back to article Want an ethical smartphone? Fairphone 3 is on the way – but tiny market share suggests few care

Fairphone, whose devices are designed to be sustainable and made in exploitation-free factories, will kick out its third unit in mid-September, priced at €450.00 including VAT. The business, which describes itself as a social enterprise, is based in Amsterdam in the Netherlands and has 70+ employees around the world. Its …

  1. JohnFen Silver badge


    An SD card slot and a headphone jack? Tell me it has a user-replaceable battery and I can install my own ROM, and this becomes a serious contender.

    1. MiguelC Silver badge

      Re: Nice!

      At least the user-replaceable battery is there.

      1. JohnFen Silver badge

        Re: Nice!

        I'm swooning!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Nice!

      Yes, these are all good steps in the right direction, but the big missing piece is control of the firmware and software. It's impossible to argue that anything with Google software embedded in it is 'ethical' unless there is a clearly documented and supported way to remove it completely.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Nice!

        Does this count as clearly documented and supported?

        If the FP2 is anything to go by it shouldn't be long before it's supported by a number of others too, including some non-android options.

      2. Apprentice

        Re: Nice!

        And anything with Apple software embedded inside too. So basically any smartphone out there.

      3. NATTtrash Silver badge

        Re: Nice!

        but the big missing piece is control of the firmware and software

        I couldn't agree more. Whether you want to categorise it under it "repairability" (I think yes).

        Then again, since it's Google, I think the correct phrase would be "when hell freezes over". Probably the wait is still on until the possibility comes when (as with OEM boxen and *nix) you take a phone, zero it and install your phone OS of choice.

        And yes, of course we all know about e.g. Sailfish, but we also know that the big G has a "from my cold, dead hands" kind of attitude with regard to their (profitable) biz...

        1. phuzz Silver badge

          Re: Nice!

          "you take a phone, zero it and install your phone OS of choice"

          This is possible, it's just usually your choice of OS is AOSP-based or bust. Getting a minimal Linux install running should be relatively straightforward, but it won't be much use as an actual phone.

          The problem isn't being able to run the code of your choice on a phone (several manufacturers allow you to unlock a phone direct from their website), it's that there's very few mobile operating systems, and even fewer open source ones.

      4. phuzz Silver badge

        Re: Nice!

        The Fairphone 2 had a build of LineageOS for it, so if the third version follows that trend then you can remove all the corporate Google from the phone.

        You'd still be using ASOP (Android Open Source Project) code, but as the name suggests, it's all open source, even if lots of it is written by Google engineers.

    3. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Nice!

      Certainly a contender for me. I am sick and tired of phones that essentially die because one part dies (usually the battery) because replacement is near impossible or far too expensive.

  2. mwcer

    Exactly what I'm looking for...

    The fairphone 3 sounds great -- I'm tired of replacing phones just because the battery is worn out. The fact that one can replace the display, cameras, speakers, and microphone by oneself is great news. Too bad it won't work on most networks in the U.S.A.

    Suggestion for fairphone 4: move radios to a single module, then offer different modules for EU, UK, USA, etc.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Thanks, but will stay with Foxconn

    I like to know that my phones were made by school children who had not slept for 2 weeks.

    Jeff Bezos

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Thanks, but will stay with Foxconn

      ^ Downvote: Nice to see Bezos reads El Reg.

  4. werdsmith Silver badge

    Fairphone declares its phones as "ethical" yet they use Android. Incongruous

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Agreed, it would be far more ethical to install LineageOS than Google's privacy stealing Android. Hopefully the bootloader comes unlocked, too.

      1. Qumefox

        You are aware that lineageOS is still android right? Sure it has google's apps stripped out of it by default, but don't pretend it's some different OS. Plus I imagine the vast majority of lineageOS users reinstall them first thing anyway since they're useful, which is how google gets away with slurping in the first place. Plus I imagine lots of lineageos users switch to it purely to get away from the uninstallable bloatware/malware carriers and manufactures put on their stock roms, rather than to escape google.

        1. Adair Silver badge

          Mmm, having recently installed Lineage I can't say I've found much need of any of Google's slurpy offerings. One of my banking apps won't use the fingerprint login without added Googliness, but the other banking app is fine using the fingerprint scanner as is.

          Apart from that issue, even the few apps that moan about absent Googly hooks still seem to work to a perfectly acceptable level.

          So, yes, maybe some people can't get by without the great corporate panopticon octopus (sorry cephlapods - no insult intended) drooling its way through their stuff and actions, but on the basis of this commentard's personal experience maybe not as many as you might imagine.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          It is Google's apps and other bits that make Android a privacy nightmare. The open source parts of it are fine, AFAIK LineageOS isn't sending your data to anyone, if your data is grabbed it is your fault for installing the app(s) that did it.

      2. Marcel

        It comes with bootloader unlocked and Android installed by default (supported for 5 years). You are free to install any other OS you want. This is part of their sustainable design.

      3. Apprentice

        Yes, let's make it even more useless by getting rid of the Play Store.

      4. rg287 Silver badge

        They don't use stock Android, they use FairphoneOS - which is Android minus Google Mobile Services - very similar to LineageOS, which is also built on Android but with the intrusive bits stripped out.

    2. love not war

      Of course the only truly ethical smartphone is no smartphone.

      You don't need a smartphone. It is a mindless, consumer-luxury good, that you have been deluding into buying.

      1. Adair Silver badge

        As usual, other considered points of view are available and may be more appropriate for particular use cases and life-style choices, etc.

      2. sabroni Silver badge

        re: You don't need a smartphone. It is a mindless, consumer-luxury good

        How did you post that? I'm assuming you didn't use a mindless, consumer-luxury good to do it.....

      3. jmch Silver badge

        "You don't need a smartphone. It is a mindless, consumer-luxury good, that you have been deluding into buying."

        Sure it is, just like your phone, your computer, your landline and internet connection;, and, indeed, your car, cooker, oven, dishwasher and fridge. I mean, it's perfectly possible to live in a mud hut or wooden cabin, catch your own food and cook it on an open fire, get around on a bicycle or your own two feet, anything else is a luxury isn't it?

        Meanwhile, in the real world, for a large proportion of the people on this planet, a smartphone IS their TV, computer, phone and internet connection

    3. Jedit
      Thumb Down

      "Fairphone declares its phones as "ethical" yet they use Android. Incongruous"

      My God, it's a genuine Mr Gotcha sighting in the wild!

  5. Imhotep Silver badge

    I don't think the low sales reflect the concerns of consumers, but the awareness of and the availability of the phone.

    In the US, most people are going to buy what is available from their service provider.

    1. jmch Silver badge

      "I don't think the low sales reflect the concerns of consumers, but the awareness of and the availability of the phone."

      It's also a case of production availability. Fairphone is a small company doing small production runs because they don't have the financial backing to afford a big inventory. Essentially they have sold every phone they ever made, which isn't bad going for a small startup that is competing both against high-margin cash-rich behemoths like Apple and Samsung as well as ultra-low-margin / high-volume state-backed outfits such as Huawei and Xiaomi

  6. Ian Johnston Silver badge

    I don't think the low sales reflect the concerns of consumers, but the awareness of and the availability of the phone.

    I think low sales are more likely to reflect the unimpressive specs, stupidly high price and - if the reviews are anything to go by - appalling reliability. Not to mention the fact that two "upgradable" FairPhones have now been dumped rather than upgraded.

    1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

      I have a FairPhone2 - damaged the screen - the replacement cost £80. For that of course you can buy a complete phone - still... But the next thing I did was to get the phone which was in a coat pocket caught between the seat and car door - the chassis bent and now the cost of replacement part was indeed prohibitive. I am now on 2nd Xperia, performance good, cost of ownership was less/not worth to spend the money on the same device. Now that they have updated, I'll take another look/hopefully the parts are relatively less costly - but I doubt it.

    2. JohnFen Silver badge

      Maybe so. But speaking just for me -- this is the only smartphone that I've seen in the past few years that even comes close to being one that I'd be willing to buy.

    3. Marcel

      This phone is not aimed at people who are wowed by a 64-core 5 GHz SoC and a billion pixel screen. That category should continue buying Chinese phones made by people who not yet committed suicide while financially supporting civil wars in Africa.

      I own a Fairphone 2 and it looks much better than all those iPhones with cracked screens that people around me carry around. After almost 4 years my Fairphone 2 works pretty well. The problems I do have seem more Android/app related.

      You can only upgrade phones for a few years because the SoC is not yet supported any more by the manufacturer (Qualcomm). Fairphone, as a small player, cannot force Qualcomm or Google to support their shit for longer. Blame them.

      1. jmch Silver badge

        I had bought the original Fairphone a few years ago. Worked very well, I was very happy with it. When battery started packing it in, replaced at minimal cost compared to getting a new phone. Now the 'new' battery is also knackered, I leave it permanently plugged in and in service as a media player. Great little piece of kit, even though the FP1 was not modular as FP2 - you got to start somewhere!

        As to FP3, we're arriving at a point where phone hardware is pretty commoditised and you don't really need the latest and greatest chippery to run pretty much anything except new games. My 4-year old Samsung S6 is still quite powerful enough for pretty much anything I use it for, it's limiting factor is (of course!) the old battery that is no longer keeping that much charge. So FP3 will be on my shortlist for replacements

  7. Richard Jones 1

    Cost is the killer

    At a price close to 4 times that of my present phone which has a replaceable battery the cost would kill it stone dead for me.

    1. matjaggard

      Re: Cost is the killer

      So it's fine for people to be exploited as long as your phone is cheap?

  8. Stuart Halliday

    Never heard of it before.

    If they want brand awareness and sales, they need a retail shop to sell it.

    Give the shop a big enough profit margin and they'll be clambering to sell it.

  9. Slions

    The sum of the parts is €250 though I guess you would be missing the motherboard, CPU and RAM.

    Shame they don't offer an AMOLED display, IPS ain't that appealing. Dual SIM is great. It looks like the fingerprint reader is on the back which I find rather useless.

    1. jason 7

      Do you not have hands like other humans?

  10. cantankerous swineherd Silver badge

    may well be ethical but its still got google in it

    1. cantankerous swineherd Silver badge

      so it hasn't got Google in it?

  11. Jan 0 Silver badge

    My Fairphone 1 ran long enough for me to decide to skip the F 2 and wait to see what the F 3 would be like. (I've had a secondhand iPhone in the imeantime.) My only concern is that the aspect ratio is a bit high for maps. I think I'll be selling the iPhone and buying the Fairphone 3 next month. It won't have the same usability, but it's good to know that children and wars aren't involved in its design or manufacture

    I'm rather surprised that the F 2 didn't sell more than the F 1, but now the F3 has both ethical and techie d-i-y appeal.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's a nice idea but I'm currently shunning electricity as I heard it's made by poor children, balloons and chunky sweaters.

  13. nautica

    Ever heard of the Pinephone?

    $159.95 Linux phone; nothing Google; bootable microSD card slot; replaceable $10 Samsung battery; headphone jack; security switches; I2C data bus available to back cover; kits already delivered to devs...'t_be_evil


    1. joeW

      Re: Ever heard of the Pinephone?

      Cool, but looks like it hasn't been released yet?

      1. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

        Re: Ever heard of the Pinephone? Cool, but looks like it hasn't been released yet?

        I'm sure it will be poplar.

  14. trevorde


    User replaceable bits are all very nice but how long will it get OS updates/fixes/patches?

    1. James 51

      Re: Updates?

      If you read the article, the comments section or went to fairphone's webpage, five years offically. If you install Sailfish or LinageOS, probably a few years more.

  15. msknight

    If it does Sailfish... I'm in

    By the time I was ready for Fairphone, they'd sold out. The Fairphone 2 could run Sailfish (which I've been using since 2013 as my daily driver) ... and if that's the case with the 3, then I'll likely be picking one of these up next year.

  16. _LC_ Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    “Fair” with a SoC from Qualcomm?

    Isn't that a bit like “humane raping”?!?

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: “Fair” with a SoC from Qualcomm?

      Name me ONE humanely-produced Android-compatible SoC out there and we'll listen. Otherwise, it's simply a choice between which orifice the club goes. And given the app marketplace and lack of alternatives with a comparable selection, going without will be like starving.

      1. _LC_ Silver badge

        Re: “Fair” with a SoC from Qualcomm?

        I don't think you got the jest of it. Qualcomm is well-known for using illegal practices to harm both the competition and consumers. Furthermore, Qualcomm is known for “letting in the bad guys”. Which means that if you're a journalist or person otherwise in danger, this gives them all they need to let you end up like Khashoggi.

        Lastly, Qualcomm gives a toss about the FairPhone. Hence, there's only an outdated Android with no chance of updates.

        Could it get any worse?

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: “Fair” with a SoC from Qualcomm?

          And Mediatek is a Chinese company with all that entails. See what I mean? Which hole is the corncob going? The upper or the lower orifice?

  17. Alchemi


    Another potentially serious endeavor is Purism's Librem 5 (pre-prod, due out allegedly this quarter). I was really excited about Sailfish when it emerged having had a Nokia N9 (still my favorite phone) but was disappointed with how things panned out for the US side.

    I do understand that it's a tough market though but it always amazed me how many people threw around the number of apps in whatever app store. Most are wrappers for a website. I don't want or need extra stuff whose only real purpose is extra telemetry.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    ...just bought a new phone and was not aware of this.

    Also just managed to unbrick the previous phone which I just about given up on.

    Waste waste waste....

  19. bish

    Hm. My wife bought a FF1 at launch. It's still running (painfully slowly, which is ok as she only uses it for phonecalls on a couple of international SIMs) but I had to Sugru in a differently-shaped battery when the original died, as they'd stopped stocking the official, custom-spec battery. I understand that the phone market is both very competitive and utterly dominated by a handful of big players, and a small Dutch independent isn't ever going to become a market leader, but my impression is still that the FF series have been proof of concept devices first and foremost, rather than a serious consumer offering. Maybe that's changing with the FF3 - they certainly seem to have generated a lot more press this time, and if the comments here are anything to go by, people seem fairly positive about the device - but I'll probably stick with my unethical phone until either the FF4 launches, or FF3's success prompts the big boys to use their financial clout to encourage their own supply chains to smarten up.

  20. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

    Radio and OS swap

    It's a good start, but the two biggest reasons for me replacing cellphones is to get new LTE bands or having no maintained OS. Sign me up when I can select the radio bands. I'll even help develop if there's that and 3rd party OS support.

    (T-Mobile has LTE bands 2, 4, 5, 12, 66, 71 in the US. International roaming is free in most countries so you'll want bands 1, 3, 7, 8, 11, 20, 41, and maybe others if you travel. At least some of those LTE bands will migrate to stand-alone 5G over the next few years.)

  21. Miss_X2m1

    Not for Sale in USA???

    Is it not for sale in the USA??? I WANT ONE!! :(

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