When we first met Bas, Miquel and the team at Fairphone on Skype for their BGV interview a little over two years ago, we couldn’t quite work out whether they were mad. They were working at the Waag Society and had become experts in the negative impacts of the mobile phone industry. From the conflict exacerbated by the minerals in the electronics through to the conditions of the workers who put them together and the designed in obsolescence and failures to consider proper recycling, it was obvious that your standard iPhone or other mobile was not good. The problem was that when they had tried to campaign and lobby the industry they hadn’t got very far. They told us they’d come to the conclusion that the only way to change the industry was to design, manufacture and sell their own phone.
Fifteen months after they left BGV, they delivered their first handsets. Mine was one of them and I’ve had it for eight months now. When it arrived it was a bit ropey to be honest. It would crash pretty often and you’d find yourself running out of space for apps and media because the file system was idiosyncratic to say the least. It could also get you very lost as the GPS was shocking.
But the latest couple of software updates seem to have fixed all that. GPS is much better (it works fine with Runkeeper and Google Maps which are the two main things I use with GPS) and the storage problem has been fixed with the ‘Unified storage upgrade’ which does away with the false distinction that Android had between ‘phone’ and ‘internal’ storage. Battery life is excellent and I love the fact it uses the same charger as most of my other devices. The screen and camera are also very good and dual SIM is a genuinely useful feature.
So beyond the initial niggles it’s a good phone but that’s not really the point. Fairphone is more than a phone. It’s a symbol of how a small team can show up a huge industry and prove that there’s demand for something they’d rather ignore. If you want to show that you care about where your electronics come from and how they’re made you can buy a Fairphone now. As I write this there are about 14,000 of the current batch left.