The Fairphone 2 is an ethical smartphone with a modular build

You might remember the original Fairphone from back in 2013 – at first glance it looks like any other smartphone, but read the small print and you’ll find a device built with an emphasis on responsibly sourced materials, and made by fairly paid workers. It’s been a couple of years since the original device broke cover, and the company is back to address those aging specs (and to reaffirm its mission statement) with the Fairphone 2.

Running on Android 5.1 Lollipop, the Fairphone 2 is powered by a Snapdragon 801, with 2 GB RAM and 32 GB internal storage, plus a microSD slot for expansion. The 5-inch panel has 1,920 x 1,080 resolution (about 441 PPI), and there’s LTE connectivity on board as well as dual SIM card slots. That’s a big jump up over the original 2013 handset, but these still aren’t quite top-shelf specs, sitting roughly in line with what we’d expect from an early 2014 flagship.

Of course the Fairphone 2 isn’t just about the specs, as like its predecessor it does its best to earn its name. For starters, the device itself is designed in a modular manner, so it’s easy for the user to take it apart and repair themselves (check out the video at the bottom to see this in action).

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The back cover is also built to wrap around the front edge of the display, acting as a protective case, making it perhaps a bit less likely that you’ll drop and destroy your handset.

The project’s goal is to make supply chains more transparent, attempting to trace the exact origin of all raw materials used. At present, you can see which suppliers individual components have been sourced from, as well as estimated manufacturing locations.

The company uses as many minerals as possible from responsible sources within conflict zones, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo. The idea is to contribute to ethical practices in areas where the opposite is the norm.

Worker welfare is also a priority, with a contribution from every device sold going into a fund at the factory in Suzhou, China. That money will be used to help train the workers to better represent themselves, teaching skills for expressing concerns about working conditions and negotiating with management, as well as for projects suggested by the workers themselves.

It’s also about better communication with consumers about where their money is going, with users able to view a detailed breakdown of the costs involved in making each unit. You can see exactly where the money has been spent, with 65 percent of the retail price going into physically building each handset.

Aside from its modular nature, there might not be anything too exciting about the Fairphone 2 hardware, but there’s a lot to like about what the company is doing behind the scenes.

The Fairphone 2 is available for pre-order in the Europe for €525 (US$585), and is expected to ship in November. You can check out the video below for a look at the device’s modular nature.

Source: Fairphone

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HandyCase lets users operate mobile devices from both sides

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Despite the rapid advancement of smartphones and tablets, accessory makers continually find new ways to enhance the mobile device experience. No longer are cases and covers just for rugged protection, as many provide additional features on top of that. Handscape is set to change how people interact with devices. The company’s HandyCase is designed to let users operate touchscreens with fingers set behind the device.

Like most mobile cases, the HandyCase is form-fitted to attach directly to the back of smartphones and tablets. But what’s special about the HandyCase’s design is the way it enables devices to “see through” the hardware. Fingers making contact with the case are registered as if they touched the screen itself. Users can maintain a full, two-handed grip on a tablet and operate it comfortably without hands obscuring content.

The HandyCase’s patented technology communicates the touch of fingers to one or more devices via Bluetooth. Unlike camera or infrared systems, the HandyCase works in any type of lighting conditions. The flexible, high-resolution sensor is designed to provide stable touch-interaction with up to 10 registered contact points. And since the HandyCase’s functionality is in addition to devices’ normal screen operation, users benefit by having a greater range of ergonomic comfort versus control.

While the HandyCase may be able to “see through” devices, human eyes are stuck with traditional, non-x-ray vision. The Handscape mobile app supports a number of applications while providing an underlay of visible fingers. The current options to choose from are human hands, x-ray hands, and robot hands, with more expected to be developed.

The Handscape HandyCase is currently funding on Kickstarter, having reached 24 percent of its US$100,000 goal in just a day, with another 45 days to go. The HandyCase is available for the iPhone 6/6+, iPad Mini, and iPad Air in choice of neon green, pink, gold, and silver. Pledges start at $99, which includes the cost of worldwide shipping. Developers can get their hands on a HandyCase and the Handscape SDK for iOS for a pledge of $999.

If tooling, testing, and production go according to plan, backers can expect to receive deliveries of HandyCases sometime in April, 2016. Check out the video below for feature highlights.

Sources: Handscape, Kickstarter

The Chromebook of smartphones? Nextbit Robin uses the cloud to expand your storage

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In the last few years, storage space has become a bigger concern on many flagship smartphones – especially entry-level 16 GB models. Rather than increasing the phone’s storage, one startup thinks it’s high time we remove the concern altogether by sharing smartphone storage with the cloud.

Nextbit is a self-described “small band of rebels,” founded by former Google and HTC vets. Somewhat similar to Google’s Chromebooks, the startup’s new flagship, Robin, uses the cloud to make internal storage a moot point.

The phone technically has 32 GB internal storage (double what you’ll get out of an entry-level iPhone, and equal to an entry-level 2015 Samsung flagship), but it also includes 100 GB of cloud storage. The company says everything you do on your phone – apps, photos, you name it – is backed up to the cloud while the handset is charging and connected to Wi-Fi.

Then, after you start running out of space (and after it’s learned your usage habits), the phone starts offloading some of your least-used content to the cloud. If you want an app or photo back, just tap on it and “we restore the full version right away.”

The idea is similar to how iOS manages cloud photo backups in its latest Photos app, only Robin casts its net wider to include apps.

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Nextbit says this can open some exciting new doors, like the ability to shoot all your photos in RAW format, without worrying about all the storage RAW requires.

So what happens if you go crazy by, say, shooting every photo in RAW and then downloading 500 games from the Play Store, and fill up all 32 GB of local storage and 100 GB cloud storage? A paid option to upgrade cloud storage seems like the logical answer, but Nextbit’s Kickstarter campaign and press materials don’t specifically address that possibility. We reached out to the company and will update if we receive a comment.

Either way, much of the approach’s effectiveness will depend on how quickly “right away” really is. If re-downloading a cloud-based app isn’t much faster or more convenient than downloading it from the Play Store, then the whole idea sounds a lot less appealing (and of course wireless speeds will play a part in that equation as well).

The phone itself looks as unique as its approach to storage, with an angular design complete with round, dimple-like speakers above and below the screen. It will ship in mint and midnight color options.

In terms of hardware specs, Robin has a 5.2-inch, 1080p IPS display. Its engine is a Snapdragon 808 processor with 3 GB of RAM, while cameras include a 13 MP rear and 5 MP front. It will charge via USB Type C and have a fingerprint sensor on its power key (which sits on the right edge of the phone).

Robin is built on Android (Nextbit says it will do its best to ship with the upcoming Marshmallow flavor), and the company says it will push OTA updates as soon as it can after Google releases new versions. It’s hard to imagine the custom flavor of Android not requiring some considerable modifications to stock, though, so we’d guess Nexus-like turnaround times will be a stretch.

One update obstacle that Robin won’t have to deal with will be carrier approval, as Nextbit is skipping the US wireless behemoths and selling Robin unlocked (GSM only) directly to consumers. Right now it’s raising funds on Kickstarter, where Nextbit says a US$299 minimum pledge will get a Robin (early bird pricing, after that the minimum jumps to $349). If all goes according to plan, the company expects the phone to ship in January of 2016. At the time of publication, it’s already raised 39 percent of its $500,000 goal with 29 days to go.

You can find out more about Robin at the source links below:

Sources: Nextbit, Kickstarter