At first glance, you could easily mistake the Fairphone 4 for any modern mid-range Android smartphone. It has a 6.3 inch LCD display, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 750G processor, up to 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage and a microSD card reader, but no headphone jack.
But unlike most phones, the Fairphone 4 is designed to last a long time. It comes with a 5-year warranty, and Fairphone plans to continue offering software updates through at least the end of 2025, if not longer.
The Fairphone 4 is up for pre-order for €579 and up, along with Fairphone’s first product that’s not a phone, a set of true wireless earbuds priced at €100 (which could come in handy if you’re interested in buying a phone without a headphone jack).
The Fairphone 4 has a modular, repairable design that means not only can you remove and replace its battery, but also the speaker and camera modules, among other things. So if part of the phone breaks down, you can replace it. And the company may even offer upgrade modules at some point (it’s happened before).
At a time when some Android phone makers are finally starting to deliver software updates for as long as five years, Fairphone is offering a 5-year hardware warranty. Like I said, this phone is meant to last.
Of course, most phone makers have some incentive to make phones that last so long: they want to sell you new models every few years. But Fairphone is unusual in that it’s a “social enterprise” rather than a standard company, which means that while the company aims to make a profit, that’s not Fairphone’s only consideration.
The company’s first phone was designed to be made from ethically-sourced materials that didn’t come from conflict zones, and starting with the Fairphone 2, the company has also focused on sustainability by emphasizing modular, repairable designs for its products.
The Fairphone 3, which launched two years ago, is a mid-range phone with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 632 processor, 4GB of RAM, 64GB of storage, and a repairable design that allows you to pick up a spare screen, battery, camera, or other components from the Fairphone website to perform your own repairs.
Last year the company introduced the Fairphone 3+ which is basically the same phone, but with an upgraded camera. It’s a small upgrade and certainly not worth buying a whole new phone for… but if you already have a Fairphone 3 you can effectively turn it into a Fairphone 3+ by purchasing just the new camera module.
Fairphone also has a history of providing long-term software updates… sometimes even for phones with hardware that has been abandoned by other device makers. The Fairphone 2, for example, may be the only smartphone with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 to receive an official Android 9 update from its manufacturer. Qualcomm never officially supported Android 9 for that processor, but the Fairphone team released a custom build of Android based on the open source LineageOS to make it happen.
Fairphone’s devices also have unlocked bootloaders for folks that want to try their hands at installing custom ROMS or even mobile Linux distributions like Ubuntu Touch.
If there’s one down side to Fairphone’s previous phones though, it’s availability – the phones are only sold in Europe and have limited support for cellular networks outside of that region.
The Fairphone 4 is a brand new device, so there’s no way to upgrade an earlier model to turn it into a version of the company’s 4th-gen smartphone. But like the company’s previous models, it’s designed to be repairable and potentially upgradeable.
The company will sell 8 different spare parts for the phone including:
- Rear camera module
- Front camera module
- USB-C port
- Back Cover
As part of its emphasis on sustainability, Fairphone is promising that purchases of a Fairphone 4 will be “electronic waste neutral.” The company says it will do that “by responsibly recycling one phone (or an equal amount of small electronic waste) for every Fairphone 4 sold.” Customers can also send in their own old phones to Fairphone to have them refurbished.
And the company is continuing its use of ethically-sourced materials, now using gold, aluminum, and tungsten from fair trade certified vendors and recycled tin, plastic, and rare earth minerals. The back cover of the Fairphone 4 is made entirely from 100% post-consumer recycled polycarbonate. That’s not to say that every material used in the phone comes from sources that pay living wages and meet other conditions necessary to meet the company’s standards for sustainable and “ethically-sourced” materials, but Fairphone says it’s getting closer.
The Fairphone 4 will ship with Android 11 at launch, but Fairphone is promising guaranteed software updates through the end of 2025, the company plans to offer Android 12 and Android 13 updates in the future. The company is also hoping to be able to continue supporting the phone even after that, with Android 14 and 15 updates coming by the end of 2027, but right now that’s an ambition rather than a promise.
The Fairphone 4 is up for pre-order in Europe starting today for €579 (~$670) and up, and it’s set to begin shipping October 25, 2021. Unfortunately, like the company’s previous phones, there appear to be no plans to make a model for North America.
Here’s a roundup of the phone’s key specs:
|Fairphone 4 specs|
|Display||6.3 inch, 2340 x 1080 pixels|
Corning Gorilla Glass 5
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon 750G|
|RAM||6GB or 8GB|
|Storage||128GB or 256GB|
microSDXC (up to 1TB)
|Cameras (rear)||48MP primary|
48MP wide-angle (120 degree)
|Camera (front)||25MP with autofocus and HDR support|
Dual SIM (nano SIM and eSIM)
|Colors||gray or green|
|Dimensions||162 x 75.5 x 10.5mm|
|Price||€579 for 6GB/128GB|
€649 for 8GB/256GB
Fairphone true wireless earbuds
For the first time, Fairphone is also expanding beyond smartphones. The company is launching a set of true wireless earbuds made with 30% recycled plastics and fair trade gold.
The new Fairphone true wireless earbuds are up for pre-order now for €100 (~$115) and should begin shipping November 1st.
They feature hybrid active noise cancellation, in-ear detection (so audio playback stops when they’re removed), touch controls, and an IPx4 rating for splash resistance.
Fairphone says the earbuds support Bluetooth 5.3 with A2DP, HFP, and AVRCP profiles and work at a range of up to 10 meters (33 feet).
The earbuds have a 45 mAh battery, but they come with a charging 500 mAh charging case. Fairphone says it’s adapted the charging speeds for the case and earbuds to ensure longevity. And the company does not ship the earbuds with a charging cable to cut down on e-waste, under the assumption that most customers will already have a USB-C charging cable or two lying around (if not, you can buy one separately).
Too bad about the missing headset jack. I only use wireless earbuds at home/office and use wired ones when out due to battery life issues and these battery cases are too big. The optics does seem like it’s a money grab given they’re introducing wireless earbuds at the same time.
Anyway, I hope they do well enough so that they’ll eventually support carriers in the USA (Verizon for me). I like the long term support and repairability.
I feel like there’s an issue with their processor selection: Android CPU performance lags pretty badly, especially in single-threaded (which is extremely bad compared to Apple and to desktop CPUs). This reduces the practical longevity of the phone, due to having a too-slow CPU for much of the phone’s life.
If you’re designing for a 5 year or longer lifespan, you really need a bleeding-edge CPU so it’s not fallen off of the plateau of CPU performance before its lifespan has ended. Additionally, although less of a problem in Europe, it helps to have bleeding-edge connectivity so that, as older protocols are deprecated and decommissioned, the phone keeps working. (There’s a problem in the US with carriers shutting down 3G to free up spectrum for 5G, which means you need a VoLTE-capable device to continue using it at all. This is worsened by some carriers having an allowlist for unlocked devices to use VoLTE (and sometimes even only allowing the carrier-branded version of a device offered as unlocked, or not approving successors to previously-approved devices)…)
Have you tried carrying around your desktop PC with a battery to power it, so you can make phone calls?
How is the part repair and total part or battery repair on your 4 year old iPhone, can you open the iPhone change the battery, without tools, yourself?
I’m not saying to literally use a desktop processor, and I’m not saying that the iPhone is overall better than this (in some ways an iPhone has major longevity advantages (hardware performance), in some ways it doesn’t (serviceability, as you point out)).
(And, I detest iOS, so, I don’t actually buy iPhones.)
I’m saying that the 750G is not the right processor for a phone meant to last 5 years, and if you can’t get something better than Qualcomm, at least get a better Qualcomm processor. The 750G performs like a 855 in single-threaded (so, 2.5 years old), and like an 845 in multi-threaded (so, 3.5 years old – although I usually look more at single-threaded for these comparisons). You’re starting out 2.5 years behind an 888+, and that’s half of your design lifespan.
(And then, it gets uglier compared to iPhones – on single-threaded, it’s between the A9 and the A10 Fusion, so let’s say 5.5 years behind – greater than its entire design lifespan – and on multi-threaded, it’s at about the A11 Bionic’s performance, so about 4 years behind. But, then, even the SD888 is 4 years behind on single-threaded (and the 888+’s overclocking of one core won’t help much), and 2 years behind on multi-threaded.)
At once I’d like to assert that a CPU doesn’t become useless after two years anymore because if nothing else transistor density doesn’t follow Moore’s law anymore, but at the same time I could see bloated phone software using up every bit of available CPU overhead it gets every year.
I’m sure it’d be fine for how I use phones using an Android fork without the Google bloat though.
The web is already to the point that, on Android, Firefox – despite being slower when all else is equal – is vastly faster than Chrome, purely because it supports extensions including uBlock Origin that can block a lot of the garbage, and Chrome doesn’t.
And, honestly, I don’t even think the Google bloat is the actual problem…
No headphone jack? Throw away our wired headphones? They want even more e-waste?
I agree with the other commenters. If we want throw-away culture then we can as well go somewhere else. There’s a mismatch in what they claim and what they actually do. With the introduction of earbuds at the time of killing the headphone jack, they’re just on the money-is-all-that-matters path like the others. I thought Fairphone was different. Guess I was wrong. I’m so disappointed. I expected better from Fairphone.
Plug the earphones into your Bluetooth audio headphones. Problem solved and no wasted earphone socket on the phone.
Unfortunately the thing that prevented me from buying the Fairphone 3 is even more of an issue with the Fairphone 4.
$700 USD is just too expensive for a phone without a decent IP rating. I totally understand that offering the ability to open the phone easily prevents them from offering a better IP rating.
However, this isn’t the price bracket for that kind of thing. I do want a phone that can be repaired easily, even at the expense of an IP rating. But I’d be interested in something like that closer to $300.
Might be my next phone. Will wait to see what the Pixel 6 is about first though.
Agreed on the wireless buds though. Not really in keeping with Fairphone’s social goals. Seems more of a money thing: that product category has crazy margins. Luckily, a usb-c to audio jack converter is at most 10 coins.
I still think that wired headphones are not as bad for the environment and consider the exclusion of the jack to be just an excuse to sell the wireless headphones.
But because wired headphones are now socially unacceptable, as long as you can still root the phone or get it with ungoogled AOSP forks and other operating systems, I’ll still consider the phone. Not the headphones though. As far as I know reasonably priced clothing hasn’t adapted to have pockets for those yet.
Wired headphones are socially unacceptable? I plan on using wired headphones forever.
Let me rephrase that: I feel like I’d fit in better among my co-workers using wireless headphones than with wired ones.
Wired headphone are resource wasteful as they need more copper for wire, and break so easy.
Having to buy wireless headphones (or some kind of adapter) is resource wasteful compared to just using the wired headphones I already own.
But you can plug the earphones you already own, into your present phone, obviously ! Not like you are phone upgrading for fashion 😂
Comments are closed.