Fairphone 4 review: the price of sustainability

Fairphones long-term sustainability credentials have been difficult to fault over the years. This could be due to the company's easy repairability, extended support periods or ethically sourced materials. However, the Fairphones' devices have not been able to compete with similar-priced smartphones. They were lacking in modern features and had outdated designs.
Fairphone 4 represents a significant step forward. Fairphone offers a 5-year warranty on its modular, repairable design. It feels more modern than a smartphone. Fairphone 3's large top and bottom bezels have been removed. Modern conveniences such as an IP54 rating for water and dust resistance are included.

The Fairphone 4 starts at 579/ 499 (around $669), which is a significant premium over its competition. The Fairphone 4 is being released in Europe only, and there are no plans to launch it in the USA. If you are looking for a basic smartphone that can do basic tasks, and you're willing to pay more than other similar capable smartphones, the Fairphone 4 might be the right choice.

Pre-order the Fairphone 4 now. Devices will begin shipping October 25th.

Fairphone 4 Verge score 7 out of 10 Good Stuff IP54 water, dust and resistance

Warranty for five years

Support long-term Bad Stuff Sooo Camera

Sometimes, sluggish performances

Poor palm rejection

It is hard to believe that the Fairphone 4 was made by the same manufacturer as the Fairphone 3. The bulky, dated bottom and top bezels of the previous Fairphone 3 have been replaced by a sheet made of Gorilla Glass 5, which stretches from the Fairphone 4's top to the bottom. Fairphone feels more in line with the rest, even though the pace of smartphone development has slowed.

You have the option of either 6GB or 8GB RAM

The bezels may still be large by modern standards, but the size is small enough that the phone can have a large display of 6.3 inches without feeling bulky. Although it is LCD, not OLED, the viewing angles aren't great. However, I was pleased with how the phone looked after I disabled its excessive image enhancement options in the Settings app and adjusted its color temperature.

Two versions of Fairphone 4 are available. One with 6GB RAM and 128GB storage (the model I've been using for this review), and one with 8GB RAM and 256GB storage. The step-up version retails at 649 / 569. They are identical in other ways and have the same cameras, a 3,905 mAh battery and Qualcomm Snapdragon 750G processing power.

The Fairphone 4's internals are more important than their specs. Fairtrade-certified gold, ethically sourced aluminum, tungsten, recycled tin and rare earth minerals are all included in this collection. Fairphone also wants to make these materials as ethically-affordable as possible. This is thanks to initiatives that improve the working conditions of the factory workers and miners involved in the phone supply chain. Fairphone claims that each phone is e-waste-neutral, as the company will either recycle a phone or an equal amount of ewaste with every sale.

Under the removable battery, you can insert the SIM card of your phone.

You can flip the Fairphone 4 over to see its back, which is made of 100 percent recycled plastic. This allows you to access the removable battery as well as the Phillips head screws. These can be used to remove everything from the rear cameras to the USB-C port and loudspeaker. To insert a SIM card under the battery, you will need to remove the rear panel. Fairphone says this is possible without the use of any SIM tools.

iFixit has yet to pass an official judgement on Fairphone 4's repairability, but Fairphone's other phones have received perfect 10s from the specialists. Fairphone intends to have replacements available for at least 2027. Fairphone still has spare parts for its Fairphone 2, which is almost six years old. The warranty of five years should keep repair costs low over the lifetime of the phone.

The Fairphone 4 comes with Android 11. However, the company plans to release at least two major Android updates. If it is able, it may even provide four. These promises have been kept with the previous phones and it has done a great job. The company released Android 9 earlier this year for Fairphone 2. It's impressive considering the Fairphone 2 was only five years old, but less impressive when you consider that it was almost three years later than Android 9's original release.

The Fairphone 4 does not come with any accessories, as you would expect from a phone which can ship without a SIM card. The box does not include a charging brick, headphones or a USB-C charging cable. We also didn't see a miniature screwdriver in the box, as we did with Fairphone 3. Although it was a cute indicator of the Fairphone's repairability, including it made little sense if you want to reduce unnecessary accessories.

The phone's right side has a fingerprint sensor and a power button. I prefer rear-mounted sensors to them, even though they aren't as easy as the under-display ones.

Fairphone 4s USB C port has no headphone jack. This is not surprising considering it was released in 2021. However, it is disappointing because Fairphones goal to be as consumer-friendly and user-friendly as possible. According to the team, the compromise was made in order to give the phone an IP54 rating for water and dust resistance. This means that the phone will be able to withstand being dropped in water, but not complete submersion. It is also not an insignificant feat considering the modular design of the phone's back can literally be removed without the use of any tools.

It turned out that I used the Fairphone 4 to capture photos on a rainy day while on vacation in the Welsh countryside. I am confident that the company's claims of the phone being waterproof are true. If you're interested in seeing how wet it was, here is a selfie I took on the walk. It should also show you how the 25-megapixel selfie camera works.

Fairphone uses a 7-series Snapdragon processor that is more powerful than the 6-series. This is great news. The Snapdragon 750G is capable of handling the daily demands that I place on it, although it was not perfect. It took me a while to wake up Google Assistant by simply swiping up from the corner to ask a question. There were also some issues with the YouTube app when switching between full-screen and normal viewing modes. It's more capable than it is slick.

The phone's overall performance is good, but it has its flaws. One of the most frustrating issues I encountered was that the Fairphone 4 doesn't do a good job at rejecting palms. If you hold it one-handed, and then reach for your thumb across, it will confuse your palm and cause an intentional tap. Even in areas with 4G signals, the Fairphone 4 seemed to be more connected to 3G networks than any other smartphone I have used. Sometimes, however, it connected happily to 5G networks. A strange quirk.

I had no issues with battery life while using the Fairphone 4. I got between four and five hours screen time per charge. This meant that the phone was charged with between 10 to 50 percent of its remaining charge at the end. One day of travel saw me use the Fairphone 4 for a lot of music and podcast listening, as well as social media scrolling. I also used it for navigation using Android Auto wirelessly. I had 10% battery left when I switched off the phone at 11 PM that night. Fairphone claims that the phone can be charged with 20W fast charging. This should allow you to charge half of your battery in just half an hour.

Battery life is excellent

The phone's performance is satisfactory, the battery life is excellent, and its screen is fine. The Fairphone 4's camera is the one that could really be problematic for some. It uses two 48-megapixel sensors, one for the main camera, and one for ultrawide. Unfortunately, the camera produces poor shots in broad daylight. Although dual cameras are a great feature for Fairphones, it is disappointing that images captured in broad daylight are not as good.

The gallery above speaks for itself, I believe. These images often appear grainy and muddy. I had to search through the settings of my camera app to ensure that there wasn't an odd setting. The camera app is slow and lagging, which is perhaps more concerning than the quality of the images. Even in daylight, tap the shutter button can take several minutes before the camera can focus and take a picture. Nighttime is even more frustrating. Because I came home with better photos, the Fairphone 4 was the only review phone I have regretted.

Grid View

Fairphone 4 is not about performance. The five-year warranty, years of support and security, as well as the promise of a 5-year warranty, are the reasons your money is being spent on Fairphone 4. You are also paying to ensure that these parts were made from responsibly sourced materials.

Fairtrade, organic, or sustainable clothing will always be in high demand. The Fairphone 4 is no exception. It starts at 579 but its performance, especially with its cameras, is almost as good as phones that cost half the price, such the Moto G Power (which sells for approximately 170) and the Moto G Play (around 140). It is not competitive with smartphones such as the iPhone SE (539, 128GB) and OnePlus Nord 2 (399), both of which are cheaper than the Fairphone 4.

If you're able to live with the above-mentioned budget phones, and if you only need a smartphone for everyday use, and don't care about the best camera, or the most premium-feeling one, then the Fairphone 4 is the phone for your needs. The Fairphone 4 is a reasonable 200-series phone, priced at 579. This is the price for sustainability.

Fairphone 4: I agree to continue. Before you can use your smart device, you must agree to certain terms and conditions. These are contracts that nobody actually reads. We are unable to review and analyze all of these agreements. We started counting how many times we had to click agree to use devices as we reviewed them. These are agreements that most people don't read and can't negotiate. You must agree to the following terms in order to use Fairphone 4.

Google Play Terms of Service

Google Privacy Policy (included with ToS)

Install apps and update: You agree that this device can automatically download and install apps from Google, your carrier and your device manufacturer using cellular data.

Allow apps and services, even if Wi-Fi or Bluetooth are off, to scan nearby Wi-Fi networks and devices at any moment.

Google can send usage and diagnostic data. If you wish to use Google Assistant, then you must agree that Google may collect contact and app information from your devices. Additional agreements may be required for features such as Google Pay. Final total: at least four mandatory agreements and three optional agreements.

Jon Porter Photography / The Verge