Fairphone 2 Is the World's First Ethical, Modular Smartphone

CC BY 2.0. Fairphone

If only we could buy it in North America.

If you have a two-year-old iPhone you are really behind the times. Pretty soon Apple might do an OS update and it might not even work. And don't even get us started about the complaints when it comes to fixing them.

That's why we have been following the Fairphone. Derek wrote that the Conflict-free Fairphone sets the bar high for repairable, responsible electronics. Since then they have upgraded to the Fairphone 2, and it is not just the case that's transparent, it is everything about the phone, from what it's made of to where the money goes.

changing the speaker module

Fairphone/ changing the speaker module/CC BY 2.0

The Fairphone 2 has been for sale since 2016 but being modular, parts have been upgraded; the camera is now 12MP with dual flash. The phone is designed for easy repairs with replaceable modules; if you have an old one, you can upgrade to the new camera yourself. Our friends at iFixit like it a lot, saying, “It’s an encouragement to learn and grow through its empowering, repairable design. It is a wakeup call to an entire industry.” The phone is designed to last, to be upgradeable and fixable so that you don't need to buy a new one.

Consumer electronics are often viewed as semi-disposable objects, to be upgraded or discarded as soon as something better comes along. We’re fighting against a market trend where the average phone is replaced every 18 months, creating a huge environmental impact. As technology advances rapidly, consumers are losing the ability to modify, repair, and truly understand how they can keep their devices longer.
fairphon and rock

Fairphone/CC BY 2.0

So they focus on making it repairable, use open software, and make engineering and production decisions "that minimize our environmental footprint and support longevity." They also try to source less toxic and hazardous materials, and source them from mines "that empower vulnerable communities or have better sustainable performance."

All of these are attributes that we promote on TreeHugger; if only we could buy one. Unfortunately, they are not available in North America now.

From the beginning, our goal has been to grow at a sustainable pace without external funding. We want to stay independent and ensure that we can properly scale up our operations, customer support, and repair services to successfully support our customers in more geographies, which is why we’re waiting to start sales outside of Europe.

The recent reviews of the Fairphone 2 have not been terrific. One UK site (which we are not familiar with) concludes that it has underwhelming performance. "The Fairphone 2 is expensive, requires a lot of maintenance, and despite recent announcements of an upgraded camera component, talk about a new Fairphone 3 suggests the device itself is falling out of date."

Fairphone costs

Fairphone/Screen capture

It does seem a bit expensive, but often things that are made fairly, where people get paid a decent wage, cost more. They certainly are open about where the money goes. But also, the reviewers may be asking too much of the Fairphone. In a recent post on the Fairphone site, Founder Bas wrote that "we’re not releasing a new model just yet. Instead, we’re aiming to extend the life cycle of the phone as much as we can." So they are updating the Android version to 7 and offering new cases to give it a new look. They are not going to the latest Android versions because it is too complex.

So it's not an iPhone 10, but to follow our current thinking about what's "normal", one has to ask how much phone do you really need? Katherine suggested that we "question what you would do if nobody ever saw your device; examine whether or not your desire to upgrade stems from wanting to impress others or because it actually serves a purpose your old device cannot."

Fairphone open

Fairphone/CC BY 2.0

On the other hand, if I could buy a Fairphone 2 I would get that translucent back and proudly show that I have invested in a phone that will last a long time, that is made with fair materials, that is, as they say, "ethical and modular." I would be proud to show it off, even if it is a two year old model. Read more at Fairphone.