Sustainable Smartphone

Green Manx phone box
Green phone?  Image via Wikipedia

After 18 months with my HTC Desire I can now upgrade to a new smartphone and I have been doing some investigating into what’s the most sustainable and smartest option out there.

Obviously the most sustainable thing to do would be to stick with what I have.  After all, it is a working smartphone.  There are two problems with that though.  Firstly, like many consumer products, it wasn’t built for long life.  As I have experienced with many phones, after a year the battery life started to noticeably deteriorate.  Now it struggles to last a full day of moderate usage.  I could buy a new battery, but battery life is just one of the ailments of this ageing handset.  In general, it doesn’t have the zip it used to have, and suffers from periodic hangs and crashes.

The second issue is that the pace of technological innovation and advances in smartphone technology is such that within six months, what was a cutting edge device outdone.  One specific example of relevance to my HTC Desire is the regular updating of operating systems.  My Desire runs version 2.2 of the Android operating system.  Version 4 was launched by Google just recently.  The latest handsets also have bigger screens, higher resolution screens, additional functionality, more memory, faster processors… the list goes on.

So, now that I have taken the decision to upgrade, what features do I want to have on my new smartphone?  The following are absolute requirements.  Any phone that can’t do these simply is not smart enough.

  • Good call quality (a fundamental basic)
  • Web browsing, with WiFi and 3G connectivity
  • A reasonable range of apps available
  • Access to work email and my Hotmail account
  • A calendar that will sync with my work Outlook calendar
  • A camera that shoots decent quality stills and video
  • Mapping
  • Music player
  • At least 16GB of storage, or the ability to supplement the onboard storage with a memory card to achieve at least 16GB in total.

That probably doesn’t rule out any specific operating systems for smartphones, but to simplify, I can immediately say that I am simply not interested in BlackBerry, iPhone or any of Nokia’s Symbian phones.  They are either not compatible enough with other systems I use or they are just not cool and attractive enough.  That leaves just Android and Windows Phone.  I had stated earlier that I was leaning towards going with Windows Phone, but things have moved on and I have been distinctly unimpressed with some of the new handsets launched for Windows Phone.  That, and the eventual release of a dedicated Hotmail app for Android, has brought Android right back into the frame.

So I decided to look next at various handset makers and their sustainability performance.  Greenpeace publishes an annual Guide to Greener Electronics.  In this, they “rank the 18 top manufacturers of personal computers, mobile phones, TVs and games consoles according to their policies on toxic chemicals, recycling and climate change.”  The version I have been looking at is almost a year old, but the next version isn’t due out til next month so it will have to do.  Also, having looked at this on occasion over the last few years, there doesn’t tend to be a lot of movement, with good companies staying near the top and poor performers near the bottom consistently.  Looking a the rankings and scores, Nokia are in the top position (score: 7.5), Sony Ericsson in second (score: 6.9), Samsung fifth (5.3), Motorola sixth (5.1), Apple ninth (4.9) and LG 14th (3.5).

That report focussed just on environmental issues though.  Looking more broadly at sustainability, earlier this year Corporate Knights produced its sixth annual Global 100 list of the most sustainable large corporations in the world.  This list ranked corporations using a set of Key Performance Indicators covering environmental, social, governance and financial data.  In terms of smartphone makers, Nokia was ranked fourth, Sony 30th and Samsung 93rd.

The Good Guide app, which I have recommended previously, against scores Nokia top in its cell phone category.  Motorola seems to do ok, with Samsung, Apple and HTC lingering some way behind.  BlackBerry gets a very poor score indeed.  Specific issues noted in the Good Guide and which form the basis for its scores include a very low score for Samsung on quality, safety and performance management, a low score for Apple in terms of its ethical policies and performance and a low score for HTC on labour and human rights.

The Free2Work app looks more specifically at labour issues.  Unfortunately in its Electronics category, only one maker of smartphones is listed, Apple.  They have been scored ‘D’, which is what most of the electronics companies listed have been scored.  Only HP score better and that is just a ‘C’.  Criticisms it levels at Apple include a lack of transparency in its supply chain and supplier monitoring and a lack of a requirement placed on contractors and subcontractors to pay workers a living wage.  It would be easy to say that Apple should be able to do better given how wealthy it is and the substantial markups on its products, but without comparator data for other suppliers I will refrain from being too critical of them.

Finally, from a purely allegorical evidence base, Nokia has a great reputation for producing good quality, long-lasting phones (my wife is still using one she got over three years ago).  Going back to my earlier point about longevity, this could also be seen as an important factor in choosing a sustainable smartphone.

Nokia Lumia 800

So in terms of sustainability, all signs seem to be pointing to Nokia.  It is good then that Nokia have just launched a new smartphone using the Windows Phone OS.  Granted that the Lumia 800 is not the highest specced smartphone out there, but it meets all of the minimum requirements set out above and looks good at the same time.

Sustainable smartphone?  You can’t do better than the Nokia Lumia 800 in my opinion.

The Good Shopping Guide App

I have written previously about sustainability smartphone apps, but here is another.  The good news this time for those of us east of the Atlantic is that it is focussed on products available in the UK.  The bad news is that it is (as yet) only available for iOS devices, meaning iPhone and iPad.

The app is called The Good Shopping Guide, and is based on the book of the same name.  According to this article in the Guardian, “more than 700 brands are ranked in 72 product-specific categories according to how ethically they have been produced.”  It does concede that “you can’t swipe the barcode and pull up information”, which is something the Good Guide mentioned in my earlier post can do.

Also, unlike the free Good Guide, the app costs £2.99 (although 10% of net revenue goes to Friends of the Earth).  In my view it is probably worth the outlay to take advantage of the UK-specific information, but until an Android version becomes available I won’t be giving it a go myself.

Why Are New Windows Phone Mango Handsets So Average?

Mango and its cross section
Image via Wikipedia

Mobile phone makers have started to launch handsets running Microsoft’s updated Windows Phone 7 OS, known as Mango.  Last week HTC announced the launch of two new handsets, the first due to be released in Europe, as reported here by Coolsmartphone.

First impressions?  Very average.  Aside from the large screen on the Titan, the specs are not a whole lot better than my current phone, the 18-month-old HTC Desire.  These phones certainly fall short of the specs we see on the current top specced phones on the market, such as the HTC Sensation and the Samsung Galaxy S II.  When you look at the (rumoured) specs of forthcoming Android phones and the iPhone 5, the specs of these Windows Phones look even more average.

For me, the single biggest shortcoming is the amount of memory on the HTC Radar.  Like many people I use my smartphone as my portable music player.  I don’t consider my music collection to be particularly large and I don’t use very high bit rates when ripping music, but I still have around 10 gigabytes of music.  As well as my 10GB of music I need memory capacity for photos, video and apps. But the HTC Radar has just 8GB of memory, well short of my requirements.

I’ve mentioned before that I intend to upgrade to a Windows Phone in the near future, so I am disappointed with these lacklustre efforts from HTC.  It seems also that HTC’s own PR department is struggling to get enthusiatic about these phones, with TNW describing their promotional videos as sleep-inducing.

I sincerely hope that Windows Phone Mango handsets expected to be released by Samsung and Nokia in the coming months offer something a little more exciting, and I certainly hope that they address the memory issue.

unsafe factory conditions at samsung?

View from Time Warner Center

Image via Wikipedia

cnet uk posted a story earlier this week referring to an AFP report regarding alleged unsafe conditions at a samsung plant in korea.  the article states:

“A South Korean court last month ruled there was a connection between the deaths of the two workers and conditions in the semiconductor factory, which uses harmful chemicals. Samsung has hit back at the judgement, citing a study that it commissioned itself that concluded the factories were safe.”

samsung refers to a study it commissioned which found its operation to be within acceptable industry standards, but has not made this report public.  i am also sceptical when the term “acceptable industry standards” is used.  it almost implies that some level of harm is acceptable.  contrast this to the UK construction industry, where i have some experience.  despite significant hazards the aim is consistently for zero accidents, with one of my clients stating “we believe that all harm is preventable.”

i currently own a samsung tv, and was quite excited about the forthcoming samsung windows phone, but will need to look closely at these allegations relative to the performance of competitors when coming to choose my next mobile phone.