Tech Talk: How long should new gadgets last?

Google's original Nexus 7 tablet seems prone to a charging fault
Google's original Nexus 7 tablet seems prone to a charging fault
Have your say

ALMOST every gadget you buy is covered by a manufacturer’s 12-month guarantee - and it’s just as well, because an increasing number are never going to make it beyond month 13.

It’s becoming infuriatingly commonplace for phones, tablets and other mass-produced tech to exhibit symptoms of design or manufacturing flaws - pack up, in other words - in their second or third year of use - well short of the lifespan you would have expected.

You might, of course, have been unlucky and purchased the equivalent of what the motor trade used to call a Friday afternoon model, rushed off the production line in a hurry so everyone could disappear for the weekend. But with miniaturised devices, faults are more likely to be endemic, with entire batches or even model ranges affected.

The Samsung MP3 player I bought at not inconsiderable expense a few years ago is a case in point. Internet forums were awash with complaints from owners that the touch screen had stopped responding, after just a couple of years of use. With the guarantee expired, there was no recourse except to buy a replacement - and surprisingly, few seemed to mind, since newer technology had rendered the original model all but obsolete anyway.

More recently, many models of Google’s original Nexus 7 tablet, the first of the big iPad rivals, have exhibited the same charging fault, with the battery suddenly taking hours instead of minutes to charge. The fault is so common that users have taken to Youtube with instructional videos of how to take the unit apart to replace the charging port. One of these videos alone has been viewed a quarter of a million times.

Not everyone wishes to take a screwdriver to such an intricate piece of technology, and for those users there are, of course, professional repair options - but they come at a price.

Even tried and trusted pieces of equipment like the desktop PC are not immune to such institutional failure, and I’ve heard more than one sorry tale of machines which have stopped working shortly after the guarantee has run its course. This is by no means a new phenomenon: back in the 1980s the then Alan Sugar famously purchased a bad batch of hard drives which he then installed in a line of early Amstrad PCs, all of which were later recalled.

And in 2009, Sony admitted that it used defective graphics chips in 14 models in its Vaio laptop range.

All of this raises the question of how long gadgets can be reasonably expected to last these days. If you have a contact phone, you’ll probably replace it every two years, and the annual cycle or new releases by the big manufacturers renders previous models outdated sooner than ever.

You can protect your investment by taking out an extended guarantee at the time of purchase, but make sure that the cost of the warranty isn’t more than a replacement would be. A better strategy might be to shop for cheaper, more disposable models whose eventual demise will be less of a disappointment to you and whose possible longevity may pleasantly surprise you. If you can find one with a two-year guarantee, so much the better.