Want an easily repaired smartphone? Fairphone 2 might be for you

Fairphone's second-generation socially responsible smartphone will start shipping later this year

Fairphone's CTO Olivier Hebert working on the company's new  smartphone

Fairphone's CTO Olivier Hebert working on the company's new smartphone

Fairphone, the Dutch company that aims to sell socially responsible smartphones, is working on a second model that be repaired with little hassle and won't easily break. The company is also sticking with its goal of using conflict-free or fair trade minerals.

One of the company's key aims with the Fairphone 2 was to extend the longevity of the product.

Making it easy to repair is part of that. For example, it will be possible to replace the display on the Fairphone 2 in less than a minute, the company promises. After removing the case and battery, the two clips that lock the display in place are slid towards each other, and then the entire unit can be taken out, CTO Olivier Hebert said in a blog post on Tuesday.

The receiver, rear camera and speaker units can be repaired with the help of a screwdriver. To guide users, each unit is connected to the chassis with a set of color-coded screws. Fairphone is betting that buyers will sacrifice slimness for a smartphone that's easier to repair. The result is a phone that's 11 millimeters thick.

The hardware architecture also opens the door for future upgrades. All of the individual components can be replaced, provided they fit within the design of the original unit and can use the existing electrical interfaces. However, software complexities need to be addressed for upgrades to be possible, Hebert said without delving into the details.

A second goal was to build a device that doesn't easily break. Most current smartphones are simply too fragile, according to Hebert. The Fairphone 2, on the other hand, should survive a drop of about 2 meters onto concrete. The robustness is in part possible thanks to a rubber rim that wraps around the screen. Fairphone decided against making the phone completely sealed to keep out water and dust, as doing that conflicted with other design goals, especially the ability to open and repair the device.

The aim is still to manufacture a smartphone that doesn't use minerals from conflict zones, is recyclable, and is made by workers who are treated well. The Fariphone 2 will be available for pre-order before the end of August, and then ship during the following couple of months, the company said. Pricing wasn't announced.

Hardware specs include a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor and a 5-inch, Full HD screen. The camera has an 8-megapixel resolution and there is 32GB of storage that can be expanded using a microSD card. The LTE smartphone also has 2GB of RAM and two SIM slots. The operating system will be Android 5.1.

The first model, of which Fairphone sold 60,000, scored 7 out of 10 for repairability in a teardown test by repair website iFixit. Positives included that it's easy to open up the device and access the components. However, the glass is fused to both the display and the display frame, which increases repair costs -- a mistake Fairphone has learned from.

In general, today's high-end smartphones are a mixed bag when it comes to ease of repair.

Apple has a reputation for building products that are difficult to fix, but the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus both got a 7 out of 10 score on iFixit. The company still uses proprietary Pentalobe screws, and it doesn't share repair information with independent repair shops or consumers. But the display assembly comes out easily and the battery is easy to access.

For people who want a high-end Android smartphone that's easily repaired, the G4 from LG Electronics is a good option. It was awarded an impressive 8 out of 10. The only drawback is that the glass and LCD will need to be replaced together if one or the other breaks.

Two other top-of-the-range smartphones, the Galaxy S6 from Samsung Electronics and HTC's One M9, didn't fair as well, scoring 4 and 2 out of 10, respectively. Strong adhesive on the rear glass makes it very difficult to gain entry to the S6's innards. On the One M9 adhesives make many components difficult, and even dangerous, to remove and replace, iFixit said.

Send news tips and comments to mikael_ricknas@idg.com

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Tags smartphonesconsumer electronicsFairphone

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Mikael Ricknäs

IDG News Service
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