Fairphone 3+ Review: The Most Repairable Phone On The Planet

Advertisement
Advertisement

The Fairphone 3+ is extremely easy to repair, and it’ll probably have a long life cycle.

Fairphone 3+
€469
Rating
star star star star_empty star_empty
Pros
  • Easily repairable
  • Modular components
  • Recycled plastic saves the planet
  • Promise of a long lifecycle
  • Good fingerprint scanner
  • Removable battery
Cons
  • Poor camera in low light
  • Thick bezels
  • Outdated design
  • No fast charging
  • No stereo speakers

Fairphone supplied us with a review unit of the Fairphone 3+, but didn’t have a say in our opinion, nor did they see this review before you. We’ve been using the device for a couple of weeks before forming an opinion.

The Fairphone 3+ comes from a Dutch company called ‘Fairphone’. The company has been around since 2013, and its main goal is to make “fairer electronics”. This company announced the Fairphone 3 last year, and the Fairphone 3+ is a slight improvement compared to that phone. The design remains the same, basically, but an improved rear camera setup is included in the new model.

The trick is, you can buy this camera setup separately, and include it in the original Fairphone 3. That is not something you can do with other phones, which makes this phone special. The phone is extremely easy to disassemble, and it’s easy to repair as a result of that. Fairphone went out of its way to create a device like this. We’ll talk more about the design soon, but from the repairability standpoint, this point is at the very top.

The Fairphone 3+ might not offer the latest specs on the market, but it’s also not as expensive as a ton of other phones out there. If you’re looking for a budget smartphone which will get support for the years to come, and help save the environment at the same time, even a little bit, the Fairphone 3+ may be worth checking out. Fairphone recycles a large portion of the plastic used to make this phone, which is a huge plus for our planet.

Advertisement

Environmentally-friendly build brings modularity & repairability

From the design standpoint, this phone is either quite impressive, or quite underwhelming, depending on what you’re paying attention to. If you look at the sheer look of the device, you may be disappointed. Not only is it made out of plastic, but it has rather thick bezels. It’s really nothing special to look at. Fairphone did not make this phone to be appealing in terms of its looks, though.

The main appeal of the phone is its repairability, and its simplicity, not to mention the fact that a large portion of the plastic used here has been recycled. If you buy into the Fairphone 3+, you’ll do a small part to help the planet, and chances are you’ll be able to easily repair the phone if needed. The device also comes with a small screwdriver in the box, while the charger is not included. That is something to remember, as you’ll need to use your own charger, or buy one. The phone does have a Type-C USB port at the bottom.

A flat display is included on the phone, and we’ll talk more about it in the next section. A capacitive fingerprint scanner sits on the back of the phone, rather far up, in fact, I would have preferred if it were a bit lower. It’s not a big problem, though, not at all. A single camera is located in the top-left corner of the phone’s back, while you’ll find a physical button on the left. All the physical buttons are on the left, including the power / lock button, which is a bit odd, but there you go.

Advertisement

The Fairphone 3+ does not feel squeaky, or anything of the sort. The phone is well-built despite being made out of plastic. You can remove its backplate by using your finger, and you’ll notice quite a few screws on the back once you do. That’s where the screwdriver (which is included in the box) comes into play. You can remove any of the phone’s components, which are arranged into modules. The Fairphone 3+ offers a simple, and at the same time very interesting design, though it’s not much to look at, to be quite honest.

Its display is good, but not amongst the best out there

The Fairphone 3+ does not feature an OLED display. That being said, it does come with an IPS LCD display which is not bad at all. You have to keep in mind that this is a budget smartphone, which is why of the reasons it includes an LCD panel. That display is quite vibrant, even though not as much as an OLED panel. Viewing angles are also really good, which is the case with the vast majority of newer LCD panels.

This phone does include a flat display, and it measures 5.65 inches in diagonal. We’re looking at a fullHD+ (2160 x 1080) panel here. Corning’s Gorilla Glass 5 protects this panel, by the way. The phone offers a 72.6-percent screen-to-body ratio. That may not seem as high in comparison to most modern smartphones, and that’s because this handset does include quite thick bezels above and below the display.

Advertisement

AH Fairphone 3 Plus image 25

So, what’s the gist when it comes to the display? Well, the Fairphone 3+ does include a good IPS LCD panel, which offers nice colors, viewing angles, and it’s quite visible outdoors. It’s not the best LCD panel we’ve seen, but it’s quite solid nonetheless. Most people won’t care if this is an LCD or OLED panel, as long as it’s good, and this one is, that’s for sure.

The Fairphone 3+ performance will be enough for the vast majority of people

The Fairphone 3+ comes equipped with a processor from 2018, the Snapdragon 632. On top of that, the company also included 4GB of RAM: Now, that may not sound like a great combination for a 2020 smartphone. It certainly does not represent powerful internals, that’s for sure. This phone does perform well enough for most people, though. What does that mean? Well, it’s not exactly fast, but it gets the job done.

Advertisement

You can expect the same performance the Fairphone 3 had to offer, to be quite honest, considering how similar these two phones are. The phone will do basically everything slower than phones with much faster processors, but it’s not slow per se. If you’re not used to the bleeding edge performance, this phone will serve you just fine. It may take a bit longer to load an app or something of the sort, but overall performance is good.

Android 10 comes pre-installed on the device, which certainly helps with the performance part. The best of all, Fairphone aims to provide this phone with five years of software updates. That is one of the main appeals of this smartphone, along with its repairability factor, of course.

Battery life is good, while the battery itself is easily replaceable

The battery life on the Fairphone 3+ is not bad, but it’s not great either. This phone is equipped with a 3,040mAh battery pack, while its display is fairly large. It does include a processor that is not exactly power-hungry, though, so that’s a plus. If you’re a power user, this phone is probably not for sure. You won’t get great battery life here, and besides, this phone isn’t exactly aimed at power users.

Advertisement

AH Fairphone 3 Plus image 27

I was able to get over 5 hours of screen-on-time consistently. Well, on one occasion, I came in just shy of 5 hours, but it usually crosses that mark before the phone dies. That’s more than good enough for the vast majority of people, that’s for sure. Now, in terms of charging, do note that the phone does not ship with a charger. You will need to get one yourself, or use one of those you have at home.

The phone comes with a Type-C USB port at the bottom, and it does not support fancy fast charging. That is one of the more pronounced negatives here, as it will take a while to charge up its 3,040mAh battery pack. The good thing is, this battery is easily removable, as are most other components in the Fairphone 3+.

Advertisement

Good for daylight shots, bad for nighttime ones

If you’re shooting photos in good or medium light levels, the camera on the Fairphone 3+ will do a good job, for the most part. It falls apart in low light, though. These are the results we expected, to be quite honest, as the Fairphone 3+ is not exactly a camera smartphone. The camera upgrade it got over its predecessor is easily noticeable, though. The performance in this regard is much better than on the Fairphone 3.

AH Fairphone 3 Plus image 32

Unlike its predecessor, the Fairphone 3+ does support object tracking and scene optimization. Even though there is no optical zoom, its digital zoom is good enough. The portrait mode is also not bad, as long as there’s enough light in the scene. This camera setup offers better colors, more detail, and overall better performance than the setup in the Fairphone 3.

Advertisement

Don’t aim to use it much in low light, though. The camera does really fall apart in low light, and it doesn’t have a special mode for low light photography. There’s a lot of grain in such photos, and noise is quite pronounced as well. Video content at up to 5K at 30fps was okay, though nothing to write home about. When it comes to shooting video in low light, well, that’s not a great idea here, same as with pictures.

Fairphone 3 Plus camera sample 1

Passable audio, with poor bass

The Fairphone 3+ does bring some improvements when it comes to audio performance. Compared to the Fairphone 3, this handset does offer louder audio output. That’s not all, though, as it’s also crisper than the original. The phone’s speaker is still in a rather odd position, though. It’s placed on the left-hand side of the phone. That’s not something you see every day, right?

Do note that, even though audio performance is better than on the Fairphone 3, it’s still not great. The bass is basically non-existent, while the sound does distort at high volumes. Sound via a pair of headphones is also nothing to write home about. It’s good, but that’s about it. Bass is on the weaker side in this regard as well.

Barebones Android is a good thing

The Fairphone 3+ software is barebones, that’s the best way to describe it. Fairphone did add its app here, but that’s pretty much it. Only the essential Google apps are pre-installed, the ones you’d expect with vanilla Android. It’s up to you to populate the apps list with whatever you need, you don’t need to tolerate apps you don’t plan on using. That’s the best route to go with for this handset, as it’s a budget phone, with budget internals.

The software does work well in combination with that hardware. As I already mentioned in the performance section, it works really well, but don’t expect flagship-like performance. Even though this software is fairly light, there’s only so much this hardware can power through. The UI does look quite clean on the Fairphone 3+, and if you’ve ever used a phone with stock Android, you’ll be right at home.

AH Fairphone 3 Plus image 29

Speaking of which, Android 10 does come pre-installed on this handset. Considering that, you’ll have access to Google’s new navigation gestures, and everything in between that you may need. As mentioned earlier, Fairphone does plan to support this phone (in the software sense) for 5 years. So… you can expect quite a few more updates to come.

The Fairphone 3+ is a great offering… for some people

The Fairphone 3+ is available in Europe, and it’s priced at €469. Now, I’d argue there are better choices out there for that amount of money. And by better I mean those that are built out of more premium materials, and more powerful at the same time. Still, if you want a phone that is extremely easy to repair thanks to its modularity and plastic build, and a phone that saves the environment at the same time. This is the way to go. This phone will also have a lot of software support in the coming years, according to Fairphone, so… it all depends on what you’re looking for in a phone. The Fairphone 3+ sure is a unique smartphone.