Electronic waste is an increasingly salient issue. As more and more of our stuff comes with processors and batteries, and as we're pressured to upgrade it sooner and sooner, we're racking up a whole lot of difficult-to-recycle crap. Fledgling companies like Fairphone and Teracube, aware of this problem and the potential business opportunity to be seized in solving it, offer devices that are positioned as less environmentally taxing. The latter's newest phone, the Teracube 2e, costs just $199 and will last you all of four years — at least that's what the company says. After using the phone for a few weeks, though, I can't help but be skeptical.

Specs

CPU MediaTek Helio A25
RAM 4GB
Display 6.1" 720p IPS LCD
Storage 64GB
Battery 4,000 mAh, user-replaceable
Cameras 13MP primary, 8MP ultrawide, 8MP selfie
Software Android 10
Dimensions 155.2 x 73.3 x 10.1 mm
Weight 190 g
Miscellaneous Headphone jack, MicroSD slot, notification LED
Price $199

The Good

Eco-friendly features The replaceable battery and compostable case are nice. Minimal packaging. Teracube plants a tree for each phone sold.
Included accessories You get a screen protector and case preinstalled.

The Not So Good

Performance The 2e is slooow.
Updates Despite claims of bi-monthly updates, my unit is sitting on Android 10 with a security patch from November.
Display A 720p IPS panel with poor color reproduction and very noticeable light bleed.

Design, hardware, what's in the box

At a glance, the Teracube 2e looks like any unassuming budget phone: it's made of semigloss black plastic with everything where you'd expect it to be. There's a perfectly decent fingerprint sensor and small camera bump on the back, buttons on the right edge (the power button is a lovely shade of green), USB-C port and speaker on the bottom, and a headphone jack up top. The display is a 6.1-inch IPS number with a pretty sizable teardrop notch at the top. That panel is, by basically any metric, not very good. It's a low-quality, 720p panel with badly tuned colors and visible light bleed around the edges.

The 2e's most interesting hardware feature is that you can pop the back panel off to access and replace its 4,000 mAh battery. That's a rarity anymore, and it's the clearest indicator of Teracube's ostensible focus on sustainability. The phone also comes with a four-year warranty against manufacturing defects, and aside from the user-swappable battery, the rest of the device is made to be easy to fix, too. There's a pretty nice biodegradable case attached out of the box, as well as a screen protector that should help extend the life of the phone's display.

 
I actually really like this case.

The packaging itself is also eco-friendly, being low-profile and made entirely of unbleached brown cardboard, with no plastic inserts. Something else you won't find in the box: a charger. Yes, the high-end greenwashing trend of skimping on the power brick and USB cable has trickled down to the budget space — but I don't hate it. By this point, everybody has a charger (or six) laying around, and I'm content not to collect more if only to reduce clutter in my home. On the whole, the minimalist packaging is nice, however minor its impact on the overall environmental footprint of smartphone manufacturing may be.


Thanks for thanking me, Teracube.

Software, performance, and battery life

The Teracube 2e runs mostly stock Android 10 with absolutely no bloat to be found. That's commendable, but despite Teracube's pledge to provide bi-monthly security updates, my unit is running a patch from last November — which doesn't give me much confidence that the company will be able to provide the three OS updates a representative told me it has planned. Even if the software were up to date, poor performance and bugs dampen what could've been an otherwise pleasant experience.

The phone runs on a MediaTek Helio A25 CPU paired with four gigs of RAM, and the experience Teracube squeezes out of that hardware doesn't say much for the prospect of using this thing for years to come. The 2e positively chugs performing the most basic tasks: opening apps can take several seconds, and even typing is a chore. When I let my thumbs move at full speed, the phone routinely fails to register characters I've tapped. Gboard's autocorrect does an admirable job of compensating for this, but I still found myself intentionally moving slower than I naturally would to avoid typos that wouldn't happen on other phones. The UI doesn't even render at a standard frame rate: in my tests, the 2e vacillated between 54 and 55 frames per second.

Navigating the stock launcher is also frustrating. You can swipe down on the home screen to open the notification shade, but only over a blank space — if your finger starts on an app icon, folder, or widget, the shade won't open. Bafflingly, swiping left or right to move between home screens does make the notification shade open if your finger moves over an icon or widget. Why?

Battery life is completely adequate, at least. I was able to squeeze seven hours of screen time out of the 4,000 mAh cell in a single day, and six hours of lighter use across two days.

Cameras

It's hard to fault a phone as cheap as the 2e too much for photo quality; you're not going to get objectively good shots out of anything much cheaper than the Pixel 4a, which costs nearly twice as much. That said, camera performance here from both sensors is average at best for a phone of this class. Photos are pretty muddy, dynamic range is poor, and colors are usually washed out.

Focus is also an issue: I tried for several minutes to get the 2e to hone in on my dog in the first shot above, and it outright refused.

Should you buy it?

Teracube 2e
6/10
I wouldn't.

Sustainability matters — the stuff we make electronics out of is finite and taxing to harvest, and the way most of it is disposed of isn't much better. So it's heartening to see companies try to tackle these problems, at least in theory: the Teracube 2e comes with a four-year warranty, it's made out of recycled materials, it's easy to repair, and its battery is replaceable with zero technical know-how. It also comes in clean, spartan packaging, complete with a biodegradable protective case. These are all objectively good things.

But to have any hope of lasting three or four years, a phone has to be really solid when it's released, and the Teracube 2e just isn't. Building a super-budget device is antithetical to longevity: the 2e feels like a phone from 2015 today, and it'll be excruciating to try to use in 2025 — even with a fresh battery, and even if Teracube can make good on its promise of three years of software updates (a claim I have serious doubts about in light of the 2e's low-rent MediaTek chipset).

If Teracube built a $499 or $599 phone with the same ethos — a phone with, say, a 1080p display, six gigs of RAM, and a mid-range Snapdragon chipset, that was still easy to repair and came with a long warranty — I think it'd be onto something. But this $199 phone is borderline disposable, and that's hardly eco-friendly — and positioning it that way feels disingenuous. If you want to do your part, make sure your next phone is one that'll actually last four years and make the most of it.

Buy it if:

  • You're eager for an eco-experiment in living with less.
  • You know you plan to recycle your next phone in a year and want to feel better about it.

Don't buy it if:

  • Literally any facet of a smartphone matters more to you than a replaceable battery.
  • You can afford a Pixel 4a or Samsung Galaxy A-series phone, both of which are guaranteed long software support.

Where to buy: