Easy to repair, subpar battery life

Easy to repair, subpar battery life

One of the most remarkable things about the Framework laptop isn’t merely the device itself, but the marketplace that comes with it.

Visit Framework’s online storefront, and you’ll find a sprawling array of replacement parts for sale, from screens and batteries to fans and speakers, along with upgradable storage and RAM. The Framework laptop is easy to pry open, and QR codes on each component lead to instructions on swapping them out. Having one place to buy all of those parts is refreshing, and shows that Framework is serious about long-term upgrades and repairs.

All of this would be for naught if the laptop itself weren’t any good, but Framework’s first product proves that easy repair doesn’t have to come at huge costs. It’s a slick laptop with a beautiful screen, comfy keyboard, and silky-smooth trackpad, and its modular port system is downright clever.

The screen is just one of the Framework components that’s designed to be easy to swap in and out. [Photo: courtesy of Framework]

The Framework laptop’s only notable downside—and it’s admittedly a doozy—is disappointing battery life. If Framework can somehow lick that issue, it could have one of the best $1,000 laptops on the market, repairable or otherwise.

An all-around nice laptop

With a starting price of $1,000, Framework is clearly targeting the upper crust of the laptop market, and it has the tech specs to match. The base configuration has an 11th-generation Intel Core i5 processor, 8 GB of RAM, and 256 GB of solid-state storage. At the high end, a version with a Core i7-1185G7 processor, 32 GB of RAM, and 1 TB of storage costs $2,000. A “DIY” option also lets you bring your own storage, RAM, and operating system for $750.

The 13.5-inch display is luxurious, with a resolution of 2256 by 1504. That’s both sharper and taller than the 1080p displays found on most Windows PCs, giving you more vertical space for web pages or documents. A brightness of 400 nits is on the higher end for laptops as well, and it helps counteract the glare of bright environments on its glossy glass screen.

Framework even went further than most PC vendors by equipping its laptop with a 1080p webcam that supports 60-frames-per-second video. The vast majority of Windows laptops have 720p webcams instead, even as Apple has jumped to 1080p in its latest MacBook Pro models.

The Framework’s 1080p webcam is a nice upgrade from the 720p ones found on most Windows laptops. [Photo: courtesy of Framework]

Framework also nails a lot of the little details that cheaper laptops miss. Look next to the camera, for instance, and you’ll find a pair of physical kill switches for both the camera and microphone, along with an ambient-light sensor that adapts the screen brightness to its surroundings. The trackpad is smooth and spacious with a click mechanism that doesn’t feel overly stiff—Windows PCs often flub at least one of those things—and the keyboard is quiet and comfortable. (A minor nitpick: The keys are just a little bit wobbly.)

Because of all of those niceties, reparability doesn’t feel like it comes at a premium, nor does it require giving up high-end features like it does on the Fairphone 4 smartphone. (Laptops being a more mature category than smartphones, it’s easier for a small company to build one that competes with the industry’s giants.) This laptop would easily be worth $1,000 even if its innards were sealed off with glue and proprietary screws.

Repairable and adaptable

Framework makes its laptop easier than usual to repair in several ways. It comes with a screwdriver to loosen its five T5 Torx screws, and it doesn’t cover up the screws with its rubber footpads or use glue to hold anything together. Once you’ve removed the screws, the laptop’s magnetized keyboard section lifts straight off, revealing an array of clearly labeled components. Each part’s QR code links to the relevant page on Framework’s repair guide, which has step-by-step instructions on how to proceed.

The laptop’s display portion is just as easy to access, with a magnetically attached bezel that peels off to reveal the display and webcam underneath. Framework even plans to turn the removable bezel into a style choice, with black and orange options along with the standard white.

In the era of sealed-in batteries, this one is still easy to get at. [Photo: courtesy of Framework]

The company has also given its laptop some modular touches so that you can tweak it as your needs change. Each of its side ports are just USB-C adapters in disguise, letting you choose any combination of USB-C, USB-A, MicroSD, HDMI, DisplayPort, or extra storage. It’s working on additional keyboard covers as well, so users can easily switch between languages.

Lifting up the Framework’s keyboard is like opening a car’s hood. [Photo: courtesy of Framework]

Those modular components are admittedly a bit gimmicky, but they do reinforce the idea that your laptop purchase decisions aren’t set in stone. Adding RAM, for instance, should take you 10 minutes at most, and Framework eventually plans to sell upgradeable processors, along with ways to repurpose your existing processor inside a lightweight desktop computer. It’s early days for Framework, but the promise is that you’re buying into a long life span of repairs and upgrades, rather than a single, disposable product.

About that battery life

The only thing that keeps me from being unreservedly excited about the Framework laptop is its battery life. The laptop has a 55 WHr battery inside, which is typical for a laptop of its size, yet runtimes fell well short of expectations.

In my normal usage habits, which involve a mix of web browsing, document editing, and Slack, the Framework laptop usually lasted between four and five hours. That’s two to three hours short of what I typically experience on high-end, thin-and-light Windows laptops. It’s worth noting that Framework’s laptop doesn’t bear Intel’s “Evo” certification, whose criteria include all-day battery life.

The laptop’s components even have QR codes that lead to upgrade instructions. [Photo: courtesy of Framework]

I also decided to run a proper battery-life test, with the same methodology that I use when reviewing laptops for PCWorld. While looping a video offline at around 255 nits brightness, the Framework laptop lasted just under eight hours. The Acer Swift 5, which has a similar-size battery on a 14-inch, 1080p display, lasted for more than 13 hours in the same test when I reviewed it last year.

Modular ports let you choose between USB-C, HDMI, memory slots, and more. [Photo: courtesy of Framework]

The battery life issue is a bit of a mystery, since the laptop doesn’t get uncomfortably hot or unusually loud under normal circumstances. Even so, I wonder if reparability took precedence over thermal design, forcing the cooling fan to work harder and hurting battery life as a result.

Framework, for its part, says it’s working to optimize battery life through firmware and driver updates. The company also says it will sell add-on modules that may extend runtimes as well. Still, I’d be wary of buying a tech product based on the promise of future improvements. At least the battery itself will be easy to replace as its ability to hold a charge degrades.

Battery issues aside, Framework did an excellent job building a slick laptop that not only allows for easy repairs, but encourages it. With any luck, it’s the start of even better repairable products to come.