Fairphone 2 review

The smartphone with an ethical ethos and a modular design

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Our Verdict

The Fairphone 2 wants to change the way smartphones are thought about, manufactured and repaired, from ethical sourcing to easy repairing. They're noble ambitions but we'll have to wait for the Fairphone 3 for a truly compelling handset.

For

  • Ethically sourced materials
  • Easy to repair for most users
  • Eye-catching exposed design

Against

  • Average camera performance
  • Battery is hit and miss
  • High up-front cost

In today's smartphone climate it makes a change to see something different – and whatever else the Fairphone 2 is, it's certainly different. Built with sustainability and repairability in mind rather than joining the high-end-specs race, this is a phone for the environmentally conscious – which, really, should be just about all of us.

That said, its specifications aren't actually that bad, putting the Fairphone 2 firmly in the mid-range section of the market, but the focus of this handset is on where its components come from, and how long they're going to last.

The Dutch startup behind the phone has been in operation in some form or another since 2010, and this new phone follows up on the first Fairphone, which had a production run of 60,000 devices.

Fairphone 2 review

Fairphone has grander ambitions for the Fairphone 2, bumping up the capabilities of the handset, introducing a new design from Fairphone itself and making itself available to a wider market.

The aims of its makers are two-fold: first to produce a smartphone built from materials that are all ethically and sustainably sourced, and second to reduce e-waste with a modular approach that makes the handset simple to repair (and potentially upgrade in the future).

It can be yours today for €525 (around £395/US$570/AU$805. That's by no means cheap – you can get a Nexus 5X or a 16GB iPhone 5S for less – but you're buying into an ethos as well as picking up some hardware.

You're also getting a phone that should last you a long, long time (five years, says Fairphone), which makes price comparisons somewhat tricky to make.

Design

The Fairphone 2 has an eye-catching look, but not in the conventional sense: the back of the phone case I was sent is transparent, so its components are on show, x-ray-style (other backings, including solid colours, are available).

Its inner modules – seven components in all, from the camera to the speakers – are easy to swap out. And yes, that does include a removable battery.

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All you need to take the phone apart is a small Philips screwdriver. There are two SIM card slots here as well, for switching between your work and home life, or the two families you've kept secret from each other all these years.

It's a thick (11mm) phone by today's standards, but at 168g it doesn't feel heavy in the hand, just a little chunky. At 143 x 73mm its forward-facing surface area is some 84% the size of the phablet-pushing Nexus 6P, and it's just about possible to use the 5-inch display with one hand (assuming you have fairly large hands).

The plastic backing that I've already mentioned doubles as a case of sorts, and adds a thick rubber rim to the sides of the handset. It's a bit of a pain to get on and off, but it should at least keep your Fairphone 2 safe from harm if you drop it (another feature with an eye on the longevity of the phone). It also makes swiping in from the sides of the screen a little awkward.

The side buttons are thick and plasticky, with a power and camera shutter button on the right and volume controls on the left. A 3.5mm headphone socket on the top, and a micro USB port at the bottom complete the lineup of external ports, but there's a microSD slot (plus those two SIM trays) if you yank the plastic back off.

Fairphone 2 review

The 5-inch IPS display runs at a full HD resolution of 1080 x 1920 pixels (that's a very respectable 441 pixels per inch), so the screen is clear and sharp, if not quite as bright as the AMOLED screens favoured by the likes of Samsung.

It's by no means ugly to look at, but you will notice the difference from a Samsung Galaxy S6 or a Nexus 6P, for example.

In terms of holding the phone, hitting its buttons and general use, it feels a lot cheaper than its price tag suggests. On the other hand, that exposed backing (if you go for the translucent option) is a party trick that's more impressive than you might think – in my eyes it really adds to the aesthetic appeal of the phone.

Fairphone 2 review

And there's nothing to complain about as far as the display is concerned, which is perhaps the most important element in terms of purely physical considerations..

There's a little red LED notification light above the display in the top-left corner – because of its colour I kept thinking something had gone wrong with the phone, but it simply alerts you to new notifications.

Apparently it can flash in three colours, but the only other colour I saw was green, to indicate a full charge; whatever causes the other colour to appear, I wasn't doing it.