Fairphone 3+ and Fairphone 3 Upgrades

The Dutch mobile phone manufacturer unveils the next iteration of its ethical smartphone and upgrades for their previous model.

About a year ago, I wrote a post about Fairphone, and their smartphone, the revolutionary Fairphone 3. The Fairphone 3 differs from the rest of the smartphone pack by being fair, ethical, and sustainable.

Fairphone makes sure that the raw materials and components used in their products are sourced from mines and factories where the workers are given a fair wage and have good working conditions.

The Fairphone 3 is also modular and user-repairable. As a results of the modular design, it’s one of the few smartphones sold today that lets you easily replace the battery yourself. The modular design also means that if any of the hardware, like the camera, in a Fairphone 3 fails, you can fix it by replacing the faulty hardware module yourself. This is a much more sustainable approach than other smartphone manufactures have, and because of the modular design, the Fairphone 3 is the only smartphone with a 10/10 iFixit rating. If any of the hardware in other smartphone fails, it’s very hard to fix it yourself. Usually, the phone has to be shipped to a service center, where most or all of the hardware in the phone has to be replaced because everything is soldered together.

All this goodness comes at a premium cost to the end user, however. The Fairphone 3 does not boost the latest and greatest hardware, and it looks like a two year old mid-range budget smartphone. In many ways, it also feels like one, according to various reviews. At the same time, the Fairphone 3’s recommended retail price is about the same as the Pixel 4a and the iPhone SE, both which will beat the crap out of the Fairphone 3 in a hardware rumble.

But, as the Guardian wrote in their Fairphone 3 review:

[…] ultimately you buy the Fairphone 3+ because you support the ideals, rather than looking for a value-for-money smartphone.

This August, Fairphone announced the next iteration of the Fairphone 3, the Fairphone 3+1.

New And Improved

The Fairphone 3+ isn’t a massive leap from its predecessor. Most of the hardware are identical, but the Fairphone 3+ has new modules for audio, rear camera, and front camera. It comes with Android 10 pre-installed, and uses more recycled plastic than the Fairphone 3.

What makes the announcement of the Fairphone 3+ particularly interesting, is that the new audio, rear camera, and front camera modules are compatible with the Fairphone 3. The camera modules require that you upgrade to Android 10, but as soon as that’s done, you can simply swap the old modules with the new ones. Since all the modules are separate, you don’t even have to replace them all. If you, like me, don’t give a rats ass about selfies or the quality of the phone’s speakers, you can replace just the rear camera module. And if replacing perfectly working hardware just to get something better gives you a bad taste in your mouth, you can use Fairphones Module Take-back program. The modules will then be reused by Fairphone to repair their smartphones.

In terms of megapixels (MP), the new camera modules are greatly improved. The front camera doubles its MP from 8 to 16, while the rear camera goes from 12 MP to 48 MP. But don’t let the number of megapixels blind you. Even if the rear camera now uses a 48 MP sensor, the effective output is still 12 MP. From Fairphone’s own FAQ:

The primary focus of this sensor is to gather more light and therefore perform better in low light conditions and capture more details. This is achieved by combining tiny pixels of 0.8-micro to deliver light sensitivity equal to 1.6-micro pixels. Hence its effective output is still 12MP.

In addition to this, megapixels isn’t the only important factor when you want to take great pictures with a smartphone. The camera software is also crucial. Modern smartphone software uses a lot of tricks to make your smartphone shots look as good as they do, and these algorithms are closed source secrets. The vanilla camera software used by the Fairphone 3+ will never be able to compete with the likes of Apple, Samsung, and Huawei.

That said, the pictures shot by the Fairphone 3+ camera modules should be more than good enough for the average user. Fairphone has a few pictures shot on Fairphone 3+ on Flickr.

Fairphone 3+

Should You Purchase a Fairphone 3+?

Short answer: Yes, of course you should.

Long answer: Modern smartphones are sleek, thin, packed with features, and relatively cheap compared to what they are capable of. But all this comes at the not-so-hidden-anymore cost of pollution, forced labor, terrible working conditions, and endless heaps of toxic, electrical waste. Instead of turning a blind eye to all these issues, we have to purchase our smartphones from companies that are actively trying to do something about them. Some of the major smartphone manufactures are slowly adapting, but Fairphone is miles and miles ahead of them all.

In an ideal world, you wouldn’t even need a smartphone. But we might as well just accept that the damage is done, and make sure we purchase fair, ethical, and sustainable smartphones.

My Samsung Galaxy S8 is still going strong. But when it eventually dies on me, my next phone is a Fairphone 3+.

  1. Absolutely no points awarded for creative thinking. ↩︎


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