I recently learned of Fairphone, a smartphone company based in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
Fairphone, as the company name implies, has at its core the idea that smartphones should be manufactured from a process that is environmentally friendly to the planet and to the people who use them. The materials used to manufacture Fairphone 3, the current flagship phone, relies heavily on recycled materials, fairtrade gold, and business decisions that promote a “more sustainable electronics industry”, according to the company’s website. In short, Fairphone puts people, the planet, and product longevity first.
Fairphone 3 Specifications
But, what about the phone specs? Fairphone 3 is a balanced, modern smartphone that is customer repairable in a way that iPhones just aren’t. Fairphone 3 runs Android 9 and is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 632 processor. The 3 has a single stock configuration that has 4GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage that is expandable by adding in your own microSD card, another thing that is not possible with an iPhone. Another differentiator between Fairphones and other major smartphone manufacturers? Fairphone 3 offers a replaceable 3,000mAH Li-ion battery.
The display is a 5.65-inch Full HD+ 18:9 panel. All of the expected radios are built into Fairphone 3. For example, the device supports MIMO 4×2 LTE radios on many of the bands used by carriers around the world, offering 300Mbps and 150Mbps download and upload streams, based on location conditions. Rounding out wireless package are 2.4 and 5GHz Wi-Fi radios, Bluetooth 5 + LE, and an NFC system for contactless payment systems.
Fairphone 3 has a 12MP f/1.8 rear facing shooter that supports HRD and a 8MP f/2.0 forward facing camera. Both cameras have digital image stabilization. The rear facing camera can shoot 4K video at 30fps. In terms of the iPhone, Fairphone 3 is on par with the camera system that is on the 2017 iPhone 8.
Fairphone 3 Repairability
To improve the durability of Fairphone 3, the exterior case is made out of recycled plastic. This is a marked departure from high-end smartphones that use glass housings. If you drop Fairphone 3 on concrete, for example, you pick it up, dust it off, and put it back in your pocket. Dropping a naked iPhone on concrete can be a very expensive mistake if you do not have AppleCare+. A broken Fairphone 3 screen will set you back about €90 ($110) where as an out of warrantee iPhone 8 Plus screen repair will cost about €152 ($169).
Fairephone promotes repairability by including a screwdriver in the box with the phone. The spare parts catalog offers many replacement parts for current and previous models. To demonstrate how serious Fairphone is about self-repair, one of the two accessories included in the box is a screwdriver.
Considerations Before Buying
There are a few considerations that potential customers should make before buying.
The first is where you live. While the Fairphone 3 is widely available in Europe, it is not currently available in North America.
Second, Fairphone 3 runs Fairphone OS. The current version o Fairphone OS is a derivative of 2018’s Android 9 Pie. Given that Android 10 was just released this past September (2019), one can overlook the fact that Fairphone 3 hasn’t received an upgrade to Fairphone OS that is based on Android 10 yet. Still, it is unknown how often Fairphone releases Android upgrades and security patches to customers at the time of this post. On their website, Fairphone promises software updates for five years after a phone is released.
Third is the lack of third-party accessory ecosystem support. For example, I was not able to find any major smartphone accessories manufacture that sold a case for Fairphone. After searching several websites, I finally found Happer Studio, an independent Lithuanian company, that makes slip covers for Fairphone 2 and as “Universal” size on eBay.
Finally, Fairphone 3 only ships with a bumper case and a screwdriver. Fairphone, the company, believes so much in their dedication to sustainability that they won’t ship accessories that you probably already have such as power delivery capable USB-C cables, charging bricks, or ear buds. (If you want first-party accessories, Fairphone does sell them on their website.)
I like the guiding principles behind the creation of Fairphone 3. I think it goes to show that you don’t have to be one of the top five technology companies in the world to create a product that values sustainability and end-user repair. If you live in a region that Fairphone are available, at €450, you can get a good Android-style phone that allows you to easily replace parts that break over time.