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Fairphone 4 review: ethical repairable phone gets big upgrade

Guardian Technology 15 Oct 2021 06:00

The most ethical, repairable smartphone you can buy is back with a new model, this time with 5G and a fresh look but a weak camera.

The new Fairphone 4 costs £499 from the Dutch cooperative of the same name and continues the mission to make phones from materials sourced as ethically as possible that you can take apart and fix without an electrical engineering degree.

The new model has a much more modern design than its predecessors with an aluminium body, Gorilla Glass 5 screen and a removable 100% recycled plastic back.

It is still chunky at 10.5mm thick and 225g heavy, but the sides are rounded and smooth, the body is super solid, the plastic back is tactile and the glass front looks modern, if not quite sleek.

fairphone 4 review

The 6.3in LCD screen will not win any awards but is fairly bright and crisp. The vertical viewing angles are not the best and it has relatively chunky bezels at the top and bottom, more akin to a budget phone, but nothing egregious.

The one thing it lacks is a headphone socket; the USB-C port will handle audio duties with the right adapter or you will have to use Bluetooth headphones.

  • Screen: 6.3in FHD+ LCD (410ppi)

  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 750G

  • RAM: 6 or 8GB

  • Storage: 128 or 256GB + microSD card

  • Operating system: Fairphone OS based on Android 11

  • Camera: dual 48MP rear, 25MP selfie camera

  • Connectivity: 5G, esim, wifi6, NFC, Bluetooth 5.1 and GPS

  • Water resistance: IP54 (rain resistance)

  • Dimensions: 162 x 75.5 x 10.5mm

  • Weight: 225g

fairphone 4 review

Apps open fairly quickly, but can take a beat or two to be ready to use. Social media feeds occasionally stutter as you scroll through them and information panels take a second to load in Google Maps.

Sustainability

Fairphone says the battery will maintain at least 80% of its original capacity for more than 500 full charge cycles and a replacement or spare costs £25.95.

Fairphone has committed to making its handset e-waste neutral by recycling the equivalent volume of electronics per phone sold. It includes fair trade gold and silver, ethically sourced aluminium and tungsten, plus recycled tin, copper, rare earth metals and plastic. The firm also tops up the pay of its contract manufacturing workers to a living wage.

fairphone 4 review

Fairphone will guarantee software support for the phone until the end of 2025, including monthly security updates for two years from release and then quarterly security updates from then on, but is aiming for extended support until 2027. That would make it the longest-lasting Android device and the only one to rival Apple’s seven years of support for the iPhone 6S.

fairphone 4 review

The back cameras are more numerous than Fairphone’s previous efforts, but neither are serious rivals to top phones. The main camera can produce decent photos in bright light, but really struggles in high contrast scenes producing muddy, washed out snaps soft on detail. Low light performance was poor with a lot of grain. The camera was often slow to shoot photos too and was prone to movement blur.

It is possible to shoot good images with the Fairphone 4, but it takes a lot more work and most photos are disappointing compared with even much cheaper rivals, something the company says it will improve through software updates.

fairphone 4 review

Price

For comparison, the Google Pixel 4a costs £349, the iPhone SE costs £389, the OnePlus Nord 2 costs £399, the Samsung Galaxy S21 costs £769 and the iPhone 13 costs £779.

The Fairphone 4 removes some, but not all of the compromises previous models have made for two big upsides: being as ethical and easily repairable as possible.

A five-year warranty and a pledge of six years of software support is far longer than any other Android manufacturer. And there’s nothing else on the market that is designed to be taken apart and repaired at home with just a standard screwdriver. There’s no headphone socket though, and wifi and mobile performance was a little weak.

Overall it is a great device for people who want to support the company’s movement and are prepared to pay over the odds to do so. Just do not expect it to match an iPhone or Samsung in experience.

fairphone 4 review

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