Life spans of popular electronic gadgets

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Courtesy of ABC News

Life is fleeting — even for inanimate objects.  Take your favorite iGizmo: How long will it continue to wink and blink, to coo and vibrate, before the digital reaper calls it to the junk heap?

According to  a recent survey by Consumer Reports (“What Breaks, What Doesn’t?”), the answer differs widely, depending on what kind of gizmo you have. The repair rate — meaning failure rate — for laptop computers  three to four years old, for example, is 36 percent. That’s higher than the rate for desktops (32 percent), LCD televisions (15 percent) or plasma TVs (10 percent) of comparable age.

Laptops,  says the magazine, are “among the most repair-prone products you can buy”– on par with the most troublesome riding lawn mowers and side-by-side refrigerators (the survey looked at other kinds of goods besides consumer electronics).

“TVs and cameras are pretty reliable,” says Mark Kotkin, Consumer Reports’ director of survey research, “computers less so.” Digital cameras, he says, typically live eight years before they break, making them among the longest-lived of any gadgets surveyed.

Respondents labeled Gateway’s desktops repair-prone  but Apple’s as reliable. Reliable, too, were Toshiba and Acer laptops. LCD TVs made by Panasonic, Sanyo and Syvania were less likely to die than those made by Westinghouse, Polaroid and Mitsubishi.

Anthony Scarsella, chief gadget officer of, a website where consumers can resell their broken, outmoded or otherwise cast-off electonics, says Apple’s products are among the best made and least likely to break. The reason people sell old iPhones through Gazelle isn’t so much because the phones break as because owners want to upgrade to a newer model, Scarsella says.

Even the life cycle of an iPhone, though, is limited: Its built-in battery, according to website eHow, can take only so many rechargings and begins to die after several hundred chargings or two or three years. At that point, the owner faces the choice of paying Apple to put in a new battery or buying a new phone. It’s easier to buy a new model, says Scarcella, and the cost, especially if you resell your dead phone, is not significantly higher. “The iPhone, the iPad, the MacBook Air, the Macbook Pro — all hold their value very well,” he says. “When you sell them, you can get a pretty good return.”

He says he does see dead and broken gadgets, but fewer all the time, since consumers, having wised up to their gadgets’ resale values, are taking better care of them. “Cases and screen-protectors are now a billion-dollar industry.” What still breaks? “The cheaper stuff, things with hinges or a lot of glass. You drop it, it breaks. Unless you’ve invested in a good quality case.”

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