Shiftphone: an Ethical Smartphone That’s Made in Germany

For everyone who cares about the environment, but still wants access to the latest technologies, there's Shiftphone, a smartphone that's both fair and coltan-free.

Autor*in Ana Galán Herranz, 10.24.17

For everyone who cares about the environment, but still wants access to the latest technologies, there’s Shiftphone, a smartphone that’s both fair and coltan-free.

While phones, particularly smart ones, have become an essential part of our everyday lives, they also come with high environmental costs. Not only they are produced using coltan, a mineral that is usually mined in unsustainable ways and in areas of armed conflict (fuelled by the fight for access to those same minerals), but many devices are also made with an inbuilt battery and on the basis that if you dare to take it apart to fix the phone or replace the battery, you jeopardise the warranty.

However, there are some fair, environmentally friendly alternatives to the usual smartphone brands, with the Fairphone, which first came out in 2013, being one of the most well-known.

Like Fairphone, Shiftphones are Android devices with a small-as-possible negative environmental impact. However, unlike Fairphones, which are produced and assembled in China, Shift is a family-run business based in the Frankfurt am Main region, and, starting at just under 300 EUR, their range of phones has slightly more pocket-friendly price tags.

They aim to deliver a product with three main features:

  • repairable technology
  • fair production
  • cool, feature-filled design.

Modular, Fixable and Transparent

Unlike most smartphones on the market, Shift’s range of smartphones can be repaired, rooted, and/or be updated. Not only do they come with a replaceable battery, but the company also provides phone parts and tutorial videos and the promise that the warranty is not invalid if the device is unscrewed or repaired by an external source. There are already a whole bunch of videos on YouTube from hobby tech fans showing you how to carry out repairs on your own Shift smartphone.

And the website also offers a break down of the price – how much goes towards transport costs and development, for example, and even the fact that five per cent of the price goes to support social and sustainability projects.

But what really gives value to this phone is the way it is produced. Just like the Fairphone, it is manufactured in a socially sustainable way, in other words, with all workers involved receiving fair wages and absolutely no child labour anywhere in the supply chain. And its main value proposition, and where it really differs from the Fairphone, is that the phones from Shift are made without the use of coltan at all.

Currently, the website offers you the chance to pre-order the latest models – Shift 5.3 and Shift 6 (with the 6m being the most sustainable product that they have ever made, according to the brand) – as well as the Shift 12m, a fairly produced laptop, which is still under development, and that like the phones, comes with a replaceable battery.

The online shop also offers repairs – such as a new display – and replacement batteries.

Summing up, Shiftphone is a brand that’s definitely worth taking another look at if you want to use state-of-the-art technology without compromising your values. And if you are tired of a neverending stream of new updated devices and a industry where consumption is based on planned obsolescence, then supporting a brand like Shift could make all the difference.

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