I know Fairphone since the FP1 launch. I bought a FP2 as soon as I could, and received mine in January 2016. I expected it to last 5 years. Today, after 3 years and 7 months of usage, I’m replacing it with another phone.
What I liked and disliked in the product after such a long time may be of value for future Fairphone iterations, even though the FP3 is rumored to be just around the corner.
Current issues with the FP2
- screen is failing (frequent artifacts), not sure if it’s a screen module or core module issue from what I’ve read and after trying to fix it several times
- battery is failing (less than 1 day)
- primary microphone is dead (and it’s the 4th or 5th replacement I bought)
- unable to take decent photos with it, which is really annoying me
- more and more frequent random reboots (proposed fixes did not work)
- speaker phone mode is not working well and I would regularly need it
Focus on ethics and openness
Everything from conflict-free minerals to recycling initiatives and respect for the assembly line workers, as well as commitment to open-source and many other things, are the core of what makes Fairphone special to me, and to its customer base at large I think. Don’t ever compromise on this.
Long-term Android updates
Getting software and security updates years after the launch is invaluable. So much that I chose my new phone specifically among the few ones that will receive Android updates on the long term. It was a huge selling point for the FP2, and the team really delivered on this point.
While less sturdy than the FP1, my FP2 survived many shocks and falls, even after switching to a slim case (which is much better than the original case).
It’s important to me to be able to replace the parts that are the most likely to break or fail: screen, battery, speakers and microphones.
The FP2 struck a good balance in terms of price vs power/capacity for most of its components. More than 3 years later, I don’t feel limited in terms of CPU, RAM or storage for daily tasks.
IMHO the price fell into the right range for the customer base, as in “not cheap for the specs but the added ethical value is worth paying that amount”. The medium-high price spot is the right one, as low-cost or expensive flagship devices tend to appeal to different populations than the one that has interest in Fairphone’s values.
The marketing campaign around the launch of the FP2 was very good, and the partnerships established in several countries really helped spreading the word. I can buy a FP2 at a local carrier and spare parts in a popular online shop in my country.
The screen is large enough, the phone is not too bulky while remaining modular, I think the Faiphone team hit the right spot: medium size, focus on repairability rather than thinness. I’d like to see the same thing for the next Fairphone products.
Making the phone that modular is an incredible feat for such a small company. However, I think it went too far and actually hurt the product. I wouldn’t mind if replacing parts was a bit more difficult as long as it is made possible (no glue, standard screws…). But the pins system that is used for instance to connect the screen actually creates more problems than it solves. Connection issues, weird artifacts on the screen, unresponsive touchscreen, etc, until it’s cleaned up and adjusted properly. It kind of restricts the customer base to people who don’t mind opening and tinkering with the phone parts. It turns down a lot of people who are drawn to the ethical side but put off by the technical challenge. It stopped me from recommending a FP2 to less technical people, and I feel like it’s the reason why mine did not last 5 years.
Some finishing touches are lacking for user actions that are in the “critical path”, such as the problems with using the speaker phone when on a call, or the proximity sensor that regularly fails to disable the screen (even after calibration) and I often end up muting myself. These daily annoyances add up over time, and are also the first thing that other people notice when I’m using the FP2.
At least for me, a decent camera is important, and I guess it is for a lot of people. If you have young kids and want to make photos as memories, it’s important to have a decent camera at hand. Also, the social networks that are the most popular are currently centered around images and videos usually taken on the spot. Regardless of it’s a good thing or not, there is a general demand. The original camera module was very bad. The new one is a welcome upgrade, however I did not buy it because of worries I had of my phone not surviving long enough to make it worth the investment, and because the image quality did not seem very good either. The one part where providing a midlife upgrade is a really good idea IMHO, and where a future Fairphone can attract more customers.
Maybe I was unlucky, but both the primary and secondary microphones modules broke several times, without any clear reason why. I grew up tired of expecting one of them to break every few months.
I don’t hear much about the company recently. There are a lot of rumors around an FP3 but nothing confirmed yet. I would rather know more about what is happening inside Fairphone, related or unrelated to the FP3. I does not give me confidence in what Fairphone is doing lately. Compare for instance with the communication that Purism is doing around the Librem 5 phone, where they share their progress, struggles, provide detailed status updates, collect feedback, etc. I think it’s really important that the company embodies the values that its product push forward. In Fairphone today, I see the sustainability, I don’t see the openness anymore.
To sum up, the FP2 falls short of its promise IMHO but by a narrow margin. With a few tweaks, a future Fairphone could attract a much wider, sustainability-conscious user base, and I really suggest Fairphone the company to share more with the community about what happens internally. This is the path forward where everyone would win.