Which Smartphones Are the Most Reliable?

A new poll reveals which devices are the most—and least—likely to give you problems

By Caitlin Finlay


The excitement that comes with getting a new smartphone, tablet, or laptop is often tempered by the knowledge that these devices may not last more than a few years. When their performance slumps or they slow down or stop working and require expensive repairs, it’s often easier simply to buy a new device.

Often, the manufacturer itself is part of the problem, deliberately making repairs impossible or difficult unless you go directly to the manufacturer, and such repairs often aren’t covered under a basic warranty and can cost a pretty penny. This planned obsolescence pushes customers to buy new devices sooner than they otherwise would have. Now the results of a Léger Marketing survey have revealed that 95% of Canadians polled report having had problems with their devices in the past five years.

Commissioned by CBC Television, which reported the survey results on its investigative consumer-affairs program CBCs Marketplace, the poll was conducted from August 6 to 20 and included the participation of 3,201 Canadians. They were asked to provide the type of device, brand name, lifespan of the device, and the repairability of the device in the event that it had broken down. While 95% said they’d had a problem with one device, 65% said they’d experienced multiple devices breaking. Problems included devices being slow or buggy, having a weak or dead battery, no longer charging, not turning on, overheating, and having a cracked screen. Of the devices brought to the manufacturer for repairs, 51% were not repaired because the cost was too high or they simply couldn’t be fixed.

CBC had David Bellhouse, a Western University professor emeritus of statistical and actuarial sciences, analyze the survey results to determine which brands broke down more often than would be expected based on their share of the market. Among smartphones, which according to the survey break down more than any other device, LG phones break down the most often. Comparing the two top sellers—Apple and Samsung smartphones—Bellhouse found that Apple iPhones were the more reliable devices.

The most popular laptop manufacturers in Canada are Apple, Acer, and HP. The survey analysis showed that HP laptops suffer the most breakdowns.

Among tablets, the survey found that Apple products were both the most popular and the most reliable.

However, the Marketplace report also identified tablets as the least repairable devices. According to Gay Gordon-Byrne, the head of the Repair Association, a US group that fights for consumers’ rights to repairable devices, consumers should save their money. He told CBC that tablets are a “bad investment”; their manufacturing often includes glue that makes them hard to disassemble, and manufacturers often don’t provide consumers or non-certified repair shops with the necessary parts, instructions, or software for repairs.

Despite the efforts of groups like the Repair Association, the fight for easier device repairs and for manufacturers to disclose the repairability of devices is a slow process. France will be introducing policy changes in early 2021 that will require manufacturers to disclose the repairability of their devices.

Until similar policies are more common, the best way to avoid device breakdowns is to research the manufacturers. “If the website sells common parts directly to the owner, that’s a good sign,” Gordon-Byrne told CBC, and a lack of information about parts or repairs “tends to be a bad sign.”

Photo: iStock/VladTeodor.