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Benefits of user-replaceable batteries

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…half a year after which the Galaxy S6 was released.

These are the benefits of user-replaceable batteries in portable consumer electronics such as mobile phones and portable computers, and the problems associated with non-replaceable batteries.

This article explains how non-user-replaceable batteries, also known as non-removable batteries, severely restrict the freedom and convenience of many users of said products, and how the freedom of choice has increasingly diminished during the 2010s decade down to a point where nearly every newly released mobile phone has a battery that is not replaceable by the end user.

Although much of this article applies to other devices such as laptop computers as well, this article mainly is focused on mobile phones due to their heavy reliance on a portable power source, significance and versatility as a highly portable device and due to their greater affliction by the design trend of non-user-replaceable batteries.

History[edit]

The Great Replacement of Mobile Phones with replaceable batteries

Until the early 2010s, nearly all mobile phones that were not Apple iPhones had a battery cover that could simply be opened by the end user.

Over time, other phone vendors slowly started succumbing to the slim fragile unibody(euphemism) design trend set by Apple, who successfully marketed it as a cool status symbol to the world, possibly with the help of massive astroturfing and shilling in online technology forums and support by members of the Apple cult.

Mobile phone vendors other than Apple increasingly released mobile phones with non-user-replaceable batteries such as:

  • Sony Xperia S and P[1][2] (early 2012)
  • Sony Xperia Z and ZR (early 2013)
  • HTC One M7 (early 2013)
  • Samsung Galaxy A3, A5, A7 (early 2015)
  • Samsung Galaxy S6, S6 Edge (early 2015)[note 1].

The vast majority of mobile phones released since 2015 until at least mid-2020 have batteries not replaceable by the end user.

The problem: Planned obsolescence[edit]

In portable electronics, the battery is the component with by far the shortest life expectancy, thus supposed to be modular and replaced like brakes and wheels on vehicles upon expiration.

Like defective crucial components in machines, a defective supply of electricity to a device such as an expired battery in a mobile phone cripples its operation.

Battery aging[edit]

Over time, with normal usage, a rechargeable battery wears down and eventually loses both capacity and performance. Each charging and discharging cycle adds to the weardown and brings the battery closer to its demise.

On devices powered by Lithium-Ion batteries, the most common battery type in portable electronics, the battery performance's decline usually becomes noticeable after two years of normal usage or one year of heavy usage. Although the battery should have around 80% of its original performance at that point, it means that it is approximately at the middle of its lifespan.

Towards the end of its lifespan, the performance and endurance of the battery starts to plunge.[3][4][5]

Power starvation[edit]

Unexpected poweroffs[edit]

At one point after enough weardown from usage, a battery is weakened by its age so much that the voltage risks falling below a threshold (e.g. 3.0 Volts for mobile phones) during normal operation, unexpectedly causing poweroffs. The battery is considered to be expired and have reached the end of its useful (functional) lifespan at that point.

After further usage of a senescent battery, it will eventually no longer be able to power the device for beyond a few minutes.

Limited performance[edit]

Due to the low performance of aged batteries, a device has to artificially limit its processing power to avoid overwhelming the age-weakened battery. Colder environmental temperatures that slow down the chemical reactions inside the battery and lower charging states decrease the output power limit even further.

To prevent this power starvation effect, the device would have to be connected to an external power source such as a wall charger/power supply or a power bank, from where it should be able to draw power in abundance, provided that the power source works as intended.

iPhone battery weakness[edit]

Battery weakness has especially been a historical problem on iPhones because their batteries had a low capacity to begin with.[6]

Because smaller and more aged batteries are weaker, powering the same tasks and charging at the same absolute speed induces more stress onto the battery cell due to higher power requiremnts relative to the battery's strength.[7][6]

Vulnerabilities[edit]

Plating[edit]

Lithium-Ion batteries might suffer from a destructive chemical reaction known as plating if charged during freezing temperatures, discharged below 2.5 volts (usually caused by self-discharging after long non-usage) and trickle-charged.[8]

Dendrite hazard[edit]

Dendrites infesting a Lithium-Ion battery

Over time, Lithium-Ion batteries develope so-called dendrites from normal usage. These are whiskers of lithium that infest the battery internally over time, causing the capacity and performance to degrade over time, and the internal resistance to increase.

Dendrites develope faster at higher charging speeds and at higher temperatures. Too many dendrites could cause an internal short circuit in the battery by drilling through the polarity septum, which is a safety hazard and may pose a risk of fire.[9]

Video recording[edit]

The photography capabilities and especially video recording abilities of mobile phones has improved to a point where such devices are able to serve as the main camera to the majority of people.

But mobile phone batteries with less than 10 Watt-hours are considerably too weak to power 2160p (4K) and high frame rate (e.g. 1080p@120fps, 720p@240fps) video recording, thus will degrade quickly when used for powering such tasks.

The usage of video recording modes on newer mobile phones released towards the end of the 2010s decade, with even higher pixel rates, such as 2160p@60fps, 1080p@240fps and continuous 720p@480fps demand even more battery power.

New higher video resolutions such as 3240p 6K and especially 4320p 8K on devices released since 2020, such as the Samsung Galaxy S20 models, ravenously demand battery power and produce significant heat.

Here is a comparison of battery capacities with several known mobile phone models that support at least 2160p 4K video recording at 30fps, as a reference:

  • Apple iPhones
    • iPhone SE (2016): 6.0 Wh
    • iPhone SE (2020): 6.7 Wh
    • iPhone 6s (2015): 6.3 Wh
    • iPhone 7 (2016): 7.2 Wh
    • iPhone 8 (2017): 6.7 Wh
    • iPhone X (2017): 10.3 Wh
    • iPhone XR (2018): 10.8 Wh
    • iPhone XS (2018): 9.8 Wh
  • Samsung Galaxy
    • Galaxy S5 (2014): 10.3 Wh (replaceable)
Expand list
  • Samsung Mobile (continued)
    • Galaxy S6 (2015): 9.4 Wh
    • Galaxy S6 Edge (2015): 9.6 Wh
    • Galaxy S7 (2016): 11.1 Wh
    • Galaxy S7 Edge (2016): 13.3 Wh
    • Galaxy S8 (2017): 11.1 Wh
    • Galaxy S8 Plus (2017): 12.9 Wh
    • Galaxy Note 3 (2013): 11.8 Wh (replaceable)
    • Galaxy Note 4 (2014): 11.9 Wh (replaceable)
    • Galaxy Note 5 (2015): 11.1 Wh
    • Galaxy Note 10 (2019): 12.9 Wh
    • Galaxy Note 10+ (2019): 15.9 Wh
    • Galaxy S20 (2020): 14.8 Wh (8K video)
    • Galaxy S20 Plus: 16.6 Wh (8K video)
    • Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G (2020): 18.5 Wh (8K video)
  • LG Mobile
    • LG G Pro 2 (2014): 11.8 Wh (replaceable)
    • LG G3 (2014): 11.1 Wh (replaceable)
    • LG G4 (2015): 11.1 Wh (replaceable)
    • LG G5 (2016): 10.3 Wh (replaceable)
    • LG V10 (2015): 11.1 Wh (replaceable)
    • LG V20 (2016): 11.8 Wh (replaceable)
  • HTC Mobile
    • HTC One M9 (2015): 10.5 Wh
    • HTC 10 (2016): 11.1 Wh
  • Sony Mobile
    • Sony Xperia Z2 (early 2014): 11.8 Wh
    • Sony Xperia Z3 (late 2014): 11.1 Wh
    • Sony Xperia Z3 compact (late 2014): 9.6 Wh
    • Sony Xperia Z5 compact (2015): 9.9 Wh
    • Sony Xperia M5 Aqua (2016): 9.6 Wh
  • OnePlus
    • OnePlus One (2014): 11.4 Wh
    • OnePlus 2 (2015): 12.2 Wh
    • OnePlus 3 and 3T (2016): 12.5 Wh
    • OnePlus 5 (2017): 12.2 Wh

If a device you think is worth listing is not listed here yet, feel free to add it.

Sense of freedom[edit]

Justin Denison glorifyingly announcing that the battery of the Samsung Galaxy S6 is non-replaceable, heavily disappointing their core customer base. (Keynote on March 1st 2015.)

Knowing that one could easily and quickly replace the battery at any time is a liberating feeling.[note 1]

In contrary, the thought of one trapped (non-modular) component with a short lifespan having the potential to render the entire device near-useless upon expiration could give the user inconvenient subconscious saliency.

Significance[edit]

Why it matters.

Due to the tremendous versatility, practicality and portability of mobile phones[10], these devices have become an essential part of user's lives and are therefore heavily relied upon. It is a digital swiss army knife.

To many, the mobile phone is the most steadily accessible toolbox, electronic companion and digital portal. It is what connects them to the Internet and other people from anywere, captures fleeting moments with its built-in cameras, records stunning footage with its camcorder feature, illuminates the dark when needed with its built-in LED lamp, acts as a digital note book, and much more.

For portability, all of this functionality relies on a portable power source, namely the mobile phone battery. If said mobile phone battery ceases to function properly however, namely because of its old age, its failure disables the normal operation of the device, making all of said functionality unuseable and ineffective.

The battery makes a mobile phone mobile.

Battery weardown[edit]

Fast charging speeds and full, deep charging cycles (i.e. charging a battery up to 100% and discharging down to 0%) reduce the life span of the battery faster.

High charging currents relative to the battery size put enormous stress on the battery cell.

The heat produced during fast charging speeds, wireless charging and high usage of the CPU and GPU further accelerates the wear & tearing of the battery.

Heavy usage not only heats up the device but also drains the battery faster, speeding up consumption of the limited recharge cycles. This includes:

  • Multimedia
    • High resolution and/or framerate video recording and playback
    • 3D gaming
    • Mobile video editing
  • High display usage:
    • High screen brightnesses
    • High screen resolutions (e.g. 1440p, 2160p)
    • High refresh rates (e.g. 90 Hz, 120 Hz)
  • Video telephony
  • Usage of split-screen and multi-window functionality
  • Frequent switching between applications
  • Usage of cellular networks like 4G and especially 5G.
    • Poor signal strength

Usage as power bank[edit]

Mobile phones with USB-OTG (USB on the go) support allow outputting power through the USB port, although with limited discharging speeds and power losses from voltage boost conversion from the mobile phone's internal battery voltage to five volts required for USB power output.

Wireless discharging[edit]

In the late 2010s, the first mobile phones with wireless discharging abilities appeared on the market, such as the Samsung Galaxy S9 (released early 2018) and Samsung flagship phones released since then, of whose this feature has been branded PowerShare.[11] Wireless discharging is also known as “reverse wireless charging” at Huawei.[12]

Wireless discharging allows the mobile phone to act as a wireless charging station and provide wireless power to other devices. If the PowerShare host, the phone providing the wireless power, is not connected to a charger itself, entirely the mobile phone's internal non-user-replaceable battery is used to provide the power necessary for wireless discharging.

Criticism of wireless discharging[edit]

Although potentially practical in emergency situations, wireless discharging is a ravenous, squanderous waste of the limited recharge cycles of the host device's non-user-replaceable battery due to the inefficiency of wireless power transmission (electromagnetic induction over the air) and the high amounts of transmitted power relative to a mobile phone's battery size.[note 2] The heat caused by said inefficiency (energy loss) adds to the battery's weardown.

The usage of wireless discharging is advertised, thus endorsed by Samsung.[13][11]

Sacrifice of convenience and mobility[edit]

In order to extend the battery's life span and to somewhat delay its inevitable demise, one would have to sacrifice convenience by keeping the battery charging state between approximately 25% and 75%, avoid excessive heat (above around ≈30°C), restrict the device's performance by enabling settings for power saving, and deactivate the convenient fast charging feature (or limit charging speed by using less powerful chargers), which negatively affects the user experience.

Not only do these measures of frugality decrease user convenience, but they put the manufacturer's implementation of a device's potential capabilites to waste.

In addition, battery nursing measures such as using slower charging speeds and only partial charging cycles would sacrifice the mobile phone's mobility because it would be dependent longer and more frequently on external power input to keep working.

The dilemma[edit]

With a non-user-replaceable battery, the user is forced to decide between convenience or battery lifespan.

With a replaceable battery in comparison, one can blissfully charge fast, use full charging cycles and do power-intensive tasks such as high-resolution and/or framerate video recording, without bothering with battery care, power saving modes or feelings of guilt knowing that the limited battery lifespan could be a dead-end for the entire device upon expiration, if it were not replaceable.

Forced replacement (battery surgery)[edit]

Botched iPhone battery replacement job

Phone repair shop[edit]

A forced battery replacement of a sealed battery (i.e. battery surgery) by a mobile phone repair shop usually costs at least five times as much as a replacement battery, may take hours instead of less than two minutes, and possibly irreversibly damages the water resistance seal.[14]

In addition, instead of easily manually replacing the battery at home within a minute, one has to trust ones device to a repairman with the hope that he successfully performs the battery surgery without damaging any delicate parts of a device that was never built to ever have its battery replaced.

Such a battery surgery, depending on the build of the device, may rely on high-precision work with a heat gun and with a hot soldering iron in proximity of delicate hardware components, as opposed to risk-freely opening a back cover with ones hand and a screwdriver if necessary.

Manual battery surgery[edit]

Although tool kits for performing the battery surgery manually exist (e.g. those by iFixit), the usage of those usually demands intense patience and dexterity (fine motor skills), more or less depending on the device's physical construction.

Services by vendors[edit]

Some vendors offer users a servce to deposit their device through (physical) mail for a replacement. In that case, the user has to trust that their posted device does not get lost or damaged anywhere in the delivery, and that the vendor does not secretly apply additional unsolicited modifications to the device.

Accessibility of battery surgery[edit]

In addition, users located in remote places such as smaller valleys might have to wait days for their device to arrive back at home.

Access to mobile phone repair services tends to be restricted in remote places and during a pandemic outbreak such as Coronavirus 2020.

Replacement batteries however can be purchased by the user any time in advance in any needed quantity.

Pro-non-replaceable-battery arguments debunked[edit]

Arguments in favour of non-user-replaceable mobile phone batteries debunked.
Myth Fact
User-replaceable batteries make water-resistance impossible! Devices including the Samsung's Galaxy S5 (including “Active”, “Sport” and “Mini”[note 3] variants), Galaxy S4 Active, Galaxy Xcover series, Sony Xperia V and Sony Ericsson Xperia Active were water-resistant despite of being equipped with a user-replaceable battery.
Replaceable batteries limit water/dust resistance. This can be compensated by making the rubber isolation thicker and/or multi-layered.
Wireless charging is not possible with user-replaceable batteries. Several devices with user-replaceable batteries such as the Galaxy S3, S4, S5, Note 2, Note 3 and Note 4 allow attaching a special wireless charging back cover that does nearly look identical to the original back cover. The power is delivered through dedicated contact pins under the back cover.[note 4]
Manufacturers could, if they wanted, include such a back cover into the scope of delivery in the original box in which the main unit is shipped.
Non-replaceable batteries are bulkier.
  • Indeed, they need a bit more physical space for the same capacity due to a need for protective casing necessary for protection during handling and minor drops. But that space compromise is one many users would happily accept, including 100% of the voters here and the vast majority of voters on a big technology forum[15]. Here is another poll where 100% voted for user-replaceable batteries over bezel-less displays. And an independent poll by Android Authority revealed that the majority of mobile phone users wishes new mobile phones with user-replaceable batteries.[16][17]
  • In addition, the deterioration of the battery over time nullifies the physical space benefit anyway due to diminishment of the effective battery capacity, thus deterioation of effective energy density.
  • Also, many users put their mobile phone in a protective case anyway, defeating the “premium materials” and “sleek design” arguments.
“…then just go get a phone with user-replaceable battery!”
  • That mere option (freedom of choice) has sadly been heavily limited since the mid-2010s.[18]
  • The few new phones released with replaceable batteries are of a low specification class (e.g. mediocre charging speeds, mediocre 1080p@30fps video recording).
  • Even laptops are increasingly suffering from this restrictive and despicable Apple-made design trend.
“But users might purchase spare parts from questionable vendors!”
  • It is the user's responsibility to purchase spare parts from trustable vendors.
    • This also applies to other devices and machines such as data storage devices (including MicroSD cards for mobile phones), computers and vehicles.
  • In addition, mobile phone manufacturers could print a notice on the device's package box that encourages users only to purchase spare parts from trustable vendors.

[19]

Instant swap[edit]

Some devices, especially dedicated cameras and camcorders, but also many laptops, have an easily accessible battery compartment, which allows the instant replacement of a discgarged battery with a charged one.

While the device operates on the charged battery, the discharged battery can be recharged using an external charger, to be immediately ready for usage as soon as the other battery is discharged again.

This argument is less of a concern for mobile phones with fast charging technology, because they can be recharged very quickly on the go anyway using powerbanks that support fast charging.

In addition, some mobile phones with replaceable batteries have screw-mounted back covers that need to be opened with the help of a screwdriver instead of only by hand. Such devices include the Samsung Galaxy Xcover outdoor/rugged phone series.

Although such back covers make the battery less accessible on the go, they can provide more reliable and stronger protection against water and dust ingress while still allowing the replacement of an expired battery (that has reached the end of its lifespan) within minutes at home.

Device replacement argument[edit]

The argument “But I replace my phone every 1 to 2 years anyway!” does not change the fact that irreplaceable batteries are planned obsolescence by definition.[20]

One is also supposed to purchase a device out of appreciation for its functionality, not because one failing part that is hardly replaceable rendered the entire previous device near-useless and highly dependent on external power input (“wall hugging”).

Many users prefer to keep using their device for well beyond 2 years because it could still fulfill its purpose and get its work done. But that device might not work as intended anymore due to battery failure.

Previous phones could also serve as surrogate/backup devices and/or have some functionality and compatibility that newer devices lack.

In addition, devices with locked bootloaders (which is the default state) have heavy restrictions on data portability.[21]

But what about battery cases?[edit]

Battery cases, in a nutshell, are power banks in the form of phone cases. They provide electricity to the phone through an integrated charging plug or wireless charging.

Although a creative idea and a useful accessory to many, battery cases are not useable in combination with other phone cases that have special features such as strong protection and an integrated horizontal kickstand.[22]

Lesser common situations[edit]

This section addresses situations that are rather unlikely to occur to non-clusmy users.

Anti-theft argument[edit]

Those who oppose replaceable batteries argue that software that helps to remotely supervise and potentially find a lost or stolen mobile phone could be rendered ineffective by thieves removing the battery.

However, mobile phones also usually can be forced into power-off with a hard-reset button combination.

In addition, since Android 9 Pie, Google heavily restricted the ability for anti-theft software to remotely monitor a lost device. There is no official user option to manually grant trusted applications such access.[23]

Such restrictions could only be circumvented by manually granting so-called root access to the anti-theft software. Google officially discourages granting root-access to any third-party app. Unofficially however, they actively non-verbally solicit users to root their devices by imposing heavy restrictions onto their operating system in an unmodified state.

Water damage reduction[edit]

In case a device with non-replaceable battery that is not water-resistant accidentially gets soaked, the battery can not be removed. Therefore, the battery still provides electricity to the soaked components, which could lead to physical heat damage on the components from short circuits caused by the water.

If the battery is replaceable, it can be quickly removed to reduce or prevent such damage.


Trivia[edit]

Did you know?
  • The euphemistic term “unibody” is thought to have originated in 2008, as a term coined by guess who.[24]
  • On older devices, the battery percentage meter is more prone to miscalibration which is mainly caused by battery aging (loss of capacity; more voltage deflection). Battery meters in newer devices however are less prone to miscalibration due to more sophisticated algorithms for monitoring battery parameters and calculating the battery percentage.

Notes[edit]

  1. 1.0 1.1 On the Galaxy S6 keynote “Samsung Unpacked 2015 – Episode 1”, Justin Denison said on stage:

    “You may have noticed a major change here: The battery is built-in[= Hiobsbotschaft]. Now, ~ , we refused to do this for some time[Who asked?]. That's because we didn't want to have a built-in battery until we were absolutely sure that users would feel confident about charging their phones.”

    But in reality, non-replaceable batteries cause the exact contrary: they strongly diminish said confidence.
  2. Charging smaller accessories such as smart watches and wireless earphones (also known as “EarBuds”) demands far less power than other mobile phones.
  3. The USB port of the Galaxy S5 Mini is protected from the inside, meaning that it does not require a flap to cover it externally for water resistance like it does with the standard Galaxy S5 variant.
  4. The Galaxy Note 3, S5 and Note 4 also used such pins for detecting the attachment of S View Cover and LED cover (Note 4 only), while S4, S6 and other Samsung devices detect it entirely through their hall sensor.

See also[edit]

Related navigation boxes: ElectronicsMobile phonesData storage

References[edit]

  1. Sony Xperia P promotion video mentioning the euphemistic U-word.
  2. One-minute film by Sony about Xperia P craftsmanship: “Precision crafted, full-aluminium unibody
  3. Battery University: BU-808 ─ How to prolong [the lifespan of] Lithium-based batteries.
  4. Why batteries lose their charge - RAVpower Blog (2017-12-08)
  5. Typixal Lithium-Ion technical data – IBT Power
  6. 6.0 6.1 TheGuardian report about poor battery performance of Apple iPhones (2015-09-24)
  7. “Why smaller batteries have a shorter lifespan — the vicious aging cycle of tiny iPhone batteries.”
  8. Lithium-ion batteries: Phenomenon of 'lithium plating' during the charging process observed (2014-09-03)
  9. Strands of lithium are proving to be a nuisance for next-gen batteries – October 20, 2016 by Jeffrey Bausch
  10. A list of 15 devices within the feature range of mobile phones. (2017-10-01, original title: “15 Devices That Our Smartphone Has Replaced In Our Lives, Making It A True All-In-One Gadget!”)
  11. 11.0 11.1 Samsung Galaxy S10 commercial for PowerShare
  12. “How to use reverse wireless charging on the Huawei Mate 20 Pro” – Android Authority
  13. “What is wireless PowerShare?” article on Samsung's official web site
  14. A Galaxy S7 after battery surgery does not last 20 seconds underwater.
  15. Would you rather have a replaceable battery or slim design? – Linus Tech Tips forums
  16. Removable batteries: A must-have, or don’t care? (Poll of the Week), January 15, 2020, Jimmy Westenbergm Android Authority
  17. We asked, you told us: Most of you miss the removable battery – January 18, 2020, Jimmy Westenberg, Android Authority
  18. https://poal.co/s/LostFeatures/156028
  19. “Non-replaceable batteries are necessary” debunked. – Poal.co /s/LostFeatures
  20. “Non-Replaceable Batteries: This Trend Has to Stop.” (+ Tim Cook investor letter) - Video by Right-to-Repair-advocate Kevin Muldoon
  21. Criticism of poor data portability with locked bootloader.
  22. Example phone case with practical built-in kickstand and a design of high robustness and good grip.
  23. Google restricts background access to camera, microphone and device sensors for alleged privacy protection.
  24. First known mention of the term “unibody”: MacBook Pro presentation 2008.

External links[edit]


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