Fairphone 4: The Eco-Friendly Innovator
Meet the phone that is prioritizing the environment beyond marketing gimmicks
In the world of smartphones, every few years some buzzwords become popular and are used as marketing terms. When OLED screen technology became the standard, for instance, companies went out of their way to make sure that everyone knew that their newest phones came equipped with this new screen technology. These days there has been a new trend that has been spreading throughout all manufacturers. That new trend is the removal of the charging brick from the box of smartphones.
The true motives behind this industry-wide decision have been debated by many, but the stated reasons are the same: environmental awareness. Every company from Apple to Google to Samsung has made a statement about its commitment to the environment and how they are making strides to be more green.
The irony of this is that most of these statements ring hollow as all of these companies still utilize conflict-sourced materials in addition to poor working conditions at the manufacturing plants that make their phones. Despite all of the marketing fluff and sweeping rhetoric about the higher purpose of a tech conglomerate, the fact remains that the reality is much bleaker. This is why when I saw the announcement of the Fairphone 4 that I was interested. A phone company that openly is committed to a model of sustainability in its products and prides itself on paying its employees a fair living wage.
Sustainable and Repairable
I remember working in cell phone stores around the time that the Samsung Galaxy S6 came out. This was Samsung’s first Android phone with a fully sealed body. Longtime Samsung fans that saw this phone were intrigued by how different it looked to the Galaxy S4’s or S5’s in their pockets. They asked me why did Samsung take away the removable back and battery. I was coached to say that this was for a cleaner design aesthetic and to protect against battery degradation that happens when internal components are easily accessible to the user. But deep down it felt like planned obsolescence to me. Samsung wanted sealed batteries so that people will upgrade their phones more often.
Ever since then, almost every company has crafted a phone without easy access to the battery and other internal components. This has become so prevalent in fact that Apple has been cited as being a vocal critic of right-to-repair legislation in several states. Long gone are the days of simply buying a new battery or backplate that can make your phone feel new again. Phones are put together with a combination of metal, glass, and glue which makes repairs much more difficult for the average person. The Fairphone 4 is a device that bucks this trend.
The newest Fairphone features a removable backplate and user-removable battery. The company also directly sells repair parts on its website that are fairly priced encouraging people to repair their phones. On top of this, the Fairphone 4 has a 5-year manufacturer warranty (as long as it is registered before the end of 2022) and a 9.3/10 repairability score according to the French Repairability Index. These are focus points that are not common in the smartphone industry anymore, and quite frankly feels like a breath of fresh air.
Environmentally speaking, the Fairphone 4 might be the most eco-friendly phone on the market. The company uses 100% recycled plastic for its back cover (which is easily replaceable if damaged), is fairtrade gold certified (the only smartphone with this certification), and uses fairer processes in its supply chain for cobalt and lithium usage.
The Fairphone is also electronic waste neutral, which means that for every phone that the company sells it recycles or repurposes an old phone. This ensures that the companies negative impact on the environment from a waste perspective is minimal. Even the way that the company ships its products is touted as carbon neutral. The most interesting part of all of this is that these measures are highlighted before the company even talks about the phone itself, which is finally a higher-end experience.
The Green Phone
Let’s take a minute to discuss the phone that Fairphone is selling here. In the past, the company released phones that were incredibly good for the environment but lacked the power to be competitive in the smartphone landscape. The Fairphone 4 changes this. The specifications that the company is using this time around (Snapdragon 750G processor, up to 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, water resistance, and a Full HD+ screen with Gorilla Glass 5) are much more competitive with other phones in its price bracket.
This is a phone that competes well with Samsung’s A-Series and a variety of phones from the likes of Xiaomi and OnePlus. Fairphone has also opted to include no accessories in the box indicating that people can purchase what they needed so there is no wasted manufacturing. The difference between them doing this and other companies doing this is that they have a track record of being fully committed to being green.
The Fairphone 4 also features a 3905 mAh battery that is removable and easily replaceable leading one to believe that the phone will be fully operational for the duration of the 5-year warranty that the company is promoting. In the camera department, the Fairphone 4 features a 48MP main sensor with OIS and a secondary 48MP ultra-wide angle sensor. The selfie camera is 25MP and supports HDR. These are camera specs that consumers have become accustomed to and the company was wise not to sacrifice them in the name of cost-cutting.
Lastly, this is also a 5G enabled phone ensuring future network compatibility for the duration of its life. The question that remains is software support. The company is guaranteeing software support until the end of 2025, which is on the better end of Android standards. But it remains to be seen how frequent these updates will be. All in all, the overall package here is compelling. Priced at €649 (equivalent to roughly $750) for the upgraded version with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, the combination of specs and environmental consciousness is incredibly compelling.
The Greater Good
Buying the Fairphone 4 goes beyond simply buying a phone. Buying this phone openly addresses and debunks the standards of the modern smartphone industry. We have simply accepted the compromises that companies have dictated to us and have turned a blind eye to disingenuous vague claims about environmental consciousness. What the Fairphone shows us is that a different way is possible.
This is not to say that the more mainstream brands are not making strides. Samsung has committed to using all recycled materials on phones and earbuds by 2025, while Apple uses recycled tin in its logic boards and recycled iPhone aluminum for its MacBook Air line of laptops. But the commitment that we are seeing from Fairphone shows that some of the excuses that companies have made to rationalize their anti-consumer behavior were not justified.
The Fairphone 4 is by no means a perfect phone. For a phone that focuses on sustainability and longevity not including a headphone jack is a strange decision. Software support remains a question mark as well in terms of monthly security updates and Android platform updates. But the trade-off for the peace of mind of owning a phone that is easily repairable and conscious of the smartphone’s negative impact on the world feels worth it.
The Fairphone 4 is still very much a niche device, and because of this, it is only available in Europe. At this time, the Dutch company does not have plans to sell this device in the US despite having an interest in this market. As someone that values competition and innovation in different forms, I hope that the company is successful with this launch. The success of an environmentally and labor-conscious phone could potentially lead more manufacturers to follow in their footsteps. And that is a change that we should all welcome with open arms.