Dutch social enterprise Fairphone unveiled its ethically sourced smartphone in a pop-up space in London's Soho yesterday, at the start of a three-day event to allow visitors to get hands-on with a prototype of the new device and to learn about the philosophy behind it.
The tin and tantalum in the phone are sourced from conflict-free mines outside of the control of warring parties in countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, where natural resources have frequently been used to fund a long-running and highly destructive civil conflict. The company is working with stakeholders and partners on the ground to achieve similar assurances about the cobalt used in the battery, and in South America to source gold that is certified Fair Trade. The polycarbonate used in the phone's case is recycled.
This diligence extends through the whole supply chain, from the mines to the smelting works to the manufacturing process in China, where Fairphone has negotiated terms with a major manufacturer to ensure a living wage for workers assembling the device. And unlike most consumer electronic devices, the Fairphone is built to last. From the battery, the toughened Dragontrail screen, the front and rear cameras and the dual SIM cards, many of the components are replaceable and upgradeable by the end-user, and €5 of the €325 sale price will pay for end-of-life recycling initiatives.
"The components and upgrades will be for sale on our web site as soon as the phone is launched in December," product strategist Miquel Ballester told Computing.
Many an ethical project has foundered because the end result works out to be substandard or overpriced, because production levels and quality cannot be maintained, or because it is perceived to be too niche. Fairphone is determined to avoid this by using expert suppliers at all stages. It wants the smartphone to be functional, stylish and easy to use "even for my mum", said Ballester.
Not a hippy phone then, but neither is it aimed at the sort of people who queue all night outside Apple Store waiting for the latest iPhone "We get criticised for not producing a high-end phone," said Ballester. "But that's not the point. Potentially everyone should be interested in how their phone is made. This is a mid-to high-end phone at a mid-range price. It is designed to be easy to use by everyone, and it can be upgraded."
So, what's it like? The prototype Fairphone certainly looks the part with its metallic trim and elegant modified Android 4.2 interface, courtesy of established interface designer Kwamecorp. It is a little heavier and chunkier than some at 170g, on account of its being designed with durable and replaceable componentry in mind, but this gives it a feeling of solidity that is no bad thing in a phone that's built to last. Opening up the back reveals the dual SIM cards (one for work, one for play) and the large 2000mAh lithium-ion battery as well as the slot for the microSD card for extra storage.
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