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Want to make your smartphones and laptops last longer? Here's how

If we put a small amount of time into caring for our gadgets and apply basic maintenance like purging unnecessary files, they can last indefinitely.

Want to make your smartphones and laptops last longer? Here's how

During this global pandemic, it’s more important than ever to take care of our smartphones and other gadgets. (Glenn Harvey/The New York Times)

During a global pandemic such as this, it’s more important than ever to take care of our smartphones and other gadgets.

That said, we generally do a poor job of this. As soon as a device like a smartphone starts to feel slow or its battery deteriorates, we conclude that it’s time to buy a new one – so we upgrade.

“People just like to spend, spend, spend – they say, I don’t want to fix it, I’ll just get a new phone,” said Shakeel Taiyab, who runs a business repairing phones and computers in South San Francisco. “It’s US$200 (SGD$279) to fix your phone, now you want to spend another US$1,500? People don’t do the math.”

The tech companies have generally helped nurture this behaviour, of course. Many phone-makers gave us incentives to buy new devices regularly, for example, while offering scarce education on steps to help our tech endure.

But with so many people now dealing with shrinking funds, making our tech last longer makes common sense and is not so hard. Basic maintenance includes replacing batteries, cleaning out dust and purging unnecessary files that bog down our devices.

If we put a small amount of time into caring for our gadgets, they can last indefinitely. We’d also be doing the world a favour. By elongating the life of our gadgets, we put more use into the energy, materials and human labour invested in creating the product.

So here are some of the most effective steps you can take to squeeze as much life as possible out of your phones, tablets and computers without breaking the bank.

Check Your Battery

Start thinking about your device batteries as if they were car tires and replace accordingly. Because batteries can be charged only a finite number of times before they deteriorate, they will be one of the first things to go on mobile devices and laptops.

For different types of gadgets, your battery mileage may vary. Generally, a smartphone battery will last about two years, and ones for a laptop or smartphone will last three or four years before needing to be replaced, said Kyle Wiens, chief executive of iFixit, a site that offers instructions on do-it-yourself gadget repairs.

So how do you assess whether a battery needs replacing? There are various software tools you can use to check its health:

— Apple users with iPhones and iPads can open the Settings, then tap Battery and select Battery Health.

— Android devices have third-party apps like AccuBattery that can do a reading on your battery’s health.

— Mac users can click on the Apple icon, then About This Mac and then System Report. Then click on Power to see a reading on battery health.

— Windows users can download the app BatteryInfoView to measure battery health.

In general, pay attention to a battery’s remaining capacity. The lower the capacity, the more short-lived your device gets. If your capacity is less than 60 per cent, you should think about replacing the battery.

Do a Deep Clean

Gadgets need regular cleaning. Dirt and debris clogging up our equipment can contribute to overheating, which shortens the life of our electronics.

So Wiens recommended this regular cleaning routine:

— For mobile devices, look inside the ports. Dust and food crumbs easily get lodged inside the charging ports, which causes the phone to charge more slowly. Shine a flashlight into the port for a close look. Use canned aerosol or a sewing needle to remove any debris.

— For computers, blow out the fans once a year. Opening up the case of a laptop or desktop machine reveals its fans. The fans accumulate lots of dust and hair over time, and the dirtier the fans are, the hotter your device gets. Take a small vacuum cleaner or a can of aerosol to get rid of the gunk.

Declutter Your Data

The more device storage you use up, the slower a gadget gets. So set a calendar reminder to do a data purge at least once a year.

On iPhones, Apple offers the tool iPhone Storage, which shows a list of apps that take up the most data and when they were last used; on Android devices, Google offers a similar tool called Files. Use these tools to delete any apps that you haven’t touched in more than six months.

To do a quick purge with computers, open a folder and sort the files by when they were last opened. From there, you can immediately eliminate files and apps you have not opened in years.

If purging files is too cumbersome, there are shortcuts. Some Android phones have a slot for inserting a memory card, where you can load games and videos. Similarly, with computers you can plug in an external hard drive and store large files there. That will free up storage on the device so that the operating system runs faster, said Vincent Lai, director of the Fixers Collective, a social club in New York that repairs aging devices to extend their lives.

Protect Your Gear

Most smartphone owners already know to wear cases to protect their devices from drops. That’s wise – a good case protects your phone from scratches and absorbs impact in the corners, edges and the back of your device. Carrying a phone without a case is similar to driving a car without bumpers.

Especially if you’re accident prone, a screen protector is another safeguard. Small scratches on a screen can weaken the glass, increasing the likelihood for it to shatter the next time it’s dropped.

Find a Fixer

If any of the above intimidates you, there are plenty of professionals who can help.

When collecting quotes, pay attention to the price and customer reviews, and do a web search on the repair to get a realistic idea of the true cost and difficulty of the task. Just because a repair shop says it will take longer doesn’t mean it will do a better job.

By Brian X. Chen © The New York Times