The Fairphone 3 Plus has been launched. It is made from recycled plastic, you can repair it yourself and the workers who built it are fairly paid. But is the deal fair for you too?
Fairphone is a Dutch company with a mission. On average, we throw away a telephone after 2.5 years and that is much too early, resulting in tons of waste. This in turn leads to the major social problem called ‘e-waste’. According to Fairphone, we replace our phones in the first place for the wrong reasons.
Maybe we don’t think the current camera is good enough or we miss the latest version update? That does not mean that all other parts have to be repaired, which is why all phones of the brand can be repaired yourself. You can purchase individual parts or ‘modules’ on the company’s website.
On the other hand, there is also an unethical aspect associated with the smartphone industry. Workers work many hours in Chinese factories in exchange for a wage that Fairphone says is too low, and they also work in poor conditions in the mines where they source raw materials for the parts of our phones. Fairphone therefore gives workers in the factories a bonus for each device produced and it also helps to improve working conditions in the mines.
Fairphone gives workers in smartphone factories a bonus per device produced
The Amsterdam-based company does this because it wants to show the smartphone industry and the consumer at all costs that you can make ethical choices and be commercially successful. That’s what Fairphone’s CEO Eva Gouwens said recently during a launch event. You can only applaud that vision, and it is the biggest players in the market that should, in fact, make the biggest contribution to pushing the smartphone industry and consumer behavior in the right direction.
Despite the beautiful values that Fairphone stands for, today I could hardly hide my disappointment with the new Fairphone 3 Plus (cost: 470 euros). Okay, Fairphone was all set at the launch event to skillfully deflect potential criticism. All improvements of the new phone consist of modules that are also neatly compatible with the old device.
For example, they do not immediately create a reason for consumers to replace their old Fairphone. Well done. Furthermore, 40 percent of the material from the new telephone consists of recycled plastic bottles, compared to the 9 percent for the Fairphone 3. A great achievement.
The FairPhone 3 Plus
Only, why is this phone so disappointing technically? Fairphone comes with a new back, an improved camera module with a 48 MP camera, and an improved sound for phone calls. In addition, Fairphone 3 Plus keeps the same 2018 Qualcomm Snapdragon 662 processor with 4 GB of RAM. The Snapdragon 662 is a chipset from the low price segment
The chicken, the egg and the smartphone industry
Keep the latter in mind, memorize it well, and let’s take a look at the excellent Nexus 5X from 2015. That device appeared with 2 GB of RAM, and at that time almost everyone would have told you that that amount of RAM is sufficient to Keep Android running smoothly. Today 2 GB is very close if you want a good smartphone experience, and we now only see it with a budget device such as the Realme C11, which is for sale for 99 euros.
Most smartphone manufacturers realize that even 4 GB of RAM will eventually be overhauled, and a modern budget phone like the Alcatel 3X 2020, therefore, comes with both 4 GB of RAM and a second model with 6 GB. You can buy the second for a small additional cost and it ensures that your phone is more ready for the future. I also notice today on the Pixel 3 XL that 4 GB is just not always enough.
The Alcatel 3X 2020 comes with 6 GB of RAM for 189 euros
The cause of this evolution is that the Android ecosystem does not stand still. On average, app developers have more RAM available on devices, which is why apps will also use more RAM to enable a smoother experience. It’s like a ‘chicken or egg’ story, but what is certain is that the industry is prepared for phones with increasingly high performance to hit the market.
Seven lean years
Back to Fairphone, where the amount of RAM and chipset is just one of the aspects of their phones that you don’t have modules for. It is therefore impossible to upgrade the performance of your phone. What will the Fairphone 3 Plus look like after five years with its 4 GB RAM paired with the Snapdragon 662 if the Pixel 3 XL with its high-end Snapdragon 845 chipset is already showing the first negative signs? What do consumers do with telephones that work too slowly? Yes, replaced.
Fairphone underlines the benefits when you use the Fairphone 3 for five years
But five years, that’s a long time, isn’t it? It has indeed been quite a long time for a powerful phone, but mainly because you can no longer easily replace the batteries of modern smartphones yourself. The Fairphone 3 and 3 Plus do not have that problem, but the lifespan of these devices is not certain because the performance is already on the edge from the start.
Certainly, if you want a pleasant user experience. Still, Fairphone proudly says that Fairphone 3 users will reduce their CO2 emissions by 28 percent if they use the phone for five years. In fact, they cut their emissions by 42 percent after using the phone for seven years. Seven … Full … Years with a Snapdragon 662 and 4 GB of RAM. Those are seven lean years as the Bible puts it.
To be clear, Fairphone has not made a mistake with the new Fairphone 3 Plus, because that mistake has already started with the Fairphone 3, that is very clear now. That device appeared with the then one-year-old budget processor, 4 GB RAM, a single camera on the back and a design with clear screen edges.
The latter choice also has to do with the fact that the phone must be modular, making it more difficult to hide the screen edges. The Fairphone 3 was therefore not immediately very ‘future-proof’ and Fairphone is now forced to build further on that concept.
The company also received a well-deserved request from the community to improve camera performance – another reason why consumers are replacing a phone – so a new 48MP sensor came with the Fairphone 3 Plus, which also works with the old phone. A single sensor, because there was no room in the housing for more cameras.
Unfortunately. The current sensor is already 13 percent larger than its predecessor, and that was already a challenge, according to the company. It is difficult to justify Fairphone’s choice for the camera of the original Fairphone 3 from a technical perspective because you can only do that if you are Google and can therefore masterfully optimize image processing.
A final hate is Fairphone’s update policy, which is another reason why people are replacing their phones. The Fairphone 3 Plus now comes with Android Pie, but after a year, the original Fairphone 3 is still running Android 9 Pie. Fairphone does announce that the phone will receive the Android 10 update in September, but that is very late if you know that the brand only offers support for two devices: the Fairphone 3 and the Fairphone 2.
If we think back to the smartphone builder Essential, then we remember that the Essential Phone PH1 received a version update simultaneously with Google, precisely because the company only has to update one device.
Fairphone does intend to provide its phone with updates for about five years, that is stated on the website, but the words ‘aims’ and ‘about’ are also not unimportant in that sense.
On the dump
I actually think it’s a real shame that I can look back with so little enthusiasm on the new products of a smartphone company that has such beautiful values, and it is also a Dutch company. I am only convinced that it really could have been a bit more for the Fairphone 3 Plus. The company can safely raise the bar because the Fairphone does not feel like a fair deal for the user who values both durability and strong performance.
Let’s take a look at what could have been done differently. If the working memory of the phone still has to last for five years or even seven years, Fairphone was better off using a solid 8 GB or 12 GB RAM. That is no longer a rarity in the smartphone market. The brand also completely misses the boat from 5G, and I would have preferred to see a new phone that came out with the Snapdragon 765G,
For example, or even the cheaper Snapdragon 690 to keep the price down. In that case, you can say with much more confidence that the phone has a long future and does not end up on the dump like everyone else. Those who really care about sustainability are happy to pay the extra price.
What do you think of the Fairphone 3 and the Fairphone 3 Plus? Do you support the technical choices made by the Amsterdam company? Are you considering buying a Fairphone or do you already have the brand’s smartphone? Let us know in the comments at the bottom of this article.