Dutch company Fairphone believes smartphones can and should be completely repairable and free of conflict-sourced materials. Ars covered the Fairphone 2 launch back in 2015 and performed an assisted teardown of a late prototype model with the company’s CEO. This time around, repair guide site iFixit got the pre-launch prototype and took it down top-to-bottom to see if Fairphone still makes good on its promise.
The Fairphone 3 itself
Before we get into the physical teardown, let’s take a quick look at the Fairphone 3’s specs.
- 5.65-inch display—2160×1080, 24-bit color depth, 18:9 aspect ratio, Gorilla Glass 5
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 632 SoC—1.8GHz eight-core CPU, with Adreno 506 GPU @ 650MHz
- 4GB RAM
- 64GB internal storage, microSD expansion available
- 12MP rear/8MP front camera. Rear camera has dual LED flash and takes video 4k@30fps, 1080p@60fps, 720p@60fps
- 802.11ac Wi-Fi with BlueTooth 5 + LE, NFC, and support for multiple GNSS (GPS) standards
- Dual nano-SIM card, supporting 2G, 3G, and 4G LTE (GSM only—no CDMA; sorry Verizon subscribers)
- USB Type-C, sensors include fingerprint scanner, ambient light, accelerometer, gyroscope, proximity, barometer, and compass
- 3.5mm headphone jack included—no USB-C dongle needed!
- 11.8Wh battery
If you’re not a complete phone-head, you may want a few comparisons to place where the Fairphone 3 sits on a performance scale. A lot of international phones use the same Snapdragon 632 SoC, but very few seem to have been sold in the USA. It’s best described as a middle-of-the-road budget chipset. When comparing either CPU or GPU scores on multiple benchmarks, the Snapdragon 632 used in the Fairphone scores roughly 25% to 33% faster than the Exynos 7884B used in the Samsung Galaxy A10e (one of AT&T’s current line-up of “free with new subscription” budget phones) but only half as fast as the Snapdragon 845 used in Google’s flagship Pixel 3. These observations hold up across a wide range of both CPU and GPU benchmarks.
The 11.8Wh battery comes in between the Google Pixel 3 (11.6Wh) and the iPhone XS Max (12.1Wh). We won’t really know what this comes to in run-time until the phone hits the market, however, since power draw is the flip side of the coin when you look at power capacity. That can depend strongly on OS and application optimizations.
The phone is a little less than 10mm thick and weighs in at 189g (6.67oz). This is a touch thick, but the weight is middle-of-the-road; by comparison, the iPhone 10 was 7.7mm thick and 174g, the iPhone 11 is 8.3mm thick and 194g. Google’s Pixel 3 is 7.9mm thick and only 148g (5.22oz).
Gorilla Glass 5 is the same formulation Samsung used in the Galaxy S8 and S9 series, although it has moved on to Gorilla Glass 6 with the Galaxy S10+. Google also used Gorilla Glass 5 in its Pixel 3 and Pixel 3XL, though not the cheaper Pixel 3A.
iFixit did the complete teardown disassembly shown above with only a spudger and a 00 Phillips-head screwdriver. If you want to go a step further and take apart the modules themselves—not something you’d do in the course of normal repair—you’ll need to add a T5 Torx driver and an opening pick to your toolkit. Nothing was hot-glued together. The headphone jack, flash LEDs, and proximity and ambient light sensors are soldered onto the breakout board; the USB-C port and mic are soldered into the bottom module.
In addition to the full 10 out of 10 score on repairability, the Fairphone 3 uses ethically sourced components and labor.
Price and availability
Bad news, US readers—you’re going to need a friend somewhere in Europe if you want to buy one. The company is only shipping to European countries, although the phone itself should work to some degree with most American mobile companies (except Verizon) if you can somehow get one.
European readers can preorder a Fairphone 3 now, with shipping expected to begin in late October. The phone costs €450.00 plus shipping (for the UK, shipping is DHL, with cost from €10.20-13.20). By way of comparison, that’s a bit more than a Pixel 2—and you do get the assurance that if you break the screen, it can be easily and cheaply replaced (possibly at home!), the battery can be even more easily replaced when it degrades, and that you did your best to avoid problematic supply chains.
Listing image by Fairphone