Fairphone 3+ review: ethical smartphone gets camera upgrades

Guardian Technology 31 Aug 2020 06:00
Fairphone is back, now with better cameras, improved audio and more recycled plastic, available as a new phone or upgrades to the existing Fairphone 3. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The ethical smartphone maker Fairphone has released two camera upgrades for its Fairphone 3 that are available separately or as a whole new device: the Fairphone 3+.

The Fairphone 3+ costs £425 and marks a new approach for the eponymous Dutch company.

The new phone is identical to 2019’s Fairphone 3 apart from an upgraded front and rear cameras, improved audio and an increase in the amount of recycled plastic it contains – up from 9% to 40%, said to be the equivalent of one 330ml plastic bottle. It also ships with the newer Android 10, which will be available for existing devices in the first half of September.

That means you’re buying a smartphone with a dated design that’s chunky with a fairly small screen. But those compromises are necessary to make the phone user repairable, not just repairable by a service centre. The plastic back comes off easily. The battery is removable and the phone is made with six removable modules: when one is broken or you want to upgrade it all you do is unscrew it and insert a new one. There’s even the correct screwdriver included in the box.

The 5.65in FHD+ LCD screen won’t win any awards for colour or brightness, struggling a bit outdoors, but it is perfectly fine for day-to-day usage and is covered by scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass 5. The fingerprint scanner on the back works great, but is a bit high up making it difficult to reach without a bit of hand gymnastics. There’s a USB-C socket in the bottom for charging and a headphone socket in the top.

Android 10

The Fairphone 3+ still has the rather low-performance Snapdragon 632 chip from 2018, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. It performs the same as its predecessor, which means it is fairly slow, but not frustratingly so. For more on performance and battery life please see the original Fairphone 3 review.

The most ethical smartphone scores very high marks for sustainability. The phone is made out of 40% recycled plastic, fairtrade gold and conflict-free minerals, is repairable at home, not just by a service centre and users can replace the batteries (£27) themselves in about a minute. A replacement screen costs £81.95.

The new cameras are a step up from the old ones on the Fairphone 3. The rear 48-megapixel camera (up from 12MP) is capable of capturing good images in good to medium light levels, with more detail, better colours and better light sensitivity than the previous version. Shots on a dull grey British day were perfectly acceptable, but low light performance is still fairly weak with no special night mode available.

  • The inside of the phone just says FP3, as does the software, meaning it is difficult to tell if you have a Fairphone 3+.

  • The battery was a much tighter fit. I almost broke my nail prising it out of the back.

  • The phone misidentified an EE sim as being on the Virgin mobile network.

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