There's no point in beating around the bush here, the Fairphone 3+ looks extremely dated. It is basically the Fairphone 3 from last year. And that one wasn't exactly on the bleeding edge of design when it came out either.
Then again, you could alternatively choose to describe the design as "classic". In a world where the iPhone SE (2020) is selling like crazy, there is a fair argument to be made there.
At least with the Fairphone 3+ you don't have to worry about display notches and punch holes, sloping curved displays and misbehaving, still-developing tech, like in-display fingerprint readers and soon under-display selfie cameras. You get plenty of finger-resting room beneath the 5.7-inch display plus ample room above it to fit an earpiece and as chunky of a selfie camera module, as you desire.
In fact, that's one thing worth taking into consideration here - the limitations of modular design. Regionalizing components into separate modules and designing easy interconnects and convenient mounting and spacing for all of them is extremely space-inefficient. That's one way to justify to boxy and bulky form factor, also the small 3,040 mAh battery.
On the flip side, the battery pack is removable, which is practically extinct on smartphones at this point. It's all a matter of priorities and perspective.
Since we already mentioned the display on the Fairphone 3+, it's nothing particularly fancy, but also not as dated as the rest of the design might suggest. The 18:9 aspect ratio might be on the more conservative side of the ongoing vertical expansion, but it is still one better than 16:9.
The 1080x2160 pixel resolution looks perfectly sharp on that diagonal. It is an IPS unit, so you don't get those punchy AMOLED colors. Though, there is an argument to be made that OLED theoretically lasts less than an LCD and is prone to more longevity issues. Since Fairphone ideally wants you to keep your phone for five years between upgrades, it might be a viable consideration.
Gorilla Glass 5 protection is a nice touch. It's far from the best the industry currently has to offer, but perfectly reasonable for most users. Plus, getting a good quality, cheap tempered glass protector for the Fairphone 3+ should be easy.
The back side of the Fairphone 3+ snaps off. A real trip down memory lane for us here.
That reveals a trio of slots, conveniently hidden away out of sight - the nanoSIM ones and a dedicated microSD expansion. That's one benefit of the old approach to phone construction - you don't need to worry about fancy tray solutions. The battery pack can come straight out and getting to the rest of the phone's guts is as easy as undoing a few screws. Quite a few, but that's not a bad thing.
Well, easy might be a bit of an overstatement, since the procedure does require working with the very delicate and numerous screws, then carefully and strategically "popping" the display away from the frame, without breaking it. The process can be a bit fiddly the first time around and does take a good 10 minutes. Even so, it is still, comparatively, among the easiest disassembly jobs we have ever experienced on a modern smartphone.
The back panel itself is not translucent on the Fairphone 3+ like it was on the original Fairphone 3. This might be partly due to a change of material, implemented for the new model. While the pair obviously share all of their basic molds and the production line, the new version has proudly moved to a 40% recycled build material up from the 9% on the Fairphone 3. We're guessing that's probably attributed to the new back panel.
Construction-wise we would say that the Fairphone 3+ feels very solid. The three-piece construction paradigm works well here. The middle is made of rigid plastic, just like the rest of the body. It still manages to provide great structural integrity and also feels good to the touch on the outside.
Buttons on the Fairphone 3+ feel nice and "clicky", with pleasant tactile feedback. However, they are oddly positioned on the left side of the phone. That takes some getting used to and might be a dealbreaker for some of you.
In another rather weird move, the single speaker on the Fairphone 3+ fires out of holes also positioned on the lift frame of the device. This was likely necessitated by internal design constraints since the speaker is housed in its own separate module too. On the plus side, this makes it hard to cover for right-hand users. Not so much for lefties, though. Our initial impressions of the speaker quality are that it's satisfactory, but nothing more than that.
There is a 3.5mm audio jack on the Fairphone 3+ and it's positioned on the top bezel. This looks to be another case of engineering around or in conjuncture with the internal module layout. The audio output is actually part of what Fairphone calls the "Top module". It also houses the selfie camera and is one of the things Fairphone has upgraded going from the vanilla Fairphone 3 to the Fairphone 3+. We don't think any changes have been made to audio output, though.
Just like the 3.5mm jack shares module space, so does the Type-C port on the bottom of the phone. The vibration motor, along with other smaller things, alongside the port, are all part of the "Bottom module". The port has a simple USB 2.0 connection behind it, and in case you were wondering, it does support USB OTG functionality.
There is a classic capacitive fingerprint reader on the back of the Fairphone 3+. Our initial impressions of it are that it's quick and reliable. It is interesting to note that due to the way the phone is designed, the fingerprint module actually sticks out from a hole in the back panel.
For even more interesting details on the unique way the Fairphone 3+ is designed, as well as detailed guides on how to take it apart yourself and replace modules, you can check out Fairphone's YouTube channel.
Finishing the tour off, a few extra words on connectivity - the Fairphone 3+ has dual 4G LTE support. Local connections are handled by dual Band Wi-Fi ac, alongside Bluetooth 5.0, with LE support. You also get an NFC module.