The Fairphone 5 is a unique proposition in the world of smartphones. Pick this as your next handset and you send a clear message that you believe in ethical sourcing of manufacturing materials, that the people who construct these devices deserve fair pay and safe working conditions, and that we should all have the right to repair. This antidote to planned obsolescence could even last you a decade.
Dutch company Fairphone has beat the odds to reach its fifth smartphone. It has clawed out a niche in a market so competitive that major companies like Microsoft, HTC, LG, and Sony have failed or struggled. The Fairphone 5 is the best smartphone the company has turned out by a margin, but measured against the similarly priced competition on hardware alone, it falls short. Let’s be honest—this phone is all about the mission.
Doing It Right
Fairphone carefully sources the components in every device, and the workers who put them together have safe and healthy working conditions. Where possible, Fairphone uses recycled materials (plastic, tin solder paste, steel, and nickel alloy), sources Fairtrade gold, and buys cobalt and silver credits to support the improvement of working conditions for miners.
The factories that make the Fairphone pay a living wage to workers. It also employs 100 percent renewable energy. Fairphone invests in projects to reduce CO2 emissions, and to balance bringing a new phone into the world, Fairphone recycles the equivalent amount of e-waste. It has a B Corp certification, which means its claims have been independently vetted, and Fairphone regularly releases impact reports.
The Fairphone 5 is built to last nearly a decade. You can repair or upgrade the phone easily with a screwdriver. Fairphone sent me a screwdriver (they cost £4.50, or around $6) with the phone, and I can confirm it is easy to peel the back panel off to unscrew and remove components. Replacement parts are fairly priced. For example, a display is £90 (roughly $110), and the main camera is £62 ($76). Each phone comes with a five-year warranty.
This focus on longevity also extends to software support, with Fairphone promising an unprecedented minimum of five Android version updates and eight years of security updates. Google guarantees just three platform updates and five years of security updates. Samsung does slightly better, with flagships at four OS updates and five years of security updates. Apple generally brings six years of operating system updates to its iPhones.
Dominant phone makers like Apple and Samsung have made some moves toward carbon neutrality, recycled materials, and repairability, and sought to reduce the use of conflict minerals, but the Fairphone highlights how much more they could be doing. The Fairphone 5 is the most sustainable and socially conscious phone you can buy today.
Sustainability costs money. Compromises are inevitable, but I’m happy to report that the display is not one of them. This 6.46-inch AMOLED panel boasts a 2,700 x 1,224-pixel resolution and a 90-Hz refresh rate. It is responsive, colorful, and bright enough to remain legible in sunlight. There’s a touch more bezel than we’ve come to expect around the screen, and the body is a bit thick at 9.6 mm, but it does not stand out of the crowd.
The repairability of the Fairphone 5 has a minor cost embodied in the slightly bulky design and the IP55 rating, which means it’s fine in rain but cannot be submerged in the pool. The phone comes in blue, black, or with a more interesting transparent back plate that shows the removable innards, including a battery bearing the legend “Change is in your hands.” You need to peel off the backplate to insert your SIM card. There are volume controls and a lozenge-shaped power button with a fingerprint sensor on the right side.