A fair call

FairPhoneMobiles are all around, as I said before. But do we ask ourselves what they are made of, how they are produced, or what happens after we dump them? Honest answers to these questions will reveal a lot of environmental damage, unfair trade and human abuse. Especially in places where we, the decent smartphone users, never go.

Apart from that, users too are subject to whatever a manufacturer deems good for profit. Of course Android, the supreme dominatrix for mobile platforms, is open-source, but yet all users are ever increasingly and unavoidably spinned into Google worldwide web. No doubt for profit.

Well, good news! Some people actually did ask these questions and tried to turn the wheel in a direction which is better for those subject to manufacturing or consuming. The Fairphone is out now for some years and the Amsterdam based company behind it made substantial progress in building ‘a smartphone with social values’. So, I became one of the proud owners of a FP1U.

And now we are on the topic, if you choose a Fairphone and you are Dutch, why not make your calls even fairer by taking Limesco as your provider?

No heaven on earth yet

Of course social entrepreneurship is not a simple remedy against all evil. It is in fact quite hard to find out how manufacturing and trading actually work. And once one has found out, it is still diffcult to follow or build new roads. A lot of renewing projects that put the user first never really made it. Just remember the Spark tablet, the Openmoko phone, and recently the Hemlis messaging service. But for Fairphone Dutch sobriety and innovation seem to mix well. So far.

What is fair about this phone? The team carefully and critically re-examined the supply chain, they designed it in a durable way (you can repair quite a few things), they use their own version of Android (Fairphone OS), trying to steer away from Google’s web as good as it gets, and they are committed to sustainable waste management after the device’s life-time cycle ends. For me the dual SIM option provided a useful argument as well. Users can participate in many ways in the project, as ambassadors, by giving feed-back, by helping other users etc. Below I will share a few things I have learned.

No heaven yet, but it all looks much better and nicer than just picking the cheapest & meanest smartphone from a mobile provider’s shelves.

Updating the OS

For OS updates Fairphone OS has its own app, Fairphone Updater. It works pretty simple and straightforward. However, things can go wrong. On my phone the system continued to be confused about the actual version that was installed. Every now and then the updater would start looking for the latest version, which was already installed. How to solve this?

I decided to do a manual OS update. The wiki explains it clearly and dearly, including how to reboot to a root shell (‘recovery mode’). BTW, this power-and-volume-button trick works for any Android driven mobile device.

In short the procedure was as follows.

  • First you need to switch off any alternative launchers – I truly love my Nova Launcher – or firewalls, like AFWall+, a really good one, using the full power of Linux’ iptables. If you do not, you will run into trouble after updating, because the system first needs to default to the Android launcher to complete the installation, and a firewall may block access for Google services you need at that point.
  • Then download the appropriate ZIP file, copy it to your Fairphone’s sdcard, and install manually following the online instructions. NOTE: ‘sdcard’ refers to the external storage, inserted beside the SIM card(s), and it usually is mounted at ‘/storage/sdcard1/’, so that is where you will need to copy to. The easiest way is probably to use a card reader on your desktop or laptop.
  • Next, you will need to reinstall the Google App Store. See instructions here.
  • After the final reboot you can restart your alternative launcher if you have one. And look! automagically you have got all your home screen links and widgets back! Finally reactivate your firewall, checking its list to see if all Google services can do what they need to – or are banned from network access if you do not appreciate their ‘free service’.

That was it. After this procedure my Fairphone runs smoothly again.

Update on updating (05/19/2015)

Mid May Fairphone released a new Fairphone OS update. It’s now up to Kola Nut 1.8.5. Mainly it brings us bug & security fixes, but also the update process has been improved.

Up-update (as from August 2015): most recent OS for Fairphone FP1 is Kola Nut 1.8.7. The process of upgrading to KitKat 4.4.4 is yet (June 2017) work-in-progress

Updating now is really simple:

  • First make sure your Wifi connection is OK, and, if you have these installed, switch off your alternative launcher and your firewall.
  • Then use the Fairphone Software Updater app and follow the instructions. The Google Apps installation is now integrated in the update process. All you need to have at hand is your Google login details.
  • After the final restart switch back to your alternative launcher, firewall etc. I had to check my Nova Launcher settings, since screen geometry seems to have changed a tad and widgets needed to be made anew. Because I never set up the Fairphone default launcher, the home screen was emty after restart, so I had to tap & hold to find the Nova Launcher app.
  • BTW, if you are keen about your privacy, go to Settings > Accounts and check your Google account & Google settings. For example, all I need from Mr G is the Play Store, so I switch off all the rest. Also decline Google’s generous offer to backup your data on their server ‘for free’, unless you trust your Wifi passwords are absolutely fine within the realm of US legislation…

I had only one minor hickup: because I landed myself too far from the router, the first download ended with an ‘invalid MD5’ message. My fault. I just canceled and restarted the Fairphone Updater.

For the rest: easy peasy!