Fairphone 4 Review: Ethically repairable phone gets major upgrade | smart phone

The most ethical, repairable smartphone you can buy is back with a new model, this time with 5G and a fresh look, but a weak camera.

Priced at £499 from the eponymous Dutch cooperative, the new Fairphone 4 continues the mission of making phones from materials that have been sourced as ethically as possible and that you can disassemble and repair without an electrical engineering degree.

The new model has a much more modern design than its predecessors, with an aluminum body, Gorilla Glass 5 screen and a removable back panel made from 100% recycled plastic.

It’s still chunky at 10.5mm thick and 225g in weight, but the sides are rounded and smooth, the body is super solid, the plastic back is tactile, and the glass front looks modern, if not entirely smooth.

A colored notch on the side helps you open the back to reveal a user-replaceable battery, SIM and microSD card slots, and the phone’s various screw-down modular components. Photo: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The 6.3-inch LCD screen won’t win any awards, but it’s fairly bright and sharp. Vertical viewing angles aren’t the best and it has relatively chunky bezels at the top and bottom that are more like a budget phone, but nothing monstrous.

The only thing it lacks is a headphone jack; The USB-C port will handle the audio duties with the right adapter, or you’ll have to use Bluetooth headphones.

specifications

  • Screen: 6.3-inch FHD+ LCD (410 ppi)

  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 750G

  • R.A.M: 6 or 8GB

  • Warehouse: 128 or 256 GB + microSD card

  • Operating system: Fairphone OS based on Android 11

  • Camera: Dual 48MP rear, 25MP selfie camera

  • Connectivity: 5G, esim, wifi6, NFC, Bluetooth 5.1 and GPS

  • water resistance: IP54 (rainproof)

  • Dimensions: 162 x 75.5 x 10.5mm

  • Weight: 225g

5G and about two days of battery

fairphone 4 review
The phone fully charges in 1 hour 49 minutes and reaches 80% in one hour with a 20W USB-C charger or more, but no power adapter or cable is included. Photo: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The Fairphone 4 features a Qualcomm Snapdragon 750G chip, which is one of the company’s mid-range processors with 5G and has a similar level of performance to top-of-the-line smartphones from 2018 like the OnePlus 6.

Apps open fairly quickly, but it may take a swipe or two before they’re ready to use. Social media feeds occasionally stutter when you scroll through them, and information panels take a second to load on Google Maps.

The battery lasts around two days, with around five hours of screen use on apps, browsing and photography, with around two hours spent on 5G, the rest on Wi-Fi, similar to some of the longer-lasting smartphones available. More careful use will likely last longer, or you can swap in a fully charged spare battery in seconds.

sustainability

fairphone 4 review
The battery change takes about 30 seconds, while all other components can be unscrewed and replaced as plug-in modules in a few minutes. Photo: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Fairphone says the battery will retain at least 80% of its original capacity for more than 500 full charge cycles and a replacement or spare costs £25.95.

The Fairphone 4 comes with a five-year guarantee. Users can repair the phone themselves by swapping cartridges with a standard screwdriver. A replacement display costs £69.95, the rear £17.95, while other components such as cameras, ports and speakers range from £12.95 to £69.95, all of which will be available until at least 2027.

Fairphone is committed to e-waste neutralizing its phones by recycling the equivalent amount of electronics per phone sold. It includes fair trade gold and silver, ethically sourced aluminum and tungsten, and recycled tin, copper, rare earth metals and plastic. The company also tops up the wages of its contract workers to a living wage.

Fairphone operating system

fairphone 4 review
There is a fairly large camera notch at the top of the screen. Photo: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The phone comes with a stock version of Android 11 with very few modifications and no bloatware. It will be instantly familiar to anyone who has used an Android phone for the past four years and tested it running flawlessly with no apparent bugs or issues.

Fairphone guarantees software support for the phone through the end of 2025, including monthly security updates for two years from release and then quarterly security updates, but is targeting extended support through 2027. That would make it the longest-lasting Android device and the only one to match Apple’s seven-year support for the iPhone 6S.

camera

fairphone 4 review
The camera app is pretty easy to use, but it’s difficult to take really good photos. Photo: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The Fairphone 4 has a dual 48MP system on the back with wide and ultrawide cameras and a 25MP selfie camera above the screen.

The rear cameras outnumber Fairphone’s previous efforts, but neither are serious contenders for top-of-the-line phones. The main camera can take decent photos in bright light but really struggles with high-contrast scenes, producing muddy, washed-out snaps with soft detail. Low light performance was poor with lots of grain. The camera was also often slow when taking photos and prone to motion blur.

The ultrawide camera delivers images that look good in broad daylight at first glance, but are blurry, especially towards the edges, on closer inspection. The selfie camera is quite good, delivering detailed and balanced images in reasonable light.

It’s possible to take good pictures with the Fairphone 4, but it takes a lot more work and most photos are disappointing compared to even much cheaper competitors, which the company says will improve with software updates.

observations

fairphone 4 review
The green plastic backing picked up black stains very easily (as shown), including from the inside of a protective cloth pouch. Photo: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian
  • There’s no option for common gestures like double-tapping the screen or lifting the phone to wake it.

  • The stereo speakers are adequate for watching videos.

  • Cellular and Wi-Fi reception was weaker than a similarly priced iPhone, OnePlus, or Samsung on the same networks.

Price

The Fairphone 4 costs £499 with 6GB RAM and 128GB storage, or £569 with 8GB and 256GB.

To compare, the Google Pixel 4a is £349, the iPhone SE is £389, the OnePlus Nord 2 is £399, the Samsung Galaxy S21 is £769 and the iPhone 13 is £779.

Verdict

The Fairphone 4 eliminates some, but not all, of the compromises that previous models made for two major benefits: as ethical and easy to repair as possible.

It’s chunky but with a more modern, distinctive design. It has a decent screen and 5G, but the camera isn’t great. Battery life is good, but the processor isn’t particularly fast – good for now, but likely slow five years from now.

A five-year warranty and a promise of six years of software support are far longer than any other Android manufacturer. And there’s nothing else on the market that’s designed to be disassembled and repaired at home with just a standard screwdriver. There’s no headphone jack, however, and Wi-Fi and mobile performance were a bit weak.

As with previous models, the Fairphone 4 competes best with the £300 OnePlus Nord CE, meaning you’re paying a premium of around £200 for ethical construction and much longer support.

Overall, it’s a great device for people who want to support the company’s movement and are willing to pay a heavy price for it. Just don’t expect it to rival an iPhone or Samsung in experience.

Advantages: ethical manufacturing, sustainable materials, truly repairable, solidly built, 5G, microSD card slot, removable battery, no bloat, five-year warranty, software support for up to six years.

Disadvantages: average performance, clunky, expensive for features, average camera, weaker wifi/cellular signal, no headphone jack.

fairphone 4 review
The plastic back has a soft-touch finish that makes it easier to grip. Photo: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

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