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.


my current home – tech

my current network

my current network

getting over to the smart home side of things, admittedly i don’t have a huge amount going on right now but what i do have has grown in scope, sophistication and complexity over recent years.  i am slowly building a network around my home.  at the heart of this is my wi-fi router; a livebox supplied as part of my orange home broadband.  despite this promotional animation which shows a seamlessly connected home, it has been quite problematic, with poor range, and problems serving up ip addresses requiring it to be regularly rebooted.  but i do get my broadband for free (long story, but i can summarise it as being a legacy-legacy customer) so i can’t complain.  last year i bought a couple of homeplugs which have helped deliver a more consistent, faster connection to my main computer, a home-build media pc.

i built my media pc around three years ago.  at that time i considered it pretty state-of-the-art.  it combines features of being a blu-ray player, a tv tuner providing access to hd tv broadcasts under the freesat hd banner, dvr providing recording of tv, and a media hub for storing gigabytes of photos, music, video and recorded tv.  all this was built around microsoft’s windows 7 operating system.  initially i started off using a pre-release test version of windows 7, and i liked it so eventually purchased a licence.  one of the most used features in our home is windows media center, which is pretty good for viewing and managing all media via a remote control rather than keyboard and mouse.  windows 7 also introduced homegroups, allowing easy communications between computers running windows 7.

so my second windows 7 device is a hp laptop.  this was bought less than a year ago to replace my old desktop, my first home build originally constructed in 2004 but upgraded at various intervals.  it is used primarily for internet browsing, email and office applications, but i also wanted a machine capable of some graphics grunt, so here i am with a dm3.

the third ‘computer’ i have is a smartphone.  my current model is a htc desire, on the android platform.

apart from speaking to each other to a greater or lesser extent, that is it in terms of the smartness of the system.  they handle my home media, but otherwise do not interface with the fabric or content of the home.  so as you can see in the diagram at the top of this post, there is a lot of potential in future to get things speaking to each other.  there’s a lot of research and planning ahead to make my home a smart home and get to a point where everything is talking to everything else!