Robert Triggs/Android Authority
I’m sure you’ve all had the misfortune to see a beloved technology suddenly bite the dust. A few months ago, my Sony WH-1000XM3 battery died after almost three years of loyal service. Although the headphones still work on 3.5mm, I lost all Bluetooth and ANC functionality. Without a warranty, I was faced with the prospect of shelling out almost £200 for a replacement pair or upgrading to the £350 Sony WH-1000XM5. Neither is a particularly appealing prospect, especially since the headphones worked otherwise.
Luckily, I was able to replace the battery, hopefully praising these excellent Bluetooth headphones for years of extra life. And it only cost me £14 and less than an hour of my time. I’m not going to cover the steps to repair the unit here; I will direct you to the excellent iFixit Guide I used, instead. But I want to share an overview of the whole process of repairing a modern technology.
Repairability is an afterthought
Robert Triggs/Android Authority
Lithium batteries eventually stop working; it’s just the nature of battery technology. Their capacity slowly decreases, voltages drop and eventually they can no longer be charged. In fact, the battery is almost certainly the reason that a number of your portable gadgets end up in the trash. Batteries usually only last about three years, and replacing them can often mean many more years of use for an old gadget. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to obtain official spare parts.
Sony doesn’t sell WH-1000XM3 battery replacements, and there’s no transparent pricing for out-of-warranty repairs from any of its trusted partners (guaranteed it’ll be outrageously expensive). Instead, I had to find a third-party alternative. Luckily, there were plenty of batteries for sale on Amazon and eBay, but it takes a little knowledge of battery voltages and capacities to check for suitability. Additionally, they are often more expensive than a battery should be; you can buy general-purpose li-ion and li-poly batteries for less than $5 at electronics retailers.
This repair was only possible due to third party guides and parts.
Even after all my research, the replacement battery I settled on was a fraction larger than Sony’s already tight-fitting original. See image below – original is on the left. It was a bit tight to fit it into the frame, and you still have to be very careful when applying pressure to the batteries. Before even getting into the nitty-gritty of repair, the process would have been much easier if Sony and other manufacturers had stocked essential spare parts in a simple display case.
Even if you can get replacement parts, replacing them is a whole different matter. While opening the Sony WH-1000MX3 isn’t too difficult (it’s just a few clips and screws), you’ll still need a guide to show you where everything is, and again, I had to turn to a third party. Even then, the headphones are built in such a way that it would be very easy to damage anything else during the repair.
Look at all those threads! Trying to fix a gadget could easily break it further.
Note the short touch control ribbon cable in the ear cup and the close proximity between the battery and some very delicate wires. A yank or slip of the screwdriver is all it would take to render the helmet beyond repair. There’s also an ungodly amount of adhesive used to secure the WH-1000XM3 battery, which doesn’t go well with thin, delicate wires and batteries that explode when punctured or bent. I’m pretty familiar with circuits and repairs, but this task could easily be too much for inexperienced DIYers.
Reading between the lines, Sony never built the WH-1000MH3 with repairability in mind, at least not outside of its official warranty channel. This is not good for consumers more than two years later who need a cheap, simple, and quick repair to keep their product working.
Replaceable batteries should be mandatory
Robert Triggs/Android Authority
Hearing the familiar phrase “power up” and successfully pairing my headphones with my smartphone felt like a major win, but I realized it shouldn’t have been as big a deal as it turned out to be.
Replacing core parts should be a familiar and simple part of long-term ownership. The money saved, while certainly welcome, is only half the picture. If I had thrown these headphones in the trash, the plastics and circuitry would have unnecessarily clogged the local landfill. Plus, I would have bought another pair, needlessly consuming more of those same precious metals and other resources I had just thrown away.
£14 saved me £350 resulting in less waste being sent to landfill.
Looking at the big picture, the problem with the disposable nature of most modern gadgets is glaring, whether it’s headphones or more complex tech like smartphones. Just £14 and a bit of time was enough to take a broken product and make it practically like new. It’s not the first time a battery replacement has saved me from throwing away a gadget – I’ve gotten years of extra use out of my LG G3 thanks to third-party batteries. The same logic applies to screens and other essential repairs, but replaceable batteries are practically a given in terms of cost and simplicity.
Have you ever repaired gadgets yourself?
While the case for replaceable batteries is pretty clear, it’s not a silver bullet, especially when it comes to water resistance, fast charging, and ultra-thin designs. There is also a cost factor; the WH-1000XM3 battery used by Sony is clearly cheap and ready to go rather than a custom-made replaceable package, for example. But I’d be very happy to sacrifice a few design aspects and even pay a little more upfront if manufacturers started making products to last and provide easier access to spare parts.
While this argument is compelling from a consumer perspective, there is still little profit or even social incentive for companies to provide long-term repairability support. Being seen to launch something new is even more important than being sustainable (unless you’re Nokia, it seems). The plateau of innovation, environmental concerns and the sheer cost of the latest products have completely convinced me that the right to repair movement’s push for accessible components, tools and user manuals is greater than ever. .