Millions of electronic gadgets will push better tech specs this year, but it's likely only one will push for more ethically-sourced materials. Nonprofit-backed Dutch company FairPhone has just made a significant step in making ethical electronics a reality, meeting its goal of 5,000 pre-orders for a new smartphone made with conflict-free tin and tantalum. The phones are now slated to begin shipping by the end of the year.
While not game-changing in the specs department, the phone is part of a larger mission to raise awareness and hold the electronics industry to a higher ethical standard, doing things like making devices repairable and sourcing materials from artisanal mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo that are not controlled by violent militias. As CEO and director Bas van Abel said when we profiled the company last December, FairPhone's first entry into the smartphone market isn't 100 percent conflict-free, due to the incredibly complex nature of supply chains. However, the company has managed to build trusted supplier networks and get access to conflict-free tin and tantalum, two of the most essential ingredients for making smartphone components.
The first FairPhone has dual-SIM capability for GSM networks, and will run a close-to-stock version of Android 4.2 Jelly Bean by default — though owners will have the option to easily swap for any other OS. It also has a 4.3-inch screen, 8 megapixel camera, 16GB internal storage, and a removable battery. The company says the phone is designed to be "radically" repairable, and even included a "special message" for early adopters hidden inside the first run models to encourage disassembly. Pre-orders are still open at €350 (about $458) and €3 of each phone will be donated to Closing The Loop, a UK-based electronics recycling initiative. Phones will begin shipping to customers within Europe in October.