Following the earlier photoview of the Fairphone FP1, the past weeks I spent a good amount of time with this kind of exotic smartphone which is a so called "social project" by Fairphone. Being an Android smartphone first, the FP1 is aimed to be a smartphone designed and produced with minimal harm to people and environment. Following its successful crowdfunding campaign back in May last year, the first 25,000 Fairphones were shipped December. The said main motivation for developing the Fairphone was "to develop a mobile device" which "does't contain conflict minerals and has fair labor conditions for the workforce along the supply chain". Therefore is the phone body itself, as well as the battery, sporting information where the phone was assembled. This is part of the transparency Fairphone wants to provide its customers.
The FP1 is running Android 4.2 and is powered by a MediaTek MT6589 quad-core Cortex-A7 CPU at 1.3 GHz. It supports dual-SIM quadband GSM/GPRS/EDGE and dualband UMTS/HSPA+ at 900/2100 MHz but lacks LTE.
Furthermore it comes with WiFi b/g/n at 2.4 GHz (but no 5 GHz), Bluetooth 2.1+EDR, Bluetooth 3.0+HS and Bluetooth 4.0, an FM radio and AGPS. The 4.3" IPS touchscreen with Dragontrail Glass supports a media core qHD (960 x 540) resolution. The primary 8 megapixel autofocus camera on the back comes with a BSI sensor with flash LED, while the front facing 1.3 megapixel camera has a CMOS sensor. The FP1 features the Android typical sensors like a light sensor, G-sensor, E-compass, proximity sensor and gyroscope. However, NFC is not onboard.
The FP1 comes with 1 GB RAM and 16 GB flash memory which can be expanded with a microSD memory card. All this measures 126 x 63.5 x 10 mm and weights 170 g, including the 2,000 mAh Li-Ion battery.
The phone itself is pretty much a typical Android phone. It features touch sensitive but unfortunately not illuminated menu buttons bellow the screen with the Home, Back and Settings keys. On the left, the FP1 features the typical volume rocker. On the top, it sports the power button, micro USB port and 3.5 mm stereo headset jack. Interesting enough, the device doesn't come with a charger, USB cable or stereo headset. That's because Fairphone expects that most customers have this parts anyway and therefore it protects the environment.
While the device body is made of plastic, the battery cover is made of aluminum, featuring a "First Edition" note outside and a thanks on the inside.
Software and Services
The Fairphone FP1 comes pretty much with the stock Android Holo UI but there are some differences. While the app drawer looks like Android, there's no menu button on the homescreen to call it. Instead you either have to press the left or right border to get it overlayed, including some quick icons which can be customized. That's quite unusual and is unfortunately not working within apps but only from the homescreen.
Furthermore, as the first screenshot above shows, comes the Fairphone FP1 without any preinstalled Google apps but asks the user to do so. This means that neither Google Play, nor Gmail, Google Maps, Google+, etc. are preinstalled. That's quite unique and allows the FP1 user to run a vanilla Android device without being locked into the Google eco-system.
Bellow a screenshot of the app drawer before and after the download of Google apps. On the left without the Google Play icon, on the right with the Google Play icon which provides full access to Google Play.
Also installed now are Gmail, Google+, and other Google related apps but not all. Apps like Google Maps, Google Play Music, Google Play Movies, etc. are still not installed and have to be manually installed from Google Play.
Another unique Fairphone FP1 app is the so called "Peace of Mind" app which is also a homescreen widget.
This function "disconnects" the FP1 from the world and turns the device to silent; at the end it's the airplane mode with a countdown.
Other than the described apps, the Fairphone FP1 comes without any further surprises.
If you just take the hardware specs and the price, the media-core Fairphone FP1 is definitely to expensive for what the phone is. But that's not what the Fairphone is about. It's a kind of "fair trade" project and the approach is the right one. By itself, the phone looks pretty standard but not to bad, even if it's not a design highlight. It might be a little bit thick and heavy, especially the weight is something I dislike; but it nevertheless could be my every day phone without any problems. It's rock-solid manufactured and I like the material-mix of plastic and aluminum, even if I don't like some design elements like the white frame, black body and silver aluminum. That's a little bit too much.
But all the other specs are ok, even if the lack of LTE and 5 GHz WiFi bother but I was quite surprised how well the MediaTek MT6589 quad-core CPU powered the device. With average use, I haven't seen any lack of responsiveness or snappiness.
Much more surprising was the user interface, especially the homescreen menu implementation. While I always value new ideas, it's way too difficult and cumbersome to get to the app drawer. A straight implementation on the homescreen would be preferred. Other than that, the only surprise is the fact that the FP1 comes without any Google apps preinstalled. This is indeed quite unusual but the way the FP1 allows to upgrade to the Google experience is well done - and it safes memory. Apps you don't want or need don't have to be installed and therefore users are pretty free to decide how they want to use the phone.
All together, the Fairphone FP1 project is an interesting approach and some parts of this approach I would like to see adopted by first tier manufactures. There are good reasons for this project, which successfully raised the money for the initial batch of 5,000 phones and sold all 25,000 of its initial production back in November. While the Fairphone FP1 is currently not available for order, a second production run is planned for 2014. The first production run was available for preorder for 325 Euro.
Cheers ~ Arne