So, finally, your smartphone is bricked, broken beyond repair for whatever reason, no more useful than paperweight. You’re done making trips to repair shops to have it repaired for the nth time, and that’s okay. At least, you’ve done your part to make the most out of it.
Before you go (online) shopping, though, I hope you consider these things first, since you’re doing research anyway:
Reuse old phones
If you still have your old working phones around, why not reuse them? Check if they’re still working. Check also if you still have the charger and the necessary cords, and if each of them are working.
If they are in need of repair, it’s likely to be affordable.
One of the major downsides of old phones is that, it may not fit your daily usage anymore. Advancements in software may be too much for the relatively old hardware.1 Like, talking to groups of people at once in an instant messaging app, or browsing the web may not even be feasible, because of hardware limitations.
If what you really need is better than Nokia 3310, then…
Look out for smartphone repairability scores.
iFixit has a list of repairable smartphones,2 which is a good starting point. They explain how they rate devices. Start looking at ones that score at least 7. Now, we should be veering away from Apple’s products, because their design for nonrepairability is not good design3, at all4. This should narrow down your list to just Android phones.
Make your Mobile OS more private
Smartphones are snitches; they’re designed to gather data even on standby (through microphones, sensors, GPS, etc.). As long as it’s connected to the internet, it sends packets of data to different companies’ servers. Who knows what they do with them?
Android phones, in particular, are basically the eyes and ears of Google.
Good thing that Android, as a mobile operating system, is highly configurable, so it’s worth considering flashing (i.e., replacing) the default OS with a custom one. PrivacyTools.io lists some recommended mobile operating systems.5
GrapheneOS (https://grapheneos.org) and CalyxOS (https://calyxos.org) both have support for Google Pixel phones only; while both LineageOS (https://www.lineageos.org) and Ubuntu Touch support wider range of devices. You don’t need to be a “technical person” to flash an Android phone with custom ROM, although it’s worth noting that these custom ROMS make old phones snappier and increase UI/UX (in a while, this will be relevant).
Of course, if you don’t have the time nor patience to deal with this, you can always ask for help from someone with more expertise in mobile software.
If you don’t want any of that (I get it, it could be just too much), you might want to add some of these apps on your Android phone, no root required. Your phone will likely warn you about installing from “unauthorized” sources. So, be sure to do your research first about any of these. Once you’re convinced that these programs can be trusted, just Allow installing from third-party sources.
- F-Droid (https://f-droid.org) is an installable catalogue of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) applications. Think Google Play Store, but only FOSS, and minus Google’s prying eyes. Install this first, because it’s highly recommended that you obtain the next few apps on this list from F-Droid.
- Aurora Store (search in F-droid) is an alternate to Google Play Store with which you can search and/or download apps, update existing ones, get details about in-app trackers, spoof your location, and much more.
- Blokada (search in F-droid) is an ad blocker and privacy app (also available in iOS, tell your friends). It works for all apps and all browsers.
- NetGuard (search in F-droid) provides simple and advanced methods to block certain apps from accessing the internet, without requiring root privileges. Apps and addresses can be individually allowed or denied access to your Wi-Fi and/or mobile connections, allowing you to control exactly which apps are able to phone home or not.
- Orbot (search in F-droid) is a free proxy app that empowers other apps to use the internet more securely. It uses Tor to encrypt your internet traffic and then hides it by bouncing through a series of computers (nodes) around the world.
No new things. Someone, somewhere is ready to part with their fully-functional smartphone, and the brand and model might just be included in your list. Ask around your friends and family. Visit sites like Carousell, or even Facebook’s Marketplace and check listings. This might also be the best time to consider your actual budget.
As last resort, and this isn’t actually “buying”, you may want to sign up for Freecycle8 and post a listing there, although let’s be honest—since a small number of people are aware of the site, your chances of obtaining a smartphone here are slim. And many people aren’t just that keen on giving away stuff to strangers for free, but we can dream!
In this post, we tackled three things simultaneously, all of which were discussed in previous separate posts, each equally important: right to privacy, right to repair, and refusal to buy new stuff.
As for your old bricked phone, I need not tell you to don’t just dispose it anywhere! It’s now an e-waste and must be handled differently than your regular household waste. If it’s not too wrecked, consider selling it off to technicians and DIY-enthusiasts for the parts (don’t forget to pass the message about it being e-waste). You may want to keep it for the parts yourself.
Most, if not all, software developers don’t think much of the hardware side of things when writing programs. That’s why it’s likely that they’ll design their applications to run on modern machines with modern specifications, leaving behind “old” but reasonably functional computers. ↩︎
Lee, T., Crosby, A., Cooper, C. M., Stein, J. A., & Scardifield, K. (2019, July 11). Design and repair must work together to undo our legacy of waste. The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/design-and-repair-must-work-together-to-undo-our-legacy-of-waste-119932 ↩︎
Even as Apple, valued to be a trillion-dollar company, has the capability to do so, they don’t intend to make their hardwares last. Durable phones would cut away their profits. ↩︎
100% FOSS Smartphone Hardening non-root Guide 4.0. (2021, December 26). Reddit. https://old.reddit.com/r/degoogle/comments/rosdbu/100_foss_smartphone_hardening_nonroot_guide_40/ ↩︎
When a phone is “rooted,” the user has gained root access to their phone. This means the user has admin permissions, and can do a lot of things Android wouldn’t normally let you do, such as blocking all apps on the phone from being able to contact specific websites. Rooting your phone opens many new doors. On the other side of some of those doors is a broken phone, so do your research if you ever plan to root your device. ↩︎