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iFixit slams Samsung's phone 'upcycling' scheme for falling short of what was promised

Dude, where's my unlocked bootloader?

It's a sad, pointless, and frankly wasteful cycle. You buy a phone. Two years later, you buy another. The old phone goes into a drawer, where it sits until you eventually get around to recycling it.

In 2017, Samsung proposed breaking this cycle with its "Galaxy Upcycling" scheme. The premise was simple: turn that antiquated, unsupported blower into something useful, like a water quality sensor for a fish tank. The company even teamed up with right-to-repair advocacy group iFixit to promote the idea, with its CEO Kyle Wiens announcing the project at Samsung's developer event.

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iFixit, which has been backing recent efforts to legislate for the right to repair in the US, wishes it hadn't bothered. In a new blog post, the group condemned the version that ultimately shipped as "nearly unrecognizable" from the original concept, and accused Samsung of having "lost all memory of an idea that would really make a difference for their customers and the planet."

Raspberry BlackBerry Pis

Samsung originally proposed turning an obsolete Galaxy phone into a general-purpose computing platform almost akin to the Raspberry Pi, capable of running third-party software and interfacing with custom hardware.

Examples demonstrated at 2017's Maker Faire showed the company's phones used as a games console, and a full desktop computer with HDMI-out and USB connectivity.

The version shipped in April of this year – dubbed Upcycling at Home – had a vastly more limited scope. Instead of creating a thriving ecosystem for third-party tinkerers, it instead opted to let punters turn their old kit into appliances capable of working as light and sound sensors.

The beta programme is limited to the Samsung Galaxy S9, which is still a viable day-to-day phone, and remains on the company's update schedule. Although Samsung has since ceased production, new models can be found on Amazon for under £350, while refurbished models cost roughly £170.

By contrast, a dedicated light sensor with IFTTT-compatibility costs just £16. A Neos Smartcam – which can act as a noise detector and also comes with a 1080p night-vision camera – costs roughly double that amount.

It is, in essence, pointless, if not entirely doomed to failure. Why would you bother turning a viable phone into a basic light sensor, when you can just flog it to CeX for £150?

In the time following its splashy launch, iFixit said Samsung ceased replying to its emails. It claimed the company wasn't too keen on something that didn't "have a clear product tie-in or revenue plan."

Samsung has fared poorly in iFixit's most recent repairability rankings. Premium phones from the company are now renowned for their excessive use of adhesive and all-glass construction. This makes simple repairs – like battery replacements – vastly more complicated and time consuming.

"We wish Samsung could get excited about a commitment to their products beyond shipping more of them," iFixit said.

"As Samsung was ramping up its original, ambitious Upcycling program, its Galaxy phones were sliding down our repairability index. Since then, Galaxy phones have become more fragile and glue-caked, requiring a near-total teardown for many common repairs. Replacing the battery or screen on a Galaxy phone these days is a badge of honor among new phone fixers – it doesn't get much more annoying."

The Register asked Samsung to comment, and will update this article if we hear back.

We note that the Galaxy S9 has similar Geekbench ratings to the incredibly versatile Raspberry Pi 3. Although lacking its GPIO arsenal, it benefits from a bevy of built-in sensors and radios that would make it well suited for IoT tinkering. ®

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