Our planet is beautiful, but we only have one to go around. As such, making smart choices about how we live our lives and the products we buy is key to ensuring it sticks around for generations to come. Some smartphones are created to be more sustainable and repairable than others — and if those are important factors to you when buying a new phone, the Fairphone 4 is the one to buy. There are also a few other options worth discussing when it comes to the best modular phone, which we'll dive into in this article.
Best overall: Fairphone 4
Replace parts whenever you need to
In the world of sustainable smartphones, the Fairphone 4 is perhaps the most popular. Why? It's arguably the most repairable on the planet, receiving a perfect 10/10 repairability score in iFixit's teardown just like the older Fairphone 3. Most of the Fairphone 4 is made out of user-replaceable modules, meaning you can swap parts in and out as you need to. There are modules for the display, battery, rear camera, selfie camera, headphone jack, USB-C port, speaker, and more. If something here breaks, chances are you can replace it in the blink of an eye.
For repairs or upgrades, all you need is a Philips screwdriver, which Fairphone thoughtfully provides along with the phone. And, just for some extra peace of mind, Fairphone 4 comes with a generous five-year warranty. Even better, easy repairability isn't where Fairphone stopped with the Fairphone 4. The handset is created with responsibly-sourced materials, not to mention that Fairphone is a massive advocate for better working conditions in the mobile tech industry.
On the specs front, the Fairphone 4 delivers a Snapdragon 750G processor, 6GB or 8GB of RAM, 128GB or 256GB of expandable storage, a 6.3-inch Full HD+ display, and a 3,905 mAh battery. The phone is reasonably waterproof, sporting an IP45 water resistance rating. It runs Android 11 out of the box, and you'll get software updates until 2025, including Android 12 and 13. Users can also install alternative operating systems like /e/os on their Fairphone devices.
As much as we love the Fairphone 4, it does come with a big caveat. It's only available in Europe and the U.K., meaning you're out of luck if you live in the U.S.
Best alternative for US: Teracube 2e
Sustainability done right
As you'll learn reading through this article, finding sustainable phones available in the U.S. can be quite tricky. Thankfully, we have the Teracube 2e. Initially part of an Indiegogo campaign and now being sold as a fully-funded product, the Teracube 2e is designed to be "the world's most reliable smartphone."
The big draw to the Teracube 2e is its warranty. You get a four-year warranty with your purchase, and under that warranty, all repairs cost a flat rate. That includes water damage, a cracked display, aging batteries, you name it. Screen repairs are only $59, and new batteries are $29. Those prices include parts, labor, and two-way shipping. The company is also working with iFixit to make repair guides and parts available for those do-it-yourself-ers.
The Teracube 2e has solid specs for its price, with some of the highlights being a MediaTek Helio A25 processor, 4GB of RAM, 64GB of storage, 6.1-inch Full HD+ display, 13MP + 8MP dual rear cameras, and a 4,000 mAh battery. You also get a 3.5mm headphone jack, USB-C charging, microSD expansion, dual SIM slots, and NFC for Google Pay. Despite the promised mid-2021 Android 11 update, it still runs Android 10.
Fortunately, the Teracube 2e is slated to get two platform updates as part of the Android One initiative. So you're going to get updates until Android 12, but you'll have to be patient. It's too bad Teracube doesn't work with Verizon, but if you rely on AT&T or T-Mobile for your cell service, it's an incredible purchase.
Best alternative for EU: SHIFT6m
If you need powerful specs
Sticking with phones sold in Europe, the SHIFT6m stands out as another easy recommendation. Like Fairphone, SHIFT aims to create devices that are simple to repair and open to modifying.
We're specifically looking at the SHIFT6m, which is astonishingly easy to repair. It earned a 9/10 repairability score from iFixit, with some of its highlights being easy access to the battery and screen, only one type of screw head being used to hold the phone together, and a screwdriver being included in the box, so nothing is holding you back from making repairs as needed.
The SHIFT6m does have some overlapping components and short connection cables, meaning that it's not quite as easy to repair as the Fairphone 4. That said, it's still light years ahead of what most other companies are selling these days.
Unfortunately, this is another phone that you cannot buy if you live in the U.S. I know — sad trombone.
Best for camera: Google Pixel 5
Google Pixel 5 - 5G Android Phone
Keep your memories looking as good as can be
Moving back to phones that you can actually purchase if you live in the U.S., we'd like to shine a light on the Pixel 5. No, it's not on the same repairability level as the other Teracube 2e, Fairphone 4, or SHIFT6m, but it is one of the better options from a mainstream manufacturer.
If you want to do any DIY repairs on the Pixel 5, doing so is relatively straightforward. The majority of Google's components are modular and easy to replace, and we also appreciate the easy-to-remove adhesive that holds the screen in place. The YouTube channel JerryRigEverything rated the Pixel 5 as the most repairable phone of 2020, with the easiest screen to remove and replace.
Regarding the rest of the Pixel 5 experience, it's one of the best value flagship phones money can buy. There's an OLED display, a 12.2MP rear camera that takes gorgeous photos, and software updates/security patches are guaranteed through May 2023. You can also use the phone on whichever carrier you'd like, which is a huge plus. The Pixel 5 isn't the highest-end Android phone you can buy these days, but it is one that we're happy to recommend.
Best on budget: Moto E6
Moto E6 - Black
Keep costs low
Another repair-friendly phone we'd like to bring your attention to is the Moto E6. The E6 is designed to be a low-end phone, meaning it's not as powerful or interesting as some others on this list. However, it's just as repairable — and even more so to a certain extent.
Like some of the other phones mentioned here, you can buy replacement displays and batteries for the Moto E6 straight from iFixit. These are official Motorola parts, meaning you can rest assured that you're buying legit hardware. Where the E6 has the edge over the newer Moto E (2020) is the fact that you can pop off its back with just your fingernail and remove the battery without any tools. Yep, phones with user-removable batteries still exist. How cool is that?
The Moto E6 is the cheapest phone on this list, making it that much more impressive than it touting a water-repellent design. It also works with every U.S. carrier, offers expandable storage up to 256GB, and powers your day with an octa-core Qualcomm processor paired with 2GB of RAM.
Sustainable/repairable smartphones aren't as prominent as we wish they were among the best Android phones. Still, as long as you're willing to do a bit of digging, it's possible to find plenty of hidden gems that excel in these regards. Overall, we think the Fairphone 4 is the best of the best.
One look at Fairphone's five-year warranty is enough to make it a compelling purchase — regardless of whether or not you're concerned about your impact on the planet. If you drop the Fairphone while plugged in, accidentally shatter its screen on the sidewalk, or for virtually any other reason, you can get a replacement battery or screen and easily replace any part yourself.
The sustainable and modular build is the big selling point of the Fairphone 4, but the phone itself is also designed to be enjoyable to use. Between its Qualcomm Snapdragon 750G processor, 6GB/128GB and 8GB/256GB RAM options, expandable storage, IP45 rating, and planned upgrades to Android 12 and 13, the Fairphone 4 almost has it all. It's a stellar package that comes at a steep cost, but we feel that responsibly sourced materials are worth it.
It's a bummer that U.S. residents can't get their hands on the Fairphone, so they'll have to settle for the Teracube 2e instead. Teracube isn't half as bad, but it's just not on Fairphone's level.
Credits — The team that worked on this guide
Joe Maring loves talking about all things tech, especially when it comes to Android phones. He has a drawer full of them that continues to grow and spends way too much time at Starbucks.
Jeramy Johnson is proud to help Keep Austin Weird and loves hiking in the hill country of central Texas with a breakfast taco in each hand. When he's not writing about smart home gadgets and wearables, he's defending his relationship with his smart voice assistants to his family. You can follow him on Twitter at @jeramyutgw.
Jeramy is proud to help *Keep Austin Weird* and loves hiking in the hill country of central Texas with a breakfast taco in each hand. When he's not writing about smart home gadgets and wearables, he's defending his relationship with his smart voice assistants to his family. You can follow him on Twitter at @jeramyutgw.
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