The Fairphone 2, Project Ara’s eco-friendly, ethical rival, is ready for sale

Fairphone is a Netherlands-based smartphone company with an admirable mission: build eco-friendly smartphones as ethically, safely, and transparently as possible. For its self-titled first device, the Fairphone, the company sourced conflict-free tin and tantalum, invested in a welfare fund for Chinese workers and an e-waste recycling program in Ghana, and provided customers with a exhaustive breakdown of materials and suppliers used in the phone. The market rewarded Fairphone’s approach back in 2013 — it sold about 60,000 handsets, a number that “exceeded […] expectations” — and the company’s attempting to recreate that success with a successor, the Fairphone 2.

Updated on 09-28-2015 by Andy Boxall: Added in news of the Fairphone 2’s final specification and price, plus news of a future U.S. launch.

Following its announcement, the Fairphone 2 is now available for pre-order through the company’s own website. It’s priced at 525 euros, or £395, which is about $595. A total of 15,000 pre-orders are being targeted, and those who place one before that figure is reached can expect delivery in November. However, the phone is only designed for use in Europe, so it won’t be worth picking one up if you live elsewhere.

At the phone’s official launch, Fairphone said it was investigating a U.S. launch for 2016, but had no firm details to share at the time. Given the company’s small size, it may take a while to put into place.

Fairphone opts for modular convenience

The Fairphone 2 makes improvements over the original in all the right areas. It’s not only as ethically sourced and assembled as its predecessor, but somewhat modular, too. Fragile hardware like the camera, speaker, microphones, and even LEDs and USB port can be swapped with aftermarket parts that Fairphone plans to sell. Replacing the screen, a nearly impossible task on most flagship phones, requires little more than sliding two clips and pulling the module free. It’s customizable, with a replaceable battery and a system for adding new covers that may include additional functionality, along the same lines as the one introduced by Jolla.

In the UK, Fariphone has signed a partnership with The Phone Co-op, an MVNO operating in Three UK’s network, to offer the phone with a £25 (the equivalent of $38) per month tariff with bundled minutes, SMS, and data. The phone is secured with a £30 (that’s about $45) deposit, and deliveries should take place in December.

Founder and CEO Bas van Abel told the Next Web that the idea was not just to build a smartphone with greater longevity than most on the market, but one that “[encourages] users to have a deeper relationship with their phones,” by allowing them to “take more responsibility for keeping them in working condition.” To that end, the inside of the Fairphone 2’s cover illustrates, in layman’s terms, the layout of each internal component, most of which can be removed without a screwdriver.

“With Fairphone, I want to offer buyers this choice, while raising the bar for the for the industry.”

The hardware is rather middling, though. The Fairphone 2 packs a 5-inch 1080p display, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor, 2GB of RAM, 32GB of storage expandable via MicroSD, an 8MP rear-facing camera, and a 2,420mAh battery. The lower specs are a cost-saving measure — fair-trade components greatly inflate the sticker price.

But affordability was never Fairphone’s mission. The company began as an awareness campaign within the Waag Society research institute in the Netherlands. From there, it developed into a non-profit social enterprise, drawing funding initially from NGOs (non-government organizations) and seed investors before turning to crowdfunding.

The minerals for the first and newest fairphone are extracted and processed in a Democratic Republic of Congo supply chain that “[doesn’t] fund illegal armed forces” and “[contributes] to regional stability,” wrote Van Abel in a blog post. Even so, the Fairphone 2 isn’t “100 percent fair” — there are 30 minerals that go into a smartphone, Van Abel says, and while Fairphone has long-term ambitions to source almost all ethically, it’s moving to do so at a realistic pace.

Any progress is good progress, Van Abel says. “As a designer, it disturbed me that no one in the world truly understands how a mobile phone is made and when you don’t understand how something is made, you can’t change it,” he told Digital Trends in 2013. “Consuming is a political act … if you have a choice. With Fairphone, I want to offer buyers this choice, while raising the bar for the for the industry. By buying this phone, you join a movement to change the way things are.”

Previous updates:

Updated on 07-16-2015 by Andy Boxall: Added in news of the Fairphone 2’s pre-order schedule

Article originally published on 06-16-2015


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