Robert Triggs / Android Authority
HMD Global announced three new smartphones and a tablet at IFA 2022: the Nokia X30 5G, Nokia G60 5G, G31 and T21 tablets. The four products span a variety of price points, from mid-tier to ultra-budget-friendly. All good handsets but the more interesting development was the introduction of HMD’s eco-subscription model called the Circular. We sat down with Adam Ferguson, HMD Global Head of Product Proposals, to learn more about it.
At its basic level, Circular lets you lease a smartphone for a monthly fee of between £10 and £25 (~$12-$29), depending on the model., In addition, HMD takes Once you’re done with it, either cycle it back through the program, donate it to charity, or recycle it entirely. The kicker is that you earn “seeds of tomorrow” to spend on good causes, such as planting trees or providing mobile connectivity to places in need. As long as you keep the handset, the rewards keep on increasing. It’s a new way to pay for a phone, especially if these reasons speak to your personal concerns.
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“People buy a Nokia phone because they want it to last and because they want it to last,” begins Adam, before explaining that the circular came from a desire to reward customers, “something like Do what they already want to do.” Paired with the Nokia brand’s focus on sustainability and multi-year eco-partnerships with brands like Ecovadis and Ecology, Circular seeks to blend its dedication with sustainability that HMD sees as increasing consumer demands and new potential subscription models.
The circular re-establishes the smartphone buying paradigm and keeps sustainability at its core.
While the appeal to the highly environmentally conscious is clear, the circular has its work cut out to prove that membership and rewards are the business model of the future, let alone prove that it is the industry’s growing e-waste problem. can be dealt with successfully.
Saving the planet ain’t cheap
Robert Triggs / Android Authority
For example, Circular charges a premium as compared to a one-time purchase. Picking up the Nokia X30 5G for €30 per month (~$29) and keeping the phone for its full three-year update cycle will cost €1,080 (~$1,075) for the phone with a retail price of €529 (~$457). It’s a tough pill to swallow for those seeking maximum technology for their buck and certainly a break from the traditional payment model customers are familiar with, especially some way for genuine ownership of the product. Not there.
However, it’s probably unfair to look at cost solely in terms of hardware investment. “If something goes wrong, you can just call, and it’ll be replaced,” explains Adam, “we’re going to take care of you.” HMD will replace a lost or broken handset twice before asking the question, even for its cheaper models. “We’re trying to keep our range of warranties as long as possible,” he elaborates. By comparison, other manufacturer insurance policies, such as Apple Care, can cost hundreds, with notable deductibles to pay if you really need the service.
Read more: What are your best options for phone insurance?
While the Circular’s warranty is great for peace of mind, it’s not a complete solution for keeping the phone in use for as long as possible. For that, consumers need easy access to affordable repairs, or better yet the right to repair appliances, but those reasons don’t readily align with the subscription model. The elusive removable battery won’t hurt either. HMD says there may be more to announce on that front next year. Here’s hoping.
Comprehensive warranties alone do not address the growing demand to keep equipment working longer.
“You might be planning on keeping the handset for three years… Adam highlighted that Circular is a flexible subscription as well. After the first three months, customers can give up their handset, upgrade or are free to downgrade. Adam continued, “Obviously we want them to keep personal phones for longer, so that’s for incentive. But if they want to change, they should be able to do so.”
Circular offers subscribers a freedom that is hard to find anywhere else. If we can’t have a proper right of repair, maybe a right of return is the next best thing? Secure in the knowledge that equipment we no longer need will be given a new lease of life or will be properly recycled.
Nevertheless, this is potentially the main drawback of the circular model compared to the more general subscription; You will never own the device. You can’t trade it, sell it, or give it to a friend when it’s time to upgrade. You’re investing in insurance, “seed” plans, and the promise of recycling down the line instead of hardware that’s actually yours. However, it does provide HMD an opportunity to guarantee what will happen to the device once you hand it back, as it technically owns it.
The circular covers the customers for their insurance and ecological concerns.
While other manufacturer return and trade-in schemes exist, they do not always guarantee what will happen to the device. “We will guarantee that, if it is at the end of its life, it gets recycled,” explains Adam, “or if it isn’t and it can be useful elsewhere, it will go and do so. ” Handset reuse and recycling is an important component of tackling the e-waste issue and is a core part of Circular’s model. Of course, there are plenty of non-subscription methods out there that allow you to donate or recycle that old mobile phone.
Updates and longevity go hand in hand
Robert Triggs / Android Authority
Then of course there is reason for the update. Three years of OS upgrades and security patches for the X, G, and L series are acceptable, but hardly the best in the business. But just two years on the lower-end C model is clearly well below what’s required for safe long-term use, making the environmentally conscious angle somewhat redundant. HMD acknowledges that updates are important but has not had the best track record in terms of timeliness. In fact, the company doesn’t seem to agree — based on its internal data — that the update is a deterrent for consumers to use their devices for long periods of time.
Adam said, “People hold devices for different reasons … some people are holding X series devices for the same reasons we’re talking about in the circular.” He also suggested that customers can go for the lower-end C series devices, especially in different markets, to avoid the cost of buying another device. While this is likely to be true, it is escaping the responsibility of keeping customers safe in the long run. There’s clearly a limit to the updated resources HMD can throw at its very budget products, but the long-term revenue generated by a subscription model should allow the company to go that bit further.
Security updates are a big component of long-term support and HMD could do a little better.
Updates aside, HMD Global’s eco-conscious subscription model seems like a solid start, especially compared to the increasingly popular but comparatively mild eco-claims, such as ditching paper packaging and a boxed charger. Still, there’s a very different way to think about circular smartphone ownership, or lack thereof. It won’t suit power users or thrifty customers, and a subscription to HMD certainly may not align with the noble goals of the right to repair. Instead, it’s for those who are after a simple end-to-end option that includes a comprehensive warranty, addresses some stability concerns, and gives something for good reason.
“We’ve tried to keep the consumer and their needs at the center of this,” Adam said. “It’s a new way to buy phones, that they can return devices, and massively cut down on waste. It will make a demonstrable difference in the long term.” Time will tell if HMD is ready to do something here. Or not.