The ethical smartphone maker Fairphone has released two camera upgrades for its Fairphone 3, which are available separately or as a brand new device: the Fairphone 3+.
The Fairphone 3+ costs £ 425 and marks a new approach for the Dutch company of the same name.
The new phone is identical to the 2019 Fairphone 3 except for improved front and rear cameras, improved audio, and an increase in the amount of recycled plastic ̵
That means you are buying a smartphone with an outdated design that is clunky with a relatively small screen. However, these tradeoffs are necessary for the phone user to be able to be repaired, rather than just being repaired by a service center. The plastic back comes off easily. The battery is replaceable and the phone consists of six interchangeable modules: if one breaks or you want to update it, all you have to do is unscrew it and put in a new one. The right screwdriver is even included in the scope of delivery.
The 5.65-inch FHD + LCD screen won’t win any awards for color or brightness as it struggles a bit outdoors. However, it is perfect for everyday use and is covered with scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass 5. The fingerprint scanner on the back works fine, but it’s a bit high which makes it difficult to achieve without a bit of hand exercise. There is a USB-C jack at the bottom for charging and a headphone jack at the top.
Audio is certainly louder and crisper than the original. The speaker is still in an awkward position, but there is no real bass and it can sound a little shrill and distorted at high volumes.
Screen: 5.65 inch FHD + LCD (427 ppi)
Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 632
R.A.M: 4 GB of RAM
Camp: 64 GB + microSD card
Operating system: Fairphone OS based on Android 10
Camera: 48MP rear, 16MP selfie camera
Connectivity: Dual-Sim, LTE, WLAN, NFC, Bluetooth 5 and GPS
Dimensions: 158 x 71.8 x 9.9 mm
Weight: 189 g
The Fairphone 3+ still has the rather inefficient Snapdragon 632 chip from 2018, 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB of storage. It works the same as its predecessor, which means that it’s pretty slow but not frustrating. For more information on performance and battery life, see the original Fairphone 3 review.
New is Android 10, which improves performance a bit and makes the phone more modern. Although it’s worth noting that Google will release Android 11 shortly, possibly before the Fairphone 3+ ships to buyers. Fairphone aims to provide software updates for five years.
Android 10 on the Fairphone is a standard affair free of bloat or duplicate apps, and all the better. You get all of the standard Google apps, including the Play Store. It comes with the older Android navigation buttons (back, home, and recently used apps). However, you can enable the new and improved gesture navigation that is a core part of Android 10.
The software runs fine for the most part, but I’ve encountered a few small issues that need to be fixed, such as: For example, the lower search bar no longer overlaps the icons in the Dock when gesture navigation is active. Anyone who has used an Android smartphone in the past five years should know it right away.
The most ethical smartphone gets very good marks for sustainability. The phone is made from 40% recycled plastic, Fairtrade gold and conflict-free minerals. It can be repaired at home, not just by a service center, and users can replace the batteries (£ 27) themselves in about a minute. A replacement screen costs £ 81.95.
Fairphone also recycles old phones from other brands, even if you don’t buy a phone from the company. There are a variety of progressive initiatives, from paying workers a living wage to more equitable and environmentally friendly sourcing of materials.
The new cameras are an improvement over the old cameras of the Fairphone 3. The rear 48-megapixel camera (from 12 MP) can take good pictures in good to medium lighting conditions with more details, better colors and better light sensitivity than the previous version. Shooting on a dull gray UK day was perfectly acceptable, but low light performance is still pretty poor as there is no dedicated night mode available.
The autofocus was also much faster, while the camera now supports modern features like object tracking and scene optimization. There’s no optical zoom, but up to 8x digital zoom is surprisingly effective. Portrait mode wasn’t bad either. The camera takes 12 megapixel photos by default (combining pixels for more light and better detail), but despite having a 48 megapixel sensor, there is no way to shoot at full resolution.
Videos shot at up to 4K at 30 frames per second were solid, but oddly enough, there’s no option for the usual FHD video at 60 frames per second, just 30 or 120 frames per second. Slow motion videos were decent, if not at a particularly high frame rate, so the effect wasn’t as dramatic as it was with competitors.
It’s also worth noting that in normal “Photo” mode tapping to focus also captures the shot, which irritated me. I had to switch to “Pro” to be able to focus and then record manually like I would with other smartphones. Pro mode supports recording in RAW format, which some avid photographers will appreciate.
While the new cameras are definitely an improvement over the originals, their performance doesn’t come close to what you’d get from a 349 Pixel 4a or £ 419 iPhone SE.
The selfie camera is capable of capturing some of the most detailed self-portraits I’ve seen. I love them, but some may find them deeply flattering. I had some problems making sure the entire frame was in focus and on occasion my nose would be out of focus.
The inside of the phone only says FP3, as does the software. Hence, it is difficult to tell if you have a Fairphone 3+.
The battery fit much tighter. I almost broke my nail and pulled it out of my back.
The phone incorrectly identified an EE-Sim as being on the Virgin cellular network.
The Fairphone 3+ is available for pre-order and costs £ 425, shipping 14th September.
The Camera + module (48 MP) costs £ 54.95 and the Top + module (16 MP) costs £ 32.95 separately or £ 62.90 as a bundle plus shipping through September for existing Fairphone 3 users update yourself.
For comparison, the Google Pixel 4a costs £ 349, the OnePlus Nord £ 379 and the Apple iPhone SE £ 419.
The Fairphone 3+ has better cameras in the front and rear, which means there is less of a compromise compared to the competition. But the rest of the downsides of the original Fairphone 3 remain alongside one big, overarching benefit: being as ethical as possible.
It’s good to see the company deliver on its promise of upgrade modules that existing Fairphone 3 users can buy and use. It remains to be seen whether this will be the case. It’s not a nightly upgrade, but if you hate the original camera, it might be worth it.
It’s also good to see advances in the use of recycled plastic, something that other manufacturers like Google, Samsung, and Apple are also picking up on.
Let me be clear: this is a 3.5-star, 1.5-star device that has been recognized for sustainability, repairability, and ethical manufacturing. You can get a far better smartphone experience for a similar amount of money with a Pixel 4a or iPhone SE. But ultimately you are buying the Fairphone 3+ because you support the ideals instead of looking for an inexpensive smartphone.
The most ethical smartphone you can buy right now has a better camera, and you don’t have to throw your original Fairphone 3 in the trash to get it.
Advantages: ethical manufacturing, sustainable materials, really repairable, solidly built, dual SIM, microSD card slot, headphone jack, replaceable battery, bloat-free, software support for five years, sensible camera.
Disadvantage: mediocre performance, chunky, expensive for specs, camera still not as good as competitors, no 5G.