Fairphone 3 - repairability from Dutch soil

The Fairphone 3 is a very special smartphone. It is the only Dutch telephone, it is made with people and the environment in mind and you can almost completely disassemble it to replace parts. In recent weeks we have tested the 450 euro device and you can read our findings in this Fairphone 3 review.

Fairphone 3

MSRP € 450,-

Colors Grey blue

OS Android 9.0 (stock Android)

Screen 5.65 inch LCD (2160 x 1080)

Processor 2.2GHz octa-core (Snapdragon 632)

RAM 4GB

Storage 64GB (expandable)

Battery 3,000 mAh

Camera 12 megapixel (rear), 8 megapixel (front)

Connectivity 4G (LTE), Bluetooth 5.0, Wi-Fi, GPS, NFC

Format 15.8 x 7.2 x 1cm

Weight 189 grams

Other modular, fingerprint scanner, headphone port

Website www.shop.fairphone.com/nl 8 Score 80

  • Pros
  • Stock Android and long update promise
  • As sustainable and fair as possible
  • Modular, repairable housing
  • Negatives
  • Hardware in the long run
  • Disappointing screen

The chances that you know Fairphone are not that great. The smartphone manufacturer has only been around for six years and in that time sold two devices, the Fairphone 1 and 2. Together they have been sold 170 thousand times, Fairphone CEO Eva Gouwens said at the presentation of the Fairphone 3 in Berlin, where Computer!Totaal was also present. . I had been using the device for a week and below you can read what makes the Fairphone 3 so special and how it performs as a smartphone.

Fairphone 3 design: one of a kind

Three years ago, we wrote in our Fairphone 2 review that it was nice that you could partially disassemble the device to replace the screen and battery, for example. The Fairphone 3 builds on this because the manufacturer considers it important that you can replace as many parts as possible yourself. For example, because you dropped the device and the screen or camera is broken, or because the battery life decreases after a few years.

Replacement parts can be ordered through the Fairphone web shop. A new battery costs three tens, a camera (for the back) fifty euros and for a new screen you pay ninety euros.

In the box of the Fairphone 3 is a small #00 screwdriver. Unclip the semi-transparent back of the smartphone, remove the battery with your fingers and look at the inside. There is room for two SIM cards and a micro SD card here, which is nice. Use the screwdriver to loosen the thirteen (standard) screws. Then you push the display up a bit and it comes loose from the rest of the housing.

Now you can replace parts, although Fairphone prefers to talk about modules. The screen is such a module, just like the speaker, the camera on the back, the USB-c connection, the selfie camera with 3.5 mm port and the pcb (the printed circuit board). To remove these modules, use the screwdriver again and disconnect the connectors. According to Fairphone, the latter can be done with your fingers, but it did not go smoothly. It would have been nice if there was an attachment in the box to get this job done faster and more comfortably. In general, the concept works very well and you can replace the screen or another module within fifteen minutes.

Possible new modules in the future

The modular design is not only convenient because you can replace modules, it also paves the way for better modules in the future. Two years after the release of the Fairphone 2, the manufacturer released a new, better camera module that you could attach to the back of the smartphone. For example, an older device suddenly took better photos and videos.

Fairphone CEO Eva Gouwens shows up when asked Computer!Total Knowing that the company is researching modules that it can and wants to release for the Fairphone 3 in the future, she cannot yet say what those are and when they will be released. "But that will take a while, because the smartphone has yet to come out and has very good hardware for the time being."

The goal of repairability is that users can use the Fairphone 3 for as long as possible. A broken part can be replaced, instead of having to buy a whole new device right away. Gouwens would like to see you use the smartphone for five years. Fairphone therefore promises to sell modules and distribute software updates for at least five years. A very noble pursuit, and later we will go deeper into the software (support).

Sustainability and honesty first

Fairphone not only presents itself as a manufacturer that releases repairable smartphones. These devices are also made as much as possible from sustainably sourced raw materials and assembled by Chinese factory employees who are treated well. Two points that you don't hear about other smartphone manufacturers. There's a reason for that: fairer raw materials and factory workers with normal salaries make smartphones more expensive. And since everyone wants the cheapest possible device, practically all models contain gold, cobalt and other materials from, for example, conflict mines. Those smartphones are then assembled in Asia by people who are poorly paid and who have to work a lot of overtime.

It is a good thing that Fairphone is not participating in this. But a completely sustainable smartphone does not exist and is not feasible for the time being, says Gouwens. It will take years before all dozens of materials in a device are sustainably sourced. The company hopes to accelerate this development by encouraging other smartphone brands to also opt for sustainability.

No charger, but you must have this one

Now that you know why and to what extent the Fairphone 3 can be taken apart and what the company means by a sustainable smartphone, it is time to take a closer look at the packaging and the device. What is immediately noticeable is that there is no plug and charging cable in the box. Fairphone omits that because you probably already have a charger yourself, but this also saves the manufacturer money. Because the Fairphone 3 supports fast charging, it is best to buy a Quick Charge 3.0 certified charger (18W). Then the battery charges the best and fastest. There are tons of Quick Charge 3.0 chargers. Fairphone sells one itself for twenty euros (excluding cable).

Bulky, thick housing

When we start using the Fairphone 3, the handy modular design has a downside. The smartphone has a 5.7 inch screen with a longer 1:2 ratio and can therefore be relatively compact. That is not the case, because there are large bezels above and below the screen. These give the device a dated appearance and make it longer/higher than smartphones with a larger screen but narrower edges. For a relatively small smartphone, the Fairphone 3 is also heavy at 189 grams. We don't see this as a drawback per se, but it is a point of attention. With its IP54 certification, the device is resistant to a little water and dust: always nice.

Another point of interest is the back, which is made from more than fifty percent recycled plastic. The material scratches quickly and that is why the supplied cover is not an unnecessary luxury.

Other things that stand out are the positioning of the fingerprint scanner on the back (it could have been a bit lower) and the buttons, which are all on the left side. Not ideal for right-handers. Apart from that, you have to press the buttons hard and that takes getting used to. It is nice that the device has a 3.5 mm headphone connection, a feature that is missing on more and more devices.

Screen is a bit disappointing

As mentioned, the screen measures 5.7 inches. An excellent format in our opinion, especially because many people find a screen of 6 inches or more very large. The Fairphone 3 can or cannot be operated with one hand, that will differ per person.

The screen quality is a bit disappointing. Although the sharpness is perfectly fine due to the full-HD resolution, the display does less well in other areas. The LCD panel has a relatively low maximum brightness and therefore you cannot read the screen well in direct sunlight. The minimum brightness is actually very high. If you still look at your phone in bed at night, the amount of light from the display is uncomfortably bright. Moreover, the color rendering is not natural and there is also a large gray deviation. In short: images do not look as realistic and beautiful as on more expensive devices such as the Samsung Galaxy S10.

Specifications

A look at the smartphone's specification list shows nothing surprising. A Snapdragon 632 processor, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage memory are great parts. For a device that costs two or three hundred euros. The Fairphone 3 costs 450 euros and for that money there are models with better hardware available. But then again, they are not sustainably manufactured.

At the moment we have nothing to complain about the hardware of the Fairphone 3. The smartphone is easy to use and has enough storage space, including a micro-SD slot. The question is: how fast will the device be in a few years? Fairphone plans to give the smartphone software updates for a minimum of five years, and the 2022 Android update may require more powerful hardware than the Fairphone 3 has. Updating the processor as a module sounds handy but is almost impossible, says Miquel Ballester Salvà of Fairphone. This is one of the parts that forms the beating heart of the device, and that is why it is very difficult to replace it with a newer, better chip.

For three tens you buy an extra battery and you no longer need a power bank

Battery and battery life

Earlier we wrote that you can remove the battery of the Fairphone 3 within ten seconds. That's a rarity in smartphones these days. Unfortunately, because it is very useful. Put an extra battery in your bag or pocket and when the smartphone is almost empty, you change the battery and you have a full device again. That is much more practical and faster than carrying around a power bank or looking for a socket. Fairphone sells a separate battery for thirty euros.

The battery life of the smartphone is good, but not impressive. With normal use, the battery lasts a long day without any problems, but then it has to be charged at night or in the morning. If you play a lot or spend hours navigating, you should rather look for power - for example in the form of an extra battery.

Charging is a thing, because you have to arrange a plug and USB-c cable yourself - as we wrote before. If you come with a Quick Charge 3.0 charger, the battery is almost full again after just over an hour.

Camera

On the front of the smartphone is an 8 megapixel selfie camera. It gets the job done and takes great selfies, but don't expect miracles. On the back is a 12 megapixel camera with dual flash. Remarkable, because nowadays almost all smartphones have two, three or even four camera lenses.

The Fairphone 3 is an exception, as is the Google Pixel 3a - which is not available in the Netherlands. It also has the same sensor, an IMX363 from Sony. The Pixel manages to shoot very nice photos with this, and that is partly thanks to Google's excellent software. Fairphone also claims to have implemented advanced optimizations and indeed: the smartphone takes beautiful pictures. Then during the day, because in the (twilight) dark quite a bit of noise occurs and the image loses sharpness. Fairphone may be able to improve the camera through updates. My device was still (just) using non-definitive software.

Software

The Fairphone 3 has Android 9.0 (Pie) installed at the time of release, the most current version. Android 10 will be released soon and it will become clear how quickly Fairphone can roll out the update to its latest smartphone. The update policy is promising: the manufacturer guarantees a minimum of five years of software support. Most brands keep it at two years, OnePlus and Google are a few outliers to three years. That's where it ends.

It is of course impossible to say whether Fairphone will actually save the five years. At least the company has good papers. The Fairphone 2 that came out at the end of 2015 is still getting updates. Not often and he is well behind with Android versions, but Fairphone says he has learned from this and promises to get better with the third model.

The software itself is a virtually unmodified Android version. When installing the device, you will be prompted to download popular apps. One will happily use it, the other ignores it. Furthermore, the software does not contain any additional apps and no visual or technical adjustments have been made. So stock Android and that's nice, because the operating system is user-friendly and extensive enough.

The Fairphone 3 runs stock Android and should get five years of updates

Conclusion: buy Fairphone 3?

The Fairphone 3 is without a doubt the most special smartphone that I have used in recent years. Not because it has the best specs or impressive value for money, certainly not. The camera and battery life are fine, for example, but the screen is disappointing and the Fairphone 3 is less powerful than the competition. It is interesting because the manufacturer is committed to a smartphone that is as durable as possible. With the Fairphone 3 you buy a device that is better for the environment and for the people who directly and indirectly contribute to production all over the world. You pay a surcharge for that, just like you pay more for a fair trade product from the supermarket.

Apart from the fairer character, the Fairphone 3 is also striking because you can largely repair it yourself. That is unique in the smartphone industry. In addition, the manufacturer promises modules to upgrade the device in the future and you will receive years of updates. Whether the latter will succeed and, if so, how smoothly the smartphone will remain, remains to be seen.

The combination of honesty, repairability and long software support makes the Fairphone 3 unique in the crowded smartphone world. That's a first win. Now the sales figures must show whether people are willing to pay 450 euros for the most sustainable boy in the class.

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