Note: The text below is based on a shooting script for our video Fairphone 4 teardown; it may not perfectly match the video dialogue. If you’re more interested in Fairphone’s new wireless earbuds, you can read that teardown here.
For years now, Fairphone has been making very repairable phones.
They always receive top marks on our repairability scale, and they are in many ways a beacon to the rest of the industry, an example of how to design a repairable smartphone.
And with right to repair legislation just around the corner, there’s no doubt other manufacturers will be begging to copy Fairphone’s homework over the next few years.
There are a few places Fairphone has struggled though, which is why you may never have even heard of them. For starters, none of their phones are available in the US. You can buy one from overseas, but depending on your carrier you may end up missing important cellular hardware.
Beyond that, their focus on repairability has historically meant compromising in the spec department.
Old or underpowered chips in previous Fairphone devices forced you to choose between a repairable, but sluggish device, and a less-repair-friendly device with a higher-end chip that will stay snappy for years.
That compromise may no longer be an issue though! Today we’re looking at the Fairphone 4, which has some major upgrades in the processor and camera departments, as well as 5G and a hint of ingress protection, all while supposedly retaining its repairability.
Today I’m going to explore that repairability, calling out the good parts along with the not-so-good parts.
I’m relieved to see a notch here for prying up the back cover. It is pretty difficult to remove though! I’m sure that’s part of the IP certification.
Underneath, we’ve got maybe my favorite part of this design—labels. Easy to see and understand.
I’m sure this slightly complicates manufacturing, but it makes the product so much more approachable, especially to first time fixers.
First I’ll go for the battery, which pops out with another quick fingernail pry. This is a 15.03Wh cell, about the same dimensions as an iPhone battery, minus the L-shape.
Fairphone can safely accomplish this easy-remove battery design because of the shell on this cell.
Unlike iPhone batteries, this lithium ion cell is housed in a plastic shell, which protects it when it naturally expands, as well as when you pick it out of the phone. Thanks to the shell, they can design the battery to bump up against all the parts around it, which hold it in place instead of adhesive.
Then, the next best part, they use these exposed metal contact points to transfer power, so no worrying about a fragile cable. Removing the battery is disconnecting it.
Right under the battery is something that will blow your mind: A microSD card reader.
With this little card, which you can buy almost anywhere, I can add additonal storage space to this phone.
Seriously, it is so sad that these aren’t standard in phones anymore. So many phones could have a longer life if there were only an easy way to add storage to them. (Looking at you, 16GB iPhone users)
Next, I’m going to pull all the Phillips screws here, loosening both the camera and the loudspeaker covers.
Under the camera cover are … cameras! There’s no need to remove these 48MP cameras from the frame though—Fairphone’s spare part for this includes the antenna bracket.
Combining parts like this something to be wary of, but there are two things that make this work for Fairphone:
- Number 1, the cameras are pretty easy to separate from this antenna if you have to
- Number 2, attaching a large, low-cost component to something delicate and precise like a camera is actually not a bad idea.
It gives you something to hold on to, makes the thing easier to keep track of, and makes sure that the cameras are precisely aligned, no matter who installs them.
The lower antenna bracket has the vibration motor and speaker attached to it, and underneath you have access to the modular usb-c port.
Noticeably missing here is a 3.5mm headphone jack. We have … feelings about this, and you might too. It’s ultimately a matter of convenience, especially since this usb-c port is so easy to remove. There’s just something about having a dedicated auxiliary port that we’ll never not miss.
Under the heart label fastened with Torx screws is the middle section of this motherboard! Before I pull it out, I’ll disconnect the earpiece speaker and front-facing camera at the top of the phone.
I don’t think this change of screws is to keep people from accessing the motherboard, the way Apple devices sometimes use pentalobe screws. Torx drivers are common, and the board is still easy to remove and replace.
Finally, the most important repair, which we could have done right from the get-go, is the display! It’s held on with eight Philips screws which thread all the way through to the back of the phone here.
Compare that to an iPhone display repair, which, despite being among the easiest of the popular smartphones, still requires heat, a suction cup, and, in the case of the iPhone 13, a software update (which we’re still waiting for) to un-break FaceID. You can learn more about that in our recent iPhone screen pairing video.
It’s almost depressing, thinking about how different the world would be if repairing every smartphone battery and screen was this easy. Props to Fairphone for reminding the world that this is possible, and making it look easy.
The Fairphone 4 earns a 10 out of 10 on our repairability scale, for its modular design, easy access to critical parts, and easily accessible spare parts and repair information.
Just a reminder, a 10/10 doesn’t necessarily mean this is a perfect design, though Fairphone has done a tremendous job here. They are leagues ahead of most other smartphone makers.
But the buttons and fingerprint sensor are a bit tricky to access, and, like we mentioned, there are places where Fairphone is trending toward combining parts where it isn’t totally necessary, like the camera and speaker parts. Thankfully, it’s all pretty tastefully done for now.
Thanks for watching this teardown. Let us know in the comments if you would buy this over an iPhone or a Samsung, if it were available where you live!