the smart(-est) phone

July 15, 2022

What was the last time you popped open the back of your phone?

More than 10 years ago? I did that several times today and in the last weeks while showing my new phone to people. As a product designer, I’m proud to have purchased this product, therefore, I will share it with you. The Fairphone is a first of its kind, modular, sustainably and fairly sourced, top of the line, smartphone. The smartest thing about this phone, by far, is that you can open it; something that went missing from each and every phone on the market in the last decade. You can replace the battery like old times! Moreover, with just 12 screws you can access all various modular components (e.g. camera unit, cable connector, etc.) and the company promises to provide them (+ software support) for years.

Let people repair their phones and make them last longer! Maybe even upgrade some components? They wouldn’t need a new phone every year. That people wouldn’t buy new phones every year or two might be scary for the smartphone industry but makes absolutely no sense from an e-waste and environmental perspective. Designing something while making sure it will be obsolete very soon? Total nonsense. Fairphone understands this and over the years came up with various solutions. I think that their 4th version, Fairphone 4, is absolutely spot on.

I won’t really go into the specs because they are at least comparable to most flagship smartphones and not relevant to the intention of writing this post. Just know that it is more than sufficient for daily use for most of us. You say, not as thin (because of the open-ability)? Maybe. But that is the least of my concerns. The recycled plastic back cover feels nice and secure to hold or put on a table from day one without an outer case, without any scratches or fingerprints. I am assured by the ability to replace it in case I really need to in the future. Same goes for most other parts of the phone. So when you put a chunky case around your iPhone, doesn’t it anyway add up to a much thicker and heavier package?

I do acknowledge that design is an iterative process and more iterations = better, faster, efficient, etc. but the entire world shouldn’t feel the need to buy each iteration every new launch. All the more reason that I feel utmost respect in seeing this product on the market.

I have been eying this company for some years, but what made me make the switch to Fairphone finally? My Samsung phone stopped charging after a hit. Their service center and a repair shop quoted a price higher than the cost of the phone itself. Not being able to do anything else about it was terribly annoying, while having already paid a cost for just ‘inspection’ of the phone which lasted many days. I was triggered and I couldn’t handle not being able to fix a simple charging port without spending several hundreds of euros and days of waiting time, replacing the entire display unit and other components which are glued together. Valuing sustainability, functionality, and good design, and with this situation, it was a no-brainer for me to switch to Fairphone.

Maybe I didn’t buy Fairphone the last time I bought a new phone because I hadn’t then heard about it or didn’t know someone who uses it. After reading this, you know at least one person using it, and I hope you consider it.

(note: I have zero personal benefit from writing this but I think this company deserves to be written about more.)

Bas van Abel, Tessa Wernink, Miquel Ballester: Kudos to you and your team for the effort so far. Good to see how far you’ve come and it is very inspiring for us designers to follow the progress and take this as a solid example! I hope I could show some appreciation from myself and some colleagues/friends and good luck for the next steps! I love “a better phone is a phone made better” and all the other clever lines you have 😉