Fairphone 4 in the test: Sustainable 5G smartphone with compromises

Fairphone 4 in the test: Sustainable 5G smartphone with compromises

With its smartphones, Fairphone sets standards in terms of sustainability and fairness. But is the Fairphone 4 also a good smartphone? In the xiaomist test you can find out how it fares.

Sustainability is no longer just a trend. Even in the technology sector, more and more manufacturers are attaching importance to fair working conditions and resource conservation in production. A well-known smartphone manufacturer is Fairphone. With its smartphones, the Dutch brand wants to create awareness that you can pay attention to sustainability even with everyday companions. We received the Fairphone 4 for testing. You can find out how we like the smartphone in our xiaomist test.

Fairphone 4 5G: test conclusion

xiaomist rating 6.1 / 10

With the Fairphone 4, Fairphone shows once again that technology and sustainability are not mutually exclusive. Both the packaging and the device give you what you really need. In addition, the smartphone can be easily opened and disassembled into its components if repairs are necessary.

The Fairphone 4 convinces with future-proof 5G mobile technology and reasonable performance. However, you have to be prepared for compromises: You don't get an entertainment smartphone, since the display and performance are not completely convincing and cause stuttering when streaming and gaming. The Fairphone 4 is also clearly behind the smartphones of the competition in terms of camera performance.

You don't get a high-end device with the Fairphone 4 for a price of 579 euros in the smaller version. However, if you are looking for a smartphone for everyday tasks and want to invest in something good at the same time, the Fairphone 4 is a viable option.


Sustainability in packaging and device 5G-capable Removable battery Easy disassembly Sufficient performance


Disappointing camera quality Only sufficient performance Moderate display No jack for wired headphones

Packaging: "What you don't need isn't included."

The Fairphone comes across as unexcited, which doesn't mean it's not fun to unbox. On the contrary: you can already tell from the packaging that Fairphone wants to do something different. There is no plastic packaging or film, the phone itself is wrapped in paper. And instead of sending various information sheets to the buyers, the box itself was printed with all the important information that makes the Fairphone a Fair-Phone, as well as the company philosophy. However, a short "Quick Start Guide" and a booklet on health and safety were not omitted.

A Phillips screwdriver was also included in our press package. So if you want to unscrew the phone, the tool is quick and easy, but more on that later. Otherwise, the scope of delivery is designed according to the motto: "What you don't need isn't included." A USB-C cable, a suitable power supply unit and a USB-C adapter for headphones can be added as additional accessories when ordering, as well as a soft case for more protection.

The Fairphone is quickly disassembled with the supplied screwdriver (image source: xiaomist).

Of course, it can be criticized that Fairphone does not include all these accessories. However, the manufacturer can also assume that the buyers already have a number of accessories at home and can therefore save not only accessories but also money. In addition, a small pack reduces transport and storage costs, which has a positive effect on the sustainability balance.

By the way: If you want to get rid of your old smartphone after purchasing the Fairphone, you can simply send it back with the Fairphone box. The devices used can thus be processed or dismantled into their components and reused. At Fairphone, sustainability is thought of as a cycle . The manufacturer explains on its website that the real value of the old device can be converted into a voucher for the Fairphone shop.

The Fairphone 4: A look at and inside the smartphone

Big, heavy phone

In contrast to the Fairphone 4's minimalist packaging, the smartphone itself is rather chunky and surprisingly heavy at 226 grams. Due to a display diagonal of 6.3 inches, the device is quite large. If you have small hands, you sometimes have to use it with both hands. Nevertheless, the Fairphone 4 feels good and secure in the hand - the roughened plastic back with the stamped Fairphone lettering is an advantage here and doesn't look cheap either.

Savings were made on the connections, as there is only one USB-C port on the underside between the microphone and speaker. The connection is used for charging and listening to music. If you have only used headphones with a jack connection so far, you either need an appropriate adapter (see Amazon) or you have to switch to Bluetooth headphones. Although Fairphone offers its own true wireless headphones, the small headphones can also be viewed critically, since they can be lost quickly on the one hand and are operated with a battery on the other. Experience has shown that this will decrease over time, which means that sooner or later the headphones will no longer be usable. That's why it's important to consider whether the true wireless headphones are really sustainable.

The Fairphone 4 feels good in the hand (image source: xiaomist).

Otherwise, one finds the standby button with an integrated fingerprint sensor on the right side. However, this is only activated after pressing the standby button. It's a minimal effort, but still takes some getting used to and is confusing at first. Two volume buttons are installed above the fingerprint sensor. In general, the buttons are easily accessible and easy to use with both the left and right hand.

There is an indentation on the opposite side. Here you can remove the back cover and take a look at the smartphone. The mechanism is sluggish - a good thing, because in everyday life you don't want the cover to come loose by itself.

Easy repair

Thanks to that notch, the smartphone is really easy to open. Unlike the Shiftphone, which we also tested, you don't have to worry about your freshly painted fingernails .

Unlike the black and gray exterior, the interior of the Fairphone is colorful. This is not only intended as a nice eye-catcher , the blobs of color also serve as orientation points as to which modules are involved: the beige speaker is on the underside, the green camera is on the top, the red motherboard with a heart printed on it (system -on-a-chip, graphics card, memory) and in the middle the blue battery.

The inner workings of the Fairphone is a real eye-catcher (image source: xiaomist).

If you need to repair the Fairphone – you can get spare parts from the Dutch online shop – you can get to work with the right screwdriver. What is striking here: you not only need a small Phillips screwdriver (PH0) to open the smartphone, but you also need a Torx screwdriver to remove the motherboard. You can't go wrong with the rest. I was able to quickly remove and reinstall both the camera and the vibration module.

Battery: You should always have a charging cable ready

The battery can be changed quickly and easily without tools - a rarity these days. And you actually have to if you want to insert either a SIM card or a micro SD card to expand the internal storage of either 128 GB or 256 GB.

Fairphone has opted for a 3,905 mAh battery for the 4th offshoot. The capacity of the battery is quite weak for this price range, since the competition has long been using 4,500 mAh upwards - this is probably a concession to the exchangeability of the energy storage. You can also see that in the battery performance, since I had to recharge the phone after just under a day and a half even if I only used it for around 2 to 3 hours. With more intensive use or through weekends, you run the risk of being without a phone at the end of the day. So you should always have a charging cable nearby. The device cannot be charged wirelessly.

A charging cable is not included. Despite the quick-charging power supply , the device only charged from 1 to 70 percent within an hour in our test. The manufacturer's claim that the battery will charge to 50 percent in 30 minutes seems a bit too optimistic, but it may be achievable with other power supplies.

You can see the Fairphone 4 in action in our xiaomist video:

Fairphone 4: Practical, but less fun and games

What does my carbon footprint look like?

Now let's get straight to the Fairphone: As with the Shiftphone, the Fairphone's home screen has a minimalist design. Fairphone relies on vanilla Android with a few custom apps and minor adjustments. In addition to the Google apps, you will find the contacts, camera and SMS apps lined up side by side, as well as the "Fairphone" app. If you open this, you can create your own account and, as a first step, track your CO2 emissions. You will also find various support options as well as tips and tricks to get the most out of your Fairphone. You can also participate in various challenges, such as "Digital Mindfulness" to reduce cell phone time.

The smartphone control works via the virtual home, back and overview button . You can access the rest of the apps by swiping up from the bottom of the home screen.

The Fairphone 4 can be set up quickly thanks to Google services (image source: xiaomist).

For the background images, you always have the same abstract design to choose from, just in different colors . All in all, Fairphone is very reserved with the smartphone and leaves it up to the users how they want to design their cell phone menu and which apps they install.

Regarding the operating system itself: The Fairphone 4 is equipped with Android 11 ex works, an update to Android 12 is not yet available at the time of the test. However, Fairphone promises regular updates for 5 years. If you want to use your smartphone longer, you don't have to worry and you can update the Fairphone regularly.

You can find out what innovations are coming with Android 12 in this xiaomist article:

Responsive thanks to the powerful processor

Qualcomm's Snapdragon 750G is installed as the system-on-a-chip (SoC) in the Fairphone. The SoC is a bit older and had already been installed in other devices for over a year when the Fairphone 4 was released. If you actually use the Fairphone for many years, the manufacturer will inevitably have to resort to outdated drivers for the device sooner or later. The performance is still sufficient in everyday life: Apps are downloaded and opened quickly, the same with the more than 136-page sustainability report from Samsung.

While the processor makes a good impression on its own, working with the display isn't always flawless. The input delay seems high, despite "only" Full HD+ resolution (2340x1080 pixels), clearly an effect of the 60 Hz display and the LCD technology used, which leads to high input delays and streaks when moving. Mobile games are also at a disadvantage due to lag in gameplay. You won't get a smartphone for demanding gaming here.

The display is appropriately sharp , but the colors are not particularly stable from a viewing angle. If you take a closer look, individual gradations are easily recognizable in images with strong colors, but this is not disturbing in everyday use.

It should also be mentioned that the Fairphone 4's display has a V-shaped notch on the top, i.e. a notch for the front camera. But you quickly get used to the recess.

You quickly get used to the V-Notch (Image source: xiaomist). Cumbersome and incomprehensible phone calls

The audio quality of the Fairphone 4 does not particularly stand out. If you are used to the audio quality of smartphones, you will not be surprised by the Fairphone 4, the tones typically lack volume . In addition, the smartphone does not insulate volume well. If you listen to music at full but not deafening volume, the entire smartphone vibrates.

Even with phone calls, the sound is not positive. My best friend's voice sounds rather weak, and the same applies to the person I'm talking to: when I put the volume on speaker during the call and put the cell phone a few centimeters away, she could no longer understand me. The microphone quality really leaves a lot to be desired .

Camera: There's a lot more to it

Finally, let's talk about the camera. Fairphone does not set any new standards with this, but we have to make the most compromises in terms of camera performance. The smartphone needs good lighting conditions for good pictures, otherwise the quality decreases significantly. The front camera in particular is disappointing: Even when I stand directly in front of the window in daylight, the photos are not convincing. On the other hand, the rear camera cuts a better figure indoors.

Indoors, you get usable pictures with the Fairphone 4 in good lighting conditions (picture source: xiaomist).

The Fairphone 4 works hard on the contrasts and the sharpness, which makes the colors in the recordings unrealistic. This is particularly evident in close-ups. It's difficult to focus on a point here and the surroundings don't appear blurry, but washed out . For a better comparison, I took pictures with the Honor 50.

Focusing is difficult with the Fairphone 4 (image source: xiaomist).The comparison to the Honor 50 shows how much the Fairphone 4 processes the colors (image source: xiaomist).

On the other hand, if you use the 8x digital zoom, the Fairphone 4 visibly reaches its limits and you get shaky pictures with strong picture noise , even if you hold the smartphone largely still.

In the maximum zoom, it is difficult to take pictures (image source: xiaomist).The Honor 50 does not take perfect pictures in the maximum zoom, but the difference to the Fairphone 4 is clear (image source: xiaomist).

Finally, one more point that struck me: When recording videos, the camera lags behind . This means that if I record a video and move the camera, the pictures are taken with a delay. You don't notice anything later in the recorded video itself, but for me as the recording person it's still very confusing.

So if you are looking for a cell phone that saves you having to invest in an extra camera, you should avoid the Fairphone 4 .

Sustainable - as good as possible

As usual, Fairphone has made sure that the materials used for production were mined fairly and sustainably - at least as far as this is possible. For example, the manufacturer states on its website that it uses completely recycled tin, and 50 percent of the plastic is also recycled. The lithium used in the battery is sourced from mines certified by IRMA (Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance). The organization examines various lithium sites around the world and monitors their social and ecological standards.

Too many compromises?

When I tested the Shiftphone, I already hinted that I was in a small dilemma during the test, which was repeated with the Fairphone 4: It feels good to use a sustainable smartphone. But you still have to make a lot of compromises for a high price , be it the lack of gaming fun or the poor camera quality.

"Built to last." - Thanks to its modular design, the Fairphone 4 can be used for a long time (image source: xiaomist).

Sustainability is important to me personally, but I've always asked myself what I can and want to do without . I don't want to raise a moral index finger with this section, but rather emphasize that it's perfectly okay to have certain expectations of a smartphone, especially at a relatively high price. Just to put this into perspective: The OnePlus Nord CE 5G has comparable or better performance, is smaller and lighter, has a significantly better display, a jack socket and longer battery life - and all at around half the street price. For the good feeling of sustainability you have to pay a lavish surcharge.

There is no question that sustainability and fair working conditions are a statement that should not be underestimated in an industry whose manufacturers sometimes throw new devices onto the market every month and thus generally serve a throwaway mentality. It is also commendable that the Fairphone 4 is easy to repair and promises a long supply of updates. The company behind the device correctly says that the most sustainable smartphone is one that people don't buy in the first place, precisely because their predecessors can be used longer.

However, in this context, the question must be asked how sustainable a smartphone is that is no more than a "utility" in everyday life at the time of release, which already only provides the minimum level of performance that can be expected in 2022. Honestly, the Fairphone 4 isn't fun and that's expected to be even less the case in 4 or 5 years. Is it reprehensible to reach for another smartphone that is less sustainable in production, but which you will be happy with for a long time? Especially since manufacturers like Apple, Google and Samsung now also promise a long update supply? Everyone has to answer this question for themselves.

If you want to get a Fairphone, you have the choice between the model with 128 GB internal memory and 6 GB RAM for 579 euros and the model with 256 GB internal memory and 8 GB RAM for 649 euros (prices do not include shipping costs). While you only get a gray Fairphone with the former, you get either green or mottled green on the 8GB version. Either way, you can dress up your smartphone with a protective cover in grey, green and pastel red.

Ratings and technical data

xiaomist test rating in detail: Fairphone 4 category rating (max. 10) sustainability 9 workmanship, feel and design 6 display 5 cameras 3 software 5 performance 6 telephony and audio 5 storage 9 battery and everyday life 7 total 6.1 Specifications: Fairphone 4 Android 11 operating system (Updates until 2025) Display 6 inch FHD+ display / LCD / 2160 x 1080 / 60 Hz Processor Snapdragon 750 G RAM 6 to 8 GB Internal memory 128 to 256 GB (expandable) Camera 25 MP front camera / 48 MP main camera / 12 MP ultra wide angle + macro Battery 3,905 mAh (wired) Special features NFC, fingerprint sensor


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