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Review: Fairphone 4

Smartphone for kitchen table technicians

Fairphone 4 is a smartphone without built-in obsolescence. You can replace the parts yourself. Unfortunately, you can't upgrade to a faster processor.

Karakter
Fairphone 4
forfatter
Published 2022-04-19 - 10:00 am
Our opinion
Guaranteed updates for the next five years. Easy to repair faulty parts - at home on your kitchen table.
How do you price a sustainable future? Measured by cynical standards, you get too little raw performance for your money. No included charger.
Specifications
  • Display: 6.3″ LCD FHD+ (2340 x 1080), Corning Gorilla Glass 5
  • CPU: 2.2 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 750G octa-core
  • GPU: Qualcomm Adreno 619
  • Memory: 6 GB RAM / 128 GB storage (+ microSD up to 2 TB)
  • Operating system: Android 11
  • Cameras: Main Camera: 48MP f/1.6 w/ Optical Image Stabilization, Ultra Wide Angle: 48MP f/2.2 120°, Front Camera: 25MP f/2.2
  • Connections: USB-C
  • Wireless: 5G, Bluetooth 5.1, Wi-Fi 6
  • SIM: Dual Nano SIM/microSD
  • Battery: 3900 mAh, removable
  • Colours: Grey, green, green with speckles
  • Dimensions and weight: 75.5 x 162 x 10.5 mm / 225 g
  • Web: fairphone.com

We can try to put it more or less nicely, but the truth is that we are all environmental pigs. You’re a pig. I’m a pig. Sorry! Especially when it comes to mobile phones, we surround ourselves with electronics that are a fatal environmental burden.

That’s why Dutch company Fairphone is undeniably on to something when, since 2013, they’ve been making mobile phones that pollute less and are easier to recycle.

Fairphone 4 is the latest addition. A neat smartphone that, with its 6.3-inch size and FHD+ screen, offers hope that you can be both environmentally conscious and on the ball at the same time.

Fairphone4 hand2
There are only two actual rear cameras on the Fairphone 4. But they are of reasonable quality. (Photo: Fairphone).

Solid mid-range

Overall, the phone looks like a good, typical mid-range phone with a solid metal frame and grey or green plastic back. The casing is a bit thicker than usual, though, probably because the phone is meant to be service-friendly. We’ll come back to that.

The camera block consists of a 47 megapixel main camera, a 25 megapixel wide-angle lens and a depth sensor (Time-of-Flight).

The screen covers most of the front of the phone, but there’s a slightly wider frame at the top and bottom than we’re used to from premium phones. The screen also has a rather large cutout for the selfie camera.

The screen is in FHD+ resolution (2340 x 1080 pixels), which is excellent. Unfortunately, it’s only a regular LCD screen and not a high-contrast color AMOLED, which is fairly common in this price range.

Do-it-yourself friendly

Fairphone’s absolute best party trick is that you can repair it yourself. It even comes with a screwdriver in the box and instructions on how to replace the battery, camera, screen, USB port and more! Parts are available on the Fairphone website, and you can still buy spares for all models except the first one from 2013.

Even the software is “green” in the sense that Fairphone promises system updates until 2027.

Fairphone4 DIY
Fairphone 4 can be repaired at home on the dining table. (Photo: Fairphone)

Although parts can be replaced at home on the dining table, you can only replace defective parts with new ones. Fairphone does not offer upgrade parts for older models, which would have been a stroke of genius from a consumer point of view.

In fact, I would already like to replace the processor with something more up to date. Because the phone is slow.

While a screwdriver is included in the box, you look in vain for a charger. In the case of Fairphone in particular, the environmental explanation makes sense, as we all have a drawer full of orphaned chargers from previous mobile phones. But for the price, you’d actually expect to find a modern fast charger.

Sensible camera compromise

The Fairphone 4 only has two cameras on the back: a 48 megapixel sensor with optical image stabilisation for general use and as a telephoto. And a 120-degree ultra wide-angle/macro, which is also 48 megapixels. The front selfie camera is 25 megapixels.

For a phone that’s expected to be in use for the next half-decade, the camera section is anything but exciting. However, Fairphone should be commended for choosing a fairly workable compromise.

fairphone4 hi res fairphone4 zoom fairphone4 selfie fairphone4 macro
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The zoom function has so much image noise that the result looks like an impressionist painting. (Photo: John Alex Hvidlykke, L&B)

48 megapixels is adequate resolution for all normal use, and both the telephoto and wide-angle lenses take quite usable, if not very colour-saturated, images. And I’d rather have a 48 megapixel sensor with a working digital zoom than a 108 megapixel super high resolution sensor with no zoom, as was the case on the Xiaomi Redmi Note Pro 11 5G.

The selfie camera takes sharp and well-resolved photos that capture every wrinkle in the skin. But again with a slightly dull skin tone. The wide-angle lens also handles macro photography for acceptable house needs. But if super-close-ups mean a lot to you, look for a phone with a dedicated macro lens.

Fairphone4 tilt2 Fairphone4 tilt1 Fairphone4 tilt3
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The phone is guaranteed software updates for five years and spare parts can be purchased for seven years. But unfortunately, the hardware is already obsolete today. (Photo: Fairphone)

Benchmarks

The processor in the Fairphone 4 is a Snapdragon 750G. It’s a 2.2GHz eight-core CPU, and the model number in the middle of the 700 series has the pleasant air of “second best” rather than the Snapdragon 695 that sat in the Redmi Note Pro 11 5G.

But that’s in name more than benefit. The Geekbench test ends up at 635 in single-core and 1,879 in multi-core, respectively. That’s even slower than the Note Pro 11. Only slightly better is the PCMark office simulation, which ends up at 8,123. That’s good enough for everyday use – but not for the premium price.

On the graphics side, the Fairphone 4 doesn’t rise above mediocrity either. A score of 1.119 in 3DMark Wildlife is downright poor. And it’s hard to find equally slow graphics for the price.

In contrast to the speed tests, the Fairphone 4 does very well in the battery test. A good eight hours is better than average.

Competitors

In terms of performance, the Fairphone 4 compares best with the Xiaomi Redmi Note 11 Pro 5G, which we have just tested. The two phones are in practice equally faster, but the Redmi Note 11 Pro comes out on top with a better screen and a main camera with twice the resolution. In one respect, however, there’s a big difference between the two: The Fairphone 4 costs one and a half times as much!

Fairphone4 flat2 Fairphone4 flat1 Fairphone4 flat3
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Fairphone 4 is a nice idea, but you pay quite a surcharge for the good conscience. (Photo: Fairphone)

Conclusion

Fairphone 4 is based on a sound and sympathetic idea: to avoid obsolescence while ensuring that nothing goes to waste as electronic waste. The idea that users can replace defective parts themselves also appeals to my hobbyist heart.

Unfortunately, you cannot replace the processor yourself with a faster version. Even today it is relatively slow. And I dare not think how technologically obsolete it will be in 2027. That makes the longevity of the device rather hypothetical.

The Fairphone 4 is priced in the premium segment. But that’s not where it belongs. Incorporating recycling into the process is costly and when factory workers have to earn a living wage, it will inevitably affect the selling price. But as it stands, conscience is the sole argument for buying the Fairphone 4.

Fairphone4 life6
The Fairphone 4 actually takes quite decent selfies. (Photo: Fairphone)

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Thomas Trombley

My problem is finding someone who will sell me one l keep going to there web site and they won’t sell to anyone outside the EU.

Thomas Trombley

They also advertise a new set of earbuds with a charger case with I like but I still wonder if I can use a pad charger or stick with a std block charger. I’d also change the OS to /e/ from Android 11

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