Since 2 weeks from now, I’m a proud owner of the new Fairphone 2 (FP2). I’m from Germany, so I ordered the FP2 for 529,38 €.
Most detailed reviews I read were written by journalists and addressed the average consumer. I’m totally fine with that, but most of them haven’t got me much further, because I’m some kind of power user. I love technology and a mobile phone is something like a „personal assistant“ for me. It means, for instance, that I use my mobile phone to control my lights at home (using Philips Hue), that I use it in my car to make phone calls and listen to podcasts (via bluetooth of course) and that I’m also a big friend of stuff many „normal“ users are not interested in, like encrypted messaging (e.g. using Signal), owncloud synchronization, etc…
So I decided to write a review that tries to address the „advanced user“. As a disclaimer: I’m not paid by anyone to write this review, so it is just based on my own subjective impressions. I hope you enjoy reading it :).
=== Why I bought / ordered the FP2 ===
Before September, I used the iPhone 6 as a company mobile phone, which is from my point a view a great mobile device. My personal mobile phone was a HTC One Mini 2 and I never felt really comfortable with that one. I’m not an Apple fanboy, but I just liked iOS a bit more than Android.
In September 2015 I changed my employer and my (really cool) new boss asked me which phone I would like to order as a company mobile phone. I could order (nearly) any mobile phone available on the market and I chose the FP2 because of the following reasons:
Dual-Sim functionality, so I don’t need to carry around 2 phones with me all the time
Good karma (no child labour as far as possible, etc.)
Durability, because software updates are provided (that means critical security risks will be fixed) and hardware can easily be replaced when it’s damaged
My FP2 should have arrived in November/December 2015, but the FP team had to do some last minute changes, so there was a delay in production. They decided not to hire part time workers in China, because they want to build up some kind of permanent (fair paid) staff over there. They also did not insist that the staff in China had to do overtime. Both measures would have increased the production time. So I received my FP2 in the end of January. Regarding the circumstances, that’s absolutely okay for me.
From my point of view, the communication performed by the FP team was really good. I had the impression, that key facts were communicated straightforward. No excuses, no „PR“ babble, just honest and transparent.
=== Look and Feel ===
The FP2 is a bit thicker than a normal phone and includes a plastic back-cover, which is at the same time some kind of bumper. This cover also stands out some millimeters above the display, to protect it.
From my point of view, holding the FP2 feels like holding a plastic lunchbox. During the first hours that feels very unfamiliar. But after some time I recognized: Someone built a phone that is designed to be a working device. It is no built to be a designer piece, it’s a tool. E.g., it is hard to scratch the plastic back-cover… and even if that should ever happen, I’ll buy a new one for 30 bucks. It’s (just a little bit) thicker and heavier than other phones, but it’s repairable and I’m pretty sure that it’s really hard to destroy it. So it’s just the right device for someone like me, who carries his phone in his pocket along with his key ring and avoids using bumpers, display protections and stuff like that.
=== Hardware Specs ===
Let’s make that one really short. Also I’m a technology enthusiast, I don’t give a sh*t on hardware specs. Thanks to JAVA, bad programming code, bloatware etc. those values are totally irrelevant for an end-consumer.
In our days, smartphones have much more computing capacities than the main computers from the Apollo 11 mission. Due to the fact, that I don’t want to fly to the moon with my mobile (I just want to turn my lights off and on, because it’s 2016), that should be enough. Unfortunately, because of things I mentioned above (and so many others), this is much too often not the case. But: As a vendor, you can sell a high-end Android smartphone and make it really slow by installing your own window manager and bloatware stuff which no customer would ever download voluntarily. Or you can sell a middle-class smartphone that doesn’t have any bloatware installed and runs much „faster“ that any other phone. At the FP2, they decided for the last option.
Regarding the FP2, everything runs fast enough for me. I’m absolutely happy with its speed. 32GB flash storage (which can be expanded) should also be okay.
When I really „use“ the phone, the battery lasts at least one day. If I don’t use it too much, the battery lasts for around 2 days. That’s cool.
Above that, speaker-level, microphone-level, etc. are average. The camera is OK to make a good snapshot. You can have a look at it later without getting eye cancer, but high-end phones like the iPhone take better picture. By the way, the FP2 doesn’t have NFC.
I encrypted my device using Android’s encryption (I’m just in the process to find out how good that encryption is, in comparison to to the really good Apple encryption methods) and I’m still fine with the performance.
=== Operating System ===
I’m not a big Android fan, due to the fact, that it is still a Google promotion show. I don’t want to be tracked by Google’s analytic services and I don’t want to use any cloud service beside of my owncloud instance. I don’t want to share my e-mail, photos, contacts, etc. with any company.
Of course I could uninstall all Google services and run Android without Google apps (that would not turn off the google analytics services as far as I know), but then I wouldn’t be able to use the Google Cloud Services for messaging and if you want to use instant messaging, there is no serious other choice than using push services.
In a perfect world, there would have been better choices for the FP team. But today, I can fully understand why they decided to use Android and to honest, I think I would have made the same decision.
So after around 6 hours, I had deactivated - as far as possible - all cloud services, cloud apps etc. and replaced them by less data-hungry apps. Then I started to use my FP2.
The FP2 runs on Android 5.1. An update to Android 6 was promised.
In many articles I read, that the FP2 would also run with Sailfish OS. If you visit the FP homepage you see, that something like that is planned for the future. I’m excited, but at the moment, I don’t really care about that.
=== Fairphone’s Android OS ===
The FP2 uses its own FP windows manager. From my subjective point of view, it’s just a normal Android with some tweaks like e.g. a sidebar that allows the quick-access to 5 apps by wiping the screen from the right hand side. Another feature is „Privacy Impact“ that shows the privacy impact of a downloaded app before its initial launch. Something like that might be really nice for „normal“ users (also it shows that the crypto-messenger Singal has a „high“ Privacy impact), but I’m much more curious about the Android 6 update, because then it will be possible to restrict the access rights of apps.
After 2 days, I wanted to deactivate the FP window manager and use bare Android instead. I noticed, that this is not (really) possible, so I was a bit disappointed at first. Now, after 2 weeks of using Fairphone’s Android, I’m pretty happy with the FP window manager. The handling is at first a bit unusual, but most of the time thoughtful. I’m fine with it right now.
There is only one thing that really annoys me: Too little options to customize some behaviors. It starts with small things, like the battery indicator, that cannot be convinced to show the battery level as a number. And it ends with shortcomings that really annoy me, like the dual SIM settings. I can choose which SIM I want to use in each case as default for the telephone, SMS and internet. Or I can chose, that I’m asked in each case I use the phone or write an SMS. But I cannot set defaults for any contacts. I’m really missing this option, because I have to separate between my business and private SIM, so each time I call a contact, I’m asked which SIM I want to use. Thats annoying, and prevents me from making phone calls from my car (unless I change one SIM to the default telephone SIM before I start to drive). It would be great if an update gives me some options like this in the future.
=== Is there anything else? ===
Not really. The FP2 behaves like every other Android phone on the market. I did not notice any special behavior.
A really cool feature is the possibility, that you can compile the rooted OS by yourself and run it on the FP2. You are actively supported by the FP2 team, but at the moment, I don’t want to root my phone, so I didn’t take a further look at that.
=== Conclusion ===
I don’t regret the purchase of the FP2. Of course, high-end smartphones like the iPhone are better, but they are also more expensive.
Also, the FP2 is a bit more expensive than phones on the market with similar specs. But beside its good karma, the FP2 is thought out. It is not one of many products from a global player who gives a sh*t about his customers. Besides many competitive products, it will be updated for years. Above that, repairing it is easy and intended by it’s producer. That’s some added value nearly no other phone can provide to me.
All in all, it is a mobile phone that is based on a mature concept, something I really miss at most products in today’s technological ecosystem. By using it, I notice that among many others, the FP2 has one unique selling proposition big companies cannot provide: They aim to make the user happy with a durable and sustainable product. Of course, they need to earn money with it to pay their salaries, but there is (as far as I know) no big investor or shareholder value that has to be increased.
So if you want to get a high-end smartphone and money is not an issue, this is not the phone you are looking for. If you are searching a sustainable phone for the next years, the FP2 might be an interesting candidate for you.
=== Final Remark ===
I hope that all of the „facts“ I mention in my review are correct. If you notice any mistake, feel free to correct me.
If there are any questions left, feel free to ask!