Pious much?

So here’s a thing. I am joining the world of the connected, the joined-up, the modern. I am becoming just like you. I am getting a smart phone.

Windows tremble in their frames, birds swoop into the air in confusion, somewhere a baby cries. The world rocks on its axis and then lies still once more. Life goes on. On the one hand, this is a momentous day, long rumoured but something few thought to see in reality. On the other, it’s just a bloke buying a phone; what’s all the fuss about?

My current phone has been the subject of several previous rants and ruminations being, as it is, a bit – how to put it? – shit. I bought it for £20 and I got every bit of my money’s worth from it. It is now beyond the point of no return. It was only ever good for calling or texting (I know, I’m sooo last century) and it now refuses to either answer a call or hang up (depending on which I am most keen to do), nor will it type anything sensible into a text message (“No change there then,” you heckle from the back).

So a new phone it is. And a smart phone at that. One with, like, apps and everything. I’ll be able to download stuff and stream stuff and What is App you and we can engage in some Snapchatting and I can instagram the crap out of my breakfasts and I’ll Shazam things and Spotify it and we’ll Face Time and face the future and face up to all that stuff we should be doing instead of just staring at our phones and looking at funny fail GIFs and facebook and tweeting and pinning and and and…

*Goes to lie down in the dark for a while*

I’m going to admit that I don’t know what half the things are in that paragraph up there, and that is probably why I ought to climb onto this fast-disappearing smart phone wagon train, lest I become the Betamax of my own life. (See also: minidiscs, HD-DVD, mint Kit Kats). But having made a very small and ill-thought-out investment in a phone last time around, I wanted to see if I could do things the right way this time. Is there even, heaven forbid, a Right Thing to do when it comes to buying a phone?

This one comes with a health warning

I have been thinking about this post for a while and it seems that there is no easy way to write it without (a) coming across all preachy and (b) making me sound like a bit of a dick. So it is only fair to warn you that, while it is not my intention to do either, I will almost certainly achieve both. That’s just the way the cookie crumbles. But this is not me sermonising, this is just me trying to pass on some information, promise.

All’s fair in love and war

But not in phone manufacturing it would seem. According to ethicalconsumer.org the scores (out of 20) for many popular brands of mobile phone are (my words) a bit pathetic:

  • iPhone – 6
  • Nokia – 4
  • Samsung – 3.5
  • Blackberry – 6

When you’re looking at Sony and HTC and thinking “well done guys, you’ve got a seven” then things are not looking great. It is, after all, still only a seven and this ain’t Strictly.

The trouble with phones is that they are naturally a bit unnatural to make. They are made of metal and plastic and all sorts of rare stuff that comes out of the ground. And they’re generally made in Asia, with all of the difficulties that can sometimes bring in ensuring a decent standard of care for the people making them.

Now, I am typing these words on a laptop. A laptop made of metal and plastic and all sorts of rare stuff. Rare stuff from mines in the ground. So yes, it is hypocritical to complain about phones when I am making full use of a similarly suspect device. Dell, for the record, are currently scoring 5.5 on the laptop leaderboard on Ethical Consumer, so that’s not great.

But I’m not buying a new laptop. I am buying a new phone. And my hypocrisy shouldn’t stand in the way of me making a different choice now, despite the potentially iffy options I have gone for in the past. But where do I turn for something a little fairer?

Fairphone

The Fairphone

It’s the Ronseal approach to naming stuff, I’ll admit. The Fairphone is a social enterprise based in Amsterdam and they are approaching things a little differently. For example, their Fairphone 2 is modular, meaning that you can buy spares and repair it, rather than needing a brand new phone. In their words:

Fairphone is a social enterprise that is building a movement for fairer electronics. By making a phone, we’re opening up the supply chain and creating new relationships between people and their products. We’re making a positive impact across the value chain in mining, design, manufacturing and life cycle, while expanding the market for products that put ethical values first. Together with our community, we’re changing the way products are made.

One thing that grabbed me, in particular, was their aim to use a “smartphone as a storytelling device to reconnect consumers to their products and uncover how things are made.” If my Right Thing thinking on this blog is trying to achieve anything, it is to reconnect me with the food and drink I am consuming and to work out how they are produced. That aim is not too many miles away from Fairphone’s objective, and that is also the reason behind this particular post.

Fair enough?

Surely, you say, the Fairphone is still more phone than fair. Well, here is Fairphone’s response: “The Fairphone is still far from “fair”, but it’s a starting point for our step-by-step journey.” This is not a phone that removes all of the issues, but it is having a good go at addressing as many as it can. They shouldn’t be knocked for trying.

I have to admit that I am still working my way through the information available on the Fairphone site. It’s easily accessible, but there is a lot of it; that’s one of the negatives of being transparent, I guess, as well as one of its positives. Broadly speaking, the site splits the information by the categories mentioned above, and you can read more about their progress (good and bad) on the Fairphone website.

A few other facts and figures

  • Runs Android 5.1 Lollipop
  • 2 SIM slots
  • 64GB of expanded memory
  • 2G, 3G and 4G
  • 5 inch full HD display
  • 1080 x 1920

There’s more technical stuff here (scroll to the bottom). I’m not sure what is of note and what’s not, so it’s probably best to enquire of the horse’s mouth.

Is it the Right Thing?

I am genuinely not sure, but I believe that it is delivering on the aim of being a Better Thing.

If you cannot afford the price tag then it is definitely not the right thing for you; I am not recommending anyone spend more than they can afford on a phone, just to get the “right” one. That cannot be the correct option. It very nearly made it not the right option for me. I had to think long and hard about whether I could justify (and afford) to spend that amount on a phone.

But if you can afford it, then it is certainly something worth considering. When the latest iPhone is selling for somewhere north of £500 then that brings the Fairphone into the conversation. It is cheaper than that, after all. If you don’t want this phone – maybe it doesn’t do the things you need a smart phone to do – I hope that it might still give you pause; perhaps it is worth asking your phone provider if they can make some changes. Could they be fairer?

As I write, the Fairphone 2 has started to ship and I await mine with interest (and no small amount of trepidation – it is, after all, the Hubble telescope to my current phone’s View-Master). First and foremost, it needs to work as a phone. But if we assume that to be a given, then I feel positive about the choice I have made.

If today’s technology has meant that, until now, we have worried about how “smart” our smart phones are, is now the time to be looking at how much heart they have too?

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