Modular 5G Phone You Can Set Yourself


Picture of Fairphone 4 on a desk surrounded by accessories

Can you change your new phone to be cheaper and more reliable?
Figure: Florence Ion / Gizmodo

I’ve been dreaming of a smartphone since I first saw it on Google Working Ara. The idea was very sensible to me, someone who has built PCs before and is not afraid to hit the wire (as long as it doesn’t, yes). But even though they are making good use of their colleagues on a changing mindset, Project Ara failed to make it to the real world.

Some mobile phones have come and gone, but the ones that have the most residual value so far are Beautiful, almost a mobile and flexible mobile phone from the Netherlands. Unfortunately, it is only available abroad, but the fact that we are on Fairphone 4 is something to be commended considering that many others have failed.

Picture of Fairphone 4

The Fairphone 4 can be easily removed.
Figure: Florence Ion / Gizmodo

Contents

The Fairphone 4 package in some nice features, making it customizable from Fairphone 3+. The Android phone has a large 6.3-inch Full HD + display. It runs on Snapdragon 750G with 6GB of internal RAM and 128GB of storage. Extra memory helps the device feel better than the central processor demonstrates. Fairphone boasts that this is the first 5G smartphone, though it works on low-bandwidth 6Ghz and does not support the millimeter-wave format. I’m using a Fairphone 4 with a SIM from Mint Mobile, but I don’t receive 5G at my house (unsurprisingly).

The Fairphone 4 has a 3,905 mAh battery, which is removable like the phones you used to own back in the day. At first, I was worried about the phone’s battery life, but then I remembered that you could theoretically take a spare with you in a bag and swap it out if there’s no way to charge. Fairphone says the battery lasts up to 200 hours of use while idle. It can also charge up to 50% in half an hour with at least a 20W charger. There’s no charging cable or power brick in the box, so you’ll have to supply your own with the appropriate wattage to enable fast charging.

A photo of the exposed backside of the Fairphone 4

Finally, a removable battery in an Android device!
Photo: Florence Ion / Gizmodo

The Fairphone 4 sports dual 48-megapixel rear lenses with a supporting sensor and a 25-MP selfie camera. The primary camera is a Sony IMX582 sensor with an f/1.6 aperture and both color and time-of-flight sensors. There is 8x digital zoom capability, along with up to 4K video capture at 30 fps and up to 240 fps slow-motion capabilities. You can definitely make some content with this camera.

The Fairphone 4 has no headphone jack. While it may seem like an antithesis to the company’s sustainability claims, I think this makes the most sense considering where we’re at presently. Bluetooth headphones are a dime a dozen, as prevalent as the wired earbuds that came packaged with our phones in yesteryear. The lack of an audio jack might also make it easier for the Fairphone 4 to retain its modularity. Fairphone doesn’t include a USB-C adapter to add a headphone jack, so if you want to go wired, you’d have to buy it separately.

At £499, or a little under $700, the Fairphone 4 offers some solid features for the price. But don’t expect the bells and whistles you’d get with a Samsung flagship, for instance, because that kind of feature exclusivity comes at a price: a phone you can’t repair yourself.

Still, Fairphone included a fingerprint scanner embedded in the power button, NFC for contactless payments, and a microSD card for extra storage. The company makes another Fairphone 4 with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage for £569, or about $760. Fair offers an extended five-year warranty, including the guarantee of spare parts until at least 2027, as well as long-term software support.

A photo of the backside of the Fairphone 4 open with a person hovering a screwdriver over a screw

It’s almost way too easy to remove screws from inside the Fairphone 4, but I suppose that’s the point!
Photo: Florence Ion / Gizmodo

The Fairphone 4 runs on Android 11, and the company says it will receive software updates up to Android 13. And though the company aims to support Android 14 and 15 down the line, you might have to upgrade your chipset to make that possible. That shouldn’t be a problem, of course, because the whole point of the Fairphone 4 is that it’s a long-lasting device.

What It’s Like to Use

A photo of the Fairphone 4

The Fairphone 4 is a nice phone, but it’s got some work to do before it is flagship-level “ooh.”
Photo: Florence Ion / Gizmodo

The design of the Fairphone 4 reminds me of Motorola’s line of budget smartphones, the Moto G series. There is a bit of blockiness to the phone, which is something I haven’t had to deal with since thin smartphones became the standard. Frankly, this is the design issue that I can see making the Fairphone 4 difficult to sell. Then again, if you’re the type of person who appreciates tinkering with a device’s insides, you might not notice the Fairphone 4 is two millimeters thicker than devices like the OnePlus 9.

I haven’t had enough time with the Fairphone 4 to really put it through its paces, though I plan to use it for awhile and see how it fares with daily use. But after a few days with the first modular smartphone I’ve used since that Project Ara developer conference I attended long ago, I can attest that it’s good!

The Fairphone 4 is capable using apps like Pokémon Go, Office 365, and Google Chrome. In a Geekbench 5 test of overall system performance, the phone scored 638 in single-core and 1859 in multi-core tests. These aren’t Samsung or Apple flagship scores, but you’re not getting a cutting-edge flagship here. Geekbench ranked the Fairphone 4’s performance higher than the Samsung’s solidly mid-range Galaxy A71, which runs on a Snapdragon 730 (and cost about $450 at launch last year).

I played with a little camera machine, too. It’s set in stark contrast to what you would see on a Google Pixel camera app, for example, and there were a few times I had to wait for the app to finish recording before I move on. And even though photos taken with Auto HDR are enough to share online, you can see where the camera suffers when in the house. The camera may also be a little closer, but the result is much more controversial.

Obviously, we have a job to make a mobile phone camera like a well-known iPhone, for example. But maybe we can get there.

Removal, Repair Repair

Image of the author's fingers holding a USB-C component on the body of the Fairphone 4

I admitted that I didn’t do this, but here I grabbed a USB-C component from Fairphone 4.
Figure: Florence Ion / Gizmodo

The Fairphone 4 is the same as the pre-designed one. You can switch up to seven modules, from a USB-C port that charges and transmits audio, to a headset and earphone. Cameras are flexible, too. You can also change the display for less than $ 100, and all you need to do is remove and follow the eight main ones. Basically, the Fairphone 4, is one of the few devices you can see with the 10/10 iFixit ready-to-repair, and that’s why you can isolate yourself. (Some of the 10/10 winners are, in the past, old Fairphones.)

I was also unable to get the Fairphone 4, although I did produce a microphone and a USB-C component, which are provided as breathing apparatus. It was easy to do with the Phillips 00 screwdriver, even though I built PCs and machine tools so I was comfortable with carrying and moving in circuits. I was worried at one point that I had damaged the connection between the USB-C and the whole device, but Fairphone 4 came back after I repaired it. It pays off as I write.

Image of handheld Fairphone 4

It looks like a normal phone from a distance, though it is completely possible.
Figure: Florence Ion / Gizmodo

Fairphone says the aim is to set an example for professionals in technology, to show that it is possible to make electronics more efficient and more efficient. It is easy for the tech industry to be proud, but they can do more to put an end to it e-fading contributes to climate change by making it easier for people to extend the life of their weapons.

Although Fairphone 4 is not offered directly in the US – it is only available in other European countries – it does come at a time Right Repair traffic in the US is picking up steam. Although no new legislation has been enacted here, a FTC has begun to develop new policies that will obviously encourage companies to upgrade their equipment. And with Fairphone as a partner in the Proper Repair campaign, I think the Fairphone 4 will be used as an example of how a phone can be customized.

But I have no choice but to feel like a human being needs a radical change before you can become a glamorous, pre-programmed tool. Phones sell us according to their new capabilities, and the whole point on the advertising machine is making us want something very new, very bright. I can see Fairphone 4 looking for mid-range phone buyers who may not be interested in the latest but want to fix or remodel parts as they see fit. (It would be great if you could upgrade your app as much as you can on a PC, but it is not possible — yet.) Fairphone 4 shows that it is possible to make a cheap, stand-alone phone. It remains to be seen whether any more professional companies will try.



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