Beating Google’s Project Ara by a few months, or so we hope, Fairphone has just opened the pre-order doors for its own take on the modular smartphone design. Though not exactly how some might envision “modular” to be, the Fairphone 2 is nonetheless designed to not only be robust enough to survive most accidents but modular to the extent that parts can be replaced or repaired when damaged. Admittedly less sensational than Ara, this approach does have the benefit of allowing Fairphone 2 to go out of the woodwork earlier.
Project Ara’s dream of a modular smartphone is more akin to LEGO blocks, or even assembling your own desktop PC, where you start from barebones and build up the device from there. In contrast, Fairphone’s concept feels more like an upgradeable laptop which already comes pre-built but with the option to swap out or add components as needed.
In the Fairphone 2’s case, those replaceable modules are limited to the display, rear camera, speaker, “receiver”, and “transceiver”. Unlike Project Ara, there is no room for more exotic components or replacing, perhaps, CPU and RAM. In practice, that might be just enough for most users anyway. And by building something closer to a standard smartphone, Fairphone 2 has the advantage of getting out the door earlier than less conventional designs.
And the Fairphone 2 is as standard as you can get in terms of smartphones. In fact, it might even be old standard. The CPU, for example, is an older Snapdragon 801, last year’s flagship chip. The display is decent, a 5-inch 1080p screen. RAM is at 2 GB and storage at a spacious 32 GB. The rear camera is an 8 megapixel shooter while the front one has 2 megapixels only. The removable battery packs 2,420 mAh of power.
In the end, the Fairphone 2’s focus is less on modularity for the sake of modularity but more on openness, repairability, and longevity, allowing easy replacement of components when they worn or broken instead of having to replace the smartphone wholesale. The Fairphone 2 is being sold for 529.38 EUR, roughly $580 dollars, almost the price of a 2015 flagship. Shipping begins November.