2014 has seen some interesting niche products that have a different appeal to those offerings from mainstream manufacturers. The Fairphone is different because instead of leading on technical features or price, it applies different ethical standards to its manufacturing process.
Mobile phones are immensely complicated devices with parts that come from all over the world. Sometimes the source of those components may be questionable, especially when it comes to rare minerals from conflict regions. So one aim of Fairphone is to ensure (as much as possible) that all components are ethically sourced. All the sources are published on their website, which apart from anything else gives an idea as to how many different companies are involved in creating a product like this.
Fairphone is also concerned that people who manufacture the device and its components are paid fairly and work in safe conditions, and it also aims to make the Fairphone easily repairable and recyclable in order to make it last longer and be less likely to end up in landfill.
They don't claim that the device is fully "fair" as the complicated supply chain makes checking every single step incredibly difficult, but also the definition of what might be "fair" varies from person to person. Fairphone do publish a complete list of what makes them different on their web site.
Fairphone The first units started to ship in 2013 with a couple of quite limited runs of 30,000 handsets, 2014 has seen this ramp up with 35,000 shipped so far and another batch of 35,000 on offer. The handset itself costs €310 to order online from fairphone.com, and there are a few local retailers such as thephone.coop in the UK.
So what exactly do you get for your money? The current model of Fairphone is actually pretty modestly specified with a 4.3" 540 x 960 pixel display, 1.2GHz quad-core CPU, 1GB of RAM with 16GB of onboard storage plus a microSD slot, an 8 megapixel primary camera with a 1.3 megapixel secondary one plus dual-SIM support as standard (one 3G and the other 2G).
The Fairphone doesn't support NFC or LTE and the operating system is only Android 4.2, but it does include all the usual Android smartphone features and also some unique software enhancements designed specifically for the device.
You can get more powerful devices for the same sort of money, for example the OnePlus One, but the Fairphone is made for people with different priorities. As we write this the limited release run of handsets is just about to run out, but given the relative success of this unusual device we would expect to see more available soon.
GSM 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900
UMTS 900 / 2100
GPRS + EDGE + UMTS (3G) + HSPA + WiFi
4.3" 540 x 960 pixels
8 megapixels (main)
1.3 megapixels (sub)
126 x 64 x 10mm / 170 grams
Not specified. 2000 mAh cell.