updated 10:39 pm EST, Fri March 1, 2013
Repair firm compares various tablets, finds most not easily fixable
Repair and how-to guide site iFixit has compiled their teardown and repair-guide results on the top tablets into one comprehensive report, and ranks Apple's iPad lineup (with the exception of the original iPad) very poorly for repairability, though it is Microsoft's Surface Pro tablet that gets the lowest possible mark. The Windows 8-based Dell XPS 10 gets the highest marks for being easy to disassemble, but is dinged (like most tablets) for having the LCD fused to the protective glass layer. Offsetting this, a number of studies have shown the iPads to be by far the most reliable tablet.
The site judged the tablets' repairability by how easy it is to disassemble and the availability of a repair service manual. Points were deducted for some kinds of fasteners (particularly adhesives, which make components very difficult to separate) and the complexity of replacing key components. Points were awarded if the device was upgradable easily, required only common tools for servicing and had easily-separable components.
It should be noted that iFixit's perspective centers only on repairability and ignores other factors such as reliability or practical engineering and environmental requirements, or even consumer preference (such as the improved display achieved by fusing the glass to the LCD panel).
The Dell XPS 10 was praised for its color-coded and labeled screws and cables, its easily-removable battery and how easy it was to open up. However, the LCD is fused to the glass, with all the qualities shared by the Dell Streak. Amazon's three entries were all over the map -- the original Kindle Fire being judged easily repairable with just a Phillips screwdriver, but dinged for the glass panel being fused to the frame. The Kindle Fire HD (7-inch) was judged somewhat harder to repair, despite color-coded screws and labeled cables. The 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HD was given a lower score for having the battery and cables glued to the case, and that a heat gun is needed to separate the fused LCD from the glass panel.
Motorola's sole entry the Xoom was ranked above average on repairability, with the only complaint being that it required removing an astonishing 57 screws -- the tablet equivalent of the notoriously-tedious iBook G4. Samsung's single entry on the list, the Galaxy Tab 2 (7-inch) was also easy to get into, despite needing a heat gun to replace the LCD.
Both of Barnes & Noble's entries were judged around average in repairability, with the Simple Touch model rated better than the Nook Tablet. The Simple Touch, by comparison to the Xoom, had only 12 screws and an easily-replaceable battery, but has its glass, digitizer and front LEDS all fused together. The Nook Tablet was criticized for requiring the removal of the motherboard to replace the battery, and "excessive adhesive and adhesive strips."
Google's two tablets were moderately rated as a "7" for the Nexus 7, and a "6" for the Nexus 10. The smaller device was praised for being easy to open and replace the battery, the latter quality shared with the larger Nexus 10. However, the 10-inch tablet was criticized for being "very difficult" to open, and having several components fastened with both screws and glue.
The Microsoft RT Surface was ranked a "4" compared to the dead-last Surface Pro, with iFixit noting that the RT was very difficult to open but once achieved, had an easily-replaceable battery. Like the iPad, the RT fuses the LCD panel to the glass panel. The Pro was criticized for having "tons of adhesive" holding everything in place, and indeed even attempting to open the Pro risks "shearing the display cables." The only praise for the Pro model was that the battery was not soldered to the motherboard.
The iPad lineup, with the exception of the original iPad, was very low-ranked, garnering "2" scores across the board. The first iPad rated a "6" by virtue of not fusing the glass to the LCD panel, making it easily openable -- however, the battery even then was difficult to remove or replace, being custom-made by Apple. The later full-sized models were all criticized for having a high risk of cracking the glass during disassembly, but praised for making the LCD easily removable once the unit was successfully opened.
The iPad 2 shared the iPad 1's fault of making the battery difficult to remove and replace, but the later third- and fourth-generation iPads drew more criticism for using adhesive to hold things in place. The iPad mini was also dinged for the same issue, plus it has hidden screws that make disassembly even more difficult. On the plus side for the Mini, iFixit reports that the LCD and glass are not fused together.
Recent studies may cast a more positive light on the iPad line, however, by pointing out that the incidence of them needing repair is far lower than typical for other tablets. PCWorld, among others, found that the iPad lineup score "above average" in all categories and breakdowns when compared to the Android competition, and was the only tablet to get superior scores on reliability, ease of use and user satisfaction, far ahead of any other model.