I can understand your point of view. And, as I said before, I share many of your concerns.
My experience with Fairphone is as follows:
I have been a Fairphone 3 user since it was launched. At first the notification LED only worked to show charging status. After “protests” in the forum (and I guess in support), the Fairphone team implemented that the LED also shows notifications. That gave me a lot of confidence that they do listen to the community and try to adapt to their demands.
Recently, with the fingerprint reader issue from the FP3 update to Android 13, the same thing: the team decided to keep both an Android 11 and an Android 13 updates to mitigate the problem. It’s clearly not the perfect solution, but to me it shows interest and listening (not as much as we’d like, but more than other huge companies that are impossible to communicate with as a user).
On the other hand, I have had several problems with my FP3: I have had to open it 3 or 4 times due to contacts or cleaning problems (1, 2, 3…). After doing so (and “struggling” and learning a lot) I have managed to continue with a fully functional mobile phone with very up to date software almost 4 years later.
However, all said and done, it is not a phone I would buy for my mother (I have thought about it when she needed to change her phone; I preferred to choose a Nokia for her) and I would not recommend it “in general” to anyone. I like it because I share values with the brand and because I am a bit of a “techie”, I like to tinker and learn with my devices. However, in a few years I have had several problems that for an “ordinary” person could be frustrating and perhaps insurmountable.
That said: I think this project, Fairphone, is worth supporting, and I also think (as a regular user of the forum who reads a lot of what is posted here) that with each new model the the usability, quality and reliability is increasing. As I said, and as you say, supporting and being part of such a “small” project (in terms of resources, compared to other smartphone companies) has its problems. However, if you can live with them, they will gradually become less and less and will improve the result, proving that it is possible to do things better and inspiring other people.
Of course, all of the above is just my reflection and my personal opinion.
Thank you for sharing your concerns and promoting reflection!