Most people probably don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the materials used to build their phones, or the workers who put the hardware together. But Amsterdam-based Fairphone is trying to change that… by selling phones made with conflict-free minerals from Africa and by setting up a Worker Welfare fund for factory workers in China.
Even if you don’t care about those things, the Fairphone 2 is interesting for another reason: it’s the first modular smartphone to hit the market.
You can replace the screen, camera, battery, and other components with nothing more than a screwdriver.
At a time when many smartphones are designed to be replaced every two years or so, the Fairphone 2 is built to last for up to 5 years… and that’s where the modularity comes in: if the screen breaks, it’s easy to replace. If you want a better camera, you may be able to insert one.
It’s the first phone to receive a perfect 10 out of 10 score for repairability from iFixit… which also helped write the official repair guide for the smartphone.
The Fairphone 2 is currently available in Europe for 529 Euros (about $580). While there are cheaper phones on the market with better specs, there’s nothing else that’s really like the Fairphone 2… and the company spells out exactly how much each of the phone’s components cost.
The Fairphone 2 features a 5 inch, 1920 x 1080 pixel display, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor, 2GB of RAM, 32GB of storage, a microSD card slot, a 2,420 mAh battery, and an 8MP camera. It ships with Android 5.1 Lollipop software and supports 802.11ac WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, and 4G LTE… in Europe.
Fairphone hopes to bring the phone to the United States eventually. It’s showcasing the phone at this year’s SXSW Interactive conference in Austin, Texas, where the phone was a finalist for an Innovation award. But the earliest the phone is likely to go on sale in the US is 2017.
I spoke with Fairphone’s public engagement manager Daria Koreniushkina for this episode of the LPX Show, and she explains how the project was started, and where it’s going.
I also interviewed iFixit founder Kyle Wiens about modularity and repairability in smartphones… why it’s useful, and why it’s not exactly common.
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cerfcanuck . says
I continue to enjoy the LPX podcast and look forward to each new episode.
Although Kyle Wiens brought up some interesting points about why non-repairable designs might be more durable, I have to think that manufacturers are primarily interested in maintaining a continuing revenue stream (i.e. “planned obsolescence”). As with many trends in consumer electronics, Apple has led the way and other companies have simply followed. Unfortunately (at least from my perspective) non-serviceable designs have been extended from small portable devices to laptops and (possibly) desktop PCs. For example, I’m typing this on a five-year old laptop, for which I’ve replaced the battery and upgraded the RAM and HDD (scavenged from other machines) and the OS (from Windows 7 to Windows 10). From what I can tell, most newer laptops lack any provisions for upgradeability. As another example, my daughter relies on a three-year old iPod Touch for music playback, e-mail, and social media apps. For her purposes, it continues to work fine, performance-wise, but the battery is worn out. To have it replaced by a service shop would cost almost half as much as the original price of the unit and about the same as I paid for my (admittedly, low-end) smartphone (a ZTE Grand X2).
Brad Linder says
Yep… you could certainly argue that this is a side effect of the move toward thin-and-light design rather than the primary goal. But I can’t imagine it’s a side effect that disappoints companies that want to sell you new gear every few years.
As Wiens pointed out in a part of the conversation that I didn’t include in the episode, it’s possible to replace the battery in some devices that have “non-removable” batteries though. He lauded LG for using modular design even before the G5… it’s just that his definition of modular was a little difference, since he was talking about the design of the phones once you pried them open.
I discovered that my LG/Google Nexus 5 has a battery that’s pretty easy to replace, for instance. Unfortunately I’ve also found that it’s very difficult to find a reliable source for replacement batteries. The one I bought provides even less run time than the one that I’d been using for two years 🙂