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Introduction

“All good things come in threes” is what the Dutch social enterprise must have thought when they were planning the Fairphone 3, their newest ethically-made mobile device, sporting a modular and repairable design. The Fairphone 2 from 2015 already set the bar high for smartphone repairability—only a teardown will tell if its successor can raise that bar further, as other big manufacturers continue to offer phones that are glued shut and increasingly hard to repair.

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This teardown is not a repair guide. To repair your Fairphone 3, use our service manual.

  1. It's the inner beauty that counts, but we'll get to that shortly. First, let's look over this smartphone's specs: 5.65" IPS display with 1080 × 2160 resolution Qualcomm Snapdragon 632 SoC
    • It's the inner beauty that counts, but we'll get to that shortly. First, let's look over this smartphone's specs:

    • 5.65" IPS display with 1080 × 2160 resolution

    • Qualcomm Snapdragon 632 SoC

    • 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB of storage

    • 12 MP rear camera with ƒ/1.8 and a front-facing camera with 8 MP ƒ/2.0

    • 3,060 mAh battery

    • Fingerprint sensor, headphone jack, and IP54 rating

    • A huge thank you to Fraunhofer Institute for Reliability and Microintegration IZM, who provided us with this x-ray image of the Fairphone 3.

  2. The Fairphone’s line of succession (from left to right): Primus, Secundus, and Tertius, as the Romans might have said, if they could count smartphones. Note the evolution not only in size and style, but also in tech: this iteration features a USB-C port instead of the old Micro-USB connector, as well as a fingerprint sensor on its back for increased convenience. Just how much bigger is it? The Fairphone 3 comes in at 158×71.8×9.89 mm and weighs 189 g.
    • The Fairphone’s line of succession (from left to right): Primus, Secundus, and Tertius, as the Romans might have said, if they could count smartphones.

    • Note the evolution not only in size and style, but also in tech: this iteration features a USB-C port instead of the old Micro-USB connector, as well as a fingerprint sensor on its back for increased convenience.

    • Just how much bigger is it? The Fairphone 3 comes in at 158×71.8×9.89 mm and weighs 189 g.

  3. We start off by simply removing the back cover—no tools needed. Compared to the bumper-like casing of the Fairphone 2—as well as the two-piece 'slim' version that replaced it midway through the product cycle—this is definitely an improvement.
    • We start off by simply removing the back cover—no tools needed.

    • Compared to the bumper-like casing of the Fairphone 2—as well as the two-piece 'slim' version that replaced it midway through the product cycle—this is definitely an improvement.

    • If you liked the added protection offered by the bumper, no worries—it's included in the box.

    I can't find this bumper in any review or unboxing. Can you add a picture of it and check if it's really included?

    Nacht Elfje - Reply

    Hi Nacht Elfje, you can check out the bumper on the official Fairphone 3 website. See at the “In the box” section.

    Tobias Isakeit -

  4. Removing the battery is also easy as Android 9—it lifts right out using the notch at the bottom. With its recessed contacts and sturdier plastic casing, this battery is a well-protected throwback we're happy to see.
    • Removing the battery is also easy as Android 9—it lifts right out using the notch at the bottom.

    • With its recessed contacts and sturdier plastic casing, this battery is a well-protected throwback we're happy to see.

    • At 11.781 Wh (3,060 mAh at 3.85 V), this juice box is not the biggest around these days. But it should get you through the day—and if it doesn't, you can just carry a spare and swap it out!

    • It beats the Google Pixel 3a in capacity (11.55 Wh) but cannot quite touch the iPhone Xs Max (12.08 Wh), let alone the Shift 6m (16.3 Wh).

    • The underside of the battery bears an encouraging message: "Well done. You're what progress looks like." Speaking of which, it's time to make some more teardown progress. Onward!

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    • Fairphone decided to forgo the nifty display lock mechanism from the previous iteration, opting for standard Phillips #00 screws instead.

    • Fairphone even provides a tiny screwdriver—although hopefully they'll forgive us if we prefer the larger handle from our Mako Driver Kit for a bit more comfort.

    • With the screws gone, we unsnap the display from the frame—revealing the same pogo pin connector plus breakout board configuration seen in the Fairphone 2.

    • Note the map of the Democratic Republic of Congo in this spot, illustrating the conflict-free sourcing of minerals like tantalum, tin, tungsten, and gold.

  6. While the Fairphone 2 modules all made use of pogo pin connectors, the Fairphone 3 modules switch to easily accessible regular press-fit sockets. A simple pry with the spudger and the modules are liberated.
    • While the Fairphone 2 modules all made use of pogo pin connectors, the Fairphone 3 modules switch to easily accessible regular press-fit sockets.

    • A simple pry with the spudger and the modules are liberated.

    • The connectors and modules are helpfully labeled, and the puzzle pieces align easily even if you can't read them.

  7. The Fairphone 3 comes with this family of modules: The top module, camera module, and bottom module are all here, much like in the Fairphone 2.
    • The Fairphone 3 comes with this family of modules:

    • The top module, camera module, and bottom module are all here, much like in the Fairphone 2.

    • The loudspeaker now gets its own closed module (as opposed to being part of the bottom module), and connects to the rear of the bottom module.

    • If you hope to upgrade your Fairphone 2 with these modules, we have bad news. Modules and their inner parts are not compatible. But their housings are said to be produced from 50% recycled polycarbonate, so there's at least some reuse!

    • Not satisfied with merely removing the modules, we bust out our Torx T5 screwdriver and an opening pick and tear down even more.

    • Starting with the top module:

    • The 8 MP ƒ2.0 selfie camera and earpiece speaker are both removable.

    • The headphone jack as well as the proximity and ambient light sensors are soldered onto the breakout board.

    • The camera module carries a modular 12 MP ƒ1.8 camera with a SONY IMX363 Exmor RS sensor. The flash LEDs are soldered onto the breakout board.

    • The bottom module contains the vibration motor, and a soldered-on USB-C port and microphone.

    • The loudspeaker module is the loneliest of the bits clinging onto the bottom module with its two contacts.

  8. Removing the motherboard, we discover a bunch of spring contacts, which connect to the fingerprint sensor, the volume and power buttons, and a few antennas. Pulling off the shields reveals: Qualcomm Snapdragon 632 SoC
    • Removing the motherboard, we discover a bunch of spring contacts, which connect to the fingerprint sensor, the volume and power buttons, and a few antennas.

    • Pulling off the shields reveals:

    • Qualcomm Snapdragon 632 SoC

    • Samsung KMRH60014A-B614 LPDDR3 with 64 GB

    • Qorvo QM57508 RF front-end module

    • Qualcomm WTR3925 RF transceiver

    • Qualcomm WCN3680B WiFi module

  9. On the front of the motherboard we find: Qorvo QM56022 RF Flex
    • On the front of the motherboard we find:

    • Qorvo QM56022 RF Flex

    • Qualcomm PMI632 power management IC

    • PM8953 power management IC

    • Qualcomm WCD9326 audio codec

    • Awinic AW88980 audio amplifier

    • NXP Q31A1

  10. That's all for the Fairphone 3, right down to the screws and individual components. To sum up our findings:
    • That's all for the Fairphone 3, right down to the screws and individual components. To sum up our findings:

    • The new enclosure is easy to open and showcases the transparency of the project.

    • An even more modular design makes for a tidy phone on the inside, with another layer of disassembly for repairing individual components.

    • Reassembling this phone won’t be much of an issue, and we're very confident it’ll still work.

    • Let's see what this means in terms of repairability...

  11. Final Thoughts
    • Key components like the battery and screen have been prioritized in the design and are accessible either without tools or just a regular Phillips screwdriver.
    • Visual cues inside the phone help with disassembling and replacing its parts and modules.
    • Replacing complete modules is very easy. Going for their internal parts is also possible and requires a Torx screwdriver.
    • Replacement guides and spare parts are available via the manufacturer's website.
    • Most components inside the modules are individually replaceable though some are soldered on.
    Repairability Score
    10
    Repairability 10 out of 10
    (10 is easiest to repair)

14 Comments

Love that this is still happening in the mobile phone world. And that they’re taking sustainability seriously.

Timothy Buchanan - Reply

Not making it upgrade-able seems to defeat the purpose. Only the battery and the screen are likely to need replacement before this goes obsolete

Robert M - Reply

You don’t need to upgrade every year and maybe in the future you will also be able to swap the motherboard with a newer cpu.

you can always try these ones: https://www.shiftphones.com/en/

Mihai Serban Cotabitiu -

No, it does not defeat the purpose. The purpose is making it easy to replace any part if something breaks - even if you’re a non-tech-savy user. The Fairphone makes repairing your smartphone as easy as assembling an IKEA shelf, which - definitely - archieves it’s purpose. You don’t need to buy a new phone if your screen is shattered or your USB-C-connector got dusty - just a replacement part.

Of course, having upgradeable parts would be nice, but that’s not as easy to accomplish as it might look: The individual parts would be sold less often, resulting in higher prices to account for development and production costs. And compatibility isn’t easy on low-level hardware: Installing a better camera could also require a better BUS or other connection to the mainboard etc. A bigger battery might need a better charging IC or at least more space in the housing. Same goes for any other component. And remember - the Fairphone 2 got a camera upgrade midway in it’s life cycle. So you can’t even say it’s not upgradeable.

sadfadsf -

I’ve been using my Fairphone 2 since it came out in 2015, so it probably counts as obsolete - but it works perfectly well, and spare parts are still available (as they are for the Fairphone 1, incidentally) so I’m not going to replace it for the foreseeable future. “Obsolete” it may be, but it’s still a good phone.

MarkNW -

Thx, great teardown! Whats the “NXP Q31A1” for? Any idea?

LastDawn - Reply

Very nice. I enjoyed myself

jbraveedozie - Reply

I think this phone is quite nice. However, I wish that they could have simplified the design to make it waterproof (external enclosure could be the display, midframe, and backplate with rubber o-rings. Also, I think that a faster processor, like the Cortex A7X series, would make this phone feel a lot faster. This CPU is around 2.5 times as fast as a Raspberry Pi 3B+, which uses the same A53 cores.

Ethan Zuo - Reply

C’est révolutionnaire. Et cette révolution doit continuer.

Elias GUIVI - Reply

I wonder if you could add a module with an encryption chip from www.skudo.tech and have all your communication securely encrypted on a hardware level.

Francis - Reply

Great idea that works!!! Had the One one for a long while, but switched it (yeah:), as it were not so compatible with the Macs I rely upon for my work.

vjrott - Reply

The use of regular press fit connectors is probably a big improvement. As a Fairphone 2 owner, I know the phone has had idiosyncrasies that I think could have been down in part to the abundance of pogo pin connectors - just a guess. I can attest to the ease of repair-ability of the Fairphone 2 as I had to switch a module that got water damaged - looks like the FP3 will actually be easier. It’s also nice to see they have more modules in the Fairphone 3 and I hope they provide upgrades to the modules as well as spare modules.

Edward Venison - Reply

Another pointless OLPC. Go buy an used phone if you want to save the environment; not buying a phone made from newly mined conflect-free materials. The SD 632 SoC is also an outdated lower mid-range chip that’s already sluggish so choosing 632 is just forced obsolescence. What’s the best way to get you to buy FairPhone 4? Sell you a FairPhone 3 that’s slow from day 1

peichen_alpha - Reply

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