Fairphone: my fairly traded, ethical Smartphone

As signs of life slowly ebbed out of my battered old mobile phone, I decided that (when the time came) I would replace it not with another second-hand phone, but with a Fairphone. Fairphone are a social enterprise that make mobile phones with a difference: mobile phone that champion social values. are environmentally responsible and support Fair Trade principles. They have done this by opening up the supply chain, sourcing conflict-free minerals and ensuring workers receive a fair wage, as well as designing a phone that can be repaired by its owner, and recycled responsibly at the end of its life.

I ordered my Fairphone back in May and it was delivered in July, but I had to wait until I went back to the UK in August to pick it up (Fairphone only currently ship to Europe). The timing couldn’t have been better though, as my iPhone finally packed up that same week. So, now I’ve had a month to play with it…what do I think?

The Fairphone: a Review

This isn’t a technical review, as I’m no techno-gadget whizz kid. I’ve had a Smartphone for the last four years so I have some idea what I’m doing with these things, but I’m not interested in the specs. I’m interested in: will it work? Is it easy to use? Does the camera take good pictures? Regular person stuff. This is a regular-person review…with an ethical slant!

Fairphone in its packaging

The Fairphone came in this cardboard box, and with minimal packaging.

The packaging for the phone was minimal. The cardboard case was not much bigger than the phone. Fairphone don’t send out chargers or headphones as they figure most people already own hundreds of them, so this reduces the package size. A small paper manual was included. I was expecting the package to be completely plastic-free, but there was still some stupid plastic included. There was a sticker with the writing “this is your Fairphone” covering the screen on the front, and a sticker on the battery at the back. I’m about to get my fingerprints all over the screen – is there really any need to “protect” it?!

The phone is bigger than my iPhone 3GS, and noticeably heavier…although it’s not exactly heavy (it weighs 165g). The rim around the screen should help protect the glass from damage (apparently – someone who knows about these things told me). The back has a removable metal plate (it’s not made of plastic!) and slots for two SIM cards, and also a slot for a memory card (no memory size-fixing and premium-charging here). It charges with a standard micro USB cable.

So far, so good. Next step: charge it up and switch it on.

Fairphone off and on

Fairphone off…and Fairphone on.

You’re probably thinking, yep, looks pretty straightforward. Look closely. Do you see the buttons for making a call and sending a text message?

No? I didn’t either. When you turn on the phone you have to install Google Apps yourself – the phone doesn’t come pre-installed with it. Even afterwards though, where is the button for making a call?! Scrolling left and right just seemed to offer blank screens.

Eventually (and I’m talking a good half an hour later) I figured out how to make a call. Text messaging took longer. I’ve obviously been spoiled by Apple, who do make their products very easy to use, but seriously? I was not expecting this level of complication. After all, phone calls are a pretty fundamental feature of a mobile phone!

Slowly slowly, I’m figuring out how it works. In the days of instant gratification though, this is hard, and a bit of a shock! I’m probably going to have to read the manual (something most mobiles no longer even come with). I feel myself resisting, and wishing I’d just waited for the new iPhone. Then I feel guilty, because I don’t want to give Apple my money, I want to give it to companies like this!

I was going to add that I’m disappointed with the camera, because the photos have all been terrible… but then I remembered that I took these pictures with my phone:

Yorkshire Dales 1

Photos taken with the Fairphone camera

Yorkshire Dales 2

Photos taken with the Fairphone camera

It’s probably less to do with the camera, and more to do with my lack of understanding the settings of the camera properly!

The final test was coming back to Australia. The Fairphone website says the phone is optimised for European 2G and 3G networks, but functional worldwide. However, a friend from here emailed them and was told it probably wouldn’t work in Australia. So would it work? Fortunately, yes! Using the same SIM as with my iPhone, I have better reception, better connectivity and better functionality than I did with my old phone. Which, ultimately, was the point of changing. Hurrah!

 Would I Recommend the Fairphone?

Despite my teething problems and my struggle to get to grips with the features, I do honestly believe it’s a great phone, and of course, I love what it stands for. If I could go back and decide again whether or not to buy one, of course I still would. We just need to take a little longer to get to know each other better!

I also have to remember that I bought this phone because I believe in what it stands for, not because it had the best specs of any phone on the market. It does everything I want it to do…and that is enough.

One of the great things about the Fairphone is that it is completely customizable. My boyfriend loves aspect of the phone; I wish maybe they’d gone a little further with the pre-installed features! It is good not having memory space taken up with all kinds of nonsense that I know I’ll never use, though. If you already use Android, you probably won’t find the transition as hard as me. If you’ve been spoiled by the iPhone, you might be in for a shock!

Is the Fairphone for You?

If you are familiar with smartphones already and you’re comfortable with all the different functions and features, plus you have used Android, I’d definitely recommend the Fairphone. If you haven’t had so much experience, be prepared to read the manual, spend time on Google and tear your hair out several times before you get the swing of things. If you’re new to smartphones altogether, this probably isn’t the best starter phone for you. You’d be better off with a simpler second-hand option until you get the hang of it all.

Right, I think I have a bit of reading to do…

Fairphone user guide

Tonight’s reading material…the Fairphone user guide.

14 replies
  1. max
    max says:

    Thanks for the regular-person review :-):-) I’ve been following Fairphone and thinking that getting one was one my hitlist. I didn’t know that you could use one in Australia!! All I knew was that delivery was in Europe only at this stage so figured, no go to use here. Anyway I’m not a smartphone user, actually not a phone user but had been thinking perhaps I should get one and participate a bit more in contemporary Aust. society. Seems the way. But had decided my first smartphone would be a Fairphone. After reading I see I need to do some homework..

    • treadingmyownpath
      treadingmyownpath says:

      My pleasure! : ) Well, if you haven’t had any phone at all, at least you won’t have any pre-conceived ideas about how your phone SHOULD work, which would be a bonus. I’ve been spoiled by too many gadgets that arrive pre-charged and automated and ready to go! If you’re prepared to put the work in, and figure it all out, then you’d be fine. Fairphone have some YouTube videos explaining how their phone works, so you could look at them for some more info.

      I’d definitely recommend a Smartphone though, I agree they allow you to participate more, and know what’s going on both in the wider world and in your local community.

      Good luck with the homework and feel free to come back and ask more questions… : )

  2. Saran
    Saran says:

    Thanks for this. To date my phones have largely been hand me downs or work issue. As such I’ve done non smart til about a week ago for work, and android for longer than iPhone though I now have two!! I love the idea of the fair phone and would go to th trouble tho luck is part of it if they don’t ship here to oz.

    • treadingmyownpath
      treadingmyownpath says:

      One thing that’s pretty awesome about the Fairphone is that you can put two SIMs in the phone so you don’t need two phones! It always tells you which one you’re calling or receiving calls from; it’s pretty clever really. Although if work give you a phone, maybe that’s not actually so helpful?!

      Do you have family or friends in Europe that would be able to receive your order and post it on to you? That would be the obvious way round it. A trip all the way over there to pick one up probably isn’t so practical, and after your Japan trip I’m assuming you’re not planning on going anywhere else for a while?

      The main thing to know is that if you do get one, it definitely works over here! : )

  3. lethally
    lethally says:

    I’d never even heard of a Fairphone. Thanks for the review :)

    At the moment I’m still (touch wood!) happily running my 2.5 year old S2, and hoping to get another year or two out of it yet, but when it eventually goes belly up I’ll have a think about other options. One thing is certain, I won’t be buying an iPhone!

    • treadingmyownpath
      treadingmyownpath says:

      I’m glad to be able to spread the word! : )

      Good luck with making your smartphone last – mine lasted for over 3.5 years and I bought it refurbished, so there is hope!

      • lethally
        lethally says:

        I hope so too! It hasn’t been doing anything strange yet (touch wood!) so I’m hoping to make history with its longevity! Bought it in April 2012, so we’ll see how long lived it is :)

  4. Paul
    Paul says:

    Hi there, found you while trying to find out if the Fairphone works in Aus.

    Good review for normal people!

    Just wondered which network you’re with? I’ve heard different reports about whether it works with all networks or just some. I’m interested to find out if it definitely works on Vodafone.


    • treadingmyownpath
      treadingmyownpath says:

      Hi Paul, I’m with Virgin. My iPhone was also Virgin (using the same sim) and if anything, I would say the reception is slightly better with the Fairphone.

      I don’t know about Vodafone, sorry!

  5. Camaleon
    Camaleon says:

    Hi guys! I’m reading this with interest from the New World. I’m resisting getting a smartphone mainly because of the Big Brother aspect, but the ethics of the extractives and manufacturing are also important considerations. I’ll see if Faiphones work in the Americas…
    One word of warning re. getting a friend to send you one: I think you can’t send mobile batteries through the post. A friend forgot his Blackberry in my home country once and I posted it to him, but wasn’t allowed to include the battery. Must be some anti-bomb thing.
    Enjoy life!

    • treadingmyownpath
      treadingmyownpath says:

      I’m definitely a convert to the Smartphone -as long as it doesn’t interrupt my social time! Real life interactions are far better than screen ones. Smartphones are great for public transport journeys though…

      I’d love to hear if the Smartphone works in the US!

      That is true re batteries, particularly to and from America. Is that also true via surface mail?

  6. chtfn
    chtfn says:

    Hi there! Good to see that there is another happy Fairphone user in Australia! I’ve had mine for a while, pre-ordered it and got someone to bring it to me from Europe when they visited.
    Very sturdy, it does what I need it to do. And everyone asks about it, so I definitely give it a bit of publicity in Brisbane! Especially since I got a funky 3D-printed case through 3D hubs, thanks to the nice Fairphone people who unlocked a hub for me in Toowoomba :)

    Just in case someone is wondering, I am with Amaysim and I haven’t had any issue with the network. The phone just works perfectly in Australia.

    According to the latest Fairphone newsletter, the Fairphone 2, to be produced in 2015, will still only be available in Europe. But there are hints that they might extend to worldwide sales in 2016. It is still too far away to be sure though, so don’t get too excited yet. Best way at the moment is to get someone you know in Europe to get it delivered to their place and then send it to you (although I am not 100% sure of what the rules are with customs here, especially for something that is worth about 450 AUD…). And hopefully, other businesses like Fairphone will pop up and be as successful as them, because we really need this to become a standard in the industry, not an exception.

    Cheers! :)

    • treadingmyownpath
      treadingmyownpath says:

      Glad to meet another Australian Fairphone user! It’s certainly true that they attract a bit of attention : ) I don’t have a case because I decided it was unnecessary plastic. My previous iPhone survived without a case for almost four years, and this phone is far more sturdy than a lot of the fragile smartphones you get about the place. I will just be careful!

      I get all their newsletters but I must have missed that one! Shame it’s still in Europe. I think Australia would be a good market and they are made in China after all – it’s not that far!

      Customs rules for Australia are if it’s worth less than $1000 you don’t pay GST. Very black and white. So no sneaky customs fees!

      I agree. Fairphone’s slogan is “start a movement”. I hope they do : )

  7. Emma
    Emma says:

    Hi Lindsay, just wondering how your going with your fairphone almost 3 years later? Would you still recommend it for use in Australia? Any other feedback for someone thinking about switching from an old iPhone model to a fairphone?


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