Smashed screen? This modular smartphone will let you fix it yourself

Dutch smartphone startup Fairphone has launched its sequel device in the UK for consumers who value minimising harm to the people and resources involved in making a smartphone.

The Android Fairphone 2 is designed for easy repairability. Image: Fairphone

Dutch mobile outfit Fairphone has launched the Android Fairphone 2 in the UK, offering customers a more ethical and modular device that might even last a bit longer.

Fairphone, which describes itself as a social enterprise, debuted two years ago with a crowdfunded device that featured more fairly-traded and conflict-free components, and boasted less of an environmental impact than a standard handset. The company also gave the Chinese factory workers that built the phone a better deal.

The company went on to sell more than 60,000 of its first Android devices, allowing it to independently produce the sequel without outside funding.

Despite its ethical credentials, the first handset received ho-hum reviews due to performance of its battery, processor, and legacy Android platform.

The startup kicked off its second device in July with a pre-order campaign that has led to 14,000 sales. It's still offering a sustainable device but with better specs and perhaps more interestingly, a modular design aimed at cutting waste and boosting the device's longevity.

On the modular front, the Fairphone is less ambitious than Google's on-hold Project Ara prototype, but nonetheless means owners can replace a broken screen simply by unlocking the clips at the base and sliding it off, revealing replaceable internal components and the battery. From here, electromechanical components such as the headphone jack and camera are housed in units that can be removed and replaced by undoing a few Philips or Torkx screws

Equally important, the Fairphone 2 addresses the specs shortfall of the first device, with the latest device powered by Qualcomm's Snapdragon 801 chip, a five-inch full HD display at 446 pixels per inch, 2GB RAM, and 32 GB internal storage with expandable a MicroSD port. It's also running the most current Android Lollipop 5.1, and has a 2420 mAh removable battery. It's got an eight-megapixel rear camera and a 2-megapixel front snapper.

The handset weighs 148 grams while the protective case adds a further 20 grams. By contrast, the iPhone 6s weighs 143 grams.

Mobile industry watchers should be familiar with the efforts analysts go to in order to discover iPhone component's costs and divine Apple's profits. Fairphone however has done the legwork in the name of transparency, providing a breakdown of estimated costs that explain its €525 price tag, spanning taxes and reseller margin, product, investments and operations, which leave it with a profit of €9 per unit before corporate tax. The estimate suggests the company is feeling confident about the latest release, as the figures are based on projected sales of 140,000 per year.

UK consumers can buy the device outright for £395 from Fairphone's local partner The Phone Co-op or pay £25 for a voice and data bundle.

Fairphone says it sources tin and tantalum from conflict-free validated mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo and will in future source tungsten and gold from there too. It's also setting up a worker welfare fund at the factory in Suzhou, China, and says a portion from every Fairphone 2 sale will be contributed to it.

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