We test drive the new Fairphone – a smartphone that puts ethical values first.
Modern gadgets can have a huge impact on the world around us: the mining of scarce minerals in areas of conflict, the poor treatment of workers in the factories that produce the devices, and the waste produced when we throw them away. It is easy to feel that this is an inevitable consequence of the way we live today, but does it have to be that way?
Amsterdam-based social enterprise, Fairphone, doesn't think so. It aims to change the way that products are made by showing that you can create high-tech products with ethical values. They have created a smartphone that is designed to have a lower impact on the environment and is built with respect to workers' rights.
These are great ideals, but would a Fairphone actually be any good in practice? William Mortada put it to the test when he received his new phone.
How does the Fairphone compare?
The Fairphone is a full-featured smartphone with all that you would expect from a decent modern phone. It isn't top of the range, but it's not far off. It compares well with top phones of a couple of years ago, like the iPhone 5 or the Samsung Galaxy S3. It's not the latest and greatest but it is still a very powerful machine.
The phone has a decent specification – a quad-core processor running at 1.2GHz, 1GB of RAM and 16GB of storage. It runs Android 4.2.2 (Jelly Bean) with some additional Fairphone functionality. It has a 4.3 inch display and an 8 megapixel camera. These are all good specifications by modern phone standards but it has a couple of added benefits that you won't get on a standard phone. Firstly, it isn't locked to a particular network so you are free to use it with whichever network you choose. Secondly, it has dual SIM slots so you can have personal and work numbers in one phone.
The Fairphone case is made from post-consumer recycled plastic and the phone itself is designed to be easily repaired, with a full range of spares available via the Fairphone website. In a bid to reduce waste further, the Fairphone doesn't come with a charger or headphones because most people already have these. They can be purchased separately if needed.
What is it like to use?
Like all new gadgets it takes a few days to explore the new system and get used to how it works. To be honest the user experience isn't that different from my previous phone (a Samsung Galaxy S), but it is definitely a step up in terms of speed and functionality. It is a much faster phone than the Galaxy S and the more recent version of Android brings many new and improved functions.
The on screen keyboard is easy to use and it is quick to type by swiping your finger across the keyboard. It took seconds to install all of my favourite apps and I was able to add some new ones that weren't compatible with my old device. Since all of my data is stored in the cloud, syncing my contacts and emails was as simple as logging in to my Google account.
In short, the phone does everything that I would expect of a modern smartphone. It is fast, has a clear bright screen and a reasonable battery life. I would certainly recommend that you consider it if you need to replace your existing phone.
However, as it says on the Fairphone website, "the fairest phone available is the one you already own, so we'd like to encourage you to keep your existing mobile as long as it works." A different way of doing business. The real test will be whether I still have the phone in five years' time.