Fairphone 4 Review: Ethical Repairable Phone Gets A Big Upgrade Smart phones
The most ethical and repairable smartphone you can buy is back with a new model, this time with 5G and a new look but a weak camera.
The new Fairphone 4 costs £ 499 from the Dutch cooperative of the same name and continues its mission of making phones out of the most ethically sourced materials that you can take apart and repair without an electrical engineering degree.
The new model has a much more modern design than its predecessors with an aluminum body, Gorilla Glass 5 display and a removable back made of 100% recycled plastic.
It’s still big at 10.5mm thick and 225g in weight, but the sides are rounded and smooth, the body is super strong, the plastic back is tactile, and the glass front looks modern, otherwise quite elegant.
The 6.3-inch LCD screen won’t win any awards but is quite bright and crisp. Vertical viewing angles aren’t the best and it has relatively bulky bezels at the top and bottom, closer to a budget phone, but nothing flashy.
The only thing it lacks is a headphone jack; the USB-C port will handle audio tasks with the correct adapter or you will need to use a bluetooth headset.
Filter: 6.3-inch FHD + LCD (410 dpi)
Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 750G
RAM: 6 or 8 GB
Storage room: 128 or 256 GB + microSD card
Operating system: Fairphone OS based on Android 11
Camera: 48MP, 25MP dual rear selfie camera
Connectivity: 5G, esim, wifi6, NFC, Bluetooth 5.1 and GPS
Water resistance: IP54 (rain resistance)
5G and about two days of battery life
The Fairphone 4 has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 750G chip, which is one of the company’s mid-range processors with 5G and has a performance level similar to the best smartphones of 2018 such as the OnePlus 6.
Apps open fairly quickly, but may take a while or two to get ready to use. Social media feeds sometimes stutter as you browse them, and information boards take a second to load in Google Maps.
The battery lasts for around two days with the screen used for around five hours with apps, browsing and taking photos, spending around two hours on 5G the rest on wifi, which is similar to some of the more durable smartphones available. More careful use will likely see longer or you can swap out a spare, fully charged battery within seconds.
Fairphone says the battery will retain at least 80% of its original capacity for more than 500 full charge cycles and a replacement or spare costs £ 25.95.
The Fairphone 4 has a five-year warranty. Users can repair the phone themselves by replacing the plug-in modules using a standard screwdriver. A replacement screen will cost £ 69.95, the back £ 17.95 while other components such as cameras, ports and speakers will cost between £ 12.95 and £ 69.95 which will all be available until at least 2027.
Fairphone is 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 aluminum and tungsten, as well as recycled tin, copper, rare earth metals and plastic. The company also supplements the wages of its subcontracted workers to a living wage.
The phone comes with a standard version of Android 11 with very few modifications and no bloatware. It will be immediately familiar to anyone who has used an Android phone for the past four years and has performed well, without any noticeable bugs or glitches in testing.
Fairphone will guarantee software support for the phone until the end of 2025, including monthly security updates for two years from release, then quarterly security updates from then on, but aims extended support until 2027. That would make it the most durable Android. and the only one to rival Apple’s seven years of support for the iPhone 6S.
The Fairphone 4 has a dual 48-megapixel system on the back with wide and ultra-wide cameras and a 25-megapixel selfie camera above the screen.
Rear cameras outnumber Fairphone’s previous efforts, but they’re also not serious rivals for high-end phones. The main camera can produce decent photos in bright light, but really struggles in high contrast scenes producing muddy, washed-out shots that are soft on detail. Low light performance was poor with a lot of grain. The camera was often slow to take pictures too and was prone to motion blur.
The ultra-wide camera produces images that look good on a glance in daylight, but blurry on closer inspection, especially towards the edge. The selfie camera is pretty good, producing pictures that are rich in detail and well balanced in reasonable lighting.
It is possible to take good images with the Fairphone 4, but it takes a lot more work and most of the photos are disappointing compared to even cheaper competitors.
There is no option for common gestures like double-tapping the screen or lifting the phone to wake it up.
Stereo speakers are reasonable for watching videos.
Mobile and wifi reception was weaker than an iPhone, OnePlus or Samsung of similar price on the same networks.
The Fairphone 4 costs £ 499 with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage or £ 569 with 8GB and 256GB.
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 tradeoffs previous models made for two big advantages: being as ethical and easily repairable as possible.
It is chunky but with a more modern and distinctive design. It has a decent screen and 5G, but the camera isn’t that great. Battery life is good but the processor isn’t particularly fast – fine for now but probably slow in five years.
A five-year warranty and six-year software support commitment is much longer than any other Android manufacturer. And there is nothing else on the market that is designed to be taken apart and repaired at home with just a standard screwdriver. There is no headphone jack, however, and wifi and mobile performance was a bit poor.
As with previous models, the Fairphone 4 rivals the £ 300 OnePlus Nord CE the best, which means you’re paying a premium of around £ 200 for ethical build and much longer support.
Overall, it’s a great device for people who want to support the business movement and are willing to pay too much to do so. Don’t expect it to match an iPhone or Samsung in terms of experience.
Advantages: ethical workmanship, durable materials, truly serviceable, solidly built, 5G, microSD card slot, removable battery, bloat-free, five-year warranty, up to six-year software support.
The inconvenients: average performance, big, expensive for specs, average camera, weaker wifi / mobile signal, no headphone jack.