Tech News

Reflections on the Razr Teardown

Note (Jan. 2022): Since this post was published, we have created a page that discloses and describes our business partnerships. Our editorial content—including teardowns, repairability scores, and blog posts—is not for sale. We’re committed to holding manufacturers accountable for unrepairable designs.

Our mission is to teach everyone to fix every thing. We disassemble the latest gadgets and recommend products that will stand the test of time. We’re fighting to create a sustainable electronics industry, and we can’t do it alone.

We fund our work by selling parts and tools. That feels like a pretty natural fit, because repairs usually involve some kind of part swapping and tool wrangling. And it makes us feel good about providing a useful service rather than running ads.

We are staunch advocates of long-lasting, serviceable hardware. We unabashedly hold manufacturers’ feet to the fire when they fall short of delivering that. We go to great lengths to research and communicate this, collaborating with friends in the tech media to figure out what is ethical to recommend.

Of course, products are not birthed in a vacuum. Product designers put years into developing the devices we love, and they occasionally reach out to us for input. We are happy to provide it. Over the last several years, we have provided design feedback to Fairphone, Patagonia, HP, and many others. By working directly with them, we’re able to share the real-world experiences of professional repair technicians and members of our DIY repair community. 

Public feedback on product design has clearly had an impact. Microsoft’s radically redesigned Surface Laptop 3 is light-years ahead of its predecessor in serviceability. Apple has resisted the opportunity to go full-AirPod and glue together a slimmed-down iPhone, maintaining a respectable six-out-of-ten on the last several models. And the European Commission is considering introducing mandatory repairability labeling for products.

Obtaining hardware for teardowns in a timely fashion is challenging. We’ve tried wandering the halls of CES asking to disassemble demo units, but that has been remarkably unsuccessful. So we go to the ends of the earth to get new hardware. Flying to Australia is expensive (monetarily and environmentally) and doesn’t always work, so we’ve developed a network of friends who provide us with hardware from time to time. That was the case last spring, when we published a teardown of the Galaxy Fold. Samsung got frustrated, tracked down our supplier, and asked them to get the story pulled. We weren’t happy about it, but went ahead and took it down until we could source a device at retail. The final story was unmodified from the original, save changes made to the updated device.

Getting repair parts is also a challenge. We spend a lot of time in factories and parts markets in Asia creating a quality parts supply chain. When we have the opportunity to work directly with a manufacturer, we jump at the chance. Motorola is leading the industry by making spare parts available directly to consumers. They are the only major smartphone company doing this, and we are thrilled to collaborate. We sell OEM parts from Motorola, Teenage Engineering, Lenovo, HP, and others. Our product pages list whether a part is OEM or not. Sometimes these are sourced directly from the OEM, and sometimes through a distributor. Is our current disclosure sufficient for this? I don’t know—we’re interested in feedback on this.

It is important to disclose these relationships, and sometimes we fall short. In our teardown this week of the Motorola Razr, we linked to our partnership page but did not obviously disclose that we sell parts directly for Motorola. That was a mistake, and I apologize. We purchased the unit at retail and Motorola had no input on the teardown. The one out of ten repairability score for that device was low, which is consistent with scores that we have given every other folding screen device this year. Flexible screen hardware has a long way to go before we’ll be able to recommend it.

In addition, we were later asked by Input Mag to help inspect their Razr, which appears to be breaking at the fold. Initially, we told them yes, but after consultation with Motorola, we assumed that Motorola would not want us to take the case, and therefore we made the decision to back out, which caused some readers to call our credibility into question. I now realize this was the wrong call—while we certainly haven’t changed editorial perspectives for Motorola (who, again, received a one out of ten for their latest device), we shouldn’t give any sort of preferential treatment to our partners. We are discussing internally the best way to deal with these situations going forward, but rest assured: our goal is always to serve you, the reader and the consumer, and not the manufacturers who make these devices.

Thank you for the trust that you put in us. We do not take it for granted.