Fairphone 4 evaluation: the value of sustainability

It’s been arduous to fault Fairphone’s sustainable credentials through the years, whether or not it’s the corporate’s prolonged assist intervals, simple repairability, or ethically sourced supplies. However relating to the units themselves, earlier Fairphones have struggled to be aggressive with equally priced smartphones. They lacked fashionable options, used outdated designs, and usually had extra quirks than you’d anticipate to get from a contemporary cellphone.

The Fairphone 4 is an enormous step ahead. It’s each bit as sustainable, with a modular repairable design that Fairphone now gives a five-year guarantee for. However extra necessary is that it feels far more like a contemporary smartphone. The massive high and backside bezels of the Fairphone 3 have been stripped away, and there are additionally fashionable conveniences like an IP54 score for mud and water resistance.

With a beginning value of €579 / £499 (round $669, although Fairphone has no plans to promote the Fairphone 4 within the states) for the 6GB RAM / 128GB storage mannequin, the Fairphone 4 prices a premium in comparison with its rivals. It’s additionally getting a way more restricted Europe-only launch, with no plans for a US launch. However in the event you solely want a smartphone to do primary smartphone stuff, and also you’re ready to pay a premium over different equally succesful rivals, I believe the Fairphone 4 is as much as the duty.

The Fairphone 4 is obtainable to pre-order now, and units will begin delivery on October twenty fifth.

In comparison with the Fairphone 3 that preceded it, it’s arduous to consider the Fairphone 4 has been produced by the identical producer. The chunky and dated high and backside bezels from the earlier cellphone are gone, changed with a sheet of Gorilla Glass 5 that stretches proper from the highest of the Fairphone 4 to the underside. It appears like Fairphone has caught up with the remainder of the smartphone trade, even when that’s as a result of the speed of smartphone evolution has slowed.

Sure, the bezels are nonetheless sizable by fashionable requirements, however they’re sufficiently small that the cellphone is ready to have a big 6.3-inch show with out feeling too ungainly. It’s LCD fairly than OLED, and viewing angles aren’t superb, however I used to be proud of the way it taken care of I turned off its overkill picture enhancement choices in its Settings app and tweaked the colour temperature.

There are two variations of the Fairphone 4 accessible: one with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage (the mannequin I’ve been utilizing for this evaluation) and a step-up model with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, which retails for €649 / £569. Each are in any other case similar and have the identical cameras, 3,905 mAh battery, and Qualcomm Snapdragon 750G processor.


The again is well detachable to entry the cellphone’s internals.


Small philips head screws preserve the cellphone’s elements in place.

Extra necessary than the specs are what the internals of the Fairphone 4 are literally product of. In right here, there’s Fairtrade-certified gold, ethically sourced aluminum and tungsten, and recycled tin, uncommon earth minerals and plastics. Fairphone additionally goals to show these supplies right into a cellphone as ethically as potential, because of initiatives that goal to enhance working circumstances for the miners and manufacturing facility employees concerned within the cellphone’s provide chain. Every cellphone can also be “e-waste impartial,” Fairphone claims, for the reason that firm will recycle both a cellphone or an equal quantity of e-waste with every sale.

Flip over the Fairphone 4, and also you’ll see its again (made out of one hundred pc recycled plastic), which will be simply eliminated with none instruments to disclose the cellphone’s detachable battery and the Phillips head screws that can be utilized to simply take away all the things from its rear cameras to its USB-C port and loudspeaker. You’ll have to take this rear panel off to insert a SIM card beneath the battery throughout setup, a course of which handily doesn’t require the usage of a SIM software — handy given there isn’t one included within the field (although Fairphone tells me this may occasionally differ between launch markets).

iFixit is but to cross its official judgment on the repairability of the Fairphone 4, however the firm’s earlier telephones are the one two units to have gotten good 10s from the restore specialists. In addition to being simple to take away, the components must also be simple to switch since Fairphone plans to have replacements accessible till a minimum of 2027 (as a benchmark, the corporate nonetheless has some spare components left for the virtually six-year-old Fairphone 2). A five-year guarantee must also preserve the restore prices down over the lifetime of the cellphone.


Honest sufficient.


The rear of the cellphone, with its triangular digital camera bump.

On the software program aspect, the Fairphone 4 ships with Android 11, however the firm hopes to supply a minimum of two main Android updates, or 4 if it will probably handle it. It’s executed an excellent job at delivering on these guarantees with earlier telephones… ultimately. Earlier this 12 months, the corporate lastly launched Android 9 for the Fairphone 2. Spectacular given the Fairphone 2 was 5 years outdated on the time, much less spectacular given it got here virtually three years after Android 9’s unique launch.


The cellphone’s side-mounted fingerprint sensor.

As you may anticipate from a cellphone that may ship with no SIM software, the Fairphone 4 doesn’t include something in the best way of equipment within the field as normal. There’s no charging brick, no included headphones, and no USB-C charging cable within the field. There’s additionally no miniature included screwdriver like we noticed with the Fairphone 3. It could have been a cute indicator of its repairability credentials, however together with it didn’t make a lot sense in the event you’re attempting to reduce pointless equipment.

On the suitable of the cellphone, there’s a side-mounted fingerprint sensor that doubles as an influence button, which I want to rear-mounted sensors even when they’re not as handy as under-display fashions.

There’s no headphone jack subsequent to the Fairphone 4’s USB-C port, which isn’t precisely stunning given it’s a smartphone launched in 2021, however is a bit more disappointing given Fairphone’s give attention to being as consumer-friendly as potential. The group tells me the tradeoff was made to permit for the cellphone to have an IP54 score for mud and water resistance. Meaning the cellphone ought to survive getting used within the rain, however not full submersion, and it’s not an insubstantial achievement given the again of this modular cellphone can actually be unclipped with none instruments.


Belief me, this cellphone can survive a little bit of rain.

Because it seems, I ended up utilizing the Fairphone 4 to take images throughout an exceptionally wet stroll whereas vacationing within the Welsh countryside, so I really feel fairly assured saying that the corporate’s claims in regards to the cellphone being rainproof are correct. Right here’s a selfie of me on the stroll if you wish to get an thought of simply how wet I’m speaking about (it must also offer you an indicator of how the cellphone’s 25-megapixel selfie digital camera performs).

It’s nice to see Fairphone utilizing a extra succesful 7-series Snapdragon processor in comparison with the 6-series one used within the Fairphone 3. For essentially the most half, the Snapdragon 750G retains up with the calls for I positioned on the cellphone in on a regular basis utilization, but it surely wasn’t good. Waking up Google Assistant with a swipe up from the nook of the display to ask a question took a beat longer than I’m usually used to, and there have been typically hitches within the YouTube app when switching movies between regular and full-screen viewing. It’s succesful fairly than slick.

However whereas total efficiency is OK, the cellphone isn’t with out its quirks. Probably the most irritating subject I discovered is that the Fairphone 4 isn’t nice at palm rejection, so once you’re holding it one-handed and attain your thumb throughout, it’ll confuse your palm for an intentional faucet. The Fairphone 4 additionally appeared to spend extra time related to 3G networks than different smartphones I’ve used, even in areas the place I usually get a 4G sign. Different occasions, nonetheless, it fortunately related to 5G networks. An odd quirk.


That digital camera bump once more.


A USB-C port however no headphone jack.

I had no issues with battery life throughout my time with the Fairphone 4 and usually averaged round 4 and 5 hours of display on time per cost. For me, this sometimes translated to placing the cellphone on to cost with between 10 and 50 p.c of cost left within the tank on the finish of the day. On in the future of touring, I used the Fairphone 4 for a number of hours of podcast and music listening through wi-fi headphones, just a few hours of social media scrolling, after which for 2 hours of navigation whereas wirelessly related through Android Auto, and I nonetheless had 10 p.c of battery left once I put it on cost at 11PM that night time. The cellphone helps 20W quick charging, which Fairphone says ought to refill half its battery in half an hour.

Efficiency is suitable, battery life is sweet, and the cellphone’s display is completely fantastic. However the one space of the Fairphone 4 that I believe could possibly be an actual dealbreaker for some folks is its digital camera, which, regardless of being based mostly round a pair of 48-megapixel sensors (one for the primary digital camera and one for the ultrawide), produces mediocre pictures, even in broad daylight. It’s good to have the flexibility of twin cameras, that are a primary for a Fairphone, but it surely’s a disgrace that the pictures they seize are disappointing in something apart from broad daylight.

I believe the pictures within the gallery beneath converse for themselves. They usually look uncomfortably grainy, and there’s a smudginess to most pictures that had me looking by the digital camera app’s settings to verify I didn’t have a bizarre setting turned on. However maybe worse than the standard of the images themselves is simply how sluggish and laggy the digital camera app is. Even in daylight, tapping the shutter may cause a painstaking couple of moments earlier than the digital camera is ready to focus and take a photograph, and it’s even worse at night time. The Fairphone 4 is the one time I’ve regretted utilizing a evaluation cellphone for trip snaps as a result of I remorse not coming residence with nicer images.

For those who’re spending cash on a Fairphone 4, your cash isn’t being spent on efficiency. It’s being spent on that five-year guarantee, the promise of years of software program assist, and the safety of figuring out that, when 2026 rolls round, you’ll nonetheless be capable to purchase a brand new battery and pop it into the again of the cellphone with out having to be taught what a pentalobe screw is. And, in fact, you’re paying to make sure that all these components have been created from as responsibly sourced supplies as potential within the first place.

Whether or not it’s Fairtrade or natural meals or sustainably produced clothes, there’s the expectation that you simply’ll need to pay a value premium for ethically-produced items, and that’s precisely the case with the Fairphone 4. Though it begins at €579, its efficiency, particularly relating to its cameras, is arguably nearer to telephones that value lower than half as a lot, just like the Moto G Energy (which retails for the equal of roughly €170) or Moto G Play (round €140). And it’s under no circumstances aggressive with smartphones just like the iPhone SE (€539 for 128GB) or OnePlus Nord 2 (€399), that are nearer in value however nonetheless cheaper than the Fairphone 4.

However in the event you’re the form of individual that may dwell with the funds telephones listed above, in the event you simply want a smartphone for every day use and aren’t involved about having the very best digital camera or most premium-feeling system, then I believe you’re the form of one who can dwell with the Fairphone 4. It’s an honest €200 cellphone that occurs to be priced at €579. That’s the value of sustainability.

Pictures by Jon Porter / The Verge

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