Buying a new phone

One that lasts

I have been witnessing the evolution of smart phones into fragile and data hungry beasts that they are today, crippling essential features such as:

  • 3.5 mm headphone jacks
  • removable batteries
  • ability to unlock the bootloader (root)
  • install a new OS (flash)
  • reliance on Google Play Services for even mainstream apps such as BankID in Sweden
  • lack of spare parts and support in a couple of years

And as a result I have resisted the urge of getting a new phone for the past 2 months. But with Covid-19, I accept that having a phone around is essential to stay in touch with close ones.

After much contemplation my criteria boiled down to the following:

  1. Repairable with long-term support: both software updates and hardware warranty.
  2. Community support in an effort to develop towards a working Linux phone.

The candidates were PinePhone at USD 150 and Fairphone 3 at €475. In comparison with the existing market these phones have have medium specifications. However I put the above two criteria over all shiny details that people tend to care more about like looks, performance and camera. I have a stand-alone camera and a gaming device, so why should I bother?

Why and why not PinePhone

The advantages of PinePhone is it already "works" with existing Linux projects such as:

and it is cheap. However the company only started working on phones a year ago and when I checked the availability of spare parts, the most essential one which is a battery only ships in US and was out of stock. Also there is hardly any warranty.

But Fairphone...?

At the cost it is selling it is as expensive as so-called "flagship" phones. The cost covers:

  • sourcing rare materials from non war-torn regions
  • providing fair work conditions for factories in China
  • recycling old phones
  • modularity and support

While Fairphone 2 is no longer in sale, it is one of the featured phones by the UBPorts project. Fairphone 3 right now does not have a Linux OS option, and not even a "unGoogled" Android ROM such as Lineage OS. It will take some time for the developers to get it to working condition, because ARM development is a lot of work. The /e/ foundation - a fork of Lineage OS is working on it.

All you need is a little push in the right direction.

  • There is a hardware warranty for two years
  • Fairphone continues to sell spare parts for older phones
  • Assured software updates for 5 years
  • Official tutorial on unlocking the bootloader

As for the price, if it is any consolation, compare the to an average grocery shopping which would be around €50 in Sweden, it is not so expensive. I got a discount code at the end, which I wish I received earlier. So I might as well share it here.

Give your friends a €25 discount on a Fairphone 3 and get a €20 discount on your next order. http://fairphone.refr.cc/ashwinvishnum

No, I was not paid to write this, but I really like the concept and I hope more such projects emerge. Let's work towards a circular economy.

Ashwin Vishnu Mohanan

About the author

Ashwin Vishnu Mohanan, Ph.D. in Fluid mechanics