Meet Fairphone 2: the so­cially re­spon­si­ble smart­phone

Tech Advisor - - NEWS -

Mikael Rick­näs

re­ports on the Fairphone 2: Fairphone’s sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion so­cially re­spon­si­ble smart­phone that will start ship­ping later this year

Fairphone, the Dutch com­pany that aims to sell so­cially re­spon­si­ble smart­phones, is work­ing on a sec­ond model that can be re­paired with lit­tle has­sle and won’t easily break. The com­pany is also stick­ing with its goal of us­ing con­flict­free or fair trade min­er­als.

One of the com­pany’s key aims with the Fairphone 2 was to ex­tend the longevity of the prod­uct. Mak­ing it easy to re­pair is part of that. For ex­am­ple, it will be pos­si­ble to re­place the dis­play on the Fairphone 2 in less than a minute, the com­pany prom­ises. Af­ter re­mov­ing the case and bat­tery, the two clips that lock the dis­play in place are slid to­wards each other, and then the en­tire unit can be taken out, CTO Olivier He­bert said in a blog post on Tues­day.

The re­ceiver, rear cam­era and speaker units can be re­paired with the help of a screw­driver. To guide users, each unit is con­nected to the chas­sis with a set of colour-coded screws. Fairphone is bet­ting that buy­ers will sac­ri­fice slim­ness for a smart­phone that’s eas­ier to re­pair. The re­sult is a phone that’s 11mm thick.

The hard­ware ar­chi­tec­ture also opens the door for fu­ture up­grades. All of the in­di­vid­ual com­po­nents can be re­placed, pro­vided they fit within the de­sign of the orig­i­nal unit and can use the ex­ist­ing elec­tri­cal in­ter­faces. How­ever, soft­ware com­plex­i­ties need to be ad­dressed for up­grades to be pos­si­ble, He­bert said with­out delv­ing into the de­tails.

A sec­ond goal was to build a de­vice that doesn’t easily break. Most cur­rent smart­phones are sim­ply too frag­ile, ac­cord­ing to He­bert. The Fairphone 2, on the other hand, should sur­vive a drop of about 2m on to con­crete. The ro­bust­ness is in part pos­si­ble thanks to a rub­ber rim that wraps around the screen. Fairphone de­cided against mak­ing the phone com­pletely sealed to keep out wa­ter and dust, as do­ing that con­flicted with other de­sign goals, es­pe­cially the abil­ity to open and re­pair the de­vice.

The aim is still to man­u­fac­ture a smart­phone that doesn’t use min­er­als from con­flict zones, is re­cy­clable, and is made by work­ers who are treated well. The Fairphone 2 will be avail­able for pre­order be­fore the end of Au­gust, and then ship dur­ing the fol­low­ing cou­ple of months, the com­pany said. Pric­ing wasn’t an­nounced.

Hard­ware specs in­clude a Qual­comm Snap­dragon 801 pro­ces­sor and a 5in, Full HD screen. The cam­era has an 8Mp res­o­lu­tion and there is 32GB of stor­age that can be ex­panded us­ing a mi­croSD card. The LTE smart­phone also has 2GB of RAM and two SIM slots. The OS will be An­droid 5.1.

The first model, of which Fairphone sold 60,000, scored 7 out of 10 for re­pairabil­ity in a tear­down test by re­pair web­site iFixit. Pos­i­tives in­cluded that it’s easy to open up the de­vice and ac­cess the com­po­nents. How­ever, the glass is fused to both the dis­play and the dis­play frame, which in­creases re­pair costs – a mis­take that Fairphone has learned from.

In gen­eral, to­day’s high-end smart­phones are a mixed bag when it comes to ease of re­pair. Ap­ple has a rep­u­ta­tion for build­ing prod­ucts that are dif­fi­cult to fix, but the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus both got a 7 out of 10 score on iFixit. The com­pany still uses pro­pri­etary Pen­talobe screws, and it doesn’t share re­pair in­for­ma­tion with in­de­pen­dent re­pair shops or con­sumers. But the dis­play assem­bly comes out easily and the bat­tery is easy to ac­cess.

For peo­ple who want a high-end An­droid smart­phone that’s easily re­paired, the G4 from LG is a good op­tion. It was awarded an im­pres­sive 8 out of 10. The only draw­back is that the glass and LCD will need to be re­placed to­gether if one or the other breaks.

Two other top-of-the-range smart­phones, the Gal­axy S6 from Sam­sung Elec­tron­ics and HTC’s One M9, didn’t fair as well, scor­ing 4 and 2 out of 10, re­spec­tively. Strong ad­he­sive on the rear glass makes it very dif­fi­cult to gain en­try to the S6’s in­nards. On the One M9 ad­he­sives make many com­po­nents dif­fi­cult, and even dan­ger­ous, to re­move and re­place, iFixit said.

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