Thursday, 29 October 2020

Fairphone 3(+) 2020 Revisit

Fairphone offer a unique take on the smartphone in terms of it being the only example which is truly modular, the only smartphone that I can think of with a replaceable battery in 2020 and certainly the only one which seems to genuinely care about the planet and doing their bit for people and an eco-friendly approach to the earth.

I reviewed the Fairphone 3 back in February and now the company have released an updated Fairphone 3, dubbed 3+. It's essentially the same phone but with, out of the box, some updated modules. Some may argue that this has gone against the ethos of upgrading the phone you have for five years, to release a new one, but the changes are few to be fair - and not unfair!

So why the upgrade? What's new? What's different? Just to be clear, the phone we have here is the 3 and not the 3+ so the very same one I reviewed, but we do have extra modules. You can see Steve Litchfield's original review in Phones Show 386 and his recent update in Phones Show 408.  According to Fairphone "it comes with two new camera modules and audio improvements to boost technical performance, enhance the user experience, and improve sustainability. The new camera modules are also sold separately. This way, you can upgrade your Fairphone 3 by replacing the modules." It would appear that only thing which can't be upped for users of the 3 is the audio improvement - but perhaps that will come.

The camera module is a 48MP Sony Quad Bayer unit that we've seen so much of from other manufacturers of smartphones in the last couple of years over the old 12MP unit. As they say, this module can be bought for the 3 and slotted in. Fairphone sent us this module so we can see the differences and users can buy this for £55. The Selfie camera has also been upped from the 8MP to 16MP and again, this is modular and users can buy one for £33. The loudness of the new speaker on the + version has increased in dB from 94 to 96, so I wonder how significant an improvement that is anyway.

While we're pricing stuff up, let's run through a summary of spare parts and what they'll cost the user in autumn 2020. A Back Cover is £21.95, Display £81.95, Battery £27, 48MP Camera £54.95, 16MP Selfie £32.95 and Speaker £17.95. So the Fairphone 3 user can replace broken bits or upgrade the units where improved ones are available armed with the supplied screwdriver/lever and a modicum of common sense. This is not rocket science - more like Meccano!

To summarise the specs, the phone is powered by a 3,000mAh (replaceable of course) battery, SnapDragon 632 chipset and 4GB RAM. It arrived with Android 9 but this has been updated to Android 10 and as I report in October 2020, it even has October 2020 Google Security Patches. Remember that Fairphone guarantee FIVE years of updates here, keeping their phone bang up to date close to a Pixel. There's the mono speaker and 3.5mm audio-out socket with USB-C port for charging and data. There's 64GB of internal storage with microSD Card support and support for two nanoSIM Cards. The Gorilla Glass 5 protected front panel is an LCD, 5.65", 1080p with a ratio of 18:9 returning 427ppi. Round the back is a capacitive fingerprint scanner which works really well. Do check my previous review linked to above for a further breakdown of the hardware and my thoughts specifically on each aspect.

As a short follow-up review I'll just punch a few headliners out here in that my screen-on 10% test returned me exactly 2 hours, so pretty good for a 3,000mAh battery, the speaker has very reasonable output - I was surprised to recall how good it was even though the modular design of the phone seems to have forced it into the bottom left-hand corner on the side, which, for the right-hander places it always in the palm of the left hand. Still, when it's on a desk it's fine and resonates well. It’s good’n’loud and quality (even before equalisation via a music/video app) is actually pretty good. There’s a bit of bass and nice tone. There is a good earpiece speaker though and as Steve mentioned in his video, it's fingers crossed that that might be utilised in software to create stereo!

The Fairphone 3 is bigger than I remember from first time round - probably spent too long with small Pixels now! It’s very slippery, too. There is a case they sell for it for £35 but it looks just as slippery, not a TPU. I’d forgotten how wild the vibration motor was! It really is powerful and loud, so much so that I doubt anyone has it on! I’d forgotten how high-up the fingerprint scanner is (to get out of the way of the battery). 

There seems to be a problem just now with the early Android 10 adoption which we really hope they will fix in next month's update along with November 2020 Google Security patches. When Gesture Navigation in selected (over three-buttons) the home-screen elements are screwed by the overlaying of the Google Search Widget on top of (slightly) the Dock app shortcuts. The App Drawer Search Field at the top underlays the Notification tray at the top (which is in relief). Look on a Pixel and that sits lower, under any content. Play Store downloads were taking forever to complete, reboots didn't fix for me, though Steve didn't find this happening. Work needs doing, anyway. I have also had a couple of completely random reboots when I've not even been touching the phone! But kudos for getting the update out anyway so that users can enjoy Dark settings and GMail, for example.

It’s a kind of simplified version of Vanilla in some ways - for example, there’s no way to change the shape of home-screen icons (that whole ‘style’ Pixel thing is missing and they don’t have their own like, for example, Moto do). There's absolutely no Always on Display or even double-tap-to-wake so users need to resort to Always on AMOLED (or similar) though there is Notification LED up-top. Great. Not many left now doing that.

As for modularity - I absolutely love it! I might well be tempted to buy one of these with a couple of spare batteries so that I could see what happens in the long-term with the promises of updates etc. It's currently up for £425 with 2-4 weeks delivery. Anyway, these are my updated thoughts and it's been a pleasure to revisit this all-but unique offering in the phone world.

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