Rephone Put To The Test: The Smartphone With A Recycling Bonus
It is delivered in a grass paper box, advertised as CO₂-neutral, and returned when recycled. Is the Rephone really as sustainable as its developers claim – and is it worth buying?
The press release does not speak much conviction when Mobilcom / Debitel points out that the Rephone can be charged wirelessly as well as quickly “despite the recyclate back.” Recycled plastic shouldn’t be a problem for these functions.
It is a step in the right direction to equip a smartphone in this price range – the Rephone costs 399 euros – with a wireless charging function that Sony, for example, withholds from its Xperia Pro-I, which is four and a half times as expensive. It is not surprising that no charger is included; other manufacturers do the same.
Another part of the concept is that the Rephone should be easy to repair. To make this possible, the components – or rather the component groups – are screwed together with simple Phillips-head screws. The use of adhesives has been avoided, according to Mobilcom / Debitela, where the Rephone is exclusively available. You shouldn’t screw yourself, as it will be possible with the Fairphone for a long time and will soon also be possible with Apple. Instead, the modular structure makes work easier for the manufacturer’s technicians. If the display breaks, the replacement costs 89 euros.
The only part you can change yourself is the battery, which you can buy for 35 euros. But it should be at least two to three years before you need a new one. Mobilcom / Debitel wants to delay the aging process with a technology known as “Battery Save.” It stops the charging cycle as soon as the battery is 90 percent charged. That should bring »an approximately 50 percent longer service life«. We will only be able to say in a few years whether this will work. If you prefer to use the total capacity, you can switch the function off.
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Grass Paper From Schleswig-Holstein
The Rephone is advertised online as “100% CO₂ neutral”. It is therefore not an organic smartphone. Only the already mentioned back cover made of recycled plastic can the manufacturer state that it comes from Germany. The company does not want to disclose the countries of origin of the other components. Most of them come from Asia, unlike the grass paper packaging made in Schleswig-Holstein.
The press release on the device is also praised: “The first CO₂-neutral smartphone is produced in Germany with 100 percent green electricity.” This, too, only relates to the part of the production in Germany, namely in the factory of the former Siemens Gigaset daughter in Bocholt. For all components from Asia, one undertakes “comprehensive CO₂ compensation.”
Can That Be?
The question remains whether the Rephone is any good as a smartphone and whether you want to – and can – use it for as long as possible. That it comes with Android 11, and the manufacturer is hoping to deliver the current Android 12 at the beginning of 2022 sounds good at first. The company plans to provide security updates for three years. There is no talk of updates to upcoming Android versions after Android 12.
It is unclear how long Mediatek’s mid-range processor could keep up with major Android updates. Measurement programs estimate its performance to be about the level of a Samsung Galaxy S8 from 2017. That was once high-end but is now at best mid-range. Nevertheless, I did not experience a single stutter in everyday life. Mail and web work well anyway, and graphics-heavy games such as “Real Racing” run on the Rephone without any compromises.
On the other hand, they are to be made with the screen, which exaggerates its bright colors. With the automatic brightness control, which from my point of view always illuminates the display too brightly, this ensures solid, bright colors. They have little to do with reality. This can be a disappointment when taking photos if an image that looks great on the Rephone suddenly seems to fade on the PC or TV.
The Rephone takes photos with a 64-megapixel wide-angle and an 8-megapixel ultra-wide-angle camera. The image quality is in the midfield. You should keep your hands off the digital zoom because details are lost even if the magnification is less than the maximum possible four times the magnification. The ultra-wide-angle lens distorts towards the edges.
At 128 gigabytes (GB), the built-in memory should be large enough for many applications. You can add up to 512 GB using a memory card if you need more. You can insert two SIM cards for different networks into your mobile phone if you like, but the device has no eSim, nor does 5G technology or WiFi 6.
The idea of offering a smartphone that is CO₂-neutral is commendable. It would be even more commendable not to offset the CO₂ balance afterward but to start with the production of the components. A back cover made of recycled material and packaging made of grass paper is an excellent start, but there is more. A model could be the Fairphone 4, which values fairness in resource acquisition and easy repairability by the user. Apple also wants to enable its customers to replace components themselves in the future, is building more and more recycling materials in its smartphones, and regularly publishes its environmental balance sheet.
Finally, it is also remarkable how similar the Rephone is to the Gigaset GS5. The two seem almost identical except for the primary camera and the back cover, with the subtle difference that Gigaset offers the GS5 for 299 euros, while the Rephone costs 399 euros. CO₂ compensation and the recycling back must be worth 75 euros to the customer, because – that is rare – if you give it to recycling, Mobilcom / Debitel will give you 25 euros back.