iFixit Analysis Praises This Modular Smartphone, But One Issue Remains

fairphone iFixit

Independent reviewer iFixit has praised Fairphone for their modular smartphone. But, is it perfect? We're not sure.

Author Benjamin Lucks:

Translation Lana O'Sullivan, 12.20.23

Smartphone manufacturers such as Apple, Samsung and Xiaomi are trying to become more sustainable by using recycled materials and omitting chargers. They are often accused of greenwashing in this regard, as sustainability is not implemented consistently enough in both the production and design of the devices. Manufacturers such as Shiftphone and Fairphone, on the other hand, show how mobile phones can actually become more sustainable. Thanks to their modular smartphone design, their phones can be repaired without any expertise or possible consequential damage.

The manufacturer Fairphone recently received an award for particularly good repairability for its latest model. This comes from iFixit, a company that specialises in the repair of technology and smartphones in particular.

Although Fairphone was able to make the fifth generation of its smartphones even more modular, one feature of the latest model bothers us. But how do modular smartphones actually work?

How modular smartphones work

In order to build more compact smartphones and reduce production costs, most mobile phone manufacturers solder and glue the required components. In the event of damage, it is therefore quite expensive to replace sensitive parts such as the battery, camera or display. With manufacturers such as Samsung, Xiaomi or Apple, repairs must therefore be carried out by experts, which is costly and involves a certain risk.

Quelle: iFixit

Thanks to its modular design, the Fairphone 5 is different. As iFixit confirmed in their analysis, most parts can be replaced completely independently without specialist knowledge. All consumers have to do is remove the back of the mobile phone with a little muscle power and unscrew the defective components.

As Fairphone provides both instructions and spare parts, the Fairphone 5 can be repaired particularly efficiently. In the fifth generation, Fairphone has been able to improve modularity once again, as the camera components can now also be replaced individually. With its predecessor, the Fairphone 4, the entire camera module had to be replaced.

Full marks thanks to longer software updates

However, the latest Fairphone ultimately achieved the maximum number of points in the iFixit test thanks to an improved update promise. Fairphone states that it will provide the smartphone, which was released in 2023, with security updates for eight years. Five Android versions are also to be supported within this period, which can bring new functions and improved performance to the mobile phone.

Other manufacturers have also been advertising an improved update guarantee for several years. In comparison, Fairphone is particularly consistent with eight years of security updates. The company almost achieves the ideal of a smartphone that can be used for 10 years without a total loss. This is the aim of the “10-year-smartphone” campaign, in which the refurbished marketplace Back Market is also involved alongside Fairphone.

At the same time, the Fairphone 5 already fulfils the new requirements that the EU will introduce at the end of 2024. These will require mobile phone manufacturers to provide new devices with functional and security updates for at least five years after their release.

Backwards compatibility is the next goal

Even though the Fairphone 5 is significantly more sustainable compared to many fast-tech models, we take a critical view of one aspect of the smartphone. This is because iFixit only assesses the repairability of the new model in their analysis. However, the Fairphone 5 was released just two years after its predecessor, the Fairphone 4 – and its hardware is incompatible with the new components.

When asked why two generations of devices have been released in such a short time, Fairphone told us that it was “not the aim of the new Fairphone generation” to generate purchase requests. They do not want “customers to swap their working Fairphone 4 for a Fairphone 5.” The Fairphone 4 will therefore continue to be sold alongside the Fairphone 5.

Quelle: Fairphone

Instead, Fairphone developed the fifth generation to realise even better repairability. The manufacturer “decided in favour of a significantly different internal layout to the Fairphone 4 for various reasons”. Precisely in order to be able to design the individual components of the mobile phone camera modularly.

In future, however, Fairphone plans to realise “greater backwards compatibility from one model to the next”. However, the manufacturer also sees the risk of customers replacing functioning modules with more powerful components. This could result in electronic waste, which Fairphone naturally wants to avoid.

“The Fairphone 5”, the manufacturer continues, “is a device for customers who need a new phone in 2023 that will remain relevant for many years to come”. And with a longer update guarantee and improved modularity, it certainly seems to have achieved this.

Identify Plants With the Flora Incognita App – And Support Important Biological Research

AI-supported plant identification app Flora Incognita provides users with the names of previously unknown plants, turning you into a citizen scientist.

Deep Green Data Centres Heat Swimming Pools in the “Perfect Symbiotic Relationship”

Deep Green uses waste heat from its data centres to heat swimming pools, reducing their carbon emissions and keeping them afloat as energy costs soar.

Torge Peters
Digitalisation Can Advance Sustainable Agriculture – Under Certain Conditions

Digitalisation has long since arrived in agriculture. But how do these developments contribute to environmental and climate protection? We present solutions.

Fish Doorbell in Utrecht: Why Thousands of People Are Waiting for Fish on the Internet

Fish live more safely in Utrecht thanks to a fish doorbell. The project not only helps fish on their migration paths, it also draws attention to the dangers of human infrastructure.

Why a Digital Twin of the Arctic Has “The Potential to be Game-Changing”

PolArctic, a start-up using modelling technology and artificial intelligence to create a digital twin of the Arctic, will map out existing climate impacts on the area – and predict new ones.

© Benjamin Lucks
The Klim Mobile App: Making Regenerative Agriculture Simple and Lucrative

In the Klim app, farms can record their regenerative agricultural measures. In return, they get knowledge, a community and funds to support their work.

Edible Electronics: Reducing Electronic Waste With Digestible Robots and Nutritious Drones

Ever heard of edible electronics? Sounds like a contradiction in terms, but it could be a solution to reducing electronic waste, among other benefits.

Vegan Meat: A Climate-Friendly and Healthy Alternative?

Meat substitutes are booming - but what are vegan substitutes actually made from? And, are they actually nutritious?