E-WASTE

Fairphone 5 parts won’t be backward compatible with Fairphone 4

illustrations of the Fairphone 4 and Fairphone 5
The Fairphone 5 (left) is very close in shape to the Fairphone 4 (right), but not quite close enough.

by Jay Richardson
1st September 2023

The fifth generation of Fairphone’s ultra-repairable smartphone, Fairphone 5, will not contain any parts compatible with the previous generation, the company confirmed to the sonification yesterday. Fairphone 5 was launched on Wednesday, succeeding the two-year-old Fairphone 4. Users who want fifth-generation features—including an OLED display with a 90 Hz refresh rate, upgraded processor, 50 megapixel front-facing camera, larger back camera sensors, and a higher-capacity battery—will need to buy a new phone.

Fairphone spokesperson Anna Jopp said there’ll be “no backwards compatibility—the parts of the Fairphone 5 won’t fit the Fairphone 4 and vice versa”—but that the company “definitely wants to improve” compatibility in future models.

For the foreseeable future, there won’t be a new version of the Fairphone 4’s camera, whose distinctly average performance became a sticking point for reviewers. While the company saw a new camera module for the Fairphone 3 as a “necessary upgrade to allow people to keep their phones for longer,” said Jopp, it’s “not planning to release any other upgraded modules for Fairphone 4 or 5 at this point.” 

Jopp said Fairphone’s “primary focus is still on longevity”: the company sells parts for most of its products, including its over-ear headphones, back to the 2015 Fairphone 2. Users can buy screens, ports, batteries, cameras, back covers, speakers, speaker covers, ear cushions, headbands, and cables, and replace them at home with a standard Phillips screwdriver—or, for phone batteries, with no tools at all. iFixit gave the Fairphone 4 a 10/10 repairability score.

The Old Port of Montreal at dusk, shot on a Fairphone 4.

And modular repairs aren’t Fairphone’s only trick: it also claims to source raw materials responsibly, advocate for workers’ welfare, and generally “put people and the planet first.” Like other manufacturers, it encourages users to trade in their old phones, though it acknowledges, like most recycling experts, that “in the end, every electronic product becomes e-waste.”

But the two newest phones have identical external dimensions, and design differences between them look much less significant than the intergenerational changes before 2021. That raises the question of whether users who have bought specifically into Fairphone’s ultra-repairable brand will be satisfied with replacing, and not upgrading, their phone’s parts. Even if Fairphone is way beyond the competition on this, they’re jumping over a low bar. º

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