A Fairphone 4 review
The Fairphone 4 is a great phone with an even better concept behind it. What stopped me from using it as my everyday device was that it's nearly impossible to take acceptable photos under non-optimal light conditions. In addition, the phone does not receive the latest Android major releases and security patches are often delayed. With this, is Fairphone as a company actually doing good for the planet if people buy their phones and then replace them with some decent device?
Unboxing, touch and feel
The unboxing experience is remarkably unspectacular. You get the opposite of unpacking Apple devices, which is not necessarily bad. It doesn't feel high quality, it doesn't feel like there is just an entire team for the product packaging. It's a cardboard box with just one thing in mind, don't bring more waste, and this is a step forward.
Every time I picked up the phone I had the feeling that I'm part of something good. The "Speckled Green" version of the back cover gives the device a green, environment friendly touch.
I won't list tech spec. If they are important to you, you can look them up here. CPU and Memory rarely got maxed out and I even could have some decent gaming sessions.
The Fairphone 4 utilizes an LCD rather than an OLED one, which may not be the best option available, but it is acceptable. If you come from an high-end smartphone this is where you realise that this is midrange hardware. In my experience, the display is too tall. I have quite big hands, and can't reach the top of the screen when using just one hand. To be honest, I am not able to do this with any of the current smartphones but I reach far further to the top on other devices. What I encountered quit often was that the Fairphone 4 did not respond to touches at the edges of the display while applications were in full screen.
CPU and Memory
You can run CPU and Memory benchmarks but this numbers will never help you understand if the handset is fast or slow. To put it in perspective, I played Call of Duty Mobile and didn't have the feeling like I would use some midrange hardware. Also Machinarium and any other games I downloaded did perform well without any significant frame rate drops. The hardware is perfect for daily usage and capable to handle also heavier tasks. When using a case the phone can get quite warm, though, depending on the workload.
No headphone jack
The missing headphone jack is a bummer and I'd love to have one. Of course there are also reasons for that. Despite I don't agree with that decision, I get why they decided for not having one.
Overall the quality is good, the volume buttons and the fingerprint sensor wiggle around in their housing but that's the only negative point I could find. The modularity doesn't bring any disadvantages. I expected something worse from such a niche player, but in the end I was really surprised how nice the Fairphone 4 felt in my hands.
This was for me the dealbreaker. I could have lived with the minor build quality problems or the fact that Android is so much different than iOS. What doesn't work for me is that when I want to freeze a moment of my kid, instead, the camera app freezes and does not respond. When not shooting in direct sunlight you get a blurry, washed out ball where you can just imagine this could be a moving child. You'll say: "Stop exaggerating, it can't be that bad". Unfortunately, it's exactly like that! On a cold grey day, inside a building, you get this pixel mush which is not acceptable for me (or my wife). When you tap the shutter button, nothing happens at first, but then the app responds just as you're about to tap it again. This makes it impossible to capture funny, cute, or important moments.
Fairphone promised from the beginning to improve the camera quality over time, although they have made some minor improvements it's still not acceptable. I have yet to come across anyone who is satisfied with the photos taken on their Fairphone 4.
Is the issue with the hardware or software? I'm certain that the problem comes from insufficient resources of developers for image processing. The image sensor is probably not that much different than the one Apple, Samsung or Huawei are using. The difference is that they have entire departments just for image taking. Could it be that the entire Fairphone company has fewer employees than the camera and image processing departments of those other companies?
I followed the suggestion on the forum and installed alternative camera apps, which raises some concerns about security, but I was frustrated and wanted a fix. These apps do work better than the one Fairphone provides. For instance, the pictures are now taken immediately without any delay however, the quality issues in low light conditions persist.
Fairphone promised multiple times to make improvements, which they were unable to fulfill, and they also did not respond to my support ticket.
Questioning the whole concept
And with the bad camera performance alone, the idea of the Fairphone starts to crumble! I ended up creating more e-waste than I intended to.
Since I went back to an iPhone I'll do the comparison to an Apple device. Other smartphone vendors may offer similar software update policies. Apple provides software updates for up to 6 years to an iPhone and still brings critical security updates to outdated devices. Also the European Union demands that smartphones have more repairability and longer software updates..
The only repair I've had to make is replacing the touch screen, which can be expensive if done by Apple or time-consuming to do myself. Apple has recently announced a self-repair program for some of its devices. Is an entirely reparable phone really necessary?
Meanwhile, Nokia released the G22, which looks like a promising alternative, even though they don't guarantee fair mined materials.
After using the Fairphone 4 for several months, just to use an iPhone again I have to say that Fairphone needs to improve on the software side a lot if they want to stay competitive.
You can use your Mastodon account to reply to this post.