Finally, a Smartphone That Won't Destroy the Planet

The Fairphone 4 looks cool, because it is cool

Key Takeaways

  • The Fairphone 4 is the most repairable, sustainable smartphone yet.
  • This Fairphone looks more like a pre-X iPhone than the box it came in.
  • It comes with a five-year warranty and will be easy to repair beyond that.
A Fairphone taken apart on someone kitchen table.

Fairphone

5G, a nice slim case, and you're not destroying the world. 

The latest Fairphone 4 is even more sustainable and ethically sourced than ever, and yet it is also slimmer and way less outdated than previous efforts. In addition, it comes with a five-year warranty, has guaranteed Android updates until 2025 and (maybe) beyond, and may introduce you to the concept of fair-trade metals.

In short, it's a low-guilt phone, but can it compete with iPhones and disposable Samsung models? Perhaps, but maybe the problem isn't you and me. It's the cell phone carriers. 

"In the US, what holds the Fairphone back is simply US carrier/frequency support. We'd love to see the Fairphone sold in the US with major carrier availability. The Fairphone teams appear to have their message and markets sorted out in the EU; competing against entrenched brands, and fighting for space in carriers' portfolios, is always going to be a challenge," iFixit's Kevin Purdy told Lifewire via email. 

Repairability, etc.

The point of the Fairphone is to be sustainable. That runs from the materials used to build it to the welfare of everyone who mines, makes, and markets the phone. It also means that the phone should last as long as possible, which is why repairability is important.

Someone using a Fairphone to take pictures.

Fairphone

"We want to challenge the traditional way of designing devices, including the notion that thinner is better," says Fairphone CEO Eva Gouwens in a statement provided to Lifewire via email.

Previous Fairphones all have met these goals, but the 4 is the first model that doesn't seem like a significant compromise, looks-wise. It's no wafer-thin waif, but it's a lot closer to a Pixel or an iPhone than it is to a 1990s-era Panasonic Toughbook. It has an aluminum body, a 100% recycled plastic back panel, and even an easily swappable battery.

Do We Care About Thinness?

For years, smartphones have gotten thinner and thinner. And then something odd happened. First, the cameras grew so big that they needed a thick turret to house them. Then, the bodies of the phones started to get thicker. It's often only fractions of millimeters, but the iPhone is growing bigger—and heavier—year over year. And nobody is complaining. Not even tech reviewers, who love to find insignificant things to point out. 

"Both iPhones and MacBooks have regained small bits of thickness and weight as the Ive era wanes at Apple—and, yes, consumer reviews tend to look the same," says Purdy. 

With iPhones getting thicker and Fairphones looking slimmer, that particular "feature" seems less important. As long as you can fit it in a pants pocket or hang it on a shoulder strap, then people care more about other aspects.

"We want to challenge the traditional way of designing devices, including the notion that thinner is better."

And it's not just cell phones. The Framework is a repairable laptop that looks as good as a MacBook, and yet offers customizability undreamt of by Apple laptop users. 

Not All Good

Like any design process, there are always compromises. That's what design is, after all. One big downside of the Fairphone 4 is that it follows the rest of the industry in ditching the headphone jack. This means you'll either have to supply a USB-C dongle or opt for Bluetooth headphones, which have their own sustainability problems. 

"We're not sure how the headphone jack removal will play out at this early stage," says Purdy. "Right now, wireless earbuds and headphones have sub-par, often abysmal repairability. We hope that changes, or that more manufacturers give phone buyers a choice to use sustainable accessories."

But it's easy to knock these minor glitches when we should be looking at the bigger picture. The Fairphone is probably the ultimate buy for folks who care about the planet and the people on it. Apple is definitely doing a good job, too, using more recycled materials in every new product version, and trying to run its entire operation on clean power, but Fairphone is the clear leader. 

And now, with its relatively svelte looks, it's coming for your Pixel and your iPhone.

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