Google’s new Nexus 7 tablet has some impressive hardware beneath its sleek, stunt driver-styled skin — impressive enough, in some ways, to go toe-to-toe with Apple's iPad. But there's one takeaway from peeping at the device's internals that's particularly worth noting: with hardware design trending toward thinner, less serviceable, and thus shorter-lasting devices, the new tablet is still easier to repair than the most recent iPad, despite being only one millimeter thicker.
That one millimeter serves as a compelling talking point for serviceable hardware advocates like iFixit CEO Kyle Wiens. In two recent op-eds for Wired, he has argued it is vital for consumers and hardware manufacturers to begin making these considerations. Otherwise, our disposable, unrepairable devices risk falling into shorter and shorter cycles of repetitive consumption — and that’s bad not only for our wallets, but for the environment, human rights, and our quality of life in general.
"The concept that a thin device can't be repairable is false"
Today, in its Nexus 7 teardown, iFixit gave Google's new Asus-made tablet a 7 out of 10 "repairability" score — certainly not earth-shattering, but still significant when comparing with the most recent iPad, which received a meager 2 out of 10. Citing a removable battery thankfully unrestrained by screws or glue and helpful retaining clips positioned around the device’s perimeter for easy access, Wiens and his team drive home the idea that lighter form factors and longer lifespans don't need to be mutually exclusive. In other words, whether or not the 7-inch slate is destined to rival the iPad, it helps prove that there is an alternative to the current trend of myopic hardware design — if consumers continue to demand it.
"I think the concept that a thin device can't be repairable is false," said Wiens, speaking with The Verge after iFixit’s look at the "unrepairable" Macbook Pro with Retina display. Granted, there are many considerations to be made — like screen size and other specs — when talking about the idea of repairability in different kinds of hardware. But through his experience, Wiens assures that all varieties of consumer tech have this potential.
"A good example of this is to compare the Zune HD with the iPod touch — they're around the same dimensions and thickness; the Zune HD is easy to get into and work on, the iPod touch is not." Wiens and the iFixit teardown team mentioned other devices they've encountered, like the Kindle Fire (8 out of 10 repair score, comparable to the super-powered Nexus 7) and the original Motorola Atrix, which all make room for serviceable parts in their design. Even Apple's recent Mac Mini configuration, with finger-holds conveniently built into the frame, seems to encourage self-repair.
But the overall track record for repairability is still spotty. Last month, iFixit revealed that Apple opted to solder RAM chips directly onto the motherboard of the aformentioned Retina display Macbook Pro, a move which shortens the product’s lifespan significantly. In its teardown, iFixit also found a proprietary SSD memory module, proprietary pentalobe screws, and a battery assembly that not only sits hazardously close to the trackpad's delicate ribbon cable but is physically glued to the interior. iFixit rated the machine with a 1 out of 10 repairability — the lowest it has ever given to a product.
Despite all of this, a debate over the importance of repairable computers rages on, its detractors insisting that the adoption of unserviceable hardware design is inevitable, and that doing otherwise is "anti-consumer." But if products like the Nexus 7 speak to the larger world of hardware design, they indicate that perhaps the future is not so clear-cut, and that the drawbacks to repairable design are aesthetic and negligible. "There certainly are some tradeoffs," Wiens admits. "You're usually talking about a fraction of a millimeter thicker if you want to go with an upgradable RAM slot versus one that's soldered on. My argument is that it's worth the tradeoff to have that very slight increased thickness."