Fairphone 3 review: the most ethical and repairable phone you can buy

Fairphone 3 Dutch company has come up with a new smartphone design that is asking for an extra £200 ($268) on top of the regular price. They say it will be able to change the market, so what do you think?

Say goodbye to the hassle of getting a new phone every few years with the latest Fairphone. The first model was released in 2013, and it was made more ethically than other phones on the market. This newest release continues that same legacy, giving buyers a phone they can repair and expect to last at least five years.

People tend to neglect the impact their phone has on the environment, but it’s important to understand where your phone comes from and what goes into making it. Fairphone, a company that started as an awareness campaign about conflict minerals, is turning these efforts into a phone company and is trying to create an earth-friendly one. Sourcing material in an environmentally friendly manner is what our company focuses on and aims to do as much as possible.

Fairphone’s latest smartphone, the Fairphone 3, has a modular design that can be repaired with a screwdriver and is made of materials sourced responsibly. They’re also making progress in reliability with their newly implemented switch-off system.

Also Read: Google Pixel 5A review

Fairphone 3 Chunky, translucent plastic

There’s no way to deny that the design of the Fairphone 3 was outdated. Its large bezels at the top & bottom of its screen might seem old-fashioned. The LCD is fairly small by today’s standards at 5.7in, but is reasonable with pretty good colors and excellent viewing angles, and is just about bright enough – most of the time you’ll see the brightness cranked up to maximum. It’s covered by Gorilla Glass 5, which isn’t the latest, but at least should make it fairly scratch-resistant.

The phone’s body is thick and has a big chin, forehead, and bezels. The small screen makes the device so large that it looks bigger than its actual size. It’s closer in size to a phone with a screen over 6.4in, and so requires similar hand-stretching to use it.

Fairphone 3

  • Dual SIM (Nano-SIM, dual stand-by) Network Compatibility
  • 5.65 inches, IPS LCD, 1080 x 2160 pixels, Corning Gorilla Glass 5
  • 64GB ROM + 4GB RAM, microSDXC 
  • Android 10, Qualcomm SDM632 Snapdragon 632 

Fairphone 3’s modular design is perfect for minimizing the amount of waste it creates. Its transparent back cover lets you see exactly where the phone’s circuitry is and that lets you have a better idea of how to handle, reuse and recycle your handset.

The Fairphone 3 is an Android-based handset with a 5.2-inch IPS LCD with Full HD+ resolution (1080 x 2160). The processor is an octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 632 chip and there are two variants: one with 4GB of RAM and 32GB of storage, the other with 6GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. The phone does not have any expandable storage space.

Also Read: Google Pixel 5A review

The translucent black plastic body feels well made and hard-wearing. Being able to see the usually hidden components through the plastic makes it all the more interesting. There’s very little flex or give anywhere on the phone, which is all the more impressive given you can take the back off and remove modules.

The volume buttons and power buttons are on the left side, which may take some getting used to. The speaker, too, is on the left side of the phone and might be blocked by your fingers.

I don’t like the way this phone battery advertising text feels self-congratulatory.

A USB-C socket is present in the bottom, which charges all your devices while a rarely use headphone socket can be found at the top. There’s also a fingerprint scanner on the back, which works fairly well but is a bit high up the back to be easily reachable without moving the phone down your hand a little each time you need to touch it.

Fairphone 3 Specifications

  • Screen: 5.7in FHD+ LCD (427ppi)
  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 632
  • RAM: 4GB of RAM
  • Storage: 64GB + microSD card
  • Operating system: Android 9 Pie based on the Fairphone OS
  • Camera: 12MP rear, 8MP selfie-camera
  • Connectivity: Dual sim, LTE, Wifi, NFC, Bluetooth 5, and GPS
  • Dimensions: 158 x 71.8 x 9.9mm
  • Weight: 189g

Fairphone 3 Middle of the road

Fairphone’s latest handset doesn’t have an all-star performance rating. It has Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 632 chip from last year, which is a lower-performance mid-range processor and is 4GB of RAM and 64GB storage with a microSD card slot for expanding the storage capacity later.

General performance isn’t terrible, but it is certainly not fast. The system has lag and stutter all over the place. You quickly run into a slowdown when simply trying to find your way to a meeting, as launching the calendar app to find an address, then Google Maps and Citymapper to compare directions was enough to repeatedly introduce significant lag. Press a button and nothing happens long enough to make you question whether you managed to activate the button.

Also Read: Google Pixel 5A review

Battery life is fairly average with a range of use between 7-9 hours on a single charge. This means you can use it all day, 2 days in a row, then have it to use when your other one is dead again. That is while using the Fairphone 3 as my primary device with a total screen time of just over four hours, lots of email and messages, browsing in Chrome, four hours of Spotify via Bluetooth headphones, 40 minutes of offline Amazon Prime Video, and a few photos.

The Fairphone 3 doesn’t ship with a charger or cable. It charges in about 2 hours 10 minutes using a standard 30W USB-C charger, or faster using one that supports Qualcomm’s QuickCharge 3 (€19.95 from Fairphone). But there’s also the possibility of just swapping in another charged battery, given you can remove it in less than five seconds.

Fairphone 3 Fairphone OS

The Fairphone 3 supports a standard version of Android that is free of bloat and all duplicated apps. Because of its clean interface, the user should use it. Most people love their Fairphone and try one out, but many find its operating system date. There are still a lot of things that need to be update due to the OS rather than the hardware. With security updates for five years from release, there’s a lot of hope for continuous support.

Anyone who has used Android in the last five years will be familiar with it while switching to it from an iPhone is fairly straightforward. Fairphone needs to do a better job at optimizing the performance of the software, however, as the issues of lag are likely to be avoidable with a bit of work.

Fairphone 3 Camera

The Fairphone 3 has a 12-megapixel camera on the back and in terms of specs, it’s the same as that found on models from Google. However, unfortunately, there’s no software magic to give you professional-level photo quality.

In good lighting, the Fairphone 3 shoots reasonable pictures with a solid amount of detail and color. The same goes for selfies and portraits. Unfortunately, that’s not the case in middling to low light conditions. Shots taken indoors at night with a mixture of overhead and lamp lighting produced dark, grainy and indistinct images.

Overall, the Fairphone 3’s camera performance is similar to today’s budget phones: fine on a sunny day, but poor indoors.

Also Read: Google Pixel 5A review

Other than efforts from the company to source materials ethically, and to pay the factory workers who put together the phone a top-up to a living wage. the most exciting aspect about the Fairphone 3 is that it is built on a modular platform. You can remove parts or even fix them if you experience any issues.

Starting from the removable back and battery, the rest of the phone can be pull apart with standard screws. Fairphone even includes the correct screwdriver in the box. If a part breaks, replace it and you’ll be back up-and-running fast. This is design to work with the rest of your rig & iFixit rated it positively recently.

Fairphone 3

  • Dual SIM (Nano-SIM, dual stand-by) Network Compatibility
  • 5.65 inches, IPS LCD, 1080 x 2160 pixels, Corning Gorilla Glass 5
  • 64GB ROM + 4GB RAM, microSDXC 
  • Android 10, Qualcomm SDM632 Snapdragon 632 

The individual parts aren’t that cheap, of course, but given you can place them yourself without breaking everything else in the process it seems like a fair trade-off. We recommend the OV Camera – the basic starter kit is only €49.95, with a USB-C converter included. You can upgrade anytime to get more accessories if you want! The most widely-used models of our screen cases are the eclipse for €89.95, the gray diamond for €39.95, and the field for €29.95. Our battery cases are available in multiple colors to choose from – such as earthGlo, solar gold, or lunarSilk. And last but not least, our back covers come in.

Fairphone 3 Verdict

Fairphone has a device that is full of compromises, but they have one massive advantage: being ethical.

The design is a bit more interesting thanks to its translucent finish, but it’s chunky and dated-looking. The 5.7in screen is pretty good, but the big chin and bezels make the phone considerably larger & harder to use than it could be. The MacBook Pro has USB-C and a headphone socket, both of which are very useful features. Even with the strange speaker placement, it’s easy to block them out.

Ezviz C8W Pro

The inside is the same. The clean, bloat-free Android software is good, but it’s only Android 9, not the new Android 10, and it has performance issues. Dual-sim and microSD card support is great too, but Bluetooth performance was pretty poor.

If you were to look at the Fairphone 3 simply as a £420 smartphone, you’d say it costs about £200 too much and isn’t even a great £220 phone at that. You can buy a phone with a more modern design, similar specifications, performance, and software for around £220 such as the Motorola Moto G7, or phones that are infinitely better at £420.

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