Sustainable smartphone manufacturer Fairphone has launched an upgraded version of last year's Fairphone 3, called the 3+. Current owners can also buy the new cameras and upgrade their smartphones by themselves, extending the lifecycle of their devices and reducing electronic waste.
Fairphone’s most sustainable phone yet, the Fairphone 3+ is essentially an upgraded version of 2019's Fairphone 3, and that's kind of the whole point. Designed for people who care about the planet we live on, the Fairphone 3+ is built to last thanks to its modular and repairable design. It's also made from 40 percent recycled plastics and fair materials.
The newly optimized 48-megapixel main camera (€60) and 16-megapixel selfie camera (€35) can be purchased either separately or as a pair for a special, time-limited price of €70. Those who don't own a Fairphone 3 and want to make the switch to a more sustainable smartphone can purchase the Fairphone 3+, which comes with the new cameras already built-in, for €469. As well as larger image sensors, the new cameras come with faster autofocus, image stabilization, and better object tracking. There's also improved audio for the new 3+, which the brand says now offers louder, crisper sound.
The new Fairphone 3+ will launch with Android 10 out of the box, whilst the update is coming to the Fairphone 3 at the start of September. Android 10 is required for the new camera models to work. The new camera modules do not currently work with the /e/ OS, but the company says it is working on it.
The Fairphone 3+ looks identical to the Fairphone 3 from 2019. You still get a replaceable 3,000 mAh battery, a 5.65-inch IPS display, a headphone jack, and a Qualcomm Snapdragon 632 SoC. The chipset is probably the hardest part of a device to offer as a modular upgrade, and with Fairphone hoping that users hang onto their device for between five and seven years, the processor is perhaps the biggest barrier to this modular approach.
Wayne Huang, VP of Product Operations at Fairphone, explained that the Snapdragon 632 is sufficient to get you through the next five years, providing it gets support from Qualcomm. "The lifecycle of the chipsets is largely driven by the big players," he says. "If there is less volume then the incentive is to end the life of that chipset."
There are ways around the problem of a chipset manufacturer withdrawing software support, as the company is currently navigating with its Snapdragon 801-equipped Fairphone 2, but its not ideal. Then there's the 5G issue, which will no doubt begin to spread more rapidly over the next five to seven years. Fairphone says it is "investigating 5G closely" but was tight-lipped on concrete details during a press Q&A session following the launch live stream.
A commitment to fairness
Fairphone calls its commitment to caring for people and planets its 'impact innovation' work. In a bid to increase its social and environmental footprint, Fairphone researches new fair materials in its supply chain and new ways of working with its suppliers. This is done through a series of partnerships.
Fairphone also runs a Living Wage program that was set up with the company's assembly manufacturer in China. For every Fairphone 3+ sold, $1.85 goes towards paying production line workers in the factory a living wage bonus. The program launched in September 2019 and has so far paid out an average living wage bonus of €800 to around 300 factory employees - that's the equivalent of three months' salary if you earn minimum wage in China.
What's next in terms of Fairphone upgrades?
In a separate interview with Fairphone Design Lead, Miquel Ballester, I asked what can Fairphone 3 owners expect in the future in terms of modular upgrades. He told me that there is "no roadmap for upgrades", but that the brand was listening to its customers. In an industry that moves as quickly as this one, you can see why.
We also talked about Android 11. The Fairphone 3 is still running on Android 9 but will soon be upgrading, whilst the Fairphone 3+ comes with Android 10 out of the box. We're still talking about 2019 software here though, with Android 11 being just around the corner. Ballester explained to me that Fairphone's target market is not necessarily the kind of smartphone user who's desperate to install the latest beta or would even notice the upgrade from say, Android 10 to Android 11.
Buying a Fairphone is still a decision made in order to contribute to changing the wasteful status quo of smartphone ownership, reducing e-waste, and being able to hang onto your smartphone for much longer as a means of committing to a fairer, more suitable future.
Fairphone is sending a signal to the smartphone industry here that it's possible to upgrade your phone without having to buy a new one every 12 months. It's a message many will get behind. Whether or not the industry will take notice, we'll have to wait and see.
The Fairphone 3+ and the new camera modules will launch on September 14th in select European markets. There is no word on a North American release at this time.