New Fairphone 3 Plus shows modular phones can break the endless upgrade cycle

Fairphone continues to work towards its goal of establishing a viable market for what it calls ethical phones, and it’s doing so with an innovative modular smartphone program that helps owners of the previous Fairphone model feel compelled to upgrade to the latest one, just to get a basic hardware update. The Fairphone 3 Plus is an upgraded version of the existing Fairphone 3 with better cameras and updated software, and those upgraded camera sensors are also available separately, ready for use on the older Fairphone 3.

This goes to the core of what Fairphone wants to do, which is extend the lifetime of a smartphone we own and use to at least five years. Along with this, it’s working to improve conditions for those involved with producing the phone around the world, and boosting the recycling of materials while also reducing e-waste. Its efforts extend throughout the process of making its phones, right down to transporting by train rather than air to cut down on environmental impact, and a program to ensure a special bonus is paid to workers on its production line.

The Fairphone 3 Plus is almost identical to the Fairphone 3. It has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 632 processor with 4GB of RAM, a 5.65-inch screen, a 3040mAh battery, and 64GB of internal storage space. It’s a 4G device with NFC, Bluetooth 5.0, and a MicroSD card slot. A new audio system improves call quality and audio when recording video. It’s also modular, and a total of seven components can be swapped out if they break.

The camera system is the major upgrade over the Fairphone 3, and consists of a new 48-megapixel main sensor and a 16-megapixel selfie sensor. It promises faster focus, better contrast and color balance, and improved low light performance too. The modules have been engineered so they are the same overall size as those used in the Fairphone 3, and can be purchased separately and used to upgrade the old model, rather than owners feeling the need to buy a new phone just to get the improved camera. Fairphone even sends you a pack to return the old camera module, which is then either recycled of refurbished, so your upgrade doesn’t end up producing e-waste.

Android 10 comes pre-installed on the Fairphone 3 Plus and will be available as an update for the Fairphone 3 in September, where it’s required to make the new camera modules work. Fairphone has also worked hard to use more consumer recycled plastics to build the new phone. The Fairphone 3 Plus’s construction uses 40% consumer recycled plastics compared to the 9% used in making the Fairphone 3.

You’ll pay 469 euros, or about $555, for the Fairphone 3 Plus. The main camera module costs 60 euros, or around $70, and the selfie camera module is 35 euros, or $41. The pair can be purchased in a bundle for 70 euros, or approximately $82. The cost of the Fairphone 3 has been reduced to 419 euros, or around $495. Currently Fairphone only sells its devices in Europe, where it says the challenge to do well is already big enough, but adds worldwide availability in the future is possible.

Last year Fairphone met its device sales target, and revealed it has sold 90,000 phones in total. The more it sells, the more influence it has over the industry, and CEO Eva Gouwens summed up why its efforts and success is important: “By showing that it is commercially viable to care for people and the planet, we want to motivate the electronics industry to act more responsibly,” she said.

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