The Fairphone 4 has just been released with very little fanfare, quietly as though the marketing of such a device comes second to the focus on design, specification and fair-trade materials as a priority. So we’ll tell you what we like about it.
Fairphone have positioned themselves as the number one sustainable smartphone brand on the market, in a market where the only choice, if you want to choose a sustainable product, is to compromise on quality or pay a higher price. Without too many comparisons to Apple’s take on environmental sustainability, Fairphone allows you to take repairs into your own hands with a more modular approach to repairs. An offer that hasn’t hit the mark with Fairphone’s previous generations just yet.
With an environmentally focussed device, especially one that costs £499, expectations should be limited to mid-range devices, but within that mid-range level, there is very little specification compromise… except for one. The screen is a way-aged IPS LCD, common on Chinese devices such as Xiaomi and the Pocofone. It's a great way for manufacturers to shave hundreds off the end cost of the device, but is a compromise.
The cameras are no longer sub-par with the device having both a primary 48MP camera with optical image stabilisation and an ultra wide camera with all the trimmings and the same 48MP resolution. There’s of course a decent selfie camera to boot. We’ll have to wait to see what these are like in action but the specs look promising, for a tree-hugging hippy phone, that is.
Fairphone 4 offers a choice of a 6GB RAM paired with 128GB storage or a 8GB RAM with a 256GB storage capacity. We’ve seen how larger internal capacities can affect the CO2-e and we have contacted Fairphone for details on their environmental impact, but no response yet.
Practically unheard of in the small gadgets industry where the upgrade cycle is frequent and unrelenting. The desire to push out new products that supersedes the old ones is yearly at the minimum and more frequent than that at worst.
On the face of it, the extended warranty (full details here) is a great improvement to the 2 year warranty that came with the previous Fairphones, but it excludes the common defects such as battery degradation, and the finishes to the casing which can wear down. The big one is that the charging port, despite being easily (and rather cheaply) replaced, makes the 5 year warranty mostly irrelevant with the quality of the build these days, defects becoming apparent after 3+ years is fairly infrequent.
Where most phone manufacturers have really let consumers down with their own planned obsolescence by only providing at max a couple years of software updates, and then maybe an extra year of security updates, which gives consumers little choice but to upgrade their device.
Fairphone 4 is being released with Android 11, a few weeks after the release of Android 12, of which there are little plans to upgrade to in the short term. Whereas a similarly priced, environmentally accounted for Pixel 4a will already be updated by the time pre-orders for the Fairphone 4 are shipped out.
What this should all culminate in is companies releasing fewer devices, because the people are satisfied with their well optimised, updated and secure device. The issue comes as manufacturers whet the appetite of the paying customer by releasing incremental updates. No matter how small the updates are, the device is still going to be shinier, newer and slightly better than they currently have.
Fairphone appears to be no different than the other top manufacturers by their current release schedule, we have seen the Fairphone 3 release september 2019 and an interim device with upgraded specs in 2020 known as the Fairphone 3+, which to their credit was sold as modular upgrades for the 3.
But now it is 2021, and we have a Fairphone 4. Will this be the device that can be futureproofed and improved modularly, or Fairphone are already working on their next year’s Fairphone 5 release? What we truly want Fairphone to deliver on is a phone with true modularity which isn’t going to require yearly releases, but instead will give its owners a genuinely sustainable smartphone.
In the meantime, the most environmentally friendly phone is without a doubt the phone you already have! Second to that, don’t buy new, buy refurbished!
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