The battle to survive tech obsolescence
Updated: May 8
By Aurora Kohn
Cellphones have come a long way from the Motorola Dynatac 8000X, the first commercial cellphone that was introduced in 1983. It offered 30 minutes of talk time, six hours standby and could store 30 numbers. Forget about slipping it into your back pocket because it was about the size of a footlong sub.
It also cost close to a whopping $4,000, putting it way beyond the reach of ordinary citizens. Back then, owning a cellphone symbolized wealth and privilege.
Nowadays, people look at you funny if you tell them you don’t have a cellphone. It signals that you’re an outlier and triggers curiosity about your reasons for not having a cellphone. Most of us cannot imagine living without what we know now as “smartphones,” especially the millennials and the Gen-Zers who have been using cellphones essentially from the time they exited their mother’s wombs.
The democratization of cellphone ownership is the logical outcome of technological advances and is partly driven by the competition for a bigger market share by its manufacturers and vendors.
But the prices of smartphones are by no means cheap. Statistics show that on average, one can expect to pay at least $500 for a smartphone in the United States. Sure, one can buy cheaper models but who wants slow processing, tiny storage and blurry photos?
Because smartphones are not cheap, some surveys indicate that we expect our devices to last between two and three years. But what do you do when the batteries retire beyond repair? Well, you get a new battery to replace it. After all, a new battery is cheaper than buying a new smartphone. Simple, right?
Not on Guam. Being in the middle of the Pacific causes a wrinkle most of us are all too familiar with.
Guam resident Paul Tobiason recently complained that he was unable to obtain a battery replacement for his Samsung Galaxy A520.
“The Li-ion battery has expanded and is not working well. GTA finally said ours is too old and they cannot help,” he wrote in an email. “But they did give me a list of six local stores that ‘might’ help. Each one said it is too old or they don't support it.”
Tobiason said the replacement battery costs around $15 online. However, the federal law governing the shipment of hazardous materials requires that the battery be “properly installed in, or packed with, the equipment they are intended to operate.”
“All this leaves the customer high-and-dry. Thank you for your money but now we don't care about you,” Tobiason said in an email.
GTA TeleGuam does not replace batteries of any smartphone that it sells, according to a customer service representative who asked to be identified only as Seth.
Instead, GTA refers customers to secondary shops that are licensed to sell replacement batteries for smartphones such as Marianas Electronics and other computer stores. Even if a device is still under warranty, GTA will not replace smartphone batteries unless it is caused by an inherent defect of the phone model it is installed in.
“The only replacements that we can do is if there is an internal issue with the phone, like the motherboard or anything with the system of the device, then we could help out on that side, but as far as screen replacement or battery replacement, we are unable to do that,” Seth said.
Jared L. Roberto, public relations manager at Docomo Pacific, said the carrier does not provide battery replacements. “For iPhone devices, we encourage customers to visit Apple-authorized service providers such as Marianas Electronics,” he said. “For Android devices, our Techzone team does encourage a phone replacement, instead.”
This was echoed by Laura Lindberry, a retail representative at Docomo’s store at the Guam Premier Outlets in Tamuning. “We can’t order batteries. We would need to go through the company that sells the phone,” she said. “But we are already selling phones with batteries. There is another vendor for the customers to go and purchase the battery. We can only provide the phones and help with anything that is warrantied on the phone but batteries are not warrantied.”
As an alternative, Docomo has a trade-in program where customers can get credit toward the purchase of a new device, Roberto said. Docomo accepts both working and broken devices for trade-in and they accept phones as early as Samsung S7 and iPhone 7.
Honey House, a popular destination for phone accessories and repair, carries batteries and accessories for Samsung phones from the Galaxy S6 to the Note 20 Ultra, except for the A models. For iPhones, Honey House carries accessories from iPhone 5 all the way to iPhone 11. For older models, they only have left-over inventory in stock.
“We do most repairs. For androids, we only do screen repair and battery, but for iPhones, we do the screen, battery, the camera, the home button and sometimes the back,” said Brittany Lizama, supervisor at the Honey House Tamuning branch.
Lizama said the store replenishes stocks of smartphone batteries and accessories based on what sells.