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Can Fairphone build a _reliable_ smartphone?


#1

Hello Fairphoners,

My name is Gerald, I live in Austria, and since about one week I have been watching news and discussions about Fairphone.

My wife and I still own classic “feature phones” so far. (Me a SonyEricsson T700 (2009), my wife a Nokia C2-01 (2011), both bought many years ago before Fairphone was founded.) I must say, we are very, very happy with our phones, but of course we cannot make appropriate use of the Internet while on the move. Sometimes my mobile does not charge reliably due to a worn out socket. And I had to exchange the battery after six(!) years. But if our world would not change the way it does all the time, this device is just what I would call “a true friend for the rest of my lifetime”!

However, I have had to realize that access to Internet “on the go” is pretty essential nowadays to cope with the changes our society goes through, whether they make me happy or not…

Now, the reason why I landed here is that I recognized recent news of a better camera the Fairphone shall be equipped with in the future. I looked at the technical specification of the smartphone, and I must say that except the fact that the device comes with Android 5.1 instead of 6.0 or 7.0, the Snapdragon 801 CPU and the Dual SIM capability are nice goodies for the most. Also the exchangeability of some parts inside the phone and the ease how they can be exchanged and how the phone can be repaired are great. :slight_smile:

The social effort to reward miners who supply resources as well as employees who produce the phone in the factory is outstandingly perfect and commendable. Your customers get extremely well informed about how the sale price of the Fairphone is calculated and how the income is distributed to the respective sectors (development, manufacturing, retailing, etc.).

While seeking for a reliable smartphone, I have been reading in the forum about experiences from other Fairphone users. Some of them are highly satisfied with the product, some are badly disappointed. The community members are doing a great job to help other people who report technical problems when Fairphone cannot help out in decent time.

On the basis of several reports in the forum regarding several hardware or/and software issues, and long waits of fixes, repairs, and spare parts, I have been recognizing that the Fairphone might not be the right product for me. I really enjoy what Fairphoners have done (and most certainly will do) for a better world we are living in. But, to be honest, I would not buy a product for the price of approximately EUR 525 just to deal with a lot of issues, but helping people who get suppressed otherwise.

Of course, the concept of a modular phone is relatively new, and Fairphone deserves all my respect for the decision to enter the market with such a revolutionary device. But it seems to me that Fairphone wanted to “reach all the stars at once”, to achieve too many quite ambitious goals in a few years … and is struggling with a lot of issues now, which (in my opinion) are:

  • Brand new device concept developed by a rather unexperienced company that built one common model (Fairphone 1) before.
  • Underestimated costs for aftersales service and support. (As mentioned before, the Fairphone fanbase helps out whereever and whenever possible, but repeated lacks of spare parts causing a customer to wait for months until he/she can use the phone again is, as much as I sympathize, inacceptable. My quite unexperienced mother-in-law probably would start to panic when she cannot phone anyone.)
  • Underestimated need of resources for software development (Android 6.0 and 7.0) and maintenance (bug fixing). (Fair question: Who wants to buy a smartphone nowadays that runs an operating system which was introduced on the May 9th, 2015 out of the box? Those who want to use it in a very simple way, I guess. By the way, happy second birthday, Lollipop!)
  • Poor quality control. (Confused power and camera buttons on the recent back covers, several problems caused by defective bottom modules (dead microphones/USB ports), and a malfunctioning proximity sensor which leads to extensive battery usage, just to name a few. Though the last issue can be cured by flashing an older modem firmware, I would not recommend any “common” person to do so. At least I hope that Fairphone had in mind to develop and build a smartphone that can be used by people like my mother-in-law without the need to call her son-in-law once a week or buy a second device (for another EUR 525) which could be used when the own has died recently…)

Please do not get me wrong, I really appreciate Fairphone’s social activities for those who benefit: The men and women who often cannot choose a better living for themselves, their children, and their next generations. The people who often cannot deny a job at an exploitative company because their families depend on the (little) money it pays for a (rather bad) living.

Personally I decided to wait and see if and how Fairphone will develop and grow from now on, and which steps will be taken to get back into shallow waters again.

Maybe Fairphone should gain the trust of (potential) customers (again) by developing and selling Fairphone 3, which should be a smartphone made of a solid base of components used in almost every model nowadays. The less problems a Fairphone 3 makes, the more resources are left to work on current Android versions for the device, and further developments could then be accelerated, too.

Keep up the good work and improve the bad one! :slight_smile:

Best regards,

Gerald

PS: The forum registration process did not allow to register my account without having a Fairphone. I suggest to change the property of the respective field (pull-down menu) in the registration form to non-mandatory.


Fairphone 3 - Interview of Bas from FrAndroid
#2

Android 6.0 is currently in Beta and is expected to be shipped soon :thumbsup:
I mostly agree with your other points and you seem to very well informed :slight_smile:


#3

Other smartphones have issues too, but in comparison with Fairphone 2, they can’t be easily repaired by the customer. I agree that not having spare parts in stock is a problem, but the reason is that they have to satisfy their resellers demands first. You can get the phone at T-Mobile Austria (in the stores even without contract) and on vireo.de (they also sell the spare parts).

PS.: You can visit the Austrian Fairphoners at our booth at Südwind Straßenfest in May an have a look at the FP2. :slight_smile:


#4

If you buy a Fairphone you may be among the lucky majority that has no major issues and are not affected by some specific bugs that take longer to fix - because you don’t use the buggy feature anyway - or you may be among the unlucky few who get a faulty device and can’t fix it even with the help of the forum so you have to contact support to get a replacement module/phone - maybe even more than once.

Anyway since you’d be switching from a veteran feature phone you’d probably not be impressed with the stability of the Fairphone. Especially when you find out that issues you may have can’t be reproduced on smartphones of your friends and colleagues you may come to the conclusion that the Fairphone is not particularly reliable.

Now if you were to switch to FP from an iPhone that can’t be used to place calls without an additional cover or from a Samsung with an exploding battery you’d probably see the Fairphone in a different light.

I’d say the phone’s stability can well be compared with other mid-range smartphones and what Fairphone may lack in logistical questions due to a small team and low funds they more than make up with a great community. :slight_smile:


#5

Thank you very much indeed to all of you and your replies so far. I would like comment some of them as follows.


#6

Thanks for pointing this out, I take that for granted. Now, Lollipop is two years old, and Android 8.0 should arrive in about two months.

But for me it is not the most important thing if a device runs the latest software. Above all, the phone should be a solid tool someone can rely on, and this can be said about my current device. I want my next one to be as reliable as my old one.


#7

Well, do your customers have to know and care about the fact that they must wait that long to make use of their phones again? Sorry, but if I was one of your customers with a broken device, and you were not able to send the spare part(s) needed to fix it myself for a month, then my first guesses would be that either

a) the demand for spare parts has been deeply underestimated in general, or/and
b) more hardware related issues than expected have occured, or/and
c) the ceiling of resources and capabilities to finance repairs that carry a warranty has been reached.

At least, that is my impression.

PS: Thank you for the invitation, but by now I do not think I will attend because you would not change my mind. Please do not take it personally.


#8

If you want that then I can assure you that the FP2 is the right way to go. So far, there have been monthly security and feature updates (for both Standard and Open OS). Much better than other manufacturers I would say.

Maybe I’ve been lucky so far but I also didn’t encounter any serious hardware problems like bootloops, random reboots (I had some reboots but they were probably related to bugs in a Firefox Nightly Build) or the “wrong button on slim case”-problem (although I tried to replicate it). I received the FP2 in April and preordered the Slim Case and hadn’t had much trouble since.

One further addition is the problem that all smartphones will be more unreliable than a “classic phone” due to increased complexity of the devices and dependence on software and operating systems. Which is bad because a lot of manufacturers simply don’t take care of their devices after they are released. I’m glad that Fairphone didn’t choose this rout and instead tries to fix issues even though it is slow and requires some patience.


#9

As I mentioned before, the community does its very best, there is no dought about that. :slight_smile:

What I am deeply concerned about is the long wait for spare parts when the phone is not working at all. How does the customer benefit from repairing the phone by him-/herself when he/she does not get the necessary parts in time to do so?

You are right, the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 has been something what someone would call “a terrible desaster”. Although the impact of exploding batteries was much greater than anything else, Fairphone is in the same boat: Their attempts to create the world’s first modular smartphone and to change the planet has not been sustainable.

My conclusion is that Fairphone 1 is more fair than its successor. Of course, Rome was not built in a day, too. Fighting obsolescence can only be done successfully if Fairphone 2 was a non-modular but reliable smartphone. Sure, the idea to change nearly any part inside the device is a great one, and almost everyone (except my mother-in-law who does not have any technical skills at all) could do that easily. But don’t you think Fairphone 2 would be less problematic if its design was common (non-modular)? Which impact to the environment does Fairphone 2 have because of its modularity? My guess: It is almost the same of a non-modular phone due to the fact that Fairphone 2 is more vulnerable for hardware failures caused by relatively common handling. (Remember, it is a mobile device.) When you tell your customers to clean the contacts inside, do you really expect that all of them know how to do it correctly? Everytime after someone opened and closed the device, the chance that it will malfunction one day rises. That is why I suggest to develop and build Fairphone 3 as a non-modular but much more stable phone that can be used for at least three years without a serious hardware problem. (Even shipping parts from China to the Netherlands and forwarding them to the customers/resellers do have an impact and could be reduced.)


#10

Where did you hear that nonsense about it not working at all?


#11

He means if the phone is not working at all.

If it’s a warranty case you get a free replacement fast, but if e.g. you dropped your phone into water and there are no spare parts available you are screwed.


#12

You are absolutely right. The more features a device is equipped with, the sooner it tends to fail one day.

As I already wrote, compared to non-modular “classic” smartphones (like the Fairphone 1), I expect the risk of a hardware failure to occur much higher. I understand that Fairphone wants to be recognized as “the different smartphone company” in the world, and that is what they truly are. But being just another manufacturer of products, the lesson that must be learned is: Customers who have had negative experiences with those products probably will not buy another one from the company who made them, except they want to deal with some insufficiencies and continously provide feedback as “beta testers”.

Speaking about myself, I do not want to buy a product that tends to malfunction sooner or later because of its revolutionary but vulnerable design for EUR 525. But I highly welcome and appreciate another “fair” development like the Fairphone 1. :slight_smile:


#13

Maybe but that depends on the device. Non-modularity doesn’t mean it’s not prone to hardware failures (see Galaxy Note 7).

Easier exchange of failing hardware parts, easier recycling for electronic components.

You would be wrong. The parts are not hold together like lego, most of them are screwed and require a screwdriver to disassemble (much like a classic cell phone). The display is slotted into the phone much like a graphics card is slotted into a mainboard. It will not fall apart that easily.

Apart from this not being necessary for most people, you can still visit your local phone store and have them do it for you.

Once again, you don’t have to disassemble your phone. It comes pre-assembled and the only case where you would disassemble it would be if it has already malfunctioned.

Your mother-in-law will not need to change parts if she doesn’t want it.


#14

If that is really true, why does Fairphone divide their customers in two different groups when they need to get their phone repaired? I understand this as follows: “For all guys and girls who treated their phone badly, there are bad news: We have to handle warranty cases first, and if there are any spare parts left, we can serve you. It’s your fault, anyway, so take care next time.”

Is that really fair? If that would happen to myself, I would not buy another product from this company.


#15

I believe that the real problems start with the very first “repair”: Cleaning the contacts. (A procedure that is recommend by almost anyone at Fairphone.) From that moment on, dust and moisture enter the inside of the phone. Needless to say that afterwards there will be other issues, too.


#16

Interesting question/idea. The first is enshrined in consumer rights law and is parts of the terms and conditions. The second is a best/reasonable-effort service that many other companies don’t even offer directly to consumers (though they will gladly sell you a new device, or allow their (external) repairs service provider to charge hefty fees for handling/investigation/repair). Essentially the question is whether you should have the right to declare the sale of the phone void in the event that Fairphone cannot provide replacement within a reasonable time frame for up to a certain agreed time after the sale, even if the part you wish to replace is defective through your own fault. It would be novel, and potentially open up a whole debate on residual value when a sale is reversed on a defective phone (current laws allow deductions for use when declaring a sale void).

P.S.: Ironically, the parts shortage is due to an effort to improve production processes and component quality, which saw them shut down production to implement changes. I’m guessing that both the time these changes would take to implement, as well as the demand over that time was underestimated.

Also: standard disclaimer - the community moderators (myself included) are not Fairphone employees, so any views expressed here are our own. If anybody wants an official response by Fairphone, the best thing to do is to get in touch with Fairphone support.


#17

So if I accidentally dropped my brand new Fairphone into water and the device was bricked, would you say that it is fair enough to wait more than a month to get it repaired?

What would you think I was going to do? I certainly would not wait that long and buy a new device from a different company instead. But that is what Fairphone (and myself) do not want, do we?

A month without a phone which is absolutely indispensable to organize someones life in any way is beyond my mind. I know that there are camps for business managers where they must release their phones to cure extreme addiction, but, please, be honest: What would you do if you had no phone for a month?


#18

No you misunderstood me. I was talking about smartphones compared to classic mobile phones such as flip phones and ones with numpads etc. The FP1 is just as vulnerable to failure as a FP2 in terms of device complexity. Also the reliability factor I was referring to is nowadays mostly determined by the software. Because one operating system runs on a multitude of devices it will be less reliable than the custom firmware on Nokia phones. Most problems on FP2 were not caused by modularity but by bugs in the OS.


#19

First of all: you are not my customer. Like @johannes said, I’m a community member just like you, except for some moderating rights. I do not work at Fairphone.

I was just thinking that it must be hard for you to talk about something that you haven’t had in your hands. That might influence your opinions on some points.

Why should I take it personally? I would have to take it personally then that 8 million other Austrians don’t come to our meetups. :wink:

No, and Fairphone even recently published a report that proves their point from an independent research center’s point of view:

I recommend to read this forum discussion about Smartphone failure rates. It’s a bit daited already, but my assumption is that average values didn’t change too much over time. Keep in mind that all the other manufacturers don’t provide a central platform where people can go to talk about their device issues, plus many people would simply go to a phone shop and have their phone sent in for repairs. So you don’t notice how many iPhones and Samsungs are actually defunct.

PS: @Gerry: Please gather your replies in one post. That’s what quotes and @mentions are for. It makes the forum tidier and helps you to destile your thoughts.


#20

The issue there is a lack of parts, not the different handling of warranty and non-warranty repairs that my comment was about. If the speed of a repair* is the foremost important factor in deciding which phone to get, then select on that. If you come across data that could be useful in making that decision, I’d be interested to see how different manufacturers fare. Alternatively, consider an insurance policy with next-day replacement guarantee (these exist!), but remember to scrutinise the small print to be sure of what you’re actually buying!

To be honest, based on my own dated experience and recent experience of a colleague, a month for a repair doesn’t sound exceptionally long, though I really wish it was! When by before-last feature phone broke within warranty, it took (a leading phone manufacturer at that time) about 6 weeks to ‘fix’ the phone (came back with more problems rather than fewer). When my colleague had a non-functioning smart phone (one of the larger brands) it took them 4 weeks to tell her that they wouldn’t accept it as a warranty case due to suspected water damage. (In case you’re wondering: in both cases borrowing an old phone from someone bridged the gap). In regards to Fairphone yes, there are reports here on the forum where a Fairphone issue took a month (or more) to fix. There are also reports where replacement parts were received within days of opening a support request, faster than any option that involved sending the phone in would have been.

*as we’re talking about accidental damage not covered by warranty, this is not related to failure rates.