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Fairphone 4 review: Sustainable, repairable, and ethical

Fairphone 4
(Image: © Jerry Hildenbrand / Android Central)

Our Verdict

Bottom line: The Fairphone 4 doesn't boast the best specs or a unique design. But it does offer a few meaningful things you just can't get from any other phone maker.

For

  • Five-year warranty
  • A long support life
  • Easily repaired

Against

  • Mediocre camera
  • It's not cheap
  • Not using the very best specs

There are literally hundreds and hundreds of different phones you can buy today, and many of them offer something unique. This makes it really difficult to stand out in the crowd, and when a company is able to do something different that also turns out to be something great, it's worthy of our attention.

If nothing else, that's what the Fairphone 4 aspires to do. It's a big step forward from the company's previous offering while being just as sustainable and repairable. If you live in Europe (the Fairphone 4 isn't available outside of Europe at this time), it's a device that deserves to be on your radar. Not necessarily because of what it can do, but because of what it is.

The Fairphone 4 is the phone I would buy if it were available for North American networks. It's also one of the best sustainable and repairable phones you can buy.

Fairphone 4: Price and availability

Fairphone 4 Where To Buy

Source: Fairphone (Image credit: Source: Fairphone)

The Fairphone 4 is not available outside of Europe. This is a very important detail and where we need to start this section.

According to Fairphone, the company does plan to sell products for use outside of the E.U., the U.K., Norway, and Switzerland eventually, but right now, the focus is on selling devices for Europe. When you consider the company's business model of building sustainable and repairable products on equal footing with turning a profit, this is probably a wise move.

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If you do live in Europe, you can buy the Fairphone 4 direct from the company or one of its official partners starting at €579 for the base 128GB storage/6 G.B. memory model.

Fairphone 4: What you'll like

Fairphone 4

Source: Jerry Hildenbrand / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Jerry Hildenbrand / Android Central)

The Fairphone 4 is more than the sum of its spec sheet would suggest. On paper and during normal use, it's a phone on the high side of mid-range that delivers a mostly bare-bones version of Android 11 without any serious hitches or issues. It's a good, basic phone, but how it's made and what it's made of is the real story.

The phone is built using ethically-sourced materials and is e-waste neutral.

The Fairphone 4 is built using Fairtrade-certified gold, ethically sourced aluminum and tungsten, and recycled tin, rare earth minerals, and plastics. In addition, Fairphone makes sure that the phone is built as ethically as possible with initiatives that improve working conditions for everyone involved in making the phone, from miners to assembly line workers.

Fairphone also says that every Fairphone 4 is e-waste neutral. If you buy a Fairphone 4, the company will renew or recycle an existing phone or recycle an equivalent amount of e-waste. The company is serious about building sustainable products and equally concerned about changing the entire industry by setting the right examples.

CategoryFairphone 4
Operating SystemAndroid 11
ProcessorQualcomm Snapdragon 750G
Storage128GB/256GB
Memory6GB/8GB
CameraDual 48MP rear (f1.6 and f2.2), 25MP front camera
Battery3,905mAh removable battery
Display6.3-inch FHD+ LCD
Connectivity802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.1, NFC
NetworkEU-based 5G, dual-SIM
Ports1x USB-C
SustainabilityTCO Certified, 9.3 of 10 repairability score

Repairability it comes with a screwdriver

Fairphone 4 Dissassembly

Source: Jerry Hildenbrand / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Jerry Hildenbrand / Android Central)

This is one of the most exciting things about the Fairphone 4 to me. You don't have to be an electronics specialist or have any unique knowledge to repair the Fairphone 4 because it was designed with easy repairs in mind.

The phone comes with a full five-year warranty that covers anything that you didn't cause. For those things that you did cause, let's say you dropped it and broke the display, you can likely easily fix it yourself using inexpensive spare parts that Fairphone sells itself.

The Fairphone 4 eschews everything that makes a phone difficult to repair, like excess glue and sealed parts.

The same way Fairphone is attempting to shake up the phone industry, it's also trying to change the way we think about having our phones repaired. What keeps your Samsung phone from being easy to fix is how it is built and the materials used to make it. Things like glued-in displays or sealed cases aren't an issue with the Fairphone 4. You can pull out most internal assemblies and then replace them with new components using only a small Philips head screwdriver.

iFixit gives the Fairphone 4 a repairability score of 10 out of 10.

Another side effect of this is having a battery that can be swapped at any time by removing the 100% recycled plastic backplate. This used to be normal for Android phones, but I can't think of a single mainstream device with a user-swappable battery in 2021. Of course, you can still charge the battery quickly using a USB C P.D. charger, but knowing that you can carry a spare "just in case" is great.

I know most people will never attempt to fix their own phones. That's partially because phones are so difficult to repair, and seeing a company buck that trend is a breath of fresh air, and what makes the Fairphone 4 the phone I would spend my own money on were it available for North America.

Fairphone 4 Dissassembly

Source: Jerry Hildenbrand / Android Central Remove six screws and you can change the USB connector. (Image credit: Source: Jerry Hildenbrand / Android Central)

What you might like e/OS

Source: e foundation

You can buy a Fairphone 4 with e/OS installed instead of the "regular" version of Android it would normally ship with.

This means a few things: all the things Google uses to track you and keep tabs on how you use its services and the internet, in general, have been wiped away. The AOSP (Android Open Source Project) is what powers e/OS, but without third-party additions from Google, it's sort of an Android-light experience on its own.

The developers of e/OS have done a lot to make it something you might want to use. You have access to third-party app stores that offer notifications about updates and a fairly seamless experience, and you can even download and install Google's own apps — though that kind of defeats the purpose.

There are some drawbacks, too. There is no access to Google internet services. That means the things you use every day even if you don't know you're using them, like Firebase or Play Services. Your favorite app may be available from an app store like F-Droid, but without access to the database it uses — which is hosted and powered by Google — it may be crippled or even unusable.

It's great to see a privacy-focused option available without any sort of user tinkering and if this is something you've been looking for the Fairphone 4 is the best option in my opinion. If you're just a regular user who wants their phone to do the things you're used to without any fuss or finding alternative apps, think about it before you jump in.

Fairphone 4: What you won't like

Fairphone 4

Source: Jerry Hildenbrand / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Jerry Hildenbrand / Android Central)

The elephant in the room: the price.

The Fairphone 4 will set you back at least €579, which is about $673 the day I wrote this. For reference, the Google Pixel 6 starts at $599 and has better specs all around. I understand why the Fairphone 4 costs this much — Fairphone isn't making phones in huge numbers. Ethically and responsibly sourced materials cost more, and paying better wages or offering better working conditions will add to the cost of any product. But knowing this doesn't lower a price that many will feel is too high.

You won't love the price or the camera here.

Another drawback is a familiar one, and that's the camera. The Fairphone 4 comes with both a standard and a wider angle camera. Both use 48MP sensors, and both produce mediocre results. Phones from Google and Samsung naturally take better photos, and many of those are in the same price range as the Fairphone 4.

This is a definite issue for many, but if you're satisfied with the photos you can get from a Motorola or OnePlus phone or from a phone a few years ago, then you might not have a problem here. The photos are more than usable for social media, and it's possible to get great images from the Fairphone 4 — you just have to work at it.

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Fairphone 4 Camera Sample

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Fairphone 4 Camera Sample

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Fairphone 4 Camera Sample

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Fairphone 4 Camera Sample

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Fairphone 4 Camera Sample

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Fairphone 4 Camera Sample

One last issue is that the Fairphone 4 is "only" IP54 rated. This means the Fairphone 4 is "protected against dust ingress sufficient to prevent the product from operating normally, but it's not dust-tight. The product is fully protected against solid objects and splashing of water from any angle".

You can use the Fairphone 4 in the rain, but you can't take it into the pool. Once you realize that the back of the phone pops right off and the fact that gaskets and other waterproofing measures would add to the cost considerably, you understand why,

Fairphone 4: Competition

OnePlus 9 Pro review

Source: Apoorva Bhardwaj / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Apoorva Bhardwaj / Android Central)

There really aren't any other phones that fill the same niche as the Fairphone 4, but there are many others that fall in the same price range.

Notably, the OnePlus 9 Pro and the Google Pixel 6. Both of these phones have better specs, and there are times when you'll notice it, though the Fairphone 4 is by no means a slow device. The real differentiator is the value/feature ratio, and you won't find things like Warp Charge or Tensor-powered photography in the Fairphone 4.

On the flip side, you won't get a five-year warranty or be able to swap out the camera module or USB port on any competing products, and no other company invests in the workforce and environment the way Fairphone does.

It's difficult to compare the Fairphone 4 to anything else on the market, and that goes for both the good and the bad.

Fairphone 4: Should you buy it?

Fairphone 4

Source: Fairphone (Image credit: Source: Fairphone)

You should buy this if ...

  • Sustainability and repairability matter to you
  • You want the five-year warranty
  • You value the company's commitment to better wages and working conditions

You shouldn't buy this if...

  • You care about having the best specs
  • You need a phone with an amazing camera
  • You live outside of Europe

Again, the Fairphone 4 was designed as a 5G phone for Europe. You can't buy the phone through normal channels unless you're in Europe, and you wouldn't want to use it on your network if you could. If you live outside of Europe, this is not the phone for you.

The same goes if you value having the best camera or if having the most current specs on the market matters to you. The Fairphone 4 doesn't boast either of these.

It's difficult to compare the Fairphone 4 to anything else on the market, and that goes for both the good and the bad.

But if you want a phone that's designed to still be used five years from now or one that you can change the display on yourself if you break it, you won't find another phone like the Fairphone 4. Finally, if you care about sustainability, ethically sourced materials, and better working conditions, then you should think about the Fairphone 4.

4 out of 5

The Fairphone is a nice phone and a change from the norm in all the good ways — as well as a few of the not-so-good ways. I am sure the company wants to sell enough products to stay in business, but I can't help but feel like profit isn't the company's end game as much as shaking up the industry is.

It's also a nice upgrade from the Fairphone 3, bringing meaningful features like water resistance and a better chip for better performance. To me, the good outweighs the bad, and I would recommend that anyone in the market for a new phone in Europe at least give it a second look.

Fairphone 4 Render

Fairphone 4

Bottom line: The Fairphone 4 doesn't boast the best specs or a unique design. But it does offer a few meaningful things you just can't get from any other phone maker.

Review Changelog, February 2022

This article was originally published in November 2021. It was updated in September 2021 with the following changes.

  • Added information about e/OS and its availability on the Fairphone 4
Jerry Hildenbrand
Jerry Hildenbrand

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

7 Comments
  • Really great concept! If they can make it even more modular and let you swap out chips, cameras, screens as upgrades that would be even cooler! Also make it available to the rest of the world.
  • I'm very appreciative to see this review Jerry. I like many Americans will just have to wait and hope that the team at fairphone can deliver a product that works here. I'd be curious to read your take on the framework laptop from a similar angle.
  • When the bloody fudge were you in Peach Glen?
  • Actually, you can use it the US. T-Mobile even sells a phone with the same SoC in the US. You just can't buy it in the US. Well, not directly, anyway. You can buy it from a drop-shipping company like Clove. The real caveats are that you can't make use of the warranty and you might not be able to buy any parts. I'd have bought one already, but I'm waiting for them to restore the headphone jack.
  • Same SOC does not necessarily mean that the device can access all of the same radio bands. Are you certain that this phone can connect to T Mobile's network usably?
  • Guys, your "review changelog" makes no sense ATM: Review Changelog, February 2022
    This article was originally published in November 2021. It was updated in September 2021 with the following changes. - Added information about e/OS and its availability on the Fairphone 4
  • I pre-ordered it and for me it's been the best Android experienced out of the box. It's plenty fast, but then again I don't play resource intensive games. One of the things that the review omits is just how solid and comfortable it feels in the hand. This is the first phone in several years that I don't use any case or screen protection for. Should something happen down the line, then I can repair it with affordable official spare parts.