. How the hell is everyone buying that many phones?

      1. b0llchit Silver badge
        Boffin

        Re: Its a problem of volume

        How the hell is everyone buying that many phones?

        Because the network operator subsidizes the phones. Ever since the last 25 years it has been a strategy employed by many operators. It works like this: 1) get a contract at operator A and get a phone for a measly small amount. You are contract bound to the operator for 24 months. 2) Ẃhen the contract expires, the phone is "old" and you go to the next operator B and start again, 3) rinse and repeat for operator C, D, E... etc.

        You can even keep your old telephone number with the introduction of number portability in many countries. So, effectively, you get a new phone every two years or so and pay for it through the contract over many months.

        There are many other markets who operate with this strategy. Apparently, it is a profitable strategy. Lure the customer with a cheap entry and milk them during the contract period.

        1. heyrick Silver badge

          Re: Its a problem of volume

          "Lure the customer with a cheap entry and milk them during the contract period."

          Funny thing is, I got my current S9 for €50. I compared the costs between the "with phone" contract and the "without phone" one, and it added up to about €350 over two years. Now it's always possible they're utterly screwing the without contract customers, but by my maths I got an S9 when it was new for around €400 all in. So sometimes it's a cheaper way to get a reasonable device.

          Of course, I'm getting screwed now as my contract was up for renewal a few months ago, but I'm really not feeling inclined to go to the showroom. Ewww. People. Ewww.

        2. J. Cook Silver badge

          Re: Its a problem of volume

          Heh. [RedactedCo] has an agreement with one of the cell phone companies for all our corporate phones, and our they are/were technically on an 18 month refresh cycle, which I think is insane.

          The company finally required me to swap my iphone 6S for a 12 pro, because apparently the radio firmware was too old and apple was no longer updating that hardware's firmware with new iOS releases or some such. Part of it is that It Just Works for what I use it for: 2FA via an app, making/taking phone calls, and the odd work related picture.

          I can see part of the reason, though- some of the employees here are very hard on their gear... it's like they aren't even paying for it! :)

          1. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

            Re: Its a problem of volume

            ”…apple was no longer updating that hardware's firmware with new iOS releases or some such“

            The 6s is still fully supported. Not bad for a handset launched in 2015.

            https://support.apple.com/guide/iphone/supported-models-iphe3fa5df43/ios

      2. the hatter

        Re: Its a problem of volume

        > How the hell is everyone buying that many phones?

        Because first world phones are only a small part of the picture. Markets like china, india, most of south america and africa are being sold phones for a pittance, because the R&D and tooling costs have been covered already - not just the phones overall, even components like chipsets and radios - where someone else already designed and perfected them, and clone parts at various levels (from straight piracy, to new implementations but based on the optimisations to performance and production cost learnt from the market leaders). That lets you build phones from runs-just-well-enough to passable, and then to the flagship models from those suppliers that often slip into the EU marketplace as high-spec, comparatively budget pricing offerings that a lot of geeks will choose, instead of the latest samsung marketing tool at twice the price (even after the extra costs passed on to us that make that possible)

    2. lglethal Silver badge
      Stop

      Re: Its a problem of volume

      Have you got a source for those numbers? Because, frankly, I dont believe them.

      There are currently 7.9 billion people on the planet. According to your numbers 1/5 of the people on this planet bought a new phone this year and for each of the last 5 years.

      Now according to Statista 26% of the world population is under 15. If we remove them from the list, the numbers become a population of 5,85 billion purchasing 1,5 billion phones a year (which means 25% of those over 15's are buying a new phone each year).

      Now if you start trying to take into account those below the poverty line who cant afford a phone or places where mobile phones are still not ubiquitous and the numbers look even sillier.

      Dont get me wrong, I'm certain their is an absolute mountain of phones produced each year. but 1,5 billion smartphones a year. Sorry, dont believe it!

      1. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

        Re: Its a problem of volume

        It's closer to 1.3bn in 2020, but the number is more or less correct.

        https://www.counterpointresearch.com/global-smartphone-share/

        1. lglethal Silver badge

          Re: Its a problem of volume

          Ok, thanks for the website. I can see the numbers. I still cant/dont believe them.

          Either there is a lot of number inflation going on, straight fraudulent numbers being reported, or double counting (phones produced under one brand but sold under another making it into the list twice) because it just does not make sense that 25% of the world population over 15 (and not even taking into account poverty hit areas) is buying a new smartphone every year.

          Sorry, I just dont believe it...

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Its a problem of volume

            No idea but off the top of my head, factors driving sales up would include:

            - people with two phones (private + business)

            - replacing breakages

            - phones are surprisingly ubiquitous, even in poor populations. Lots of cheap-as-chips smartphones on the market, not all smartphones are flagship models.

            - I think you might have to bring your 15yr lower age limit down to maybe 10 or so? 12 max.

            - and obviously, think of the pedophile terrorists who have multiple burner phones.

            Myself I try to stick to a 4-year replacement cycle

          2. AndersH

            Re: Its a problem of volume

            I change my worldview based on the facts, what do you do?

            How about in 2018 (the last year that Apple reported iPhone unit sales separately) they sold 217.7 million iPhone units.

            Source: https://investor.apple.com/sec-filings/sec-filings-details/default.aspx?FilingId=13040732

            Apple's global market share was about 15% in 2018, which would put global sales at 1.451 billion.

            Source: https://www.counterpointresearch.com/global-smartphone-share/

          3. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

            Re: Its a problem of volume

            It's not me voting you down - I can see where you're coming from. Might be a factor of the fact that at any given time 17% of the world's population is buying a new smartphone, but of course that's not cumulative and will be strongly centred around first-world economies. Maybe 15% is first-world, and 2% the rest. Something like that.

      2. b0llchit Silver badge
        Childcatcher

        Re: Its a problem of volume

        New devices are seen in the network by new IMEI numbers coming online. But, even if one third or one half are refurbished, then we still would have the same huge problem.

        See https://www.statista.com/statistics/263437/global-smartphone-sales-to-end-users-since-2007/

        or https://www.counterpointresearch.com/global-smartphone-share/

        Interesting (US only) statistic about proliferation https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/fact-sheet/mobile/. The rest of world is fast moving in the same direction. Most of Asia is already there. Cellphones are subsidized heavily in all markets. Therefore, the proliferation is exceptionally high throughout the world.

      3. katrinab Silver badge
        Meh

        Re: Its a problem of volume

        Most people in the world, even in low-income countries, have mobile phones. It may well be their only computing / communications device.

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @lglethal - Re: Its a problem of volume

        I don't know about those numbers but speaking for my family, we have 5 active mobile phones plus other 4 decommissioned. All I can tell you is that those alerts from the government are maddening, they can turn a peaceful person into a merciless murderer.

  6. jason 7

    Another nope...

    I buy a phone.

    I run it for three years or so then I get a new one.

    The old one? Well cos I look after my batteries (current 3 year old Mate 10 Pro still at 93% battery life) I hand it down to my Dad who uses it for another 3 years.

    A Nexus 4 was pushed to 7 years use. An LG G4 is now in its 6th year I think.

    1. PTW

      Re: Another nope...

      Last month I did install Ubuntu Touch to an old N4 I had in the draw, which is fair as a phone OS, but does open up many more possibilities to use it's computing power for something useful. I might try to get pi hole set up on the it and give the gift of ad free browsing to a friend.

  7. IGotOut Silver badge

    Currently using...

    A mate 10 Pro bought second hand.

    That replaced the P10 lite I had for 2 years, which I bought second hand, which is now my SatNav and music player in my car.

    I'll no doubt go and play some games on my iPad Mini 3 which you guessed it, I bought second hand.

    Or I may do some design work on my 7 year old pc, which you guessed it, second hand. Granted I did spend 30 quid on a SSD to massively improve the performance.

    So feel free to buy your new shiney. Just look after it, I may want to buy it one day.

  8. katrinab Silver badge
    Megaphone

    If you can flog your phone to CEX for £150, that is exactly what you should be doing, as then someone will get to use it as an actual phone, and it (should) be a much better option than getting one of those landfill android garbage things you find when you sort prices in mobile phone shops from low to high.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The Register asked Samsung to comment

    Samsung remains committed to mumblemumblegreenwashingmumble environmentmumblemumblecustomerstoppriotymumble projects as long as it does not cost us anything, I mean, aligns with our primary, secondary, and all other business objectives, now, FO!

    p.s. Samsung, do you know what I turned your dysfunctional S2 phones into? Into sluggish, but fully functional phones, you (...)(...)! Gosh, I could even update them into one of those bloated androids of recent years. Not that I care, they do the job, make calls, work as audio players, memo pads, alarm clock, radio... Why do I need to watch a f...video when I'm crossing the st

    + my kids are growing into the age when they actually proudly show off this ancient device to their mates, cause oh, look here, it's sooo cuuuuuute! Or so they tell me... oy, what's that snigger behind me back?!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: you (...)(...)!

      I really do not think it appropriate for you to unfairly stigmatize hexa-nippled people by using acsii-art representations of their body parts in this insulting manner.

      .

      :-)

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: you (...)(...)!

        Maybe the Hexanippled Whore of Eroticon-5 is happy with the free publicity?

  10. NicX

    "Upcycling" is a such a stupid, useless term. The definition of "recycle" fits every instance of the use of "upcycle".

    I'll probably catch flak for this, but oh well.

    1. cornetman Silver badge

      The terms are getting a bit vague these days.

      I always assumed that "upcycling" was used to convey the conversion of something that reached end-of-life to something else that is useful. I guess the best example would be cut-off jeans. Or cutting up ripped clothing fabric into fashionable patches. Reuse implies the continued use of something in its unmodified state. Recycle implies the recovery of materials for reuse in manufacture.

      I guess like eskimos (take that PC crowd!) having many words for snow, we now have many words for "recovery of waste", all with some subtle differences in emphasis.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Yep, the catch-phrase is Reduce, Re-use, Recycle, but most people seem to forget or ignore the first two. And "upcycle" can fit in nicely between Re-use and Recycle.

        But yeah, "upcycle" sounds like a weird contrived word :-)

  11. Mike 137 Silver badge

    The almight buck still screams

    while the technologised population of the planet produced 53.6 million tonnes of E-waste in 2019 and only 17% was recycled (the latest figures available from E-waste Monitor).

  12. cornetman Silver badge

    I'm still running a Nexus 5 and I have another 3 in the cupboard to take over if/when it dies that I picked up for next to nothing.

    It wouldn't be appropriate for a lot of people who use hardware that it doesn't have or require better performance and TBH the camera is pretty sh*t (it's the only thing I really hate about it).

    Having said that, it was very cheap to buy and I use it all the time for Netflix/texting/phoning/google/browsing maps etc and it works just fine.

    Running LineageOS although even they have abandoned it as a supported platform, so no more updates for it unless I roll my own. :(

    Great phone though. For a while I had the other 3 setup to run BOINC work. A bit slow but they contributed somewhat.

    1. cornetman Silver badge

      I should add that batteries and displays are easy and cheap to replace.

  13. Blackjack Silver badge

    "You buy a phone. Two years later, you buy another."

    In my case is five years and I keep using the old phone for a few years more unless the battery all but dies because replacements are not good.

    For example I would love to keep using my old Nokia N8 as a Mp3 player but the battery is so old is pointless and my Samsung S3 mini is basically dead because the battery last 23 minutes after being fully charged.

    Yeah is not safe or whatever but if all you use the things is to play music or watch offline videos then it doesn't matter. I also keep my Nokia N8 for the Symbian games even if I have to play with the charged plugged on.

  14. mark l 2 Silver badge

    With some EOL Samsung phones such as the S7 and S8 you can actually installed degoogled Android from /e/os and get still a fully functioning OS which is receiving security updates for 3 years.

    Or there are 3rd party ROMs which you can flash to them, some which have Google services and apps. But you probably won't get any security patches without reflashing the OS with a new version.

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